Ukraine: conflict flare ups continue to worry
Guest post by Michael J. Sheldon, edited by Tim Foxley
Michael Jakob Sheldon is an undergraduate student at Malmö University’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. In his free time he maintains a blog (www.dangerzoneblog.com) on topics related to ongoing conflicts. Michael specializes in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine on every aspect from armed violence to state governance.
Summary: Increased fighting in the area between Avdiivka and Yasynuvata has observers concerned about the future stability of the region. Although fighting is unlikely to decrease in a meaningful way until either side concedes, the likelihood of this reigniting the conflict to past levels is slim.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has remained relatively calm up until early March this year. Although in the past occasional skirmishes were no occurrence out of the ordinary, recent flare ups in violence between Ukrainian armed forces and the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) have stakeholders in the conflict worried about what the future holds for the conflict.
There are two main areas of heightened intensity; the area between Avdiivka and Yasynuvata and the area referred to as the “Mariupol direction” by DPR rebels, which describes the southernmost area of the frontlines, Shyrokyne in particular. The incident began in March 7th, with rebels accusing Ukrainian forces of moving into the Yasynuvata industrial zone, an area previously uninhabited. The rebels supposedly responded to this by moving into and fortifying the area by the large intersection located between the two cities. Since then, rebel forces have moved into the suburb north of the intersection where they currently hold the easternmost industrial complex and a couple of blocks of what are now destroyed buildings due to heavy artillery fire, . According to the OSCE, rebel and Ukrainian forces are just 70 meters apart in some areas, a situation reminiscent of the battle for Donetsk airport which featured intense close proximity fighting over a prolonged amount of time.
The zone of battle is shown below, with rebel territory prior to the fighting being marked with red stripes. The suburban area between the two southernmost arrows are where most of the fighting is taking place, along with the industrial complexes north of it.
While it is difficult to ascertain the exact reason for this flare up, it is possible that the contemporary trial and imprisonment of Nadiya Savchenko in Russia might have provoked a Ukrainian probe. Part of what makes this flashpoint so significant is that it is an area which has usually been relatively calm, most clashes between Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka and the rebels has usually been directed at Spartak, a Donetsk suburb just north of the city center. Other areas of intense fighting are often considered to be stagnant, but the fate of this area is still undetermined. Yasynuvata, which the rebels hold, is home to a large railyard connecting several strategic cities, notably Donetsk and Horlivka and Makiyivka. The increase in hostilities has seen some rebel influencers so worried that they have been openly calling for the creation of a third army corps, to be jointly controlled by the DPR and LPR in order to repel what they perceive to be an imminent Ukrainian “invasion”. Assuming that the area between Avdiivka and Yasynuvata is no different from every other similar skirmish/battle, fighting is unlikely to stop until one side has primacy over the area. It Is also unlikely that this flare up will trigger a resumption of all-out fighting, seeing as more intense battles have not done so in the past. All-in-all this seems like a classic case of mutual escalation, both sides had ample chance to de-escalate