Day 734: Things Are Getting Bad, But Is Russia Really Preparing An Amphibious Assault On Mariupol?

February 21, 2016
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko inspects his troops in Mariupol on September 8 | Mykola Lazarenko / Associated Press

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An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Things Are Getting Bad, But Should We Really Expect An Amphibious Assault On Mariupol?

Regular readers of this website know that things are heating up — worryingly so — in eastern Ukraine. Now things are getting so bad that The New York Times is running a headline “Truce Unravels as Fighting Picks Up in Ukraine.” An excerpt:

 “A week ago, we had shelling every two to three days, and mostly at night,” Lt. Col. Mikhailo M. Prokopiv, the commander of Ukrainian Army troops in this town, said in an interview on Sunday while touring the front line. “Now, not a day goes by when we don’t fight.”

Separatist militias have crept forward to carve new trenches within 150 yards of the army’s front line, he said, close enough for the soldiers and militiamen to yell insults back and forth.

His positions now regularly come under fire from mortars and truck-mounted antiaircraft machine guns, lowered to fire horizontally, Colonel Prokopiv said. A sniper killed one of his soldiers on Saturday.

As The New York Times notes, the OSCE is also increasingly worried about the situation in eastern Ukraine, citing, among other things, large numbers of tanks moving behind the lines of the Russian-backed fighters. Last week began with dire warnings from the head of the OSCE, Lamberto Zannier:

By the end of the week, however, Alexander Hug, the deputy chief of the monitoring mission in Ukraine, sounded even more alarmed:

The OSCE’s latest report is current up to Friday, February 19, at 19:30 hours local time. The report notes that both sides are moving heavy equipment inside the line of demarcation, and even more hardware is on the move behind the lines. In September, this number of violations would have been unheard of.

One interesting observation:

The SMM visited border crossing points in areas not controlled by the Government [emphasis is the OSCE’s, according to the Minsk agreement the control of the border should be returned to the Ukrainian military – The Interpreter].

The report lists a significant amount of activity at these borders, though most of it is nondescript. The OSCE saw one vehicle cross into Ukraine from Russia, a “civilian tanker labelled “Flammable”, which was boarded by a an armed man in camouflage immediately after crossing.”

The OSCE, the Ukrainian government, the Russian-backed separatists, and neutral reporters all agree — the weapons aren’t just moving, they’re shooting, and with a lot more frequency. According to Unian, presidential administration spokesman for Anti-Terrorist Operation issues Oleksandr Motuzianyk reported that one Ukrainian soldier was killed in the last 24 hours, killed in shelling of the town of Maryinka, on the front lines near Donetsk where so much of the violence has raged in recent days.

But in a separate article, Unian quotes Ukrainian intelligence officials as saying that the Russian military itself could be planning an amphibious assault on the southern port city of Mariupol. According to the article, “‘the 9th Separate Motorized Rifle Regiment from in the city of Novoazovsk has been enhanced by 1st Army Corps units, including the 810th Separate Marine Brigade of the Coastal Defense Troops of the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet.'”

In particular, “under an order issued on February 12, 2016, by so-called Chairman of the [self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic] DPR Alexander Zakharchenko, the 9th Separate Motorized Rifle Regiment was renamed the 9th Special Motorized Rifle Regiment of Marines and personnel of the 9th special regiment were provided with Marines’ uniform elements, namely black berets, vests, and chevrons. Military hardware was covered with identifying markings,” the GUR said.

Three Russian soldiers were killed and another five were wounded in a skirmish in the Mariupol sector in the past day. The Ukrainian intelligence agency identified the killed soldiers’ names: section commander Sergeant of the Russian Armed Forces Leonid Nikitin (the date of birth: 24.09.1995, born in Arkhangelsk), Privates Igor Sidorov and Vasily Petrachenkov.

The article goes on to claim that 9 Russian soldiers have also been killed near Maryinka, according to the Ukrainian intelligence agency.

Ukraine intel reports Russian army's preparation for amphibious lending near Mariupol

The Ukrainian intelligence agency has received confirmation that "the 9th Separate Motorized Rifle Regiment from in the city of Novoazovsk has been enhanced by 1st Army Corps units, including the 810th Separate Marine Brigade of the Coastal Defense Troops of the Russian Federation's Black Sea Fleet."

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Feb 22, 2016 09:39 (GMT)

Last week the Ukrainian military intelligence agency also reported that six Russian soldiers were killed near Donetsk in an apparent friendly-fire incident, but as we’ve noted these reports have not been independently confirmed:

The bottom line — if the trend continues, this could be another very bloody week in eastern Ukraine. The ceasefire is long gone, the Minsk agreement unfulfilled, and whether they are true or not, the claims of the Ukrainian military intelligence service suggests that they are very worried about what is in store in the Donbass.

James Miller