Month: July 2015

No, Mariupol is not in danger.

Mariupol is not in danger, it never truly was and it probably won’t be for a long time. Time and time again Ukrainian leadership has exhibited an extraordinary focus on the strategic coastal city intimes where it has not been warranted. Granted, Mariupol holds great importance both strategically but also to the peoples of Ukraine and Donbass, and make no mistake, a loss of the city would be catastrophic. During the battle for Debaltsevo, another strategically significant city, connecting many of the regions railway lines, the Ukrainian leadership seemed more worried about the defense of Mariupol even though Debaltsevo was increasingly proving to be a losing battle which required urgent attention much earlier on. Still, most attention is being lent to the southern front, with the media spotlight being the suburb of Shyrokyno, which has been subject to a change of hands a couple of times throughout the course of this year. Recently Shyrokyno has fallen into Ukrainian hands, but is still subject to relatively frequent small arms attacks from the other side, with predominantly the Republican Guard 3rd battalion present in that region, but evidence of the 1st Slavyansk Battalion AKA 7th Independent Motor Rifle Battalion of the 1st Army Corps of the DNR MoD has surfaced recently. The 1st Slavyansk is otherwise regularly stationed in the area around Debaltsevo so its presence in the area is somewhat unusual. Just north of Shyrokyno a couple of peculiar things are happening, first and foremost, the 5th Battalion of the Republican Guard “Varyag” is transitioning into a “Special Forces” battalion as part of the Army Corps. This move has come shortly after the DNR announced a pullback of heavy weaponry and that sources from the 1st Independent Motor Rifle Battalion “Viking” reported concern over the scale of the pullback of arms, lamenting that even their BMP support had been pulled back from the front lines. Whether any of this information has any factuality to it remains to be seen, but given the nature of the information and the channels through which the information has been released I see no real reason to question it. All this could point to further restructuring of armed forces within the DNR, perhaps reflecting a slow transition of Republican Guard forces to internal security with tasks such as continuing previous tasks such as guarding railroads, leaving front line activities under a unified Army Corps command, although such a move might make too much sense for this conflict. However, incessant changing of structure since late last year makes up for what would seem like common sense in what would seem to be an array of haphazard reorganizations.


Donbass southern front

Pictured above is a rough presentation of the pro-Russian composition of forces on the southern front. Whether or not the level of pull-back matches that of “viking” Battalion all along the southern front remains to be seen and is highly improbable, but what we can deduce from all this information is that the DNR is putting a greater focus on defense on the front between Mariupol and Dokuchaevsk. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this extraordinary pullback in the south could be with a couple of reasons in mind. First and foremost Mariupol is home to one of the most prolific volunteer groups in the conflict “Azov” and the defense of the city has long been left up to such National Guard volunteer groups. Such groups have long been known to take their own initiative, in spite of Kiev government directions. As such, a pullback could have been carried out in hopes of luring out opportunist volunteer groups and possibly take advantage of such an offensive to justify their own further north, something which Azov Division themselves had done during the Debaltsevo pocket in which they significantly pushed back DNR forces back to Shyrokyno. This would allow them to extend their border with Russia which would greatly benefit the Luhansk People’s Republic as they would gain a significant rail city of Stanytsia Luganska as well as more border region with Russia if such an offensive would be successful. However, these groups have recently been replaced by Ukrainian Marines so such a scenario is relatively unlikely. Another large factor contributing to the significant pullback of large-bore equipment in the south is that the lines have solidified around natural borders much like they have in the north, wide and windy rivers combined with large open plains make advancing on the enemy highly problematic and sure to result in heavy losses. Simply put, for the DNR it’s just not worth it. None the less, the north is in far greater risk of a serious offensive than the south at this point. Areas around Stanytsia Luganska have been subject to frequent reconnaissance patrols and the LNR National Militia appears to have solidified into something resembling the DNR Army Corps far better than the DNR. Furthermore, the vast majority of “trophy” T-64BVs captured by pro-Russian forces in Donbass have been transferred to tank battalions in the LNR National Militia while the DNR keeps their Russian donated T-72 workhorses.

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Diesel to fuel the fire

Columns of T-72Bs reminiscent of the infamous footage of the outbreak of the 08/08 war are increasingly common sights coming out of ceasefire Novorossiya, and with good reason, these steel beasts have come to form the backbone of the separatist defense. The T-72 chassis is no stranger to the Ukrainian armed forces, Just this winter a large shipment of T-72As came in to aid in the fight against Russian backed forces but have been nowhere to see in the vicinity of the front. Furthermore, Ukraine has been known to produce T-72B1s and other variants of the chassis for export.

The DPR & LPR however seem to have found a far more functional use for these tanks and as the war has dragged on more and more captured T-64BVs seem to have been swapped out for the Russian workhorse that is the T-72. Although in the DPR most units (save for Republican Guard battalions) field the T-72, the highest concentration is to be found in the DPR Ministry of defense 1st Army Corps’ Independent Tank Battalion known as “Diesel”.

“Diesel” on exercises

“Diesel” is known to field at least 35 T-72 tanks, each of which has been individually verified through open source information using their battalion specific markings. Although “Diesel” also has several of the more advanced T-72B3 variant and a handful of captured T-64BVs, the vast majority of armor in the battalion is made up of what has come to be known as the T-72B1, in numbers unprecedented on the Ukrainian side.

Tactical mark found on “Diesel” armor

The exact assignment and geographical position of “Diesel” is rather vague but it can be deduced that it has been assigned with assisting in offensive action in the northern regions of the DPR, This deduction is largely reached by movement recorded in the area of Makeevka towards Donetsk and subsequent footage of “Diesel” troops aiding “International Brigade Pyatnashka” in their fight for Mar’inka alongside “Somali” and and armor from the 7th “Slavyansk” motor rifle brigade of the DPR Ministry of Defense 1st Army Corps.

What is interesting about “Diesel” in particular is its status of somewhat of a new kid on the block as it hasn’t yet any reputation from previous battles unlike many of the older units such as “Oplot”, “Somali” and “Motorola”. In fact, it would appear that “Diesel” has sprung out of nowhere. Much speculation has been made that “Diesel” has been created out of “Oplot” — an old armored fighting unit active since the Ilovaisk era but no credible evidence has been put forth and this shall remain speculation. Much more likely is that this is a unit reserved mainly for Russian tankers supplied with the Russian tanks they are used to, mixed in with a couple of locals to look good for the camera. To justify the speculation that the purpose of Diesel is offensive action (beyond what was witnessed at Mar’inka) I will refer to footage of “Diesel” undertaking amphibious exercises with a mechanized bmp-2 element of theirs. With water bodies being a large obstacle to the expansion of DPR territory, it would make sense for units intended for offensive purposes to undergo training to overcome such obstacles. Beyond that, because of the ceasefire, armor is only ever used when the DPR truly wants to put pressure on Ukrainian defenses, which speaks loads about the nature of “Diesel”, which only began to let itself be known after the cease fire.

Another peculiarity about this unit in particular is that some armor in “Diesel” features different Russian railway markings than regularly found on DPR/LPR tanks in Ukraine. Regularly, Russian tanks in Ukraine will be marked with a destinctive “н2200” on the side after a circle with a cross through it, however some “Diesel” armor is marked with н1200 (or и1200, low quality footage makes it difficult to tell), this is specifically in reference to T-72B1s with the 11xx individual unit markings and a T-72AV. What this tells us, I don’t know, but it is certainly a peculiarity to take note of.

There is no way to know what role “Diesel” will play in the future as we do not know what the future holds for Ukraine in general. It is however safe to assume that we will be seeing plenty plenty from them should hostilities flare anew, beyond back-and-forth shelling and back into offensives in the North/Eastern direction.