Russian separatist forces in Donbas


The Pro-Russian separatist forces of the war in Donbas is the umbrella term for the militias and armed volunteer groups affiliated with the pro-Russian unrecognized breakaway Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. These groups were formerly unified as the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya (Russian: Объединённые Вооруженные Силы Новороссии; acronym NAF),[2][6] which would have been affiliated with the unrecognized political union called Novorossiya (New Russia). It consists of the Donbas People's Militia,[7][8] the Luhansk People's Militia and autonomous armed groups. They are designated as terrorist groups by the Government of Ukraine.[9]

Russian separatist forces in Donbas
Российские сепаратистские силы на Донбассе
Founded3 March 2014[1]
(as Donbas People's Militia)
Current form16 September 2014[2]
WebsiteOfficial Website of the Directorate of the People's Militsiya of the DPR
Leadership
Supreme Commander-in-Chiefs Denis Pushilin
Leonid Pasechnik
Commanders of the People's Militia Directorate Major General Denis Sinenkov[3]
Guards Colonel Yan Leshchenko[4]
Manpower
Active personnel~ 42,500 (June 2015)[5]
Industry
Foreign suppliers Russia (Allegedly)

The Donbas People's Militia was formed by Pavel Gubarev, who was elected "People's Governor" of Donetsk Oblast.[10] It was originally involved in taking control of Ukrainian government buildings in the oblast. Tensions increased to the point of the militia being actively involved in fighting a war against the Ukrainian government in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The militia was accused by the Ukrainian government of culpability in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on 17 July 2014, but the Donetsk People's Republic disputed this claim.[11] The militias of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic merged on 16 September 2014, forming the "United Armed Forces of Novorossiya".[2]

It is widely believed that the separatists are supported by the Russian Armed Forces.[12] Although the Russian government often denies direct involvement, stating that their soldiers were there voluntarily and not under orders, some of them were captured with documents that said otherwise.[13] The separatists have admitted receiving supplies from Russia and being trained there. BBC reported that separatist ranks are composed of thousands of Russian citizens.[13][14] Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation have been reported to also be supporting the separatists. DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko claimed in August 2014 that there are around 3,000 to 4,000 Russian volunteers fighting for the militia, which includes current and many retired Russian Army servicemen.[15]

Since September 2015, the separatist units, at the battalion level and up, are acting under direct command of Russian Army officers, with former local commanders sometimes serving as their deputies.[16]

History


Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk on April 6, 2014

On 3 March 2014, during the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, groups of protesters took control of the regional administration building in Donetsk.[17] A newly created armed opposition group named the Donbas People's Militia participated in it and was led by Pavel Gubarev.[17] This happened when 11 Ukrainian cities with significant populations of ethnic Russians erupted in demonstrations against the new Ukrainian government.[17] On 6 April 2014, 2,000 pro-Russian protesters rallied outside the regional administration building.[18] On the same day, groups of protesters in Eastern Ukraine stormed the regional administration building in Kharkiv, and the SBU headquarters in Luhansk.[10] The groups created a people's council and demanded a referendum like in Crimea.[18][nb 1] Within a few days, several government buildings in cities such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk were also stormed.[27][28] On 12 April, the supporters of the Donetsk People's Republic and members of Donbas People's Militia set up checkpoints and barricades in Sloviansk.[29] The same day, former members of the Donetsk "Berkut" unit joined the ranks of the Donbas People's Militia.[30]

On 13 April, the newly established Ukrainian government gave the separatists a deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist campaign" in the region.[31] Later that day, the first reports of fighting was reported between the people's militia and Ukrainian troops near Sloviansk, with casualties on both sides.[32][33] On 14 April, members of the Donbas People's Militia blocked Ukrainian military KrAZ truck's armed with Grad missiles from entering the city.[34][35] On 15 April, a full scale "Anti-Terrorist Operation" was launched by the Ukrainian government with aim of restoring their authority over the areas seized by the militia.[36]

Sloviansk city council under control of Russian Registered Cossacks[37] on 14 April 2014
DPR troops in Donetsk during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade

On 16 April, the militia entered Sloviansk with six BMD airborne amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles[38][39] they obtained from parts of the 25th Airborne Brigade[40] who had switched allegiance.[41][42][43] A Ukrainian military column was disarmed after the vehicles were blockaded by locals in Kramatorsk.[44] The militia also received one self-propelled 120 mm mortar 2S9 "Nona-S"[45][46] On April 20, an unidentified armed group in civilian clothes attacked a Militia checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Sloviansk. Three attackers and three members of Militia were killed.[47] On May 14, eight members of Militia seized an IMR armored vehicle from Novokramatorsky Mashinostroitelny Zavod.[48]

On May 15, the Donbas People's Militia sent an ultimatum to Kiev. They demanded the withdrawal of all Ukrainian troops from Donetsk oblast.[49] On May 17, several members of the militia seized two BRDM unarmed armored vehicles from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (Luhansk Oblast)[50] On May 22, the Federal State of Novorossiya was declared. On May 23, several members of people's militia seized another BRDM-RKh unarmed armored vehicle from Loskutovka (Luhansk Oblast)[51]

In July 2014, it was estimated that the manpower of the separatists was around 10,000 – 20,000 personnel.[52][53]

The militia were widely suspected to be involved in the downing of a civilian airliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, on 17 July 2014.[54][55]

On August 8, the militia claimed that after battles near border with Russia, they captured 67 pieces of equipment with varying status (serviceable equipment without ammunition and fuel, with faults, damaged in battle and completely unusable), including 18 multiple rocket launching systems "Grad", 15 tanks and armored personnel carriers, howitzers, MANPADS, etc.[56] As of August 12, the militia has at least 200 armored vehicles.[57]

The months of July and early August were disastrous for the militias with many analysts saying they were on the verge of defeat before a sudden counteroffensive, which the Ukrainian Government claims was supported by Russian troops, encircled thousands of Ukrainian troops and forced them into a retreat.[58] The militias soon re-captured several strategic positions such as Savur-Mohyla and Luhansk International Airport.[59] The armies of both the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) merged on 16 September 2014 to form the "United Armed Forces of Novorossiya".[2][60] It was formed under the command of Lieutenant General Ivan Korsun as commander-in-chief.[61]

On 2 February 2015, Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced that there would be a general mobilization in the DPR of 10,000 volunteers, and he aimed to eventually expand the NAF to 100,000 soldiers.[62]

In March 2015, the estimated manpower of the separatists rose to 30,000 – 35,000 personnel.[63]

On 20 May 2015 the leadership of the Federal State of Novorossiya announced the termination of the confederation 'project'[64] but the United Armed Forces was retained as the joint armed service of the DPR and LPR.[65]

Structure


Oplot Brigade during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade

The militias consist of different armed groups, which took the oath for Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Militant groups which refused to do it were disarmed as gangs in the DPR.[66] Other groups are autonomous forces.[67]

According to The Ukrainian Week, there is a Donetsk Operative Command set up in May 2016 by Russia that coordinates military efforts of the Donetsk People's Republic.[68] The tank battalions they claim Russia can deploy is the DPR Diesel Battalion, and LPR August Battalion.[68] Euromaidan Press reported in September 2018 that the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya comprised two army corps: the 1st corp called the “People’s Militia of the DNR” and the 2nd corps called “People’s Militia of the LNR”.[69]

On 28 December 2018 commander of the Ukrainian Navy Ihor Voronchenko claimed that the DPR had created a flotilla stationed at Novoazovsk made up of about 25 converted fishing boats.[70] According to Voronchenko the DPR had named this flotilla the "9th Regiment of the Marine Corps".[70]

Combat forces

Flag of the Vostok Battalion
Flag of the Sparta Battalion
Flag of the Somalia Battalion
Donetsk People's Republic

Donbas People's Militia (Russian: Народное ополчение Донбасса)

  • North Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Север») (unofficial)[71]
  • 1st Sloviansk Brigade (Russian: 1-ая Славянская бригада) – Brigade that was formerly commanded by Igor “Strelkov” Girkin.[72]
  • Patriotic Forces of Donbas[73] (Russian: Патриотические силы Донбасса)
  • Oplot Brigade (Russian: Батальон «Оплот», meaning "Bulwark Battalion") – Commanded by Alexander Zakharchenko.[80][81] Originally a battalion, it expanded to a brigade by May 2015.
  • Russian Orthodox Army (Russian: Русская православная армия) – A senior commander of the unit is Alexander Verin.[81] One of the armed groups, which control Donetsk, formed mostly by locals from coal mine towns.[82] It reportedly had 100 members at the time of its founding. According to Ukrainian sources, in June 2014 has at least 350 fighters.[83] According to independent sources as fighting between separatists and the Ukrainian government worsened in Donbas, membership rose to 4,000.[84]
  • Miner's Division (Russian: Шахтёрская дивизия) – Founded shortly after the rebel withdrawal from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. It is commanded by Konstantin Kuzmin. Fighters typically range from ages 22–60. Composed of former coal miners.[85]
  • Consolidated Orthodox Battalion "Voshod" or Voshod Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Восход», meaning "Sunrise Battalion") – Formed in June 2014, it had 300 fighters.[87]
  • Steppe Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Степь»)[88]
  • DPR Security Service Battalion (Russian: Батальон службы безопасности Донецкой народной республики) – Security Service of the Donetsk People's Republic.[86]
  • Sparta Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Спарта») – Special forces battalion formed and led by Arsen Pavlov, known by the call sign Motorola until his assassination. Their current commander is Vladimir Zhoga, from Sloviansk and is known by the callsign Voha.[89]
  • 1st Separate Battalion-Tactical Group "Somalia" or Somalia Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Сомали») – Tactical group led by Lieutenant colonel Mikhail Tolstykh, known by the call sign Givi until his assassination.
  • DPR Republican Guard (Russian: Республиканская гвардия ДНР) – Elite unit created by Alexander Zakharchenko on January 12, 2015.[90][91] Commanded by Major-general Ivan Kondratov, and is composed of six battalions that totals more than 3,000 fighters.[91]
    • International Brigade "Pyatnashka" or Pyatnashka Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Пятнашка», meaning "15th Brigade") – International brigade commanded by Akhra Avidzba, known by the call sign Abkhaz. DPR positions in Marinka are held by this unit.[92]
  • Diesel Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Дизель») – Separate tank battalion formed in 2015 that is equipped with Soviet equipment, including T-72B1s.[68][93]
  • Mariupol-Khingan Naval Infantry (Russian: Мариупольско-Хинганский морская пехота) - Formed in 2016. The name is based on World War II Soviet 221st Infantry Mariupol-Khingan Red Banner Order of Suvorov Division.
Independent DPR forces
  • International Battalions – Includes Russian, Chechen, Greek, Ossetian, Polish, Hungarian, Serbian, Latvian, Belarusian, Uzbek, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Armenian and other volunteers.[94][95][96][97][98]
    • Orthodox Dawn (Bulgarian: Православна Зора) – Bulgarian volunteer group.[99]
    • Legion of Saint Stephen (Russian: Легион Святого Иштвана) – Hungarian subgroup of international battalions.[95] The group espouses a Hungarian nationalist platform, demanding self-determination for the Hungarian minority in Zakarpattia Oblast,[100] and has been accused of being close to the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary.[101]
    • Jovan Šević Detachment (Serbian: одред «Јован Шевић») – Serbian Chetnik-led group commanded by Bratislav Živković, has 250 fighters.[102] In October 2014 the fighters returned to Serbia.[103]
    • Carlos Palomino International Brigade (Spanish: Brigada Internacional Carlos Palomino) – Spanish volunteer group.
  • Varyag Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Варяг»), meaning "Varangian Battalion" – Volunteer battalion commanded by Alexander Matyushin.[104]
  • RNU Volunteer Units – Includes volunteers from Russian National Unity and other Neo-nazi organizations.[105][106]
Luhansk People's Republic

LPR People's Militia (Russian: Народная милиция ЛНР). Formerly known as Army of the South-East (Russian: Армия Юго-Востока) until late 2014.[107][108][109][110]

Independent LPR forces
Flag of the Prizrak Brigade
  • Great Host of Don Cossacks (Russian: Всевеликое войско Донское)[117] – An international organisation that recruits volunteers from Ukraine and Russia.[118]
    • Cossack National Guard (Russian: Казачья Национальная гвардия) – Don Cossack volunteer group commanded by Rashid Shakirzanov.[67] The group has over 4,000 fighters and have access to armor and artillery.[67] From May to November 2014, the group was commanded by Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn.[67][119] Kozitsyn was forcibly removed from power in November 2014 and replaced by Shakirzanov.[67] The group's headquarters is in Antratsyt, and their rule expands to Krasnyi Luch.[67] Initially, this group was identified as Russian Special Forces by the U.S. State Department following the takeover of the Sloviansk city council.[120] In November 2014, the group instated capital punishment in Perevalsk to deter crime.[121] Kozitsyn stated that there is no more marauding, burglaries or car-jacking in the city.[121] They refused to join the LPR's military command but insist on cooperating with them, remaining autonomous and controlling territory.[67]
  • First Cossack Regiment (Russian: Первый казачий полк) – Don Cossack volunteer group commanded by Ataman Pavel Dryomov. The group has around 1,300 fighters, and the headquarters is in Stakhanov.[67] Originally part of Kozitsyn's Cossack National Guard until it split in September 2014.[67] Dryomov denounced the LPR's leadership as being corrupt and "pro-oligarchic".[67] Dryomov was killed on 12 December 2015 when his car was blown up by an unknown perpetrator the day after his wedding.[122]
  • Mechanized Brigade "Prizrak" or Prizrak Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Призрак», meaning "Ghost Brigade") – Mechanized infantry brigade that is commanded by Yuri Shevchenko. It was formed and led by Aleksey Mozgovoy until his assassination on 23 May 2015.[72] The group keeps its distance from the LPR authorities and is based in Alchevsk and the surrounding district.[67]
    • DKO (Russian: ДКО - Добровольческий коммунистический отряд) Volunteer Communist Detachment, an international organisation commanded by Piotr Biriukov.[123][124]
    • Continental Unit (French: Unité Continentale) – French, Serbian and Brazilian volunteer group.[125][126]
Disbanded
Flag of the Rapid Response Group "Batman"
  • United Battalions of the DPR and LPR.[127]
    • North Battalion
    • Prizrak Battalion
  • Rapid Response Group "Batman" or Batman Battalion (Russian: Группа быстрого реагирования «Бэтмен») – Commanded by Alexander Bednov until he was killed in an attack on his convoy on 1 January 2015.[128] Members of the group said that the attack was ordered by head of the Luhansk People's Republic Igor Plotnitsky.[128] According to them, Bednov and his fighters were killed "by order of Plotnitsky" because he was "ordered to sweep all intransigent commanders."[129][130] Following this attack, the LPR arrested some of Bednov's men, and dissolved the battalion.[131] Some of its personnel were dispersed into other LPR units, while DPR field commanders Givi and Motorola invited former members to join their battalions.[131]
    • Rusich Company (Russian: ДШРГ «Русич») – Special forces-type company commanded by Aleksey Milchakov. Made up of far-right Russian and other European volunteers.[131] On July 10, 2015, Milchakov announced that the Rusich Company would be withdrawing from Donbas for retraining and refitting.[132]

Non-combat units

  • Novorossiya Humanitarian Battalion (Russian: Гуманитарный батальон «Новороссия») – Non-combat unit involved in protecting the delivery of humanitarian aid.[133]

Commanders


Former Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko

Donetsk People's Republic

Luhansk People's Republic

Equipment


Vikings Battalion infantrymen with Russian military equipment in July 2015

According to independent sources, rebels mostly used equipment that was available domestically before the Ukrainian crisis. However, the rebels were also seen using weapons that were not known to be exported to or otherwise available in Ukraine. Appearance of some of the latest models of Russian military equipment, which was never exported outside of Russia, is particularly noteworthy.[140]

According to the Donetsk People's Republic, all its military equipment is "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[141] However, according to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State, this is a false statement and claim the separatists have received military equipment from Russia, including multiple rocket launch systems and tanks.[142] Despite the fact that Russian officials deny supplying arms to the militia, numerous evidence proves that it is true.[140][142][143] In August 2014 Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey claimed the proof for the weapons supply from Russia was that the fighters of the Donbas People's Militia were using Russian-made weapons that were never used (or bought) by the Ukrainian army.[144]

Among such exclusively Russian equipment seen with pro-Russian separatists are Russian modifications of tank T-72 (particularly T-72B3 and T-72BA seen destroyed in Ukraine[140][145]), infantry fighting vehicle BTR-82AM (adopted in Russia in 2013),[146][147] armored personnel carriers BPM-97,[148][149] sophisticated anti-aircraft system Pantsir-S1,[150][151] multipurpose vehicle GAZ Vodnik (adopted in Russia in 2005),[148] Russian modifications of MT-LB, rocket-propelled flamethrower MRO-A, anti-tank missile Kornet, anti-materiel rifle ASVK, suppressed sniper rifle VSS Vintorez and others.[140][146]

Military training


Higher Combined Arms Command School

The Donetsk Higher Combined Arms Command School (Russian: Донецкого высшего общевойскового командного училища) is a higher level institution in the ideological training of cadets.[152] People from both the DPR and LPR can enroll at the school.[153] It prepare future command cadres in four areas: reconnaissance, tank forces, infantry, and political officers. Upon graduation, the cadets are commissioned as lieutenants. Since the fall of 2016, the Military Lyceum is affiliated to the DHCACS.

Military-Physical Training Lyceum

Lyceum students on parade.
Members of the lyceum in their white dress uniform.

The Georgy Beregovoy Military-Physical Training Lyceum (Russian: Лицей с усиленной военно-физической подготовкой имени дважды Героя Советского Союза, летчика-космонавта СССР, генерал-лейтенанта Г.Т.Берегового) is an educational facility of the People's Militia, being akin to the Suvorov Military School or the Ivan Bohun Military High School. It was established on 15 May 1993 by decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine as the Donetsk Higher Military-Political School of Engineering and Signal Corps. From 1993 to 2000, the Lyceum was with a three-year form of study. Over two decades, 2,793 graduates graduated from the institution, more than 1,000 of them currently serve in officer posts in various power structures of Ukraine.[154] It was renamed and converted in 2014, after which it has graduated more than 300 students since.[155] The school is open to boys between 14 and 16 years old, many of which come from military families. The cadets live at the school for 6 days a week.[156]

Relationship with Russia


As the conflict intensified, the Donbas People's Militia was bolstered with many volunteers from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia; including fighters from Chechnya and North Ossetia.[157]

According to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State the Donbas People's Militia have received military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers.[142] Russia denied doing this and has described the Russian citizens fighting with the Donbas People's Militia as volunteers.[142][158] The Donetsk People's Republic claimed on 16 August 2014 it had received (together with 30 tanks and 120 other armoured vehicles of undisclosed origin) 1,200 "individuals who have gone through training over a four-month period on the territory of the Russian Federation".[159][160] Prime Minister of the DPR Alexander Zakharchenko stated in August 2014 that they have not received military equipment from Russia; but that all its military equipment is "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[141]

The injured of the Donbas People's Militia were exclusively treated in Russia.[157] During mid-August 2014, hospitals such as the Donetsk Central Hospital in Donetsk, Russia attended to between 10 and 20 injured fighters daily.[157] The Russian Emergency Ministry assisted with treatment logistics.[157] Those questioned and registered by the (Russian) Federal Security Service[157] and treated in Russia during this period stated that they would not return to Ukraine if the Ukrainian army won the war in Donbas,[157] but would, instead, engage in a partisan warfare campaign in Eastern Ukraine.[157]

See also


Notes


References


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