Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine: all about the Donbass

The expected Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun, as Moscow has announced that “the plan for the liberation of the people’s republics [autoproclamées] of Donetsk and Luhansk is being implemented”. eastern Ukraine, where the deadly fighting has intensified in recent days.”We can now say that Russian troops have started the battle for Donbass, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now devoted to this offensive,” he said in a speech broadcast on Telegram. “No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight. We will defend ourselves”, he claimed, after having warned the day before that “they literally want to complete and destroy the Donbass” Explanations of France 24 correspondent in Ukraine, Gulliver Cragg 02:04 Shortly before, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï, had also explained that the Russian offensive “has begun”. “It’s hell. The offensive has begun, the one we’ve been talking about for weeks,” he said on Facebook. For his part, Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak announced that “the second phase of the war has begun.” , ensuring that the Ukrainian forces had the means to resist the offensive. [autoproclamées] of Donetsk and Luhansk is implemented”, in accordance with the will of the Kremlin, declared for his part, on Tuesday, the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu. This offensive was expected since the Russian army evacuated the region kyiv and announced on March 25 that it now intended to concentrate its efforts on the east of the country. Donbass was already being discussed on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on television that he had taken the decision to launch a “military operation” in Ukraine, officially at the request of the leaders of the two separatist “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk, recognized as “independent” by the Kremlin two days earlier and partly controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian forces. While explaining that he was seeking to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine”, Vladimir Putin said he wanted to “protect” the pro-Russian populations of Donbass, victims according to him and Russian propaganda of “genocide”. To understand the issues of this new phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, France 24 is looking into this territory, which has become Moscow’s main target. The Donbass, where and what is it? The Donbass is a Ukrainian region made up of the oblasts (provinces) of Donetsk and Luhansk, which takes its name from the contraction of “Don”, the name of the river which crosses it, and “bass” for basin. This Russian-speaking territory located in the east of the country, on the border with Russia, is the great Ukrainian mining region and the main industrial center (steel and metallurgy mainly) of the country. Before Ukraine became independent in 1991, the region, whose south is bordered by the Sea of ​​Azov, was already one of the main industrial strongholds of the USSR, while the west of the country was his granary. © Studio Graphique France Médias Monde In 2001, some 600,000 Ukrainians were still working in more than 200 Ukrainian mines concentrated mainly in the Donbass. Before the start of the conflict in 2014, this region had nearly 7.3 million inhabitants according to AFP out of the 45.5 million Ukrainians, and represented 16% of the national GDP. Donetsk, the largest city in the mining basin alone had a million inhabitants. Why Donbass is Russian-speaking? Today, a significant part of the Donbass population is of Russian origin, and family ties link Ukrainians and Russians on both sides of the border. This population is descended in particular from Russian workers sent en masse by the Soviet authorities, in the interwar period and after the Second World War, to work in the Ukrainian mining basin. If it has been Russian-speaking for several generations, the Donbass is not necessarily pro-Russian. The region is indeed Ukrainian, since its population overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence from Ukraine in the December 1991 referendum. of Leonid Kravchuk, a former communist apparatchik, rather than for the nationalist candidates, but who ended up quickly turning his back on Moscow and imposing Ukrainian as the national language. Many years later, when it is a question for Ukraine of a rapprochement with the European Union (EU), the Russian speakers of the Donbass will rather look towards Russia. Russian hands-off on the Donbass In November 2013 the pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, suddenly abandoned the association agreement with the EU and opted for closer cooperation with Moscow. This decision triggers a wave of pro-European protests in kyiv, where Maidan Square becomes the epicenter of monster demonstrations. On February 22, 2014, Viktor Yanukovych was impeached by Parliament and took refuge in Russia. Vladimir Putin denounces a coup and warns that he “reserves the right to use all available options, including force as a last resort”. In March 2014, he annexed Crimea while the pro-Russian insurgency, encouraged and financed by Moscow, spread to the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern regions of the country. On April 7, 2014, the Donbass war began. The pro-Russian rebels, supported and armed by Moscow, even if officially the Russian Federation is not involved in the conflict, take control of the regional government offices in Donetsk and proclaim a “sovereign republic”. For its part, kyiv launched an “anti-terrorist” operation and deployed its army there. On May 11, the separatists self-proclaim the independence of the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, following a referendum judged, like that of Crimea, illegal by kyiv. An endless war From 2014, eastern Ukraine will not know peace. The Donbass remains torn by a bloody war between separatists and Ukrainian forces, while the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014 and 2015, were intended to silence the guns by imposing a ceasefire and demilitarization of the area. In vain. In October 2019, Ukrainian and Russian representatives meeting in Minsk reached an agreement on the organization of elections in the Ukrainian separatist regions of Donbass on granting them a special status. In vain, there too. Elected in 2019, President Volodymyr Zelensky began with a policy of dialogue with Moscow before realizing its failure. He declares in April 2021 that his country’s membership in NATO is the only way to put an end to the war in Donbass. A red line for Moscow, which also criticizes the Ukrainians for never having respected the terms of the Minsk agreement. Before the unilateral recognition of the independence of the two separatist “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk by Vladimir Putin and the start of the Russian invasion, the conflict in the Donbass had left more than 14,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced. What is the current strategy of the Russian army in the Donbass? If there is no major breakthrough on the ground for the moment, the offensive and the intentions of the Russian military, who were forced by the Ukrainian resistance to review their plans, are reflected in an increase in artillery activity targeting several towns in Donbass such as Rubizhne, Popasna and Marinka. However, the Russian army took control of the small town of Kreminna, which had 18,000 inhabitants before the war, and which is located on the main road used by the Russian troops heading towards Sievierodonestk, a little further south. . The front is on April 19, 2022. © France 24 According to the Ukrainian army, “the enemy continues to transfer weapons and military equipment to Ukraine from central and eastern regions of the Russian Federation “. Tor anti-aircraft missiles were transferred to the Kharkiv region (northeast) and S-400 and S-300 anti-aircraft systems were deployed in the Russian region of Belgorod, near the border with Ukraine, a indicated on Tuesday April 19 the general staff of the Ukrainian army. eastern and southern Ukraine, bringing the total of battalions in the country to 76 in one week. These battalions are generally composed of units combining air defence, armour, tactical vehicles, artillery, helicopters, engineers and logistic support. According to this official, about 22 battalions stationed in northern Ukraine are probably being resupplied and re-equipped, while 12 of the 76 battalions are still trying to take the port city of Mariupol. If it falls into Russian hands, the 12 battalions will be sent to other towns in eastern or southern Ukraine.