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Uh so has Debaltseve fallen?

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The BBC is reporting Ukrainian troops withdrawing from the city :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31519000

 

And the interactive map at http://liveuamap.com/ which is a pro Ukrainian news site shows the whole pocket under separatist control.

 

How much of the whole thing was a breakout to punch out of encirclement or a withdrawal which implies a the presence of a corridor is not clear, neither is how organized it was, but it appears the separatists have managed to capture this strategical location. Pretty big development.

 

Quoted from the Guardian :

 

"But the withdrawal seemed anything but orderly, and Prekharia said the decision to pull back had been made by the senior commanders on the ground when they saw that the situation was becoming catastrophic. Other soldiers said artillery and ambushes had been waiting for them on their way out."

 

Previously the separatists has claimed to have seized a small village astride the road leading out of the pocket but the Ukrainian government denied it.

 

Another quote from the Guardian :

 

"The Ukrainian authorities insisted that Debaltseve had never been surrounded, but army medics and soldiers who escaped the city told the Guardian that shelling and mines along the road had cut off the flow of ammunition, supplies and ambulances to Debaltseve for more than a week."

 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/18/ukrainian-soldiers-share-horrors-of-debaltseve-battle-after-stinging-defeat

 

Yesterday there were reports of heavy fighting around the railroad station in Debaltseve proper. But this was a bit unexpected. Quite a setback for the Ukrainians it seems.

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Yep - all the reports I am seeing is that the town has fallen to the rebels. Ukraine government claims their forces withdrew in good order but does not dispute that the rebels have taken the town.

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Yes but for the past two weeks the separatists have been talking about the Debaltseve cauldron, gloating about how it was doomed since they took Logvinovo astride the Debaltseve - Artemivsk road. Meanwhile the Ukrainian government kept flat out denying it, saying the situation was under control, the separatists were taking heavy casualties, their offensive a failure etc.

 

Therefore while the encirclement was probably not completely tight, otherwise there could have been no withdrawal, there was indeed an encirclement in the making.

 

So yes it is not all that surprising to see belligerents sides lying in a war, but it goes to show you that both sides do it and if you want to be well informed you need to read what both of them say.

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 So yes it is not all that surprising to see belligerents sides lying in a war, but it goes to show you that both sides do it and if you want to be well informed you need to read what both of them say.

In war, truth is the first casualty.

Aeschylus, Greek tragic dramatist (525 BC - 456 BC)

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As someone who has followed this battle, and others, since the start...

Ukraine withdrew almost all of its forces and almost all of its equipment out of Debaltseve today. This despite the separatists saying they were surrounded and Putin calling on them to surrender. This was not a "kettle", this was not a massive defeat for Ukraine. Like the airport, it is a place that has more symbolic value than actual value. Especially since Russian artillery pounded Debaltseve into dust and the railyard is useless.

Now the line is shorter for both sides. Since the separatist/Russian side suffered fairly heavy casualties and Ukraine withdrew its forces in good order, the short front doesn't necessarily work in the separatists' favor. Manpower is not an inexhaustible resource, though to be sure many of the separatist fighters who died were of minimal combat value and were fed into the battle more-or-less as cannon fodder. At least the survivors seem to feel they were considered expendable.

Then there is the political fallout that is already starting to happen. Minsk 2 was the last chance for Russia to show that negotiations could work. It's now proven (yet again) that Russia's word has no practical value, therefore it is probable that actions will be taken from now on that reflect that reality. Which means the war will continue with no end in sight.

Steve

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"... Then there is the political fallout that is already starting to happen. Minsk 2 was the last chance for Russia to show that negotiations could work. It's now proven (yet again) that Russia's word has no practical value, therefore it is probable that actions will be taken from now on that reflect that reality. Which means the war will continue with no end in sight.

Steve

 

Happened to listen to the BBC radio show The Inquiry show "How Strong Is NATO?"  podcast @ 
24 mins 


As the Baltic states look on uneasily at Ukraine’s latest fragile ceasefire, what has the conflict revealed about the West’s military alliance?

 

Sort of a well the NATO political club thought we cold be pals with Russia and everyone would be friends so NATO let the equipment, investments, etc. slide for @ 30 years but now it looks like we NATO must act because Russia / Putin have shown ... they have zero intention of being friends.

 

Agree with Steve's summary. Actions will be taken now that reflect reality. If not... Putin will keep taking what he claims is / was Russia's.

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As someone who has followed this battle, and others, since the start...

Ukraine withdrew almost all of its forces and almost all of its equipment out of Debaltseve today. This despite the separatists saying they were surrounded and Putin calling on them to surrender. This was not a "kettle", this was not a massive defeat for Ukraine. Like the airport, it is a place that has more symbolic value than actual value. Especially since Russian artillery pounded Debaltseve into dust and the railyard is useless.

 

I can't find a single reliable source claiming that the Ukrainians got their equipment out. Mind linking yours?

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There is a bit of a double standard here. I know it is probably not wise to argue about such matters with the site's owner but with all due respect Steve, I don't think you are applying the same standards of critical analysis to reports coming from the Ukrainian government as you do to the Russians or separatists reports. And your understandable disliking for the separatists is maybe clouding your judgement a bit about the true situation on the ground.

 

Before the separatists captured Debaltseve, people were saying : ok their offensive is a failure, they are not making any progress, they suffer horrible casualties etc. Now that they took the town, it is becoming : oh we were not forced to withdraw, we chose to, and the town was not strategically important even though it basically provides a direct road link between Donetsk and Luhansk and gives the rebels a coherent contiguous piece of territory.

 

Basically both sides were being disingenuous about the true situation on the ground but yet you appear to dismiss the separatists' claims and trust at face value reports coming from the Ukrainian government.

 

The separatists were being overly optimistic when they claimed there was a cauldron because it was never totally sealed but the Ukrainian government was lying too because it is obvious the road between Artemivsk and Debaltseve wasn't secure and that was the reason for withdrawing, not to shorten the frontline, this appears to be more a consequence than the true reason really, but because supplies couldn't get through.

 

As far as the withdrawal is concerned, well I'll just quote this BBC article :

 

"President Poroshenko says the withdrawal was planned and organised, but on the ground it looked like a hasty retreat in the face of overwhelming odds."

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31519000

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From what I have read the withdrawal had been planned for several days in advance and was orderly at the start but was anything but orderly by the end.

 

Poroshenko says 80% of the troops have left. What about the other 20%? We don't know how many UA troops were in Debaltseve, but most estimates were of several thousand.

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I can't find a single reliable source claiming that the Ukrainians got their equipment out. Mind linking yours?

Plenty of videos of trucks and armored vehicles coming out. I'm sure they did not get EVERYTHING out and they were explicitly instructed to leave behind anything that they didn't need to fight their way out. I'm guessing they left behind quite a few large caliber guns.

Steve

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From what I have read the withdrawal had been planned for several days in advance and was orderly at the start but was anything but orderly by the end.

Yup, which is how pretty much all withdrawals under observed fire wind up. It is why a withdrawal under fire is the single most dangerous and risky thing for a force to do.

 

Poroshenko says 80% of the troops have left. What about the other 20%? We don't know how many UA troops were in Debaltseve, but most estimates were of several thousand.

That was an "as of now" report. Some are captured, some are dead, some are simply unaccounted for at the moment. A large scale withdrawal like this always has a high degree of confusion associated with it. It takes time to sort it out.

Steve

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There is a bit of a double standard here. I know it is probably not wise to argue about such matters with the site's owner but with all due respect Steve, I don't think you are applying the same standards of critical analysis to reports coming from the Ukrainian government as you do to the Russians or separatists reports. And your understandable disliking for the separatists is maybe clouding your judgement a bit about the true situation on the ground.

 

Before the separatists captured Debaltseve, people were saying : ok their offensive is a failure, they are not making any progress, they suffer horrible casualties etc. Now that they took the town, it is becoming : oh we were not forced to withdraw, we chose to, and the town was not strategically important even though it basically provides a direct road link between Donetsk and Luhansk and gives the rebels a coherent contiguous piece of territory.

 

Basically both sides were being disingenuous about the true situation on the ground but yet you appear to dismiss the separatists' claims and trust at face value reports coming from the Ukrainian government.

 

The separatists were being overly optimistic when they claimed there was a cauldron because it was never totally sealed but the Ukrainian government was lying too because it is obvious the road between Artemivsk and Debaltseve wasn't secure and that was the reason for withdrawing, not to shorten the frontline, this appears to be more a consequence than the true reason really, but because supplies couldn't get through.

 

As far as the withdrawal is concerned, well I'll just quote this BBC article :

 

"President Poroshenko says the withdrawal was planned and organised, but on the ground it looked like a hasty retreat in the face of overwhelming odds."

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31519000

You missed the main point, Putin and his proxies now stand clearly exposed for the liars they are. They never intended to honor minsk2. Even while signing the paperwork they were preparing this offensive. Hope Putin enjoys his victory as now that Germany and France have burned all their credit in the EU trying to negotiate it is going to fall to the rest to start with the only option Putin has left the west, start arming Ukraine to win this war. The war hawks in the west now have political leverage they needed. Putin really is a mediocre strategist at best.

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There is a bit of a double standard here. I know it is probably not wise to argue about such matters with the site's owner but with all due respect Steve, I don't think you are applying the same standards of critical analysis to reports coming from the Ukrainian government as you do to the Russians or separatists reports. And your understandable disliking for the separatists is maybe clouding your judgement a bit about the true situation on the ground.

No, the abysmal track record of separatist and Russian media being even remotely accurate has clouded my judgement. A LOT. The only ones I take with any degree of accuracy are the minute tactical ones or when separatists are saying things that are directly in contradiction to separatist and Russian media positions.

The Ukrainian sources are vastly superior because they are not afraid to contradict official statements out of ATO HQ. In fact, most of the sources I read are HYPER CRITICAL of statements out of ATO and Kiev. Now, show me where that exists on the separatist and Russian side on a regular basis, because I'd love to see it for myself.

 

Before the separatists captured Debaltseve, people were saying : ok their offensive is a failure, they are not making any progress, they suffer horrible casualties etc. Now that they took the town, it is becoming : oh we were not forced to withdraw, we chose to, and the town was not strategically important even though it basically provides a direct road link between Donetsk and Luhansk and gives the rebels a coherent contiguous piece of territory.

The world is not black and white. For the last 5 months the separatists have been trying to take Debaltseve and have failed until today. The major winter offensive has been going on for over a month and, yes, until the last few days it was a miserable failure. The amount of death suffered on the separatist/Russian side has been way out of proportion to what the Ukrainians suffered. But Putin gave them fresh forces and three days grace period before the ceasefire took effect to finish off Debaltseve. It took 5 days, but they finally managed to take it after Ukrainian forces voluntarily withdrew.

 

Basically both sides were being disingenuous about the true situation on the ground but yet you appear to dismiss the separatists' claims and trust at face value reports coming from the Ukrainian government.

Not true at all. I have been following this battle in detail each day and made an assessment for that day based on the facts as far as could be seen. Ukraine's official position on Debaltseve was fairly accurate until the last few days when, obviously, they had every reason to stretch the truth since they were planning a withdrawal. It was pretty clear to me a few days ago they were going to lose Debaltseve if they didn't launch a major ceasefire breaking assault. So much for me taking the Ukrainian government position at "face value".

 

The separatists were being overly optimistic when they claimed there was a cauldron because it was never totally sealed but the Ukrainian government was lying too because it is obvious the road between Artemivsk and Debaltseve wasn't secure and that was the reason for withdrawing, not to shorten the frontline, this appears to be more a consequence than the true reason really, but because supplies couldn't get through.

The separatists have had the road under observed fire for a couple of weeks. Ukrainian sources have been quite clear about that, BTW. But that is not the same as having them surrounded.

The separatists and Russian officials made the claim of it being "surrounded" to give a fake pretense for the gross violation of the casefire. Putin himself said "hey, they are surrounded and so that means it's not theirs." It wasn't true and Putin has once again reminded everybody that he is a liar.

 

As far as the withdrawal is concerned, well I'll just quote this BBC article :

 

"President Poroshenko says the withdrawal was planned and organised, but on the ground it looked like a hasty retreat in the face of overwhelming odds."

Spoken like a true reporter! Remember, these are the same people that call a BMP a "tank". I have seen very, very few reporters in the field that have ever, and I mean ever, had a flipp'n clue about military matters.

As I said above, withdrawals under fire are MESSSY, especially when the enemy has the withdrawal route under observed fire.

The ultimate judgement about how well the withdrawal went is what returned to friendly lines compared to what did not. Then that is compared with a guess as to what would have been the case tomorrow or the next day. That is how a military analysis is conducted. Looking at guys who haven't slept in 3 days flooding back crammed into trucks and stuck on APCs is not.

Steve

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To tie this into CM. How many of you guys have played CM battles where you have had to break contact with the enemy after things are clearly not going your way? What happens? Generally two things:

1. You get butchered leaving your positions

2. You get beat up leaving your positions

Breaking contact without suffering additional losses is a rarity because the conditions that cause a withdrawal are usually the same ones that make it so dangerous to conduct.

Now, what happens after you pull your forces out of an exposed position in a reasonable manner? Does it mean the game is over? Not unless you're ready to surrender for other reasons it doesn't. Nope, what you are most likely to do is take those forces and redeploy the combat effective ones and withdraw the ones that aren't. The latter are effectively out of the game since CM is a tactical game, but you denny the enemy the "points" for destroying them. This represents "live to fight another day".

Although the details of Debaltseve are not totally clear, three things are pretty firmly established:

1. The separatist/Russian forces paid a high price to take Debaltseve relative to Ukrainian losses.

2. Ukraine managed to withdraw most of its forces and much of its equipment.

3. The withdrawn forces will be put back into the line.

None of these things are what the separatist/Russians planned on when the offensive started in January. Well, OK, I suppose it could have been their plan... but man, that would be a bad plan!

Debaltseve's significance is strategic only if Ukraine gives up and DPR/LPR get to keep that they have. Otherwise this is a location with no immediate military value. As a military historian I have difficulty seeing the price paid as being worth it. But often that sort of judgement changes over time as other things happen.

Steve

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Hmm I am definitely not a Putin fan, but I don't see why it is so hard to admit it when the Ukrainians suffer a blow.

I mean you can have sympathies for the Ukrainians without letting it get in the way of an objective military assesment.

 

Basically when the separatists fail to take Debaltseve, they are useless and incompetent and weak.

When they seize the town, they are equally as hopeless and it somehow becomes a tour de force achieved by the Ukrainian military.

 

I don't know I am just thinking you maybe rate one side a bit too highly as far as military capabilities are concerned and the other side too poorly.

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Hmm I am definitely not a Putin fan, but I don't see why it is so hard to admit it when the Ukrainians suffer a blow.

I mean you can have sympathies for the Ukrainians without letting it get in the way of an objective military assesment.

 

Basically when the separatists fail to take Debaltseve, they are useless and incompetent and weak.

When they seize the town, they are equally as hopeless and it somehow becomes a tour de force achieved by the Ukrainian military.

 

I don't know I am just thinking you maybe rate one side a bit too highly as far as military capabilities are concerned and the other side too poorly.

 

you'll never get an impartial assessment out of north americans, what passes for the news there is nothing but propaganda. 

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Hmm I am definitely not a Putin fan, but I don't see why it is so hard to admit it when the Ukrainians suffer a blow.

Of course it is a blow. They lost a critical piece of terrain. The difference is I'm not mischaracterizing it's importance to Ukraine's war effort or dismissing months of fighting when they did NOT lose the terrain.

 

I mean you can have sympathies for the Ukrainians without letting it get in the way of an objective military assesment.

My view is you are the one that has the perception problem here. You have an overly inflated sense of value for terrain. Terrain that can be held is useful, terrain that cannot be held doesn't have a use. Ukraine held Debatlseve for 5 months now, how long the separatists will hold it is an open question. We'll see what happens in the Spring and Summer.

 

Basically when the separatists fail to take Debaltseve, they are useless and incompetent and weak.

When they seize the town, they are equally as hopeless and it somehow becomes a tour de force achieved by the Ukrainian military.

What an imagination you have. Point me to what I said that is even remotely close to what you just said.

 

I don't know I am just thinking you maybe rate one side a bit too highly as far as military capabilities are concerned and the other side too poorly.

Not at all. I look at the body counts I've been tracking for the last month, in particular, and what Ukraine lost today is not even close to what the separatists and Russians lost. I also look at the amount of effort that went into taking Debaltseve and I find it out of proportion to the results achieved. Then, on top of that, I look at the political costs this has for Russia and I am baffled by it. Putin might as well stood on the podium in Budapest and said "oh, and by the way... nothing I say or do can ever be trusted. Just in case you didn't think that already, of course".

 

 

you'll never get an impartial assessment out of north americans, what passes for the news there is nothing but propaganda.

You have 3 posts. If you want to make it to 4 you had better drop the attitude and provocation or you'll be out of here.

Steve

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My view is you are the one that has the perception problem here. You have an overly inflated sense of value for terrain.

 

 

Yes perhaps. I guess it depends on what their political goals are.

If they aim to become fully or even partially independent as the word separatist implies then being in control of a contiguous coherent territory probably has some value to them.

 

Care to share some of your casulaties figure by the way? It'd be of interest to me.

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Yes perhaps. I guess it depends on what their political goals are.

If they aim to become fully or even partially independent as the word separatist implies then being in control of a contiguous coherent territory probably has some value to them.

Yes, and I stated this several times. I also reminded you that terrain can change hands and when it does the previous investment to take it doesn't matter. The separatists had Debaltseve once already and then Ukraine had it and now the separatists have it again. Are you saying that you think that there is no chance that Ukraine will have it again?

However, this is a separate consideration from the military aspects of this battle. You can not confuse the two together. I think it's pretty unlikely that when the separatists and Russians were planning the offensive that they sat around the table and said "OK, we'll spend a month and huge amount of resources and lives to take a smoking crater in the ground while at the same time letting the Ukrainians withdraw almost all their forces". Or do you think that was how they envisioned the battle going?

Remember the tie to Combat Mission's asymmetrical victory conditions.

Player 1 -> take Objective A, cause enemy 80% casualties

Player 2 -> cause 20% enemy casualties, Preserve 60% force

If Player 1 takes 25% casualties securing Objective A, while at the same time inflicting 20% casualties on the enemy... who do you think CM is going to say is the winner of the battle? Right, Player 2. It doesn't matter how happy Player 1 is that he took Objective A.

 

Care to share some of your casulaties figure by the way? It'd be of interest to me.

I do not keep tallies since there's no way to verify them nor keep track of what is unique and what is overlap reporting. Instead I go by a sense from daily reports and periodic statements. It's anecdotal, of course, but it's not necessarily inaccurate.

My sense is that the separatist/Russian soldiers have probably lost 3-4 times as many dead and wounded as Ukraine. I think that is conservative and it does include the fairly significant losses Ukraine suffered in the past few days. Loss of equipment seems to be a bit more favorable to Ukraine.

Even if it was 1:1, Ukraine has a deeper pool of replacements for men than the separatists do. There is good evidence that the well of true Russian volunteers has been tapped out and the Chechens also seem to be pretty much done. As for non-Russian volunteers there are mounting reports that is becoming a problem as well. Tanks and weapons? As long as Ukraine doesn't control its border with Russia there is a theoretical endless supply available to them. So manpower is the thing that the separatists and Russians can least afford.

Steve

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I am only confident in long term trends. The war in Ukraine is unsustainable from Russia's perspective. This is more akin to First Chechen War or Afghanistan than it is any other conflict Russia has fought or proxy fought since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is in tough shape too, but Ukraine isn't the one that is trying to be a world power.

Everything in life is relative. If you keep that in mind when assessing something, you'll do a lot better than if you stick with absolutes. Nations can win battles and lose wars. Even the most powerful ones.

Steve

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If I am not mistaken, according to the Minsk 2 agreements Debaltseve was to be Separatist territory anyways after the cease fire, which appearently was kept in most other areas right? So why did fighting continue around D, did the Ukrainians not want to leave or did the Separatists not let them?

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