In Donetsk, the first weeks of March turned out cold, gloomy and tense. The frontline situation keeps deteriorating. Every day brings death and funeral. With this intensity of attacks, civilians get injured. The forecasts are discouraging, but not that new: a big war is awaited, but we do not believe it will occur. Living under a Damocles' sword of a constant threat is overwhelming. And there is no choice for those remaining in the republics.
The issue of authorizing the armies of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics to backfire is being gleefully raised across the board, but in real practice things are far from being as smooth as propaganda reports claim. One-off events bring no tangible results, in no way change the frontline situation or prevent new regular artillery attacks.
In the way of evidence, here is a brief digest of current news. March 10 saw a heavy shelling of Donetsk's western Trudivske and Staromykhailivka settlements, people hid in their basements; social media were larded with appeals to leave the streets. Shells continued to arrive and fighting went on next to the former Donetsk airport. 44 on-site explosions in just half an hour are a high-intensity shelling. A fighter was killed and another one was wounded. On the southern front outside Sakhanka, 120 mm mortars were used against a residential sector and those defending the republic. In the LPR, battles were underway at the village of Mikhaylovka (Zolote-5), with local residents telling about bullets bouncing off the sides of the houses, and mine fragments lying everywhere. At that, the Ukrainian military had approached the demarcation line in those areas that were previously declared "fully demilitarized".
A year ago, journalists were brought to the demarcation line to be pompously informed about "demilitarization and steps towards peace." This turned out a fiction, like all the previous imitative actions. March 11 witnessed a gas pipeline damaged by shelling in Donetsk, with 9 substations de-energized, leaving a thousand residents without electricity. Behind this cold facts there is pain and horror of people deprived of light and heat surviving in damp basements under shellfire, without understanding what to do and where to run. In the LPR this day saw new attacks, a civilian got shrapnel wounds, a soldier of the people's militia died. On March 12, a soldier was killed on the DPR's southern front, the villages of Sakhanka and Kominternovo were hit with a barrage of artillery. On March 13, a house burned down in the DPR following a Ukrainian shelling, there was a fierce fight in the airport area.
Information about mounting an offensive against the Donetsk republics by the Ukrainian military came from a defector. According to him, Kiev has concentrated all of its efforts to transfer forces to the Donbass region. Simultaneous strikes are possible along the entire front line, with the probability of an offensive looming until the end of spring. Information about equipment and personnel transfer is updated on a daily basis.
A train with heavy armored vehicles was filmed in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region. Apart from the tanks, there were three Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile systems on the platforms, as well as a mobile and control station of Gadfly air defense units. Another train with tanks and military equipment, which also moved to the east, was recorded in the Dnepropetrovsk region. By some estimates, two additional tank battalions, a self-propelled artillery division, antiaircraft defenses, and command vehicles have already been brought to the front line in just a few days. The lack of disguise is due to the fact that Kiev is not afraid of the OSCE and other international entities to respond. And on March 12, two Ukrainian bombers with a standard combat body kit arrived at the military airfield of Kramatorsk, just a hundred kilometers of Donetsk. Given this "flying tank's" payload of 4.5 tons, all these "maneuvers" are alarming.
Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have arrived in Ocheretino by rail and left the station aboard 12 trucks and 7 buses. A special forces battalion has arrived in Avdiivka, with additional medical posts deployed there. This is the front line itself, and the distance between Avdiivka and Donetsk is just 5 kilometers.
Amid the Ukrainian group's massive reinforcement, a delegation of the Joint NATO Army Command has arrived in Kiev led by Major General Roger Cloutier. He inspects the armed forces' combat readiness and potential, as well as training efficiency under the US and NATO umbrella. The Americans are known to have spent at least $250 million to train four Ukrainian brigades alone. Besides, sophisticated weapons and equipment are being supplied, exercises to use drone aircraft are being held jointly with NATO.
The Ukrainian parliament is ready to adopt a bill on a nationwide mobilization. The law stipulates astronomic fines for evaders who fail to show up at the recruiting station and at training camps or to undergo military registration. There is also a ban on the employment of men without a military ID card, with the police having to deliver the escapists to military enlistment offices to be sent to their permanent duty stations. A new category of conscripts is being introduced, the so-called battle-hardened reservists. By the president's personal order, they are obliged to start out for different army units within 24 hours to perform combat missions.
Without so much as these measures, the Ukrainian army enjoys high potential, experience and support. This is no longer a get-together of slipshod and unseasoned warriors as was the case in 2014, so the enemy should not be underestimated. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that Ukraine's mobilization reserve is ten times as the two republics', with the current number of Ukrainian soldiers at the contact line being fourfold than that of the joint people's militia of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics. This is probably why a number of Russian military experts believe that the republics will even lack the 40 days for resistance Nagorno-Karabakh had. The Kremlin does also understand this, as stated by Russian President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov: "We get information that tensions have increased significantly at the contact line. The Ukrainian armed forces' aggressive stance makes us feel concerned."
If we analyze the probability of a Ukrainian attack against the republics, today it is more than ever high. First of all, the assembled armada needs maintenance, food, clothes, fuel and lubricant supply. This is a whole lot of money, and the Ukrainian budget is not elastic. In the second instance, such a mass of warriors needs engagement, so as not to hibernate. Otherwise, boozes, robberies, military hazing will flourish. Therefore, keeping them idle for a long time is fraught with consequences. Two other arguments operate against the mentioned ones. A full-scale war is a flow of coffins and a risk of Zelensky approval rating's setting to zero. The attack's outcome does not guarantee a restoration of Ukraine's control over the entire Donbass region. The next few weeks will show whether the Ukrainian military prepare for actual hostilities, or this is another adaptation to the theater of military operations, or a rehearsal.