The Antiterrorist operation in order to free the region from illegal armed formations began at the East of Ukraine almost two years ago. During this time, there were many attempts to establish peace, to negotiate and to resolve the conflict by diplomatic means. However, there are still regular military exercises under the auspices of Russian instructors in "DNR" and "LNR".
Deputy Director of the Department of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Vadym Skybytskii told the "OstroV" about the situation on the temporarily occupied territory of Donbas.
- How would you characterize the current situation in the temporarily occupied territory of Donbas?
- Today, the situation in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts is very complicated. Attacks on our positions continue, their number varies from 30-40 to 50-60 per day, and in some cases, there are even more than 70 shooting attacks. There are many factors that affect the number of attacks: political motives, issues related to the subversive activity of sabotage groups, provocative attacks to cause the return fire from the Ukrainian side etc.
Another important direction we are constantly monitoring is the possibility of the resumption of local hostilities. The Defence Intelligence of Ukraine constantly observes the movement of heavy weapons, which, according to the Minsk agreements, should be withdrawn from the contact line. However, the enemy continues to hide armament and military equipment on the territories of enterprises, mines, in the pits, sheds depots, in order to move it quickly to the conflict line at the right time.
The 1st and 2nd Army Corps are constantly supplied with ammunition, POL and spare parts for weapons, in particular for the tanks, from the territory of Russia. And, what is most important - there is permanent movement of the Russian Armed Forces personnel and mercenaries from the territory of Russia to the occupied areas of Donbas.
- What is the total number of militants in the occupied territory of Donbas today?
- If we talk about troops on the occupied territory, their number hasn't significantly changed recently.
The 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the Russian Occupation Troops comprise about 34 thousand people. Command and control of these units are carried out directly from the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces. The units have been recently reinforced by the personnel from the territory of Russia. Many of those who are in Donbas, do not want to continue the contract and fight within the Army Corps on the territory of Ukraine. In this view, the units are replenished by mercenaries who are trained in the training centers in Rostov region, and then go to Ukraine.
- How many Russian career service men are there in Donbas?
- According to the DIU, there are about 7 thousand Russian Armed Forces career service men, who are in the territory of the occupied Donbas. Besides, former Russian service men are in the ranks of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps. All the leading positions in the Corps are occupied only by Russian career service men. These Corps include motorized rifle, tank and artillery brigades, separate battalions and support units, so, this is a classic structure of army corps in the Russian Federation.
According to our data, 70% of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps personnel in Donbas are mercenaries from Russia, former and career Russian service men, and only 30% is the local population.
The control and command system of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps has a distinct structure: the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces - Command of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation Armed Forces - the Center of the Territorial Forces of the Russian Southern Military District – 1st and 2nd AC in the territory of Donbas.
Except for the 1st and 2nd Army Corps, there are other military units of the Russian Armed Forces in Donbas. There are units of the Special Forces, airborne troops, electronic intelligence and logistical support.
The last case we managed to record is the presence of professional service men of the 24th separate Special Forces brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation (GRU), who are able to carry out sabotage and reconnaissance activities in the territories controlled by Ukraine.
- New mercenaries and service men are recruited in Russia to be deployed to Donbas, aren't they?
- Now, new mercenaries in Russia are actively recruited, in order to be sent to the territory of Donbas. At the initial war stage, military commissariats of the Russian Federation worked actively all over the country. They drafted former service men through the 12th Reserve Command of the Southern Military District (now, it is the Center of the Territorial Forces). Then, they formed respective units which passed special trainings, and we transported to Ukraine. The 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the Russian Occupation Troops were formed of these units.
After the establishment of these corps in October 2015 was completed, centers for recruitment of mercenaries in the territory of Russia very actively joined the process. They exist in many regions of Russia. According to the latest information, such a center was opened in Omsk. First of all, they are offered high wages. Now, it is a very favorable moment to recruit such people, because the economic situation in Russia is complicated, the unemployment rate raises - in some areas it reaches 20-30%. Another category of Russians who go to Donbas are those, who want to fulfill their potential. There are "ideological" ones, who want to fight for the sake of creation of the Russkii mir ("Russian world ") and Novorosiya ("New Russia"), but they are very a few.
Career Russian service men in Donbas are also divided into several categories. The first category includes those who are serving a sentence. We have identified the commander of the 2nd separate motorized rifle brigade of the 2nd AC Colonel Ruzynskii, who previously commanded the 102nd Russian base in Hiumri, Armenia. Service man of that Russian military base was involved in the shooting of the Armenian family, resulting in 6 deaths. So, it means that he was sent to Donbas just to be punished.
There are also service men in Donbas, who have wanted to change their place of service for a long time. For example, Major Starkov, who carried ammunition to Donetsk, "got lost" in the territory of Ukraine and was taken as a captive. He told that, previously, he has served in the Far East for a long time and repeatedly wrote reports to be transferred to the European part of Russia. As a result, he was transferred to Rostov, where he was appointed the chief of Artillery Supply Service of the 5th brigade of the 1st Army Corps in the "DNR".
- Does the population of Donbas still want to fight?
- In the early stages of war, indeed, local people went to fight. There were "ideological" ones, who tried to fight for the "DNR" and "LNR", for Novorossiya (New Russia). There were a lot of drunkards, drug addicts and brawlers, but, mostly, they have all died in the first period of hostilities. They were used as cannon fodder.
Now, "local military enlistment offices" started to work rather actively. Measures to mobilize the local population are taken throughout the so-called "republics". Due to the shortage of personnel, the draft to the 1st and 2nd AC was announced. An active campaign to call up to contract service is in full swing there now.
The "conscripts" are suggested a salary of 10-15 thousand Russian rubles. For comparison - a worker of casting and mechanical enterprise in the occupied territory of Luhansk oblast receives 3 thousand rubles. So, the local population, which needs money, goes to serve. But, as a rule, they quickly become disillusioned. There also circulates the information that out of the promised 15 thousand rubles he gets on hands, 10 thousand are given to the commanders and chiefs, and only five thousand are left for him. The Russian military men and mercenaries earn a lot more - from 500 dollars and above for a month.
There is also compulsory mobilization. There are lists, designated personnel and conscripts are called on alert. In such cases, many people hide or just leave the occupied areas for either Ukraine, or Russia. But it is not so easy to go to Russia, especially, when it comes to the designated mobilization reserve. There, everything is under control. We know cases when people were not let out, especially of military age. The most active mobilization measures were held in mid-December - early January.
-Where the mercenaries' and Russian service men allowances are paid from?
- We analyzed the budgets of the "DNR" and "LNR". In the first half of 2015, the "LNR" budget deficit comprised about 90%, and in the "DNR" it was 85%, these are huge numbers. At the same time, 6.3 billion hryvnias have been allocated for the DNR public sector wages, and 1,9 billion hryvnias was allotted for the law-enforcement agencies. But these are not the main figures. Funding of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps and all military units on the territory of Donbas entirely comes from Russia. We estimate that Russia spends about $ 150 million per month for the maintenance of militants and military groups in the territory of Donbas. It comes out to about $ 2 billion for a year. Approximately, the same figures are given by the Western experts.
- Recently, there has been a lot of data received that Russia has increased the number of supplies of equipment and ammunition to militants. Can you confirm this information?
- From the beginning of the year, we have noted a significant increase in the supply of ammunition from Russia to Ukraine. It is also connected with the results of inspections carried out by the Russian Southern Military District command in all the units and formations of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps. Now, the Russian command assigns them a task to reinforce artillery and anti-tank units near the frontline; and this requires additional ammunition. Besides, combat training activities of all the units are intensified. There are no powers to allow the production of ammunition for all armament systems of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps in the appropriate amount in the so-called "DNR and "LNR".
We record arrivals of new echelons with military equipment, ammunition and other supplies from Russia to Ilovaysk, Yasinovataya, Krasnodon, Khartsyzk, Makeevka and other railway stations in the occupied territories every day.
- Tell us about the morale in the militants' ranks today.
- Today, we observe a complicated morale of local and Russian mercenaries. They are not satisfied with the salary. When there's no fighting, they get smaller wages. There is dissatisfaction with Russian instructors and commanders. It is being told that locals "surrender the Novorossiya project" and that they do not want to continue the hostilities. Besides, they are unhappy with Russians, because they receive much higher wages than the local citizens.
A decline in motivation to fight is observed in the ranks of the militants. The combat losses of personnel are growing, although there are no active hostilities. Due to the activity of subversive groups, a lot of losses occur as a result of explosions in the minefields, which the militants installed themselves. As a rule, they do not have precise maps of minefields.
In addition, control of commanders and advisers of the Russian Federation, monitoring the activities of all the 1st and 2nd Army Corps units, has been intensified. The aim is to gain control over the occupation forces, restore order and discipline in the troops, suppression of combat robberies and atrocities against the local population, as well as the eradication of facts of disobedience of commanders and personnel.
- How often do the disobedience facts happen in the ranks of armed gangs?
- They are rather often. People refuse to take part in the warfare, conduct reconnaissance, especially when it comes to entering the territory of Ukraine. Many refuse to carry out orders related to non-standard and dangerous operations. There are proven facts that some militants fired at the positions of other militants in order to provoke or accuse Ukraine. There is a specific example, which was also confirmed by the OSCE Special monitoring mission to Ukraine, when Staromykhailivka was shelled from BMP-2 and mortars from the area of Trudovskoy.
Considering this, many soldiers write reports about the unwillingness to serve or leave the place of service voluntarily. There even happen cases of mass desertion in some units. But the Russian side reacts immediately, Commissions from the Southern Military District are constantly working to stabilize the situation.
We note that now there is an active deployment of mercenaries and militants from Russia to the Mariupol direction, because many soldiers were killed or just fled.
- According to your estimates, how long will be the militants able to continue fighting, if Russia stops to support them?
- Such an assessment was made by the Russian Federation after all the inspections. In December, 2015, the Armed Forces Southern Military District concluded that the 1st and 2nd Army Corps would not be able to perform their combat mission on their own.
Putin's regime has not abandoned its original plans of preventing the European integration of Ukraine, destabilization and return of our country under the Russian power. It is impossible to fulfill the objective with the help of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps forces. In order to attain the aim, they will need to use the Armed Forces of Russia.
- Is there any information about the preparations for the local elections in the "DNR" and "LNR"?
- Active preparations for the elections started from the beginning of the year. Voting stations and commissions are being set up. There even was and information about the preparation of voting lists. Besides, the leaders of the militants Zakharchenko and Plotnitskij have already begun to form their own parties. Then, most likely, there was a directive from Moscow, and the process has a little bit calmed down. The elections in the informational field are not covered as extensively, as it was at the beginning. There is an instruction from Moscow, so, there is a reaction and unquestioning fulfillment of it right at the place. Officials of the "DNR" and "LNR" are constantly being called to Moscow for brainwashing and to receive new instructions.
- What is the situation on the border between Russia and Ukraine? Is there any concentration of Russian troops?
- According to the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, the number of Russian troops located directly near the border (20-40 km), has significantly decreased. According to our information, about 2 - 2,5 thousand of Russian servicemen are stationed in Rostov oblast in the direction of Donetsk-Lugansk. But that is not the main point. Russia has now actively begun restoring the infrastructure to accommodate additional divisions near the border with Ukraine.
We must not forget that Russia can deploy its powerful groupings on the border with Ukraine just in a few days. Tank divisions can be projected from Moscow oblast in a day; from the Western and Central Military Districts territories, they can be deployed in 3 days. After 5 days, the striking group which would be able to start warfare on the territory of Ukraine can be created there.
- Is Ukraine ready to fight back in case of a possible attack?
- Yes, it is. I have no authority to speak on behalf of the General Staff and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but the measures that have already been taken and the defensive positions which were equipped, allow to deter the enemy and prevent the intensification of hostilities without direct aggression of the Russian Federation.
- If Ukrainian troops suddenly begin the cleanup operation at the occupied territories, can they do it successfully?
- We have the potential, but Putin will not allow to do that. Now, all the activities carried out in the occupied territories, are aimed at making us fulfill the Minsk agreements on the terms, provided by Russia. And also in order to return the "DNR" and "LNR" to us with the status determined by Russia.
- What are your predictions about the development of the situation in the near future?
- According to estimates of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, the potential threat of the renewal of active hostilities in Donbas remains. According to all forecasts and scenarios, it may be the resumption of local hostilities in certain directions where we have strategic advantage. We are talking about Donetsk and Mariupol directions, where the enemy will try to throw the Ukrainian troops as far as possible from the demarcation line.