Thursday, 19 February 2015

Debaltsevo - "an orderly retreat"

The Ukrainian forces, after their rout, have announced “an orderly retreat” from Debaltsevo – they have “achieved all their plans”.

Even the BBC and the Guardian had to acknowledge that soldiers were coming out on foot in a sorry state.

On the other hand, RT reported Poroshenko’s words without irony.

The western media is now having to report a crushing defeat in a battlezone that a few short weeks ago they didn’t even recognise existed, and wasn’t included into the Minsk talks.

Here is the RT report followed by some reactions from mainstream western media as well as by the Junta’s propaganda channel, Ukraine Today.

More on this later.

Kiev says troops withdrawn from Debaltsevo, rebels claim military ‘surrender en masse’

Kiev troops surrounded in the city of Debalstevo have started to surrender en masse, Ukrainian rebels have said. President Poroshenko announced a complete withdrawal from the contested city.

18 February, 2015

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko confirmed in a video statement that he has given an order to withdraw troops from Debaltsevo on Wednesdsay.

We stated and proved that Debaltsevo was under our control and that there was no encirclement. Our units withdrew according to plan in an organized manner. They took military hardware with them – tanks, APCs, artillery pieces, tow-tracks, cars,” the president said.

He added that some 80 percent of the troops have already left the city.

Reuters cited a witness who saw the troops, some of them injured, arriving in Artemyevsk, a city northwest of Debaltsevo, through which a road leading to Kiev-controlled areas goes.

Poroshenko will visit eastern Ukraine later in the day and chair a security council session in the evening, Ukrainian media reported.

Earlier Semen Semenchenko, MP and commander of one of Kiev’s volunteer battalions, reported that the troops were being withdrawn from the contested city. He added that Kiev should now attack in other parts of the frontline, which had been weakened by the rebels to lay siege on Debaltsevo.

They are empty and we have troops. One strike and the frontline would crumble,” he assured, adding that withdrawal is “beyond comprehension.”

However, DPR spokesman Denis Pushilin has denied Poroshenko’s statement, saying Kiev troops are not being evacuated, but are giving themselves up.

Most of these formations, which Poroshenko referred to, were defeated by the militia forces, and some of these units surrendered or are surrendering now,” Pushilin said as cited by the Donetsk news agency.

Maksim Leshchenko, a senior official in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, also told journalists on Wednesday that the Ukrainian troops are laying down their arms “in their hundreds.”

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Russian 1st Channel broadcasts footage alleged to be Novorossiya flag over 

Earlier on Tuesday, Eduard Basurin, a military spokesperson for the rebels, confirmed taking some 300 soldiers prisoner.

Debaltsevo was Kiev’s stronghold deep inside the rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine, a military asset portrayed in the media as a site of a heroic last stand of the Ukrainian military. The rebels said they had some 3,000 troops encircled in a pocket and had been calling on them for days to lay down their arms and surrender. Kiev rejected the claims, insisting that Debalstevo supply lines were intact and that the city would remain under their control.

The fate of Debaltsevo was arguably the biggest debating point at last week’s peace talks in Minsk, which resulted in a ceasefire agreement. The continued violence around the city contrasts the virtually uninterrupted truce in other parts of eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, anti-government forces started pulling back heavy weapons from the frontline in quiet areas of the conflict zone.

Five 152mm self-propelled artillery pieces are being withdrawn from the village of Yelenovka to their permanent base,” Basurin told the media.

Under the Minsk agreement, Donetsk has 14 days to withdraw heavy weapons completely, but if everything goes “as planned, we can handle it faster,” the Donetsk Defense Ministry said.

We intend to start artillery withdrawal in those areas, where the ceasefire is observed,” Basurin said.

On the line of contact, where there is no military actions, weapons will be pulled back “within 3-4 days,” the ministry stressed.

RIA Novosti confirmed the pullout, saying that its correspondent witnessed withdrawal of Grad multiple rocket launchers and tanks from the disengagement line.

According to Basurin, Debaltsevo is currently fully controlled by anti-government troops, but there are groups of Kiev soldiers in the south of the city trying to resist.

DNR troops are now conducting a search operation in Debaltsevo aimed at locating and blocking those groups,” Basurin said.

He also stressed the situation in the so-called 'Debaltsevo cauldron' should not become a pretext for either Kiev, or militia to violate the Minsk agreements..

The OSCE confirmed the pullback of heavy weaponry from the line of contact by Lugansk self-defense forces, the Russian representative to the organization, Andrey Kelin told TASS.

"The OSCE is receiving reports on an ongoing pullback of armaments by the Lugansk republic," he said, adding that the organization doesn’t have information on Donetsk weaponry withdrawal at the moment.

"The OSCE doesn't have reports on it right now, although they've placed about 20 patrol teams along the line of contact and these patrols are expected to send in reports," he said.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini demanded an end to hostilities around Debaltsevo and threatened Russia with more EU sanctions.

"The EU stands ready to take appropriate action in case the fighting and other negative developments in violation of the Minsk agreements continue," she said.

The ceasefire also dominated Wednesday’s phone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Minister [Lavrov] pointed out the importance of direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, including a speedy end to armed clashes in the area of Debaltsevo, and reiterated the obligations of the Ukrainian authorities to (conduct) constitutional reform and provide Donbass with a special status," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The US State Department believes both sides in the Ukraine conflict need more time to implement the Minsk peace plan, spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. US authorities haven’t taken a decision on arms supplies to Ukraine yet, she added.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Kiev and the rebels to do whatever they can to resolve the issue without loss of life.

I really hope that the decision-makers in the Ukrainian leadership won’t prevent the Ukrainian troops from laying down arms, if they cannot take such an important decision themselves and order it. Or at least they shouldn’t harass people who want to save their lives,” he said.

On the other hand, I expect the militias not to detain those people and allow them to leave the conflict zone and go back to their families,” he added.

However, there are some figures in Poroshenko’s government, who are “very much pro-military,” political analyst and founder of Global Political Insight Alexander Clackson told RT. Moreover, with the Ukrainian population feeling that Kiev “is failing,” Poroshenko can’t show weakness when it comes to eastern Ukraine.

There is an inner circle within Poroshenko’s government who are very much pro-military if you like. They hate to see Ukraine being defeated over and over again. We’ve seen it prior to the talks in September in Minsk. And we have seen that again this time as well," Clackson said. "There is a general feeling among the Ukrainian population that the Ukrainian government is failing in this conflict in eastern Ukraine. So Poroshenko wasn’t able to come across as weak during the last Minsk talks. Because if he came to these talks saying ‘Listen, I’m ready to give up Debaltsevo,’ that would cause a huge uproar in his own country, which is precisely why he had to argue that Debaltsevo was not lost.”

Here is how the Guardian reported events, as well as an editorial

Retreat from contested railway hub connecting Donetsk and Luhansk marks strategic victory for rebels

The Guardian view on Debaltseve and the Ukraine ceasefire
The best response to Russian policy in Ukraine is to play the economic card

Crisis in Ukraine

 Picture reportedly showing Ukrainian government forces pulling out of the strategic eastern city of Debaltseve. 'The fundamental aim must be to transform the conflict into a contest in which force is at the far end of the spectrum.' Photograph: Anastasia Vlasova/EPA

18 February, 2015

It was obvious as soon as the Ukraine ceasefire was agreed last week that both sides would fight hard in the time before it came into force to either seize or deny territory, particularly in Debaltseve. Such down-to-the-wire efforts are a feature of ceasefires everywhere, and they often go beyond the wire, as they have at Debaltseve, where the separatists have been able to squeeze the battered town so hard in the last few days that Ukrainian forces are now withdrawing, in what sort of order is not clear. Such land grabs are violations but they may also demonstrate an expectation that the truce will last. Why expend men and materiel to gain an advantage unless you expect to be able to lock it in? So the Russians and the separatists probably thought they could get away with it and then transform themselves into supposedly dutiful observers of the agreement afterwards.

So far that seems a correct calculation. In spite of protests and late-night phone calls to Moscow, the line seems to be that the ceasefire is damaged but not dead, in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman. President Petro Poroshenko, for his part, is presenting Debaltseve as a something akin to Dunkirk, a heroic battle against the odds and an orderly withdrawal under fire, but not as a reason for entirely denouncing the ceasefire.

The phrase “you can’t win” must often, and bitterly, come to mind in Ukraine. The Russians can always up the ante when the Ukrainians do well on the battlefield. The way the struggle for Debaltseve went is only the latest reminder that the military situation in Ukraine is asymmetrical, and almost entirely favours Russia and the separatists. The economic confrontation, however, is also asymmetrical, and almost entirely favours Ukraine and its friends in Europe and North America. At the most local level, the rebel-held part of the Donbass region, although slightly more coherent after the capture of the Debaltseve rail junction, is not big enough or well-connected enough to be a viable economic entity even if its run-down and now war-damaged industries could be revived. Keeping Donbass on life support is not a burden that Russia, staggering under the double impact of sanctions and falling oil prices, wishes or is able to assume. It would prefer that Ukraine and its western allies pick up most of that tab. Potentially that hands some leverage to Kiev, particularly if Kiev begins to prosper economically.

The economic, social and political reform of Ukraine is indeed the top card in the hand events have dealt Kiev and its allies. But, as George Soros has said in a recent essay, that demands much more focus by Europe, the United States and international institutions on economic aid and fiscal assistance to the republic. Sanctions, he argues, are a necessary evil because, while they keep up the political pressure on Moscow, they damage both Russia and western countries. The economic collapse of Russia, it should be noted, is in no way desirable. The Russian default of 1998 was disastrous for everybody. Greater help for Ukraine, on the other hand, would not hurt Russia and would have only positive consequences for both the Ukrainian and the European economies. Economic relations within and with a prosperous western Ukraine might also help in time to soften the antagonism between nationalists and separatists and make President Vladimir Putin rethink his regional ambitions.

If that is on the outer edge of optimism, and it is, it is still the best way to go, making the most of Europe’s and America’s economic advantages and pulling away from the dangers of military escalation. That does not mean that some military preparations and a more consistent signalling of Nato resolve are not appropriate, but they are very much secondary. The fundamental aim must be to transform the conflict into a contest in which force is at the far end of the spectrum. Mr Putin could of course at any time revert to the war option. The ceasefire, which Mrs Merkel rightly described as offering only a glimmer of hope, could break down again, for example in a push to take Mariupol. But Mariupol would be a city too far and would lead to enhanced sanctions. So there is still a chance that the ceasefire will lead not to peace – that would be too much to suppose – but to a period when divergent objectives are pursued by non-warlike means.

"An orderly and planned withdrawal" - This is how Ukraine Today covers the events.

This propaganda reel shows a truck without tyres and a truck deck soaked in blood.

The guy receiving the medal from Poroshenko doesn't have much to say, or even acknowledge him

Poroshenko Visits Ukrainian 

Troops: President honours 

soldiers following Debaltseve 


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