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Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, has told Ukrainska Pravda that heavy artillery may be returned to the front line if Russian-backed forces do not cease their attacks in the south of the Donetsk region.
Beginning at 20:00 local time, Seleznyov said, Russian backed forces shelled the settlements of Chermalyk and Starognatovka with 120 mm mortars and 152 mm self-propelled artillery.
As of 23:46, the spokesman reported that the bombardment had stopped, but the “situation remains tense.”
“We have, in accordance with procedure, informed the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and the Kiev office of the OSCE, and, through the Foreign Ministry, told our Western partners that, if the militants continue to violate the Minsk agreements, we reserve our right to use artillery in the event of attacks on our positions.”
Earlier tonight, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, President Poroshenko’s press secretary, wrote on his Facebook page that, at 21:50, Russian-backed forces had begun intense shelling of the Ukrainian 72nd Brigade’s positions.
Tsegolko said that Poroshenko had instructed the General Staff and Ministry of Defence to prevent an enemy offensive while acting in accordance with the Minsk agreements.
Sergei Misyura, an officer in the 72nd Brigade, tweeted:
Translation: It’s quietened down a little now, can write. Our 72nd Brigade positions in Granitnoye and Starognatovka have been shelled by self-propelled artillery, 122 and 152 mm.
Within the last half an hour, at 22:16 GMT, there were unverified reports on Twitter of renewed shelling in the area:
Translation: Heavy blasts heard on Starognatovka
One reply reported outgoing fire from separatist-held Komsomolskoye, where the OCSE has previously observed large concentrations of armour:
Translation: 1:15. Salvoes heard in Komsomolskoye.
Translation: #Volnovakha Blasts heard more and more frequently
This tweet relays a report from the VKontakte social network:
Translation: VK: “Sounds like vehicles operating at the Razdolnoye college and incoming landing right nearby!!!”
The “Razdolnoye college” referred to here is likely the Angelina Starobeshevo Occupational Agricultural Lycee (SPAL), which has been turned into a training centre for Russian-backed fighters, as demonstrated by abundant photographic and video evidence, which we analysed in depth earlier this summer:
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced this evening that the foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, had spoken by phone with his French and German counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Klimkin informed them of the “significant exacerbation of the situation in the Donbass,” claiming that “the latest provocations by the Russian-backed militants is a targeted attempt to torpedo the negotiating process, aimed at the withdrawal of weaponry with a calibre of less than 100 mm and the de-escalation of the situation around Shirokino.”
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainian military spokesperson Vladyslav Seleznyov has told reporters that one Ukrainian soldier was killed and nine wounded as the Ukrainian military fought back an offensive launched against the town of Starognatovka, a battle we have been covering today.
RFE/RL reports that a key leader of the Russian-backed forces put the number of Ukrainian military casualties higher than this:
Meanwhile, the de facto defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, says forces under his command stopped an attempt by Ukrainian forces to advance in the same area on August 10.
According to Basurin, Ukrainian forces lost two tanks, one armored personnel carrier, and a military truck with a missile on it.
Earlier, Yana Zinkevich, chief of Praviy Sektor’s (Right Sector’s) medical and rehabilitation unit, claimed that four soldiers from the Ukrainian 72 Brigade were killed and six soldiers from the 72nd and 14th brigades were wounded, but Seleznyov denied Right Sector fighters were present.
Regardless, the Russian-backed fighters are accusing the Ukrainian military of launching today’s offensive, not the other way around. The Russian state news outlet RIA Novosti reports that separatist commander Basurin says that 6 Ukrainian infantry fighting vehicles and 6 Ukrainian tanks launched an assault on Starognatovka which was preceded by a two-hour artillery barrage. Basurin claims that this is a “gross violation” of the Minsk agreement.”
Spokesperson for the United states State Department, John Kirby, said that the US was “deeply troubled” by the escalation, “the most [attacks] since the Debaltsevo offensive in February. Russia and the separatists it supports cannot simultaneously talk ‘peace’ and then fight. If they want peace they must implement the full ceasefire that they agreed to in Minsk.” Kirby also expressed concern about the arson attack on OSCE monitors which destroyed four of their cars in Donetsk, the capital of the self-proclaimed separatists, over the weekend.
We are not aware of any official comment from the Russian government at the moment.
— James Miller
As we have been reporting, Ukraine says it has beaten back a major Russian-backed offensive today near Starognatovka, around 20 kilometers east of Volnovakha — between Donetsk and Mariupol. There are also conflicting reports about whether Ukrainian forces advanced beyond the line of demarcation after the conclusion of the battle. Heavy fighting is reported in many areas across the western front.
The battle occurred after more cars belonging to the OSCE observers were vandalized.
Today Poroshenko has charged Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin with organizing new talks between the “Normandy Four” — Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. Interfax reports:
Poroshenko said he had “charged minister Pavlo Klimkin with urgent consultations at Foreign Affairs Ministry level of Normandy Four on Donbas situation development.”
Earlier on Monday Poroshenko held a meeting on Donbas events with Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko and Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak.
— James Miller
Yaroslav Chepurnoy, a press officer for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, has told local news site 0629.com.ua that Ukrainian positions near Volnovakha and along the river Kalmius have been subjected to heavy bombardment today following this morning’s fighting near Starognatovka.
The Interpreter translates:
After this morning’s incidents, ATO forces’ positions near Novotroitskoye were shelled with 120 mm mortars.
At around 11:00, ‘DNR’ forces bombarded Ukrainian positions outside Starognatovka with Grad MLRS.
At 11:30, positions near Granitnoye were shelled by 152 mm self-propelled artillery.
At around 12:00, there was shelling outside Starognatovka with 152 mm self-propelled artillery. At 12:05, there was a Grad attack near Bogdanovka.
At around 13:00, Ukrainian security forces’ positions outside Chermalyk were shelled with 120 mm mortars.
From 13:40 to 13:45, there was fire from 152 mm self-propelled artillery near Chermalyk.
— Pierre Vaux
Fighting broke out in the early hours of this morning near Starognatovka, around 20 kilometres east of Volnovakha. According to Ukrainian reports, Russian-backed forces went on the offensive, supported by tanks and artillery. After repelling the assault, Ukrainian troops have now advanced several kilometres to the east, taking the first new positions in this area for almost a year.
Yaroslav Chepurnoy, a press officer for the Ukrainian military headquarters in Mariupol, told 0629.com.ua that around 400 Russian-backed fighters attacked near Starognatovka at 3:25 this morning, following the shelling of Ukrainian positions near Nikolaevka, Starognatovka, Bogdankovka and Novogrigoryevka.
Andriy Tsaplienko, a reporter for Ukraine’s TSN, wrote on his Facebook page at 3:56 am that he had received reports on the fighting from Aleksandr Samarsky, deputy commander of the 72nd Mechanised Brigade, who said that the fighting was “practically hand-to-hand.”
By 4:53, Tsaplienko reported that the attack had been repelled and that units from the 72nd Brigade had counter-attacked, moving towards the Russian-backed fighters’ forward positions.
At 6:15, he posted a triumphant update (translated by The Interpreter):
“Our guys are in Novolaspa!!! For the first time since Febrary, the ATO forces are not on the defensive. The 72nd Brigade has beaten the enemy out of the settlement, which the ‘DNR’ considered theirs. Until this morning.
However Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff, told UNN that Ukrainian forces had not entered Novolaspa, but had taken control of important heights a little to the west, nearer Starognatovka.
Seleznyov stressed that, according to the Minsk agreement, Novolaspa was on the separatist side of the demarcation line.
Sergei Misyura, a commander in the 72nd Brigade, wrote on Facebook that Ukrainian forces had, in fact, taken control of Novolaspa after fierce street fighting, but had been ordered to withdraw so as to avoid being seen as violating the Minsk agreement.
While Seleznyov claimed that no Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, Misyura reported that one member of the 72nd Brigade had been killed.
Yana Zinkevich, chief of Praviy Sektor’s (Right Sector’s) medical and rehabilitation unit, claimed today that three members of the paramilitary group (who had come to the aid of the army during the attack) and four of the 72nd Brigade had been killed.
According to Zinkevich, five Praviy Sektor members and six soldiers from the 72nd and 14th brigades were wounded.
She posted photos from a field hospital:
At 13:17 local time, Seleznyov claimed that the battle had ended, with one soldier killed and nine wounded.
Furthermore, he denied the presence of any volunteer units (i.e. Praviy Sektor fighters) on this section of the front line.
The official version of events, published on the Ministry of Defence website, is that a formation of Russian-backed fighters, up to a battalion tactical group in size, attacked Ukrainian troops near Starognatovka at approximately 3:25 am. They were supported by 10 tanks and 10 BMPs, as well as other vehicles.
The defence minister and chief of the General Staff informed the President and representatives of the OSCE, after which the decision was taken to bring Ukrainian artillery forward towards this section of the front.
Seleznyov said that both the OSCE and Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) had been notified of the Ukrainian artillery response to the assault.
As Ukrainian forces counter-attacked, the Russian-backed fighters were forced back 2-3 kilometres, with the 72nd Brigade seizing “key heights, which had, until then, been controlled by terrorist groups,” said the MOD.
Around an hour after the MOD statement was published, the Mariupol Defence Headquarters reported that fighting continued near Novolaspa.
The assault comes amidst a general escalation in violence. Over the whole of the conflict region, the Ukrainian military reported 127 attacks yesterday.
UNIAN translates this morning’s ATO Press Centre report:
“The last day in the Donbas conflict zone differed from the previous days of the past weeks by the largest number of militant attacks on our positions. From 18:00 Kyiv time to midnight on August 10, the enemy was intensifying fire along the demarcation line. At about 18:00 Kyiv time on August 9, the occupiers fired mortars and small arms on our fortified position near the village of Novgorodskoye not far from the militant-held city of Donetsk. In the evening, they also fired 120mm mortars twice on the town of Avdeyevka, and at midnight it was attacked by tanks. From 19:00 to almost 01:00, the mercenaries fired 122mm artillery systems on the town of Krasnogorovka,” the report says.
The situation in the Artyomovsk sector is also tense. From 21:40 to 22:00, the militants fired Grad multiple rocket launchers from the village of Kalinovo on ATO forces in the village of Troitskoye. At 21:45 Kyiv time, they also were firing Grad rockets on the Ukrainian troops in the village of Rassadky.
“Illegal armed groups fired mortars and 122mm artillery systems four times on the village of Krymskoye in Lugansk region from 23:00 to 00:30. At around midnight, the Russian proxies started firing artillery systems and mortars on ATO forces and residential areas in the village of Starognatovka near the Ukrainian-held city of Mariupol,” the press center said.
This morning’s assault by Russian-backed forces is particularly noteworthy given that this is an area in which large deployments of Russian military force have been observed this year.
The OSCE has repeatedly reported observing concentrations of armour in towns along the eastern banks of the river Kalmius, including Komosomolskoye and Razdolnoye. Furthermore, uniformed Russian military personnel were spotted by OSCE monitors in Petrovskoye, a short distance north of today’s fighting.
In June, the Ukrainian Dnipro-1 Battalion released footage of a newly constructed military base around 12 kilometres south-east of Novolaspa. The speed and professionalism of the construction indicates it was performed by Russian military engineers.
The area is strategically important as any assault on the key port city of Mariupol would require a pincer move to the north, in order to push Ukrainian forces off the Donetsk-Mariupol highway. The front line along the Kalmius, east of Volnovakha, is critical to maintaining Ukraine’s hold on this stretch of road.
In their statement this morning, the MOD said that Russia and the separatists were acting to disrupt the peace process and escalate the conflict. The statement noted yesterday’s arson attack and protests against the OSCE in separatist-held Donetsk and Lugansk, hinting that the timing of these incidents was connected to this morning’s assault.
Perhaps even more worrying is that Evgeny Buzhinsky, a former member of the Russian General Staff and now chairman of the executive board at the PIR Centre, a security think tank in Moscow, told the BBC yesterday that any movement of Ukrainian troops across the Minsk demarcation line could trigger a full-scale military response from Russia.
Buzhinsky had made extreme threats before, claiming in February this year that any delivery of lethal weaponry to Ukraine by the USA would be seen by the Kremlin as a “declaration of war.”
He has also been keen to spread the claim that any Western intervention in the Ukrainian conflict could trigger nuclear war, a remote possibility that has been taken in by some of the more hysterically inclined members of the Western media.
The point of such statements is usually to scare off Westerners, to make them fear that any opposition to Russia’s plans may result in a nuclear holocaust. However such high-profile individuals (and note here that Buzhinsky only retired from the General Staff in 2009) are likely used to disseminate specific political messages from the Kremlin, and the timing of yesterday’s statement could well be a threat ahead of renewed military provocations in the Donbass.
Perhaps this threat, that Russia will dramatically escalate their military operation in Ukraine in the event of a Ukrainian advance, is why the military was so swift to order the withdrawal from Novolaspa, and even to deny that their forces had ever entered the settlement.
— Pierre Vaux