The Battle for Gorlovka: Is Ukraine Pounding Donbass for a Blitzkrieg?

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Over the past few days, Gorlovka has become the “hottest” point in Donbass. The northernmost point on the political map of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Gorlovka is an important military-strategic and economic center of Donbass. With an official population of 250,000 (the real number during the war is probably considerably lower), Gorlovka is one of the larger urban agglomerates in the DPR next to Makeevka and Donetsk itself, and furthermore is a border point between the DPR and LPR. Another flashpoint in recent days has been the by no means less strategic Svetlodarsk arc through which runs the Gorlovka-Donetsk highway.

Gorlovka is somewhat deeper than the Svetlodarsk arc which juts into the Ukrainians’ defenses. According to sources on the ground, the Ukrainians have been concentrating large armored and infantry forces in this arc. Foreign military forces from NATO countries have also been spotted. According to some reports, there are Western snipers in operation there.

To the east of Gorlovka is the famous city of Debaltsevo, also practically a border city between the DPR and LPR. If this city were captured by Ukrainian forces, the united defense line of the Donbass republics would be cut. Not to mention the important psychological effect that controlling the city has.

It is for these reasons that fierce battles are raging for Gorlovka.

Ukrainian media openly report that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are trying to encircle Gorlovka from three sides. An officer from the headquarters of Kiev’s Operation United Forces (which replaced the Anti-Terrorist Operation on April 30th) recently told Ukrainian journalists that the UAF is trying to take control of the heights overlooking Gorlovka, which would allow them to shoot at the city with impunity.

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The seizure of such neutral territories (which have been cynically christened “grey zones”) is justified by the Ukrainians as belonging to none of the parties; hence their claims that they are not violating the Minsk Agreements. However, Point Two of the Minsk Agreements proclaims the: “Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides by equal distances in order to create a security zone of at least 50km wide from each other for the artillery systems of caliber of 100 and more, a security zone of 70km wide for MLRS and 140km wide for MLRS Tornado-S, Uragan, Smerch and Tactical Missile Systems (Tochka, Tochka U).” Meanwhile, in the battles around Gorlovka the Ukrainian Armed Forces have deployed not only artillery systems (which has long since become a norm in Donbass), but even tanks and armored vehicles. The use of missile weapons against Gorlovka has also been reported. In other words, we are seeing and hearing weapons which should be withdrawn from the demarcation zone several tens of kilometers back.

The Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Eduard Basurin, reported on May 26th that over the course of the recent battles the Ukrainians have lost two tanks, two infantry fighting vehicles, one strategic counter-battery station of American production, several mortars and their devices, as well as more than 10 automobiles and special pieces of military equipment. DPR troops have confirmed these destroyed vehicles near Gorlovka.

If these reports are not typical wartime exaggerations, then it is obvious that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have suffered serious losses over the past few days of firefights. Sources in the DPR have also reported losses among the republics’ fighters and civilians. On May 25th, the DPR command announced that 9 soldiers and civilians have been killed over the week. I think that these figures are seriously understated and that the real level of civilian casualties is significantly higher, given the intensity of the shelling.

Once again, Ukrainian propaganda has blamed Donbass for shooting at itself, as if they are shelling their own cities with cannons and rockets in order to give Russia a pretext to intervene in the conflict. The latter argument is ridiculous: why provoke Russia with the shelling of DPR cities, as both the First and Second Minsk Agreements were concluded under strong pressure from Moscow on Donetsk and Lugansk, who wanted to continue their offensive on the collapsing Ukrainian army? Putin implored the DPR and LPR to halt their offensive, which literally saved the Ukrainian army from complete destruction.

In both Donbass and Russia, many people believe that the UAF will soon go on an offensive across the whole front. I call this, by analogy with Hitler’s planned offensive on the USSR, the “Ukrainian blitzkrieg.” Indeed, there is not only historical, but also strategic coincidence here: a blitzkrieg presumes a lighting-quick, massive offensive strike in one or more directions, for which are pulled up all available artillery and armored vehicles for the shock strike. On May 29th, the sky was filled with Ukrainian air force drills, which has become another argument in favor of a Ukrainian offensive being imminent.

The possibility of war is very high and Gorlovka might become one of the main directions of a Ukrainian blitzkrieg. All the while, the Ukrainian army is continuing to accumulate its reserves on other parts of the front. On May 27th, the DPR’s operative command reported that the UAF had deployed tanks and artillery into the residential areas of Kiev-controlled Dzerzhinsk. The next day, the Lugansk People’s Republic’s People’s Militia reported that the Ukrainian army had sent up MLRS to the contact line – those precise weapons which should be at a distance of 70 km from the front line.

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