Thirst for War: Why Ukraine Disrupted the Beginning of the Withdrawal of Forces in Donbass

The new start date of the disengagement of armed forces in Donbass will now be discussed in Minsk on October 15th.

Not only Russia watched events in Donbass all week with undisguised concern. There, according to the “Steinmeier formula“, the withdrawal of heavy equipment from the contact line was supposed to begin.

In the “gray zone”, near the villages of Petrovskoye and Zolotoye, the Ukrainian and Donbass sides had to withdraw their forces to a distance of two kilometers. And this would be the first step towards a truce and further settlement.

But then nationalists intervened. Those who burned tyres on Maidan and then under the protection of the former president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko then carried out a blockade of Donbass.

Militants broke through Ukrainian checkpoints, occupied Zolotoye, and started to mine the territory and do everything in order to disrupt the disengagement of forces, which they managed to do. It reached the point of absurdity: one day the nationalists even engaged in battle with the UAF and Ukrainian police, who tried to pacify the distraught radicals.

The Donbass militia signalled its readiness for the beginning of the process of withdrawing weapons – a white flare was launched. According to the rules, it has to start on both sides. After this – a green flare is launched, which means the beginning of the disengagement of forces.

However, a white flare wasn’t launched from the territory of Ukraine. After about an hour and a half of waiting, the representative of the DPR in the Joint Center for Control and Coordination Ruslan Yakubov decides to launch a second white flare.

The attempts to start the disengagement of the sides lasted three days, and all this time Yakubov was in Petrovskoye. He gave orders for a flare launch, held negotiations with representatives of the OSCE Mission, and kept journalists informed of events.

Representatives of the OSCE Mission recorded the start of both flares from the DPR and the lack of a response from the Ukrainian side. Mark Etherington, the first deputy mission manager of the OSCE in Ukraine, after several unsuccessful attempts to find out the reason why there is silence on the Ukrainian side, over the radio made the decision to leave Petrovskoye and to meet his colleagues from that side.

As representatives of the OSCE Mission from the Ukrainian side said, UAF militants didn’t see any flare.

Soon it became known that in the LPR nationalists broke through to the village of Zolotoye where the disengagement had to take place. They voiced the goal earlier – to not allow the Ukrainian army to leave its positions. Even in the morning, prior to the official process, a column with fighters and veterans of the ATO approached a checkpoint. They demanded to let them pass, in response to which the police closed the passage and demanded from them permission to enter Zolotoye, which they didn’t have. A verbal altercation ensued, which escalated into shooting. Law enforcement officers tried to stop the nationalists by firing shots into the air, but it didn’t help.

Having learned about the conflict, the leader of militants Andrey Biletsky arrived at the checkpoint from Zolotoye-4, and after this intervention the nationalists were allowed to pass. A huge column with Ukrainian flags drove on the territory of the settlement of Zolotoye. During this process, a policeman’s foot was driven over.

Attempts of disengagement near Petrovskoye started in 2016. The extent of the “gray zone” was supposed to be two kilometers. I.e., a space where there shouldn’t be either military parties. The road that connects two farms – Petrovskoye and Bogdanovk – with the village of Viktorovka fell in the “gray zone”. It will remain de jure non-controlled after disengagement. The parties agreed about such an extent of a “gray zone” during the Minsk talks.

That year the forces disengaged, but already by the end of 2017 in the “gray zone” entrances to new UAF positions and fortifications started to appear. It is well seen in satellite pictures. The scheme of disengagement in 2019 is identical to 2016 – the DPR remains in Petrovskoye, and the UAF depart to Bogdanovka. The road between the villages must also be cleared so that the OSCE patrol can move along it safely.

72 hours were allotted for the disengagement of forces and means. This was also specifically discussed during the Minsk meetings. During this time, the parties had to get in touch with representatives of the OSCE mission to record the beginning of the withdrawal of troops. Otherwise, another date would have to be renegotiated.

On October 10th in the village of Petrovskoye representatives of the DPR launched three white flares with a difference in between each one of approximately an hour and a half. This decision was made in order to try to exclude the possibility of the other party not seeing these signals. After the third launch, there was no response from the UAF.

“I would like to ask you – you have communication with a mirror patrol that is in the settlement of Bogdanovka – to clarify if the Ukrainian side is ready for any action on this fact,” said Yakubov to OSCE Representatives.

Expectations did not bring results. The Ukrainian side was silent. An answer to the question why the UAF don’t answer for the second day wasn’t received. On the third day it started to rain during attempts to disengage forces. There were fears that that a party won’t really be able to see a flare because of the weather conditions. Exactly at noon Ruslan Yakubov gave the order to start: the flash was bright enough and it was impossible not to see it.

All three launches were again recorded by OSCE representatives. But from the Ukrainian side an answer again didn’t follow.

“This is the final day, the third day, that was set aside for practical activities for withdrawal, which is the failure of agreements, the failure of the scheduled plan,” said Yakubov.

The military expert and former official representative of the LPR Andrey Marochko believes that Ukraine in principle didn’t prepare for disengagement. The Ukrainian army remains at its positions. And this means it can continue to fire at Petrovskoye and the neighbouring Styla.

And on October 14th Ukraine will celebrate the Day of the Defender. Nationalists celebrate the same date as day of the foundation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

The withdrawal of forces in Petrovskoye didn’t begin. An answer from the Ukrainian side didn’t follow. The date of the next start of the disengagement of forces will now be discussed in Minsk on October 15th.

Ekaterina Gabel

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