War has returned to east Ukraine with heavy fighting in the past few days, albeit mostly limited to the town of Avdiyevka near the biggest rebel-held city of Donetsk.
The fighting has seen 13 people killed and scores wounded in the past three days, and civilians in government-held Avdiyevka (who like the rest of people in the Donbass are almost certainly more pro-rebel than pro government) facing more hardship than usual which Kiev has been eager to advertise to the world media.
One fact it has been less eager to advertise is that it is precisely the government side which is behind the recent escalation.
Radio Free Europe of all outlets reports that recently the Ukrainians have gone on the offensive using special infiltration tactics. Basically what they would do is infiltrate the no man’s land between the two forces usually under cover of the night and set up new positions almost hugging the rebel front line. In this way they gained much
In one instance they occupied a town of 4,000 people previously between the lines having driven into in civilian trucks in broad daylight.
Frustrated by the stalemate in this 33-month war of attrition, concerned that Western support is waning, and sensing that U.S. President Donald Trump could cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he tries to improve fraught relations with Moscow, Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength have gone on what many here are calling a “creeping offensive.”Observers say the Ukrainians appear to be trying to create new facts on the ground, while officials and commanders insist they are fighting to stop the flow of contraband into separatist-controlled territories and fending off attempts by separatist groups that call themselves the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” to seize more territory.
Whatever the case, since mid-December Ukraine’s armed forces have edged farther into parts of the gray zone in or near the war-worn cities of Avdiivka, Debaltseve, Dokuchaievsk, Horlivka, and Mariupol, shrinking the space between them and the separatist fighters.
In doing so, the pro-Kyiv troops have sparked bloody clashes with their enemy, which has reportedly made advances of its own – or tried to – in recent weeks.
The question is why has Kiev gone on a “creeping” offensive now? The reason I think has everything to do with Trump. Ukraine’s government must indeed fear that Trump’s America will back them far less than has been the case under Obama. So Kiev does what it always does when in doubt – it escalates.
Understand that whenever in the past the government has escalated this has always worked well for it, at least in the sense of extracting more support from the west.
More fighting invariably means more media attention, and with the media highly biased against the pro-Russian rebels more media attention always means more sympathy for the government side (even when it is propped up by neo-Nazis and openly vowing to terrorize civilians).
The hope I think is that with sympathetic coverage hitting westen media Trump administration will have little choice but to continue backing Kiev even as it declines to implement the compromise peace settlement negotiated in Minsk in 2015.