In order to reclaim control over the country’s eastern regions, Ukrainian security forces have started a new offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas and Luhansk region. The offensive started on Sunday 1 June as government forces marched on the strategic town of Slavyansk, breaking through several roadside barricades. Separatist forces reacted by besieging a government-controlled border camp near the town of Luhansk on Monday 2 June. Thousands of civilians are on the run to escape the violence
The Ukrainian official stance against the pro-Russian separatists intensified after the election of Petro Poroshenko as new President of Ukraine on 25 May. In his victory speech, Poroshenko vowed to stop the war in the east. He stated “the first steps of my team will focus on ending the war, the chaos, the unrest and bring peace to the land of Ukraine”. He promised amnesty to all non-violent protesters in eastern Ukraine. But as pro-Russian separatists attacked the Donets airfield, the government stance hardened. A government official stated all separatist positions were being appraised and would be attacked using “special high-precision” weapons if the separatists did not surrender.
Critics claim the fighting in eastern Ukraine has turned more violent than before. Vladyslav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Ukrainian ‘anti-terrorism operation’ put the number of Separatists killed since April 2014 at 300. Ukraine’s acting Prosecutor General, Oleg Makhnitsky, stated that a total of 181 people, including 59 servicemen, had been killed as of 3 June. Representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said that they had lost around 50 fighters in the unsuccessful attack on the airfield. Twelve hours after the Ukrainian security forces started their offensive against the separatist-held city Slavyansk, Seleznyov stated that the government forces had sustained two deaths and 42 wounded.
Fighting in the east
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov stated that the 3 June military actions at the edge of separatist-held Slavyansk and in the nearby village of Semenivka, were part of an ‘active offensive phase’ of the governments ‘anti-terrorism operation’. He stated “a very intense exchange of fire is underway”. Separatist leaders confirmed that Ukrainian forces were advancing towards Slavyansk. Avakov claimed Ukrainian forces destroyed the separatist roadblocks and installments near the village of Semenivka. Seleznyov said about the separatists “if they refuse to lay down their arms, they will be destroyed.”
On Monday 2 June pro-Russian separatists attacked a Ukrainian government base near the town of Luhansk. Hundreds of separatist fighters stormed the border guard’s camp with automatic weapons and grenades, but they were unable to subdue the camp. Ukrainian forces retaliated with an airstrike on a separatist-held administrative building in Luhanks. According to the regional separatist government the airstrike killed eight people and wounding 28. The Ukrainian government denied the airstrike and claimed the explosion was caused by a separatist missile backfiring. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed the explosion was caused by an airstrike.
Russia has been blamed for provoking the conflict. United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, accused Russia of sending in Chechen fighters to stir up the violence. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied sending in Chechen troops but said some fighters could have gone voluntarily. Kadyrov did not rule out sending Chechen fighters to Ukraine if Russian President Putin asked him to.
In pre-G7 talks in Warsaw with Poroshenko the President of the United States, Barack Obama, said “further Russian provocation will be met with further costs for Russia including, if necessary, additional sanctions”. Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted by accusing America of “the most aggressive” actions on the international arena. “It is no secret that the most aggressive, the most rigid policy on protection of interests, as understood by the US administration, is pursued exactly by the US, year in, year out” Putin said. He added “We have barely any troops abroad, whereas the US has troops everywhere, it has military bases all over the world, and everywhere they participate in deciding the fates of nations that are thousands of miles away from their borders.”
The leaders of the seven most important industrial countries in the world, the G7, are expected to intensify sanctions against Russia. The leaders meet in Brussels from 4-7 June to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The meeting was planned to take place in the Russian resort of Sochi but was canceled after Russia annexed Crimea.
Since Sunday 2 June Ukrainian forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Both forces are still engaged and critics claim that for now, there is no end in sight to the violence.
Sources: Al Jazeera, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty I, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty II, Reuters, The Guardian I, The Guardian II, The Huffington Post I, The Huffington Post II.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink