After the failure of the Russian Blitzkrieg, the Battle of Donbass prepares

Having failed against Kyiv, the Russians redeployed to southeastern Ukraine where they intended to carry out the second phase of the invasion on the side of their separatist allies. They have to take over the entire Donbass region and this is before the symbolic date of May 9.

“The first stage of the war in Ukraine was calculated in weeks, and the next could last a month or more.” That’s the action Jake Sullivan, the United States’ national security adviser, gave on Monday during a press conference. The second part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be concentrated in the Donbass, this region in the southeast of Ukraine. To tell the truth, the perspective taken by the White House seems almost optimistic, because the war has not left this region where Ukrainians and pro-Russians have clashed for nearly eight years.

Both the second part of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and an additional episode in the endless civil war that began in 2014 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, the Battle of Donbass promises to be the new scene of the duel between Kyiv and Moscow. What are the stakes and the balance of power in this endless struggle?


After the Russians failed on the northern Ukrainian front, failing to capture Kyiv or any of the country’s major cities, it is Donbass that is now asserting itself as the horizon of war between the two warring parties. A region where Moscow can count on the support of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which declared independence in April 2014, spurred by their pro-Russian sentiments.

“All elements lead to the belief of this. This was announced by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Army twelve days ago and the intelligence services confirm that many forces are stationed in the east, opposite the Donbass, coming from Russia,” an analysis of this Tuesday. Air Force Commander, Patrick Dutarter, is in our group.

The relationship of the forces in the Donbass
The relationship of forces in Donbass © Kenan AUGEARD © 2019 AFP

Russians want to make people forget their mistakes

Indeed, as early as March 25, the Russian army announced its intention to concentrate its efforts in eastern Ukraine, the first clear sign that the Kremlin was burying its dream of a blitzkrieg and a complete victory over its neighbor. And this time it is all about winning in this new theater where they will be careful not to repeat the mistakes that have thwarted their attack thus far.

“The Russians still have significant military resources,” General Jerome Belistrandi, our advisor for military affairs, told on Tuesday.

“They have seen the failure of their attacks and are now in the process of applying this old principle of concentrating efforts, with new soldiers and new armor. They will be able to strike a proper balance of forces this time. It is estimated that the attack, it should be three against one,” the interviewer adds. The latter also wants evidence of ongoing “train movements” from the Russian Federation to replenish forces exhausted by the first five weeks of the conflict.

A ‘pseudo war’?

The stakes are high on both sides. “On the one hand, the Russians are looking to increase their holding perimeter to be in a position of strength in the negotiations. On the other hand, the Ukrainians should leave them as little space as possible to get a tie again and negotiate,” sums us Jerome Pelestrandi.

At the moment, it is the “pseudo war” in the Donbass. This does not prevent threats, but rather far from it.

“We’ll have to watch Odessa,” General Dutartre noted in our group.

The Ukrainian port, located across from the Donbass River, was just hit by the first Russian bombardment on Sunday.

Sensing the impending storm, the Ukrainian governor of the Military-Civil Administration of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirilenko, warned Monday during a press conference: “People must leave the region so that we have the possibility to act more effectively to protect the Donetsk region and Ukraine as a whole.”

May 9 on the horizon

Donetsk, the city that has challenged Kyiv’s power since the spring of 2014 and declared a breakaway regime, like Lugansk, is about 150 kilometers to the northeast. Two pro-Russian strongholds of two separatist republics, recognized by Moscow at the end of February, For war a reason for to the ongoing war.

“Moscow presented the war against Ukraine as a preventive war to help these two sister republics,” continues General Belistrandi who sees another dimension of the conflict there: “But these do not represent all of Donbass, and Russia wants to control both of them.” oblasts which is still on the run from these two republics.”

“The Russians hope to have a major breakthrough by May 9,” continues Jerome Belistrandi.

May 9, or “Victory Day” for the Russians, is the day of the surrender of Nazi Germany at the end of the “Great Patriotic War” led by the Soviet Union. A breakthrough, however, would be far from trivial. “There has been heavy fighting on this front since the end of February as well, and the Russians have struggled to make progress, gaining a kilometer here and another there,” General Belistrandi notes.

Trombe Lowell and the Paramilitaries

The officer describes the situation in Donbass. A county in which the division into these two distinct “republics” appears as Trombe Lowell.

“It is a united front that has been stable since 2014, with constant clashes between the two camps, along a fortified line, with trenches and shelters.”

In addition to the replenished Russian troops, the Ukrainians will immediately find an enemy with a hybrid profile. “The separatists have very well-equipped paramilitary groups that are framed as ‘Russian’. They are not guerrilla fighters, they are almost regular armies, General Pelistrandi highlights.

“Intense” military combat

But the main danger of this theater of operation lies in the faces of the forces that know each other less well than in the topography of this industrial zone.

“This is flat terrain, with few natural obstacles, so there is a risk of greater military losses.”

But the dearth of large gatherings allows us to hope that civilian casualties will be less serious, continues our interlocutor who expects “very, very intense fighting.”

Decisive battles are already taking place nearby. The Ukrainians have already launched a counterattack around Kherson, near the Donbass. For Kyiv, it is important to find this city, which the Russians captured on March 2 … and open the way to the Crimea, which they annexed. Another front in this war comes from far away and opposes such close opponents.

Robin Werner

Robin Werner BFMTV journalist

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