KIEV, Feb. 8 – Neither Ukraine nor the rebel forces in the eastern regions are capable of launching a major offensive to capture new territory, Stratfor, a private U.S. intelligence firm, said Wednesday.
The report comes after two weeks of renewed fighting over the town of Avdiyivka in the Donetsk region with loss of life on both sides.
“In the end, major fighting between Ukrainian and separatist forces is unlikely to erupt,” Stratfor said in the report. “Neither side has enough logistical support (i.e. tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers) in the area to launch a major offensive to capture the next town across the front line.”
The report comes a day after Alexander Hug, of the OSCE special monitoring mission to Ukraine, said the front line in eastern Ukraine was on the brink of more outbreaks of fighting.
Hug, who spoke in the town of Avdiyivka on Tuesday, said tension remained high because both sides had moved heavy weapons into the area, in breach of the Minsk II peace agreement signed two years ago.
A sharp escalation in fighting over the past week has killed at least 33 people, centering on Avdiyivka, a government-held town just north of rebel-controlled Donetsk. Nearly 180 homes or apartments in the town of 35,000 people were damaged in the shelling, according to Pavlo Zhebrivskiy, a government official in the Donetsk region.
Stratfor said the fighting in Avdiyivka was most likely intended to increase international attention to the conflict, especially in the wake of inauguration of Donald Trump as the U.S. president last month.
“It's becoming more likely that the flare-up was not intended to capture territory, but to raise attention of the conflict internationally,” Stratfor said. “Ukraine and Russia want to test the new U.S. administration to see how it will react.”
More than 9,800 have died from fighting between troops and Russia-backed rebels since April 2014.
Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, and is under international sanction by the U.S. and European Union.
Meanwhile, a rebel commander Mikhail Tolstykh, known by the codename Givi, in eastern Ukraine was killed on Wednesday. He was targeted by a Schmel anti-tank missile at his office in Donetsk just after 6 a.m. local time.
Givi played an influential role as a military leader of the Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine, participating in key battles at the Donetsk airport and, most recently, in Avdiyivka.
“In this context, it is noteworthy that more aggressive rebel leaders — Givi included — are increasingly coming under pressure,” Stratfor reported.
Givi's murder was notable for its timing, just four days after a defense official of the Luhansk People's Republic was killed in a car bombing. It also comes just a few months after another rebel military commander known as Motorola was killed in an apparent hit in October.
Ukraine has denied responsibility for the attacks, though Kiev certainly has an interest in taking out the separatist military leaders, particularly those who are more aggressive such as Givi and Motorola.
“It's also been speculated that Russia could somehow be involved in the assassinations so as to reign in more unruly rebel elements, but the Kremlin has officially denied using the tactic,” Stratfor reported. (nr/ez)