The Minsk ceasefire agreement completely collapsed in January 2015, with renewed heavy fighting across the conflict zone, including Donetsk International Airport and Debaltsovo. A new ceasefire, called Minsk II, was agreed to on 12 February 2015.
Minsk II largely held if you don’t count near-daily artillery fire and periodic small-unit actions that have killed many hundreds on each side. However, there are numerous signs another major outbreak might be at hand.
Speculation on a renewed major outbreak comes from an April 9 Website Post by Alexander Khodakovsky.
That poster, from the preceding link, is reminiscent of a WWII call to arms. The message on the poster translates as “Join the Peoples’ Militia!”
Wikipedia notes Alexander Khodakovsky is the commander of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion formed in early May 2014 during the 2014 insurgency in the Donbass. Khodakovsky is a former commander of the Alpha special unit of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). During the 2014 insurgency in the Donbass, he left Ukrainian state service and became the leader of the pro-Russian “Patriotic Forces of Donbass” in Donetsk Oblast, and later (until July 16, 2014 when he was replaced by Vladimir Antyufeyev) the Security Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).
Reader Jacob Dreizin emailed that other warning signs of a potential offensive include an intense barrage of warlike statements from Ukrainian officials including the Interior Minister and the National Security Council chief, as well as social media chatter from individuals claiming to be local residents, about unusually intense Ukrainian military aircraft activity to/from the Kramatorsk airfield (about 30 miles from the frontline) and other locations in the Ukraine-controlled part of the Donbass.
In other posts, Khodakovsky speaks of unusually heavy concentrations of Ukrainian material near the front, and warns that Ukraine is likely to launch an offensive soon, with an eye to victory before or around May 9th, a day which has symbolic significance as it is not only the start of the Eurovision contest (hosted in Kiev this year) but also “Victory Day” in Russia and the former USSR, such that deciding the war on Kiev’s terms around this date would deliver a major psychological blow to the Russian government and to all pro-Russians in Ukraine.
An April 10 Khodakovsky Article is even more ominous. Here are a few paragraphs translated by Jacob Dreizin.
What is humane? To remain silent or to talk about the coming war?
There are many more important signs that allow me to make a preliminary conclusion: War is on the doorstep. Do I have the right to say this? I must.
I think that before Easter the enemy will not go on the offensive – Not everything that can kill us has yet been dragged up to the front. But the process is ongoing. In Kramatorsk, combat airplanes and helicopters are landing at the military airfield almost every day. High-caliber weapons, such as Tochka-U’s [short-range ballistic missiles, of the sort Ukraine already used in 2014], are also arriving. In Lugansk, even the well-heeled moles of the OSCE [European monitors] have confirmed the redeployment from permanent stations of almost 100 heavy combat vehicles, which have crawled closer to the front. I think they want to organize a celebration for us for May 9th, so that we won’t have a third parade [Donetsk held May 9th parades in 2015 and 2016].
Be a little concerned, remembering that the war is not somewhere far away, but on the borders of the city. If full-scale battles commence, then this time it won’t be like in 2014. Most likely, not one border crossing to Ukraine will be able to function. The south will be set aflame, and that direction will be closed. There will be only one way left – to Torez and Snezhnoe, or maybe to Amvroseevka as well, to the border, to which everyone, civilians included, will be scrambling. And they will get stuck, becoming easy targets for random fire.
Think with your head and take care of yourself.
Igor Strelkov Comments
More definitive comments come from Igor Strelkov, who initiated the military phase of the Donbass revolt by claiming Slaviansk with a platoon-sized force on April 12th, 2014, then kept half of Ukraine’s combat-capable forces pinned down there until early July 2014, providing critical time for the rebels and their Russian advisors to secure the border and organize additional militia units in other parts of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Although Strelkov was forced to return to Russia by his own side in August 2014 (likely due to conflicts with Khodakovsky among others), he is a hero to Russia’s hard-nationalist camp and claims to maintain good contacts in Donetsk according to Jacob Dreizin.
On April 4th, Strelkov posted on his social media page, as translated by Dreizin: “In the course of the coming month, I anticipate very serious events with a totally unpredictable outcome. I have sufficiently firm grounds on this. There will be no additional comments.”
On April 13th, without referring to his April 4th post, Strelkov wrote the following as translated by Dreizin: “Near Donetsk—a savage artillery battle with losses on both sides. The concentration of Ukrainian forces and material in the immediate rear is either complete or close to completion. On the front line, in all the main sectors, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been replaced with National Guard. Aviation is concentrated on near-frontline airfields. Both sides await Easter. There are a lot of rumors about the start of large-scale battles either during the holiday or immediately after.”
If truly large-scale fighting breaks out (for the first time since the winter of 2014-2015) it would likely be contained within the former provincial borders of Donetsk and Lugansk, since going beyond those borders would —as Strelkov stated on YouTube — require large-scale, Russian Federation involvement, including a call-up of Russian reserves that we have not yet seen.
A postponement is possible if someone in Washington or Europe put their foot down on Kiev, as Chancellor Merkel did in August 2015. Otherwise, it’s pretty clear both sides are preparing for war.
From the point of view of Kiev, there may be no better time than the present because the West is already cooling towards Russia.