Summary for our preschool readers:
The fighting in Mar’inka wasn’t a general offensive by either side, but rather a series of small
attacks/counter-attacks amid heavy artillery fire. In the end, both sides are pretty much where they started, losses seem comparable. Donetsk was randomly shelled by UAF, as per usual. Overall, exact same pattern of escalating tug-of-war that we saw in Donetsk airport last fall.
The reports yesterday were extremely confusing: sources on both sides reported attacking and defending, winning and losing – all at the same time.
Literally, there were multiple sources on both sides claiming anything from “we’ve been kicked out of Mar’inka with serious losses” to “We took Mar’inka, the enemy suffered huge losses”.
Mass media were no help as usual, Western MSM mindlessly parroting the UAF spokesman’s boasting, and Russians doing the same for the DPR.
Videos from the fighting just showed somebody shooting at something, somewhere.
Thankfully, OSCE cleared the fog of war a bit with their spot report, even if it was done in their trademark style of “we just talk about DPR actions because we it just so happened we were only watching them; we will mention in the middle of the sentence in the third paragraph, in passing, that UAF hit Donetsk with a hundred heavy-artillery rounds at 4:30am (which is the exact point the fighting broke out – what a coincidence)”.
This was followed by a “latest report” that had a “ceasefire violations table” attached, which indicates OSCE recorded ~150 artillery and MLRS rounds fired by the UAF, ~230 fired by the DPR, and ~200 where they were not sure. They have also spotted something like 12 DPR tanks and 8 UAF tanks or SPHs.
Combining this report with messages from various people on the ground (in chronological order), we can be reasonably sure of what happened. In short, sources on both sides did not agree who was winning or losing because, during the day, combat rocked back and forth.
The fighting started in the early morning.
4:30 am is the point when OSCE detected the start of UAF shelling of Donetsk and start of DPR artillery strikes on UAF positions, but it is likely that smaller clashes in Mar’inka – using small-arms, grenade launchers, and light mortars – started some time prior (in fact, they never really stopped, at least in the previous few days).
1. (Possible UAF attack) UAF infantry may have assaulted the DPR positions first, in the early morning; several separate DPR sources claim this, but there is no rock-solid evidence. Both sides certainly shelled each other.
2. (DPR counter-offensive) Either way, it appears DPR forces in Mar’inka quickly recovered, called in infantry and armor reinforcements, and counterattacked (according to DPR sources, they initially tried to close in with the enemy to prevent UAF artillery from firing – for fear of hitting their own forces – but when the UAF started retreating, this turned into “let’s see how much ground we can take”).
3. (DPR hold most of Mar’inka) The DPR advance got additional reinforcements and went well. By midday (very rough estimate), UAF forces were pushed to the western edge of Mar’inka. DPR reinforcements from Donetsk actually started attacking the next town of Kurahovo, trying to silence the artillery that has been shelling them and Donetsk from there.
This was the high-water mark of DPR “probing attack” and the reason the panicked messages from Kiev side / triumphant reports from DPR.
4. (UAF counter-offensive) However, just like at the “tug-of-war” we’ve seen in the Donetsk airport in the fall, the close-combat victories of the rebels in one location were meaningless without a strategic plan and silencing UAF artillery in surrounding positions.
UAF gunners were ready and zeroed in on the forward UAF positions the rebels took, and UAF soon responded with several large counterattacks, also including plenty of armor. When the dust settled, the artillery-battered rebels were more or less pushed back to where they started.
This is the reason for “we’ve been pushed back by Ukie attack” reports from the rebels and Kiev messages saying they have effortlessly defeated the “Russo-terroristic armies” (I’m not kidding, this is the official term they use nowadays).
5. (UAF hold most of Mar’inka) At this point (around 5 pm), both sides have taken considerable losses (DPR acknowledged 15 KIA and 84 WIA, Kiev acknowledged 4 KIA and 42 WIA – real losses are likely 50% higher for DPR and 200%+ higher for Kiev, as usual), and agreed to stop attacking each other.
What conclusions can we make:
A) Minsk-2 truce is very shaky, both sides seem increasingly liberal with using heavy weapons and conducting offensives and counter-offensives.
B) For now, we can not conclusively blame either side for this flare-up. The whole thing appears to be a case of escalating tit-for-tat exchanges, with both sides being quick to up the ante.
C) UAF are staying true to their trademark “when in doubt, drop single shells all around Donetsk for no military reason” terror shelling habit (see list of hits here ). At the same time, DPR have also hit both civilian houses and checkpoints yesterday, but at least their fire is always aimed to a zipcode with military targets in it. OSCE confirms both of these things, no one cares.
D) Absent some progress in implementation of Minsk-2 conditions, this scenario will likely repeat and soon lead to renewed hostilities.
Chief problem, as I see it, is that the sides were forced to sign the truce by Russia and EU virtually in gunpoint. In fact, the rebels have no real desire to surrender to Kiev, and Kiev usurpers have no real desire to stop the war – it is the only thing distracting the population from the myriad failures of the new government in all other matters . As a result, rebels refuse to disarm or let Kiev control the Russian border, Kiev refuses to lift the food/medicine/economic blockade, or release political prisoners. No progress has been made in implementation of Minsk-2 agreements for months, and absent some major pressure from both West and Russia, none will be.