Kiev Outmanoeuvred by the Rebels
A Guest Commentary
July 25, 2015
A week later and the LPR and DPR s initiative, on the evidence, seems to have paid off. Kiev could have taken advantage of the withdrawal by moving forces forward – they had an advantage over the rebels along the contact line and could have taken ground.
Nevertheless, immediately following the move on July 16th, and for several days after, the initiative received scant publicity in the western media. A core part of the initiative was to force Kiev into a corner. After all, if they had attacked, following such a withdrawal, it would have been a clear violation of the Minsk 2 agreement. It would have been risky therefore. I’m assuming here, of course, that Kiev does not want peace in the Donbass and Minsk is the one thing stopping them launching another offensive.
The tactic since Minsk, in February, has been to provoke the rebels into an offensive which they can thereby claim would have been a viable reason to relaunch the war – and keep western backers on board to boot. Having failed for five months, it must have come as a shock to them when Donetsk and Lugansk unilaterally announced a further withdrawal – regardless of Kiev. This appears to have been the reason for the heavy shelling of central Donetsk on the night of July 18th. A final salvo of artillery shells in one last attempt to draw the rebels out into a full blown scrap. It failed. On Monday July 20th Kiev conceded to a withdrawal of similar weaponry from the contact – claiming it was their initiative in the first place.
Consequently, the engagement lines have gone quiet, and a relative peace has descended over Donetsk and Lugansk cities. As a consequence this benefits the republics’ leaders in four ways:
1. They have shown, in particular to a world audience, their intention towards peace
2. They have succeeded in forcing more of Kiev’s heavy weapons back from the contact line, ensuring fewer of those weapons are capable of reaching populated areas
3. Because of 1 & 2 they have stymied a small but growing discontent amongst their populations (which Kiev was hoping would lead to open revolt in the republics before long)
4. They have shown their control over the militias along the front line – demonstrating further evidence that their armed forces command structure is now fully developed
It is my opinion, that these factors being displayed – full control of military, continued strong support amongst the populations of the republics and the public furtherance of Minsk 2 – will play a significant role in the future of this conflict than most would believe at present. Kiev has been weakened without a shot being fired so-to-speak whilst the Republics remain impressively strong, confident and united.
It would appear for the first time, that we now have a balanced situation in the conflict – both militarily and politically. Consequently, this is now a new situation because Kiev’s available options are fewer. If they say they adhere to Minsk, then the next step is to propose the constitutional changes in the agreement. And this is the tough bit. Real concessions, to the republics, must be made by Kiev at this point.
This new position is like traversing a dangerous mountain ridge for the Kiev leadership – an abyss on either side and uncertainty straight ahead. They either scrap Minsk, risking the anger of Europe, concede to the republics, risking the anger of militant factions in Ukraine, or, continue to trudge the rocky path, effectively freezing the conflict for the foreseeable future.