Throughout the last couple of days, tensions in Ukraine have been intensified. According to the announcement issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, 89 cases of breach of the ceasefire memorandum have been during the last weekend. Pro-Russian forces have used the weapons banned by the Minsk memorandums, including the 120 and 82 mm mortars, mainly in the vicinity of the Donetsk airport.
The shelling took place in the area of Avdiivka, Marinka and Krasnohorivka. The artillery fire covered both the positions taken by the Ukrainian forces, as well as the areas inhabited by the civilians. Shelling also involved anti-aircraft artillery, grenade launchers or heavy machine guns. One of the Ukrainian announcements also mentions that the Separatists used 12 Grad-system rockets, between 8 and 9 PM on the day before yesterday.
Moreover, in the Gorlovka area, it was noted that large quantities of heavy military equipment are being transported, including the Grad multiple rocket launchers, main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. This type of weaponry, according to the Minsk memorandums, shall be located far away from the front-line. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence considers the situation to be tense. The assessment made by the Ukrainians suggests that further escalation may be plausible.
OSCE observers have recorded, in their announcement published on 16th November, a large increase of explosions and activity within the Donetsk railway station area. Moreover, in several locations, the observers also have heard the sounds of explosions, which prove that the fights were intensified. Reuters announced that, according to the data provided by the Ukrainian Army, five soldiers were killed on Friday, 13th November. This is the highest death toll since two months. The Ukrainians are considering redeployment of heavy equipment within the region, in order to push back the pro-Russian forces.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, also made references to the situation in Ukraine. Stoltenberg claimed that “more breaches and more victims” have been recorded in the Donbas area. He expressed his concern with the situation in the eastern part of the country, stating that “there is a danger of re-escalation of violence”. Stoltenberg called the sides of the conflict to respect the Minsk memorandum, cease fire and to withdraw the heavy forces.
The recent battles in Ukraine, as it is noted by Reuters, are the most brutal ones since at least two months. At the same time, Russia is trying to fully recover its position within the international area, due to the fact that Moscow is involved in operations acting against the terrorists. One cannot rule out a situation in which Moscow decides to “increase pressure” imposed on Kiev, by intensifying the operational activities of the rebels.
Probably the operations will not include acts of open aggression (e.g. invading Mariupol), due to plausibility of international repercussions (increased level of sanctions, or increased NATO presence in the Central and Eastern Europe). However, even the shelling leads to losses on the Ukrainian side, destabilizing Kiev which is already facing an economic crisis. Most probably, the Kremlin is willing to weaken the position of the current Ukrainian authorities, however, without trying to execute an open invasion.