There’s been reports of a Ukrainian military buildup in the Donbass for several weeks now. The Saker, amongst others, has also reported on them, quoting a Telegram blogger who is claimed to have good sources in Kiev:
“A while ago, an order came from the office of the old senile Biden to prepare the VSU for an offensive in the Donbass, but wait for the final go-ahead from the White House. At the same time, this source also said that similar military operations will be conducted in other countries where there are Russian interests, in order to deflect the public attention from the Donbass and weaken any support for the Donbass”.
My main reason for skepticism that the Ukrainians have serious aggressive intentions is that the Ukraine is still in no position to carry out an “Operation Storm” on the LDNR should Russia intervene.
But then again, as a recent report from Strana suggests, that might be the entire point.
They make the point that violations of the ceasefire are now routine. Old positions have been reoccupied, with the demarcation zone on the front line shrinking from a safe 2-3 km to just 400-700 meters. There is a high level of preparedness, permissions to go on leave are short, there are many videos of tanks and armored vehicles being transported in. The source notes that there has been studies of the recent Karabakh War, especially the usage of drones. (Ukraine acquired 12 Bayraktar drones from Turkey last year and is slated to acquire five more this year).
There has also been an intensification of patriotic rhetoric and a shutdown of pro-Opposition Bloc (more Russia leaning) opposition outlets with the approval of the US State Department. This campaign has led to a sharp fall in Ukrainian sentiment towards Russia back down to Poroshenko-era levels.
The NAF, to be clear, doesn’t stand any chance in a full scale Ukrainian assault. Even in 2014, when the Ukrainian Army was much less organized, Russian artillery and EW intervention proved critical. The Ukrainian military has since had more than half a decade of getting 5% of Ukraine’s GDP lavished on it. While Ukraine’s GDP is unimpressive, this is still a high numerator and Russian involvement would have to be more overt than in 2014 if the Donbass is to be saved.
Considering that 100,000’s of Donbass residents are now also Russian citizens, not doing so would discredit Putin domestically.
This, then, might be the game plan. By provoking a Russian intervention, it could finally provide the US with the arguments to finally pressure Germany into shutting down Nord Stream 2, just a few months before its projected completion. (Contra popular conceptions, Germany is more invested into NS2 than is Russia, and stands to lose relatively more from a last minute torpedoing of the project). NS2 threatens to deprive Ukraine of $2-3 billion dollars in annual transit fees. These are not insignificant sums for a country with a GDP of $150 billion and are well worth the lives of a few hundred Ukrainian soldiers, who – as Strana‘s sources report – plan to stop the offensive and probably retreat should Russian troops go in.
There is also another possible incentive that I have been made aware of thanks to Christelle Néantt at the Donbass Insider. She notes that the same publication has also reported that Christo Grozev, an employee with Bellingcat, an investigative media outlet that is widely reputed to be a sieve for British intelligence, reported to Alesya Batsman – the wife of Dmitry Gordon, a leading Ukrainian journalist – that he is filming an investigation on the Wagner Affair. This event, which nearly led to a breakdown in relations between Russia and Belarus in the middle of an attempted color revolution against Lukashenko, was a sting operation jointly organized by the Ukrainian SBU and American intelligence to lure Russian Wagner mercenaries to Ukraine. During the planned flight from Minsk to Istanbul, from where they were to go on to Venezuela, a passenger played by an SBU agent would pretend to fall ill, forcing the plane to land in Kiev. The Wagnerites would then be arrested. But somebody in the Ukrainian Presidential Administration – many sources speculate that it was Andrey Ermak, the head of the Presidential Administration – leaked the plans to the Belarusian KGB, possibly to avert an international incident with Belarus. But it then trickled over quickly to Russian intelligence and the Wagnerites were freed soon afterwards.
The film was originally scheduled for publication on March 15, but has since been postponed. Pyotr Poroshenko, who has been rising again in the polls, has been energetically pumping this story. One may then speculate that the US and Britain are blackmailing Zelensky into war by withholding the film. In this context, Zelensky’s increased bellicosity may thus not be so much intentional as an attempt to fob them off while stopping short of launching a war that he is sure to lose (the Bayraktars will not be much for a match for Su-35’s).
There’s another piece of the puzzle that slid into place today. Biden told Putin that “he will pay a price” for his “meddling” in the US elections on coming to power in January. Soon after, no other than RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan was in the LDNR, demanding that Russia take it home in a conference dedicated to the “Doctrine of the Russian Donbass.” I would say that this is unlikely to have been a coincidence.