The situation in Donbass has so far returned to normal. After the active whipping up of hysteria a week ago, when it seemed that open hostilities were a stone’s throw away, the current situation can be called a “calm”. But it is not known what the Ukrainian side is preparing for. Helicopters capable of fighting at night were transferred to Donbass. Therefore, it is too early to relax. Will the armies of the DPR and LPR be able to repel a surprise attack – we analyzed the situation.
Which active army is opposed to the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Donbass? It is generally accepted that the People’s Militias of the DPR and LPR have more tanks than the Republic of Poland, and have long consisted of professional contract soldiers, who, at the suggestion of the former DPR Minister of Defense Igor Strelkov, are habitually called “fifteen thousand men” – as opposed to “free” volunteers of the sample 2014 year.
The reality is a little different. Salaries in the Corps (as they respectfully call their “people’s militia” in Donetsk) began to increase since March 2021, but the people there are partly the same – those thousands of men who left with Strelkov from their relatives in Slavyansk, Druzhkovka and Kramatorsk had a lot of problems nowhere, many continue to serve in the 7th brigade near Debaltsev or in the 100th brigade near Dokuchaevsk and Aleksandrovka. During the war years, a small backbone of people was formed for whom the war and their native regiment became their real and only home.
The armed forces of the LDNR are now two motorized rifle corps, assembled strictly according to Russian regulations, autonomous from each other. One – Donetsk – as usual, a little more, the other – Luhansk – smaller. According to the observers, they are armed with 650 tanks, 1,300 infantry fighting vehicles, 500 guns and about 260 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) as part of the Gradov and Smerchi batteries. For comparison, the Ukrainian army now has 450 combat-ready tanks, which is one and a half times less.
Otherwise, everything is logical – the small republics of Donbass are able to gather not so many people under arms. According to various estimates, from 28 to 34 thousand soldiers. This is with a total population of 3.7 million declared by local statistical offices. Evil tongues, however, say that this figure is at least a million extra. Moreover, it is actively flushing out of the republics, first of all, those who leave to work in Russia, able-bodied young men.
The remaining rare system of military registration and enlistment offices oversees the mobilization reserve, and it is struggling to replenish the Corps with fresh contract soldiers. For example, the Kiev regional military enlistment office is responsible for three districts of Donetsk at once and is headed by an inconspicuous man, whom the Ukrainian site “Peacemaker” calls the creator of the first autobath for supplying forces of Igor Strelkov in the same 2014 year.
Quiet discussions have been going on around the introduction of universal conscription – there is really no work for men in the self-proclaimed republics, there are many single-parent families in schools, whose breadwinners went to Lipetsk, Murmansk, Norilsk to work. After schools and universities, young people, for the most part, also strive to leave. A compromise with reality was the first decree on the first conscription for military service in the DPR: from April 1 to six months, only 200 people aged 18 to 28 are called up. You can be sure that a TV movie about this demonstration service will be beautiful, but a significant trained reserve for the army is unlikely.
Since December 2020, another belated innovation has started in Donetsk – they began to issue certificates of participants in hostilities. Among the benefits for those who fought are a discount on utility bills and free travel. “As of April, no more than two or three hundred such certificates were issued, there are no lists of the same Oplot, and of the rest of the battalions and brigades of 2014. And to confirm, you need to be somewhere recorded or have three verified witnesses – and there are very few of them, ”says a lawyer who already has an UBD crust due to the fact that in the summer of 2014 he was a member of Strelkov’s Donetsk headquarters and made some first lists then personally.
We tried to contact an unofficial public organization that provided assistance to the widows of the Vostok brigade back in 2018. It doesn’t work now. The DNR is wary of any unauthorized activity from below. Accordingly, therefore, there is no targeted assistance to the numerous militias of the first war who were accused of criminal offenses and are in local pre-trial detention centers and colonies – there are hundreds of them in every penitentiary institution.
It is also impossible to say that in the DPR there is a structured community of those who fought like the Russian “Union of Donbass Volunteers”. There is a lot that is not allowed.
The flip side of this medal is the inability to quickly call on local veterans, they are not an organized force here at all.
The front line in Donbass is more than 400 kilometers long in a winding line, neatly skirting around all major cities. The war broke out in the steppe on the threshold of urban development in Donetsk, Makeevka, Avdeevka, Yasinovataya, Horlivka, Debaltsev, Mariupol and Lugansk, any shootout is visible and audible from the balconies of the extreme nine-story buildings.
Hundreds of tanks and guns were brought together in rear tank battalions and artillery brigades – according to the Minsk agreements, all equipment with gun calibers from 100 mm should be taken to special storage areas under OSCE supervision. Of course, sometimes the OSCE notes in its reports tanks and guns outside the storage areas, but all the same, these units are based far from the front.
The main tank center of the self-proclaimed republics is the city of Krasny Luch in the LPR. In the DPR, a tank range and its own base near Khartsyzsk. Someone needs to service the equipment, someone needs to build rear communications – there is a sorely lack of people to serve in the infantry in the trenches. Most of the combat units are well equipped, if 60%.
The local military forces have gone through three stages in their development. After independent battalions, brigades and other “Cossacks”, in May 2015, they began to build an efficient army, but until Zakharchenko’s death, the ministries retained their own “special forces” units. An entire regiment was at the Ministry of Emergency Situations, a company was at the railway, the influential Ministry of Taxes and Duties had its own forces, there was an influential special service in the person of the State Security Service (the State Security Service was also responsible for the “personal” Zakharchenko). Then Aleksandr Khodakovskiy complained that near Yasinovataya he had more than 11 neighbors of different subordination in positions – it is not always possible to figure out who started firing at the “dill”. Since September 2018, this “freeman” was cleared out, the State Defense Forces was dismissed together with the local Ministry of Defense, people were distributed in parts. There were only combat units with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State Security.
With a single command, service in the trenches immediately became boring and monotonous to the point of impossibility. Special missions are carried out by pairs of snipers, individual sappers, sometimes mortarmen move to the positions. During successive truces, the infantry carries out the order prohibiting the opening of fire. Many are bored, in Russia skilled workers are paid much more than those fighting in the DPR – people leave, others, less motivated, come.
Motivated infantry is the main deficit of the war in Donbass. The positions are occupied by groups of five or six people, strongpoints are one and a half kilometers apart, between them there are minefields and, in theory, “fire-controlled” territory. The same regiments and brigades of the DPR have occupied the same positions for years – the soldiers in their area of responsibility thoroughly know every bush, beam or local waste heap. They have known the enemy for a long time, they understand the peculiarities and habits of the command of each changing brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
In the current exacerbation, in February, in some places, they began to build second lines of defense – before that, they did not exist. Often they simply have nowhere to tinker – from the trenches near Yasinovataya to the center of Donetsk by car in ten minutes, to the Donetsk Putilovsky bridge, that from the airport, that from the Ukrainian positions in the Avdiivka area – a tank will reach in five minutes. Ukrainian Armed Forces positions are located in Peski, a suburb of Donetsk, where the richest used to live. From the Ukrainian Marinka and Krasnogorovka, people used to go to work in Donetsk on foot, now they are almost close to the city buildings – the front line.
Preparations for a possible outbreak of war are underway – internal checkpoints have now appeared again in Gorlovka, for Yenakiyevo they have begun demonstratively digging trenches and building additional checkpoints in the city. But no one here has any doubts – the forces of the self-proclaimed republics on their own are not capable of any rush to the borders of the regions, at most – for a local operation near some settlement. A typical big battle here is a surprise attack by a dozen fighters on a point where six people are defending themselves. And this “war” is powerfully covered by several artillery divisions from both sides at once. There were no such big battles in the last year.
In the event of an attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the LDNR forces will retreat into urban development and will fight, waiting for help from Russia. The Ukrainian army in its plans proceeds from the fact that such assistance will arrive no later than 72 hours, which makes any “decisive attack” senseless. The situation is stalemate. Therefore, war is possible as a last resort.