Russia on the Retreat in Ukraine: Rebel Cities Falling to Official Forces

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By Kalyan Kumar | August 12, 2014 2:16 PM EST

Despite NATO warnings that Russia may invade Ukraine, the ground reality showed that Russia is on a retreat. The advancement of Ukraine government forces in the last two days, and the gains it made despite the presence of Russian forces nearby, further reinforces this thought.

Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a televised statement at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, in the early hours of July 21, 2014. Putin said on Monday the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in east Ukraine must not be used for political ends and urged separatists to allow international experts access to the crash site.

Russia for De-escalation

Reuters on Monday reported that Ukraine was in the final stages of recapturing Donetsk, the biggest city controlled by rebels.  The Ukraine forces stepped up their offensive on the rebels in Eastern Ukraine irrespective of the presence of 20,000 Russian troops on the nearby border, who are sympathetic to the east Ukraine rebels.

Moscow, it seems, wants to wriggle out of the conflict, without getting drawn into a ground invasion. The signal was all the more clear when a local man took over the rebel leadership in Donetsk, replacing a Russian. Catapulting a local man Zakharchenko also sent a message that Russia desires the de-escalation of the conflict.  

Putin's Designs

But the Russian action of massing troops in the border led to some urgent warnings from Kiev and Western countries that Putin may invade Ukraine if the rebels were to lose. The NATO powers have little trust on Putin, who has the track record of annexing the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, in March this year. They fear Putin may not hesitate to invade Ukraine to pre-empt any humiliating defeat for the pro-Russian rebels of eastern Ukraine.

Western Pressure

However, Ukraine mounted its offensive in rebel areas with the assurance that pressure from Western powers will deter Putin from invading it. Kremlin has also rejected any aggressive designs behind the unilateral humanitarian aid it wanted to offer at eastern Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said Moscow wishes to send humanitarian aid as part of its international mission. The visible moderation in the words of Russia signaled that it wants to reassure both the West and Ukraine that it has no plans for an assault.

Strategic Road Cut Off

The gains made by Ukrainian government forces seem to suggest an end of the road for Pro Russia rebels. On Monday it cut off the road between Donetsk and Luhansk, the rebel city closer to the Russian border.

Disclosing the news, the military spokesman of Ukraine, Andriy Lysenko, said the route was very strategic for rebels in Donetsk. The Ukraine forces think that once Donetsk is off from Luhansk, they can take both the cities from the rebels.

But the new rebel leader in Donetsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, is not accepting the erosion of strength in the rebel side and said the rebel fighters would respond to the government forces with counter attacks.

NATO Suspicion

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary-General told Reuters that he still believed Russia has an agenda behind galvanizing the troops at the border. He will not rule out the possibility of a military intervention by Russia.

NATO suspects that the Russian humanitarian mission is a ploy to save the rebels who are fighting to defend the control of two provinces, which Putin calls as "New Russia".  Both the southern and eastern Ukraine areas have Russian as the main language.

It was the intense fighting near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines MH 17 that forced the Netherlands team to put off its mission to search more human remains from the plane tragedy of July 17. 

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(Photo: Reuters / Michael Klimentyev)
Russian President Vladimir Putin makes a televised statement at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, in the early hours of July 21, 2014. Putin said on Monday the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in east Ukraine must not be used for political ends and urged separatists to allow international experts access to the crash site.
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