Russian-backed Separatists Launch Offensive in Ukraine
Russian-backed separatists launched a long-anticipated offensive maneuver on June 3 that fully severed a fraying ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. After weeks of military buildup and operational expansion along the front line, the Russian-backed forces stormed government-held military positions immediately west of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk before being driven back by Ukrainian troops. A sustained Russian-backed offensive on these frontline positions may function as component of a larger maneuver to push south along the strategic Donetsk-Mariupol highway. The maneuver around Donetsk may also be part of a coordinated tandem offensive, a signature of Russia’s hybrid operations in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists may synchronize the offensive west of Donetsk with a maneuver operation around the city of Artemivsk, a gateway to Ukraine’s regional military and administrative headquarters. Moscow and the separatists may apply a large-scale tandem offensive to bully Kyiv into a peace settlement on their own terms for the third time in a year. The timing of the offensive on the morning after restarted ceasefire negotiations, which Kyiv accused the Russian delegation of abandoning, points to the existence of a political objective behind the operation. Since March, Russian and separatists have accused Kyiv of flouting the key political component of the February ceasefire agreement, namely the constitutional recognition of the autonomy of occupied eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin may have ordered the launch of maneuver operations to not only expand the territory of the separatist “republics” but also to coerce Kyiv into giving them legitimacy.