Battles in Avdiyivka: Rubicon of the Russia-Ukraine war?

February 1st, 2017 at the well-familiar to the world Kyiv Independence Square (“Maidan”), hundreds of Ukrainian citizens gathered at the foot of Independence Stella and knelt in reverence to say goodbye to seven soldiers of the 72th Mechanized Brigade who fell in Avdiyivka in the course of the intensified attack by the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR). As if lying on the Spartan shields, it was the first time mothers saw their sons since their latest departure to the zone of ATO.

Overall, January 29 and 30, as a result of fighting in Avdiyivka, were killed eight soldiers. Five of them fell on January 29 during the first attack, and three others on January 30 during the second clash. Captured Jan. 29 by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a militant of DNR revealed multiple facts on tape regarding the involvement of Russian officers in the “anti-governmental civil rebellion” in East Ukraine. January 31 fell one defender of Ukraine, and February 1-2 was reported death of four more Ukrainian soldiers.

Pro-Kremlin terrorists, though, suffered much heavier losses. As of today, over 60 militants of DNR were killed. Moreover, infamous “terrorists’ leader” Mikhail Tolstykh aka Givi was wounded, and his deputy “Consul” was killed. According to a leaked radio conversation, over 40 % of headed by Givi “Somali” battalion are missing.

However, it does not excuse deaths of the best sons of Ukraine, not mentioning the civil population of Avdiyivka which currently experiences the real humanitarian catastrophe. There were killed, wounded and trapped under the rubble as a result of the terrorists’ offensive. Also, it goes without saying that there is no water, food and, what is worse under conditions of up to -20 degrees below zero outside, central heating. Ruined houses and blocked trasportation, in turn, raise the problem to a whole new level. Avdiyivka Coke plant, which is the biggest coke producer for Ukraine’s steel industry, was deenergized, too.

Currently, over 150 civilians were evacuated from Avdiyivka. The National Corps movement launched gathering the first aid supplies at its youth center at Maidan, Cossack House. Activists of National Corps in Mariupol (in the vicinity of which the AZOV regiment is operating at the moment) risked their health to bring daily aid through the humanitarian corridor in Avdiyivka.

The quest is quite risky indeed given that February 1, after the Russian Federation vowed in writing to adhere to the “silence regime,” maintenance crews, engineers and pyrotechnics were fired during the emergency work to restore the infrastructure in Avdiyivka. Forbidden by peace Minsk accords Grad systems, SAU, heavy artillery and even Givi’s tank company – everything was unleashed on civilians who recorded dozens of instances of shelling from their balconies within these three days. Likewise, militants do not conceal the fact that they use banned weaponry located in Donetsk, not 70 km away from the demarcation line. The OSCE mission admitted that the escalation of firing in peaceful Avdiyivka was unique for the entire ATO history. Several craters left by shells were registered nearby local school, hospital and church.

World community’s mouthpieces like Washington Post were unequivocal in connecting the Avdiyivka deterioration to the phone conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and their planned meeting. Indeed, theoretically, one does not have to take sides to see that Putin tests a new American president and tries to take advantage of the initial uncertainty in the US presidential administration to achieve lifting up of the sanctions against Russia and enter a new phase of the American-Russian relations a recognized hegemon in the post-Soviet, Ukrainian in particular, zone of influence.

Yet, is the game worth the candle? Ukrainian military and regular citizens, as opposed to the higher command that is afraid of “exceeding the defense,” are aware of the fact that the counterattack of the Ukrainian army would bring an end to the self-proclaimed republics. Trump’s seeming detachment, in this context, undoubtedly, is a double-edged sword. After all, Ukrainian positions remained steadfast after DNR’s offensive. Putin’s belief that Trump’s closed eyes decide everything is more likely to result in spoiling the whole Russia’s “reconciliation-with-the-West” game in the course of the Syrian war, consolidation of the military powers of the countries in the Intermarium region, final disillusionment of the civilian population in the Donbas with the “kind Russian tsar” and delegitimation of the current Ukrainian government in favor of far more decisive nationalist forces like “National Corps.”

On behalf of the Ukrainian people and defenders, many thanks to all, Latvian  “Nacionālā Apvienība” in particular, who currently stand with Ukraine!

Olena Semenyaka, coordinator of the international relations’ department of the National Corps movement