Pro-Russian forces may be positioning themselves to launch surprise offensive maneuvers. An indication from international monitors that Ukrainian forces no longer occupy the southern village of Shyrokyne suggests that the Russian-backed separatists have made gains in the Mariupol area despite the ceasefire.
Against the backdrop of continued fighting outside Mariupol and Donetsk, Ukrainian oligarch and volunteer battalion financier Ihor Kolomoyskyi stole the headlines this week.
Amidst ongoing low-level fighting between Ukrainian and separatist forces, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law on March 18 which would grant limited autonomy to many areas under separatist control.
While Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that both the separatists and Ukrainian Anti-Terror Operation (ATO) forces had withdrawn a large amount of heavy weaponry in accordance with the February 12 ceasefire agreement, shelling and clashes persisted in several key areas across the frontline.
Indirect fire exchanges have persisted across the front line as reports show Ukraine continuing to withdraw heavy weapons and unverified separatist claims assert their own complete withdrawal.
In the week following the Ukrainian surrender of Debaltseve, a strategic rail junction between the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, the conflict has exhibited a pattern of hostilities reminiscent of the frequently violated ceasefire period from September 2014 to January 2015.
Russia and Ukraine agreed to a ceasefire in Minsk, Belarus on February 12, while the Russian-backed separatist forces had nearly encircled the key city of Debaltseve.
Ukrainian and separatist forces launched surprise offensives to gain new terrain and optimize their negotiating positions ahead of peace talks in Minsk, Belarus on February 11.
Russia’s campaign in eastern Ukraine has reached an inflection point. Five months after signing a ceasefire agreement, Russian and separatist forces have moved from a preparation phase to a maneuver offensive.