Saturday, 19 February 2022 — SouthFront
Written by Alex Gallant exclusively for SouthFront
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) reported that, on the evening of February 16th, 189 ceasefire violations were recorded in the Donetsk region, and 402 in the Luhansk region. The shelling from the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) continued on the evening of the 18th in settlements like Zaitseve and Gorlovka.
Following the heightened tensions of the last 48h, Kyiv continues to transfer additional units in Donbass, seemingly in preparation of a potential large-scale “invasion” announced by the Biden’s administration on Thursday.
Coincidentally, while the Ukrainian Armed Forces are moving East, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and his relatives, are moving West, in preparation for the Munich Conference. This move, performed at an increasingly critical timing, is likely to permit Zelensky to escape the suspected Russian plan to decapitate the military leadership of the UAF, using Russia’s superior air power, in light of a possible preemptive offensive in Ukraine. The White House expressed its concerns on Zelensky’s decision to travel to Germany in spite of the crisis in Donbass.
When asked by Rossiya 24 whether the current situation is heading towards a full-scale war, Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), bluntly answered: “Yes, unfortunately yes”.
This news is even more alarming when acknowledging the previous decision from Pushilin to evacuate women and children from the region and into Russia. Men (18 to 55 years old) will remain in the region and are likely to be conscripted in the following days if tensions keep rising.
The evacuation was ordered early on February 18th, since a Ukrainian offensive is believed to be on the verge of being launched. The interruption of the Ukrainian special services’ attempt to sabotage infrastructure in Gorlovka on the morning of the 18th supported this claim. The attempt was stopped, although, early on the night of February 19th, the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline in Luhansk was successfully sabotaged, which caused a massive explosion in the area.
Sources from Kyiv report that President Zelensky will in fact launch a kinetic offensive in occupied Donbass. The likely scenario from the Kyiv administration is to reenact a “Croatian scenario’’, using a highly mobile force to rapidly take control of the DPR and LPR regions. The sources believe that a mass cleansing of the population will be ordered, and that russian-loyalists are the primary target.
“The destruction of anything considered pro-Russian will ensue: bloggers, journalists and opinion leaders will be targeted. Lists with names and addresses are believed to be already circulating among Ukrainian officials. The cleansing operation will not be limited to Donbass, but also to Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, and other cities of south-east Ukraine.”
Following increasing doubts last week concerning Germany’s loyalty to NATO, German Defense Minister Annalena Berbock reaffirmed the position of her administration not to send weapons to Ukraine against a Russian invasion. She mentions that, considering Germany’s past, it is their duty to find a peaceful alternative to the situation. Although, some sources mention the increased readiness of the German military to take part in NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force.
Estonian ambassador to Ukraine, Kaimo Kuusk, announced on Twitter earlier on February 18th the delivery of Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) to Ukraine. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov reported to have received 2,000 tons of defense aid from international partners, such as weapons, ammunition, armor, etc. He also mentions that this partnership was far from over.
Sanctions against Russia are likely to be imposed regardless of the future situation in Ukraine. Interestingly, the sanctions mentioned by the Biden’s administration do not include the export of energy resources from Russia or the withdrawal of the country from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system. Total Russian energetic exports to the United-States in 2020 reached a high of $162 billion, making Russia one of the largest exporters to the U.S. (7%).
However, the Kremlin is far from being cornered by NATO’s sanctions. Early this month, Putin and Xi, President of the Republic of China, agreed to a reorientation of Russian hydrocarbure exports towards China, amounting to an estimate of $117.5 billion. This economic dependency over U.S. imports of Russian oil might be predicting future sanctions from the Kremlin.
More details should be uncovered in the following days, amid the current heightened confrontation in Donbass.