From what I can see, separatists got soundly trounced. Even more so, the Ukrainian ZRADA people were soundly trounced by the fact the Armed Forces actually gave separatists a righteous licking.
This is nothing new. The Armed Forces are mostly in the business of giving separatists something to think about, seeing as they have the largest guns, but the ZRADA crowd would have none of that. For all their howling about ‘Russian propaganda’ they readily parrot that same Russian propaganda – to the point they probably believe Motorola more than they do Ukrainian military officials.
In effect, why Ukraine lost both the Donetsk Airport, which after more than half a year of fighting became indefensible, and Debaltsevo can be attributed to the enemy’s peculiar tactics; that is, separatists hammer at one point for as long as they can, gradually wearing the defenders out, before they’re forced to withdraw. Vacationing Russian soldiers usually come in at this point, although after August 2014 their presence was significantly more limited – mostly to artillery, military instructors and the famous Charge of the Buryat Brigade. In both cases the withdrawal went awry due to failures on Ukraine’s side; in case of Debaltsevo, where Ukrainian forces conducted a mostly successful withdrawal, the main cause was… panic; fueled by social networks and journalists like Yuri ‘Armchair Field Marshal’ Butusov, some troops thought they were abandoned and decided to bug out in a disorganized fashion.
The key features of both Debaltsevo and Donetsk Airport is that both positions were hardly defensible; an airport is two buildings and a lot of flat ground, and Debaltsevo was already surrounded by enemy territory from three sides to begin with. Debaltsevo took a pounding and is no longer a key railway node, and there isn’t much left of Donetsk Airport anymore. From a rational standpoint, there was nothing to gain from holding Donetsk Airport, and there was nothing to gain from holding Debaltsevo indefinitely. In essence, the separatists also gained nothing; in the first case, the airport is now a no man’s land, while in the second case the separatists did a very good job ruining their key railway node (meaning the replacement tanks that Russia gives them have to go through Ilovaysk, further south). However, Ukraine lost.
What Ukraine lost wasn’t territory, but morale. In the first case, the airport was, and still is, a symbol of stubborn resistance, to the point where Ukrainian officials compared it to Stalingrad; it even held for almost as long. Seeing this symbol crushed is certainly a big blow to morale, one amplified by certain media personae harping on how the government and military leadership are incompentents/traitors/etc. In the second case, it was pretty much the same, only worse: people like Butusov (who loves to give General Staff strategic advice on Facebook, and the legend goes he got himself kicked from a real strategy meeting by no one than Chief of General Staff Muzhenko personally; no wonder Butusov hates his guts), Yuri Kasyanov the volunteer and many others were throwing around words like ‘encirclement’ from day one, when there was no such thing. This is exactly the line Russian propaganda was pushing, namely that Debaltsevo was ‘surrounded’ and all was lost. These same people then turned the withdrawal into a retreat, and then proceeded to blame the government and the military leadership.
This is what separatist offensives are actually aimed at; panic and hysteria. In effect, their hope is to defeat Ukraine so soundly (or, perhaps, publicly) that it provokes a violent reaction in Ukraine, possibly with the government being overthrown. Since each time they bombard Mariupol the effect is entirely opposite (with more and more Mariupolians beginning to hate them and not, say, the Kiev junta), they prefer to strike at other spots – spots that have next to no value from a military standpoint, but enormous value for Ukrainian morale. Spots like Donetsk Airport, Debaltsevo and, now, Mar’inka.
Only this time their plans fell through the roof; and so did the plans of their Ukrainian collaborators – to sow distrust and discord. This is why ZRADA crowd is eerily silent at the moment: there is nothing to cry bloody murder about. The army performed admirably, the General Staff performed admirably, the (withdrawn under Minsk agreements) artillery performed admirably. Mar’inka, a small town at Donetsk’s doorstep, is still Ukrainian; the separatists were sent packing. Semen Semenchenko couldn’t get his foot in, and even Right Sector, drama whores that they are, are keeping silent. There’s no scathing criticism of ‘the incompetent General Staff’ from Butusov (an interesting character – more on him later) or doom and gloom from Kasyanov about ‘major offensive in 3-4 days’ (four months and counting!).
Ukrainian forces lost three men today. Sources in Donetsk say separatists lost over twenty KIA.
I hope that gives everyone something to think about next time.