Ukraine has had enough. Shelling by Russia against defenders and civilians in Donbas no longer goes unpunished. The Ukrainian army is hitting back.
Since Putin’s War began in 2014, Ukrainians have withstood constant bombardments and assaults by the Russian invaders. Russia’s shelling and shooting in Donbas has imposed a heavy human cost: over four thousand Ukrainian armed services members and an even greater number of civilians have been killed. At last Ukraine’s defence is organized in such a way that the defenders of Europe are fighting back. The Russians can no longer fire their artillery with impunity, but instead they are facing counter-battery fire of such ferocity that Putin’s plans to win the war he started against Ukraine are out of reach for good.
Until three months ago, Ukraine organized its defence as what was called an Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). The ATO was under the command and control of the Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU. Under the ATO, the practical response to Russian attacks was slow and bureaucratic. Ukrainian battlefield commanders had to wait for orders from high command in Kyiv to open fire in response to Russian bombardments. As the Russians commonly use the ‘human shield’ terrorist tactic of sheltering their heavy artillery among the houses and apartment blocks of the civilian population, this usually meant there were no counter-strikes at all.
The ATO was dissolved three months ago. The defence of Ukraine – and the defence of Europe and of the West – from invasion from Muscovy is now organized as a Joint Forces Operation (JFO) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The National Police of Ukraine, the National Guard (which were the volunteer battalions), and the border guards are now under military command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The JFO co-ordinates activities with the regional civilian administrations of Luhansk and Donetsk.
The commander of the JFO is Lieutenant-General Serhiy Nayev. To mark the first 100 days of the operation, General Nayev gave an interview to “Segodnya.UA”. He summarized the broad nature of the JFO: “We are making efforts to stabilize the situation, stop the bombardments and provocations, stop the criminal cross-boundary smuggling, create conditions for a peaceful and safe revival of the entire Donbas, which was and remains an integral part of Ukraine.” The military mission is “…preventing any armed provocations by the Russian occupiers, and also collaborators who are working against the interests of their own country and their own people,” he said.
The most effective operational change was to delegate the decision to open fire on the enemy from high command in Kyiv to the officers and soldiers on the battlefront. General Nayev put it this way: “The decision to open fire is made personally by every serviceman if he is in danger. … for the occupiers the payment for shedding the blood of our soldiers will be inevitable – now and for the future. The enemy must always remember this.” The Ukrainian army has the skill to direct counter-battery fire exclusively “at the address,” as they’ve shown in the past few months.
The JFO has reduced the number of stationary checkpoints and introduced mobile groups for increased control of access to the area around the ‘line of separation’ between the Russian occupation troops and the Ukrainian defenders. According to General Nayev, the mobile groups have had the effect of surprise on criminals and on Russian armed forces sabotage & reconnaissance assault teams. “Thanks to the mobile check-post, practically every week guards detain persons suspected of cooperating with illegal armed groups – the so-called ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’,” said General Nayev.
The Russians are trying to adapt to the new Ukrainian defence, without much success. Russian armed forces have tried massing troops for assaults, sending sabotage and reconnaissance groups, and using more unarmed aerial vehicles for artillery targeting. The Russians have returned to the practice of shelling back at occupied civilian areas before shelling across the battlefront at defenders and civilians in free Ukraine. This is an old Chekist tactic to try to win a propaganda victory of responding to a ‘provocation’ – variants of the ‘Mainila incident’ that the Soviet Union engineered against Finland in 1939. But against the newly-organized Ukrainian army the old hybrid warfare tactics have a blunted effectiveness. According to General Nayev, after an initial escalation but the Russian occupation troops against the JFO, in recent weeks “there are indications that the enemy was forced to lower his activity.”
Ukrainian officers serving with the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) report that the Russian armed forces are deploying substantial heavy weaponry to the battlefront. Invasion-occupation troops from the Russian Federation, along with terrorist auxiliaries and mercenaries, are organized as the 1st and 2nd Army Corps under the command of the Russian armed forces. Under the guise of so-called ‘exercises’ the 1st and 2nd Army Corps are amassing weapons in a manner that would suit an offensive. The Ukrainian army is ready: “If there is a real threat, there will be a real response,” said JFO spokesperson, Oleksandr Zavtonov.
“There is no threat of an offensive,” said the JFO spokesperson, but Ukraine has shown it is ready for one. The Russians have learned there is now no way to make gains out of exploiting localized weakness in the Ukrainians’s battle posture, as there was in the first year of the war. The balance of forces in Donbas, as they are now constituted, tips overwhelmingly in favour of defender Ukraine and against invader Russia. Putin is a walking disaster as a war leader, and that is good news for Ukraine, for Europe, and for Western civilization.