Ukrainians Score Big Victory Over Separatists
The Ukrainian Government has dislodged pro-Russian rebels from a key city in eastern Ukraine:
KIEV, Ukraine — With a fierce onslaught of gunfire and mortar shelling, Ukrainian government forces on Saturday chased pro-Russian insurgents from Slovyansk, a long-blockaded rebel stronghold, government officials and separatist leaders said.
As rebels fled the city, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in a separatist insurrection that has lasted more than three months, the Ukrainian military destroyed a tank, two combat vehicles and two armored personnel carriers, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko, said.
“Run!” the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a jubilant Facebook post on the retaking of Solvyansk. “The terrorists are bearing losses, surrendering.”
Though it was not yet clear whether the retaking of Slovyansk signaled a decisive blow against the rebels in eastern Ukraine, it showed that Ukrainian forces were finally gaining traction and reasserting state authority, three months after separatists seized control of cities and towns throughout the region, dividing this country of 45 million people.
The Ukrainian advance on Saturday came four days after President Petro O. Poroshenko ended a cease-fire and ordered the military to resume efforts to crush the rebellion by force. On Tuesday, the Ukrainian military retook an important checkpoint at a border crossing with Russia, one of several that had been seized by rebels and that the Ukrainian government and its Western allies said were used to allow Russian tanks, weapons and fighters to cross into the region.
Insurgent leaders confirmed that their fighters had fled under heavy attack by the Ukrainian military, but insisted that they were not giving up. “Our resistance has not been crushed,” Andrei Purgin, an insurgent leader, told the Interfax news service.
He said the rebels had abandoned the city because they were overwhelmed militarily.
Well I’m no military expert, but I’d call that a retreat, and a seemingly significant one at that.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the fight in eastern Ukraine is over, but it is the first time that the government in Kiev has managed to dislodge the rebels from one of their strongholds and put them on the run, and that has significance not only in terms of the strategic value of the city itself but also in how it will impact morale on both sides of the conflict. This is likely to boost Ukrainian morale after what has seemed like a long standoff in which the rebels have entrenched their positions, and it may serve to cause people in the east who have been sitting on the sidelines to side with the government over the rebels. To that extent, we could be looking at a turning point in the conflict.
The overriding question, of course, is what the Russians will do about this. Interestingly, yesterday President Putin sent an Independence Day message to President Obama in which he seemed to send some signals that some are interpret as an effort at fence mending. Putin being Putin it is always wise to be wary of what his motives are, of course, and there continue to be reports of clandestine Russian operations in eastern Ukraine to assist the separatists. At the same time, though, Vladimir Putin’s recent actions suggest that he may not have the territorial designs on eastern Ukraine that many feared in the wake of the Crimean referendum, or at least that he has calculated that pushing the matter further at this time would provoke a backlash from the West. If that’s the case, then he likely wouldn’t be above throwing the pro-Russian separatists in the east under the bus if it thought it was in his and Russia’s interests.