Monday, February 23, 2015
Debaltseve: Russia’s Pyrrhic Victory
Debaltseve – perhaps a sleepy town tucked away in the southeastern corner of Ukraine, in the Donetsk oblast, not centrally located, some 201 km (125 miles) from Rostov on Don, a major Russian city, would not have attracted any interest if it weren’t for the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-15.
The city, with a current population of 25,000, was established in 1878 when railway station was opened in Donetsk. Russia’s self-styled victory last week over combined Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve’s strategic railway station, a local landmark, shoved the town to the forefront of global attention.
News reports from the battlefront bolstered by Russia’s propaganda gave the impression of a significant military defeat for Kyiv and a slap in the face of President Poroshenko. Some pundits have called the evacuation of about 2,000-3,000 troops Ukraine’s Dunkirk. Others have opined that what they described as an insurmountable embarrassment signals the beginning of the end for Ukraine’s military campaign to rid its land of Russian invaders.
However, the triumph was more Pyrrhic for Russia than fatal for Ukraine.
“We’re not talking about a defeat,” declared Valeriy, my retired airborne friend from Lviv, who I have cited several times in past blogs. “Our military and political leaderships were presented with the task of deciding several issues regarding the defense of Debaltseve.”
Indeed, the last days of the Russian army’s siege of Debaltseve looked bleak for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, National Guard and volunteer battalions. War correspondents were filling newspaper columns and web pages with disappointing accounts about Ukraine’s war effort, without scratching the surface in search of news about what was being planned elsewhere, in Kyiv and command headquarters.
Not knowing if the siege would end with a surrender, evacuation or slaughter, Vladimir Putin vulgarly urged Ukrainian soldiers to surrender to save their lives – Nazi and Japanese radio propagandists tried this ruse during World War Two.
“Nuts,” as General Anthony McAuliffe famously replied to Nazi officers during the defense of Bastogne.
After Ukrainian soldiers strategically withdrew, Putin continued his typical insensitivity by saying: “It’s tough to lose. But life is life. It just goes on. No need to dwell on it.” Those words should be engraved on his tombstone.
Valeriy, who has more than 28 years of airborne experience as a soldier and instructor first with the Soviet army and later independent Ukraine’s armed forces, observed: “Our forces pretty competently and often heroically engaged the enemy and caused considerable damage to his soldiers’ lives and equipment.”
After the withdrawal, Poroshenko explained to the nation what had happened at Debaltseve.
“We can assert that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have fulfilled their tasks completely. This position and success were urgently necessary for us in the course of the Minsk negotiations and after them. We managed to show to the whole world the true face of bandits-separatists backed by Russia, which acted as guarantor and direct participant of the Minsk negotiations.
“We were asserting and proved: Debaltseve was under our control, there was no encirclement, and our troops left the area in a planned and organized manner with all the heavy weaponry: tanks, APCs, self-propelled artillery and vehicles…
“It is a strong evidence of combat readiness of the Armed Forces and efficiency of the military command. I can say that despite tough artillery and MLRS shelling, according to the recent data, we have 30 wounded out of more than 2,000 warriors. The information is being collected and may be clarified.
“I would like to say that Russia, which yesterday required the Ukrainian warriors to lay down arms, raise the white flag and surrender, was put to shame by the given actions. Ukrainian warriors honorably approved the high rank of the Ukrainian Defender of the Homeland. As I promised, they repelled those who tried to encircle them and left Debaltseve pursuant to my command, which I gave yesterday, when Russian servicemen forbade the OSCE representatives to come to Debaltseve to reaffirm our readiness to begin the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and demonstrate the absence of encirclement. They knew it was not true. We demonstrated and proved that with our operation. We are holding the new defense lines.”
Valeriy similarly explained that Ukraine won time to remobilize and regroup its units, and undergo fresh training with restored weaponry for its replacement frontline military units. New defensive lines are being established in the strategic southeastern port city of Mariupol, 188 km (117 miles) south on the shores of the Sea of Azov.
“Thanks to the bravery in Debaltseve, we were able move the line of defense to the more important location of Mariupol and consequently strengthen defense readiness there,” he said.
Enemy losses in battles around Debaltseve in September and October of last year totaled some 3,000 killed and two to three times more wounded. Enemy losses after Minsk 2 were more than 800 killed and about two to three times more wounded.
“We also suffered significant losses, but far fewer,” he wrote.
However, Valeriy said the Ukrainian troops did not withdraw without troubles of their own and incurred losses but according to most estimates some 80% of them relocated to new defense positions, where they could rebuild and plan to fight another day.
Ukrainian soldiers displayed heroism in battle with many of them saying that would rather have fought to the last soldier than withdraw. There was also an account of one battalion, which was located on another side of Debaltseve, still holding its position after the order to withdraw.
Significantly, Debaltseve served as a major political defeat for Russia and Putin because it showed that even after coming to terms about a new ceasefire agreement in Minsk, Russian soldiers and mercenaries continued escalating their hostility. Putin again demonstrated that he is not a leader who could be trusted. Russian deceit led free world leaders to threaten deeper sanctions. Valeriy observed that the non-combatant participants of the negotiations in Minsk belatedly realized that the peacemaker wreath would not be theirs and Putin is probably worse than Hitler because the former has his finger on the nuclear button.
“The negotiations barely concluded as ‘Moskali’ moved to seize Debaltseve with such strength and equipment that it was surprising that our soldiers were even able to withstand the assault for as long as they did,” Valeriy said. “Therefore there are reasons to expect that next time the West will stop expressing ‘deep concern’ and will proceed to provide Ukraine with normal weapons and equipment. Nobody is asking them to fight in our place. Give us instructors for the new generation of weapons.”
Intensifying economic and financial sanctions against Russia and Russians is another imperative that Valeriy cited though, he cautioned, not one for the future but an urgent need because, as he emphasized, Ukrainians are dying. European tycoons are opposed to sanctions because they fear they would also suffer financial losses, he admitted, but if they were made to realize that their losses would be worse when the Russian armies enter Warsaw, Prague or the Baltics, then perhaps they would agree with sanctions.
“It’s better to stop the aggressor in Ukraine rather than lament for the murdered and raped residents of Europe. After all, did they forget what the ‘liberators’ did in 1945?” Valeriy asked.
Russian dishonesty, aggression and imperialism were again presented on center stage. Ceasefire agreements and sanctions have had no effect on Putin’s belligerence. Valeriy and Dmytro Tymchuk, a Ukrainian military officer and member of the Verkhovna Rada, have warned that fresh Russian troops are pouring into Ukraine. Ukraine’s military said last Friday more than 20 Russian tanks, 10 self-propelled artillery systems, 15 trucks and busloads of soldiers crossed Ukraine’s border and headed toward Novoazovsk, a Russian-held town east of Mariupol.
Tymchuk said there were signs that mercenary forces would try to seize additional territory. In a posting on Facebook, he said it appeared the terrorists were preparing to advance north from Debaltseve.
“The entire world must appreciate that Ukraine is fighting against one of the world’s strongest armies, which has nuclear weapons. Things don’t always happen as planned but we are holding our own. And ‘Putler’s’ plans to occupy the southeast of our country by winter and seal itself in Transdnistria have failed,” Valeriy wrote.
“So we not only hope for victory but we also believe in it. The only question is where and when,” he concluded.
And with you, the free world also hopes and believes.