We have now passed a month since the Minsk II ceasefire was supposed to go into effect. The agreement was supposed to end the war in the Donbas. On the plus side, the fighting has died away save for two long-standing sores and one new nonviolent provocation. On the minus side, there are also indications that the Russo-rebels are preparing a bigger push thanwe thought before, but like everything the tea leaves are hardly definitive: after all, Russians invented the game of Maskirovka.
As noted before the fighting has been reduced to the outskirts of Donetsk and the town Shyrokyne. Depending on who you believe, the Ukrainians are being pushed back or the Ukrainians have repulsed attack after attack. The shooting involves mostly 120mm mortars (not popguns despite being “only” mortars), RPGs and small arms fire. Neither side seems be using long range artillery or rockets.
The provocation, which did not turn into a fire fight was up north in the Lugansk Oblast. Rebels crossed the Seversky Donets River and set up defensive positions. The Ukrainian army told them to evacuate. They ended up screaming at each other. Neither side fired a shot; the Ukrainians did not have authorization to engage. The rebels appear to have kept their position though. Not a good precedent that.
In Gorlovka, the rebels have been massing heavy combat equipment. For what purpose? Is this the signal they are going to start an offensive from Gorlovka? Or is it a distraction? We don’t know.
An unfortunate tragedy took place in Konstantinovka: a Ukrainian APC ran over some kids. There was a near riot over the incident, but the soldiers were arrested and their commander dismissed. The situation has calmed down, but it was really touch and go there for a while.
The Ukrainians have been trying to honor the terms of Minsk II. Much to my surprise, they even voted to grant autonomy to the Donbas. The new law stipulated the elections must be overseen by international monitors and follow Ukrainian law. It also allowed the east to use Russian as an official language. However, the rebels and Moscow have reacted badly to the legislation, stating it breaks the Minsk II agreement. Their reasons are unclear, to say the least.
Worryingly, Russia just signed an “association agreement” (annexation in all but name) with South Ossetia. NATO has reacted badly. The Ukrainian and Russian-speaking internet is lit up with speculation that this is what Putin has planned for rebel-controlled Ukraine.
The Europeans sure like their saucepan.
(A quick run down on the Minsk II implementation below the fold.)