The first month of 2015 is ending, various ceasefire treaties are being forgotten, and the meaningless Ukrainian civil war is gradually getting restarted.
When I wrote about the battles of the Donetsk airport in October 2014, I was implicitly assuming it would take days or at most weeks before Novorussia would get the Sergei Prokofiev International Airport, or whatever would be left of it.
Please don't allow kids to watch this 22-minute video.
Instead, it took more than three months. Last week, the Donetsk Militia was finally able to take control of the airport again. The Ukrainian troops who used to defend the airport for months have previously earned the status of legends. They were named the Cyborgs which means that they must have some superhero skills or be hybridized with killing robots.
If you watch the video above, you will see that Novorussia didn't allow these rather ordinary guys to enjoy their celebrity status. The well-known Novorussian commander Givi forces them to memorize his name – I am Givi, a big boy here (oh, you didn't know I was Givi? Slap!) – and he forces them to eat their Ukrainian medals and reveal their birth places. They are shown the devastation they have brought to the Donetsk Region and some of them are chosen for the "parade of shame" through the street during which the ordinary citizens of Donetsk treat these Banderistas in an unflattering way.
Of course that this endpoint was largely unavoidable. Donetsk is quite a large city and this city and its neighborhood is dominated by folks who oppose the current government in Kiev. The Kiev-led Ukraine may be larger than the current territory of Novorussia but they don't exist in the vacuum and of course that it is unavoidable that some Russians help their brothers on the Ukrainian territory, whether this help has any official component from the Kremlin or not.
(Today, Muzhenko, a top military boss in Kiev, admitted that the Ukrainian troops are facing no regular Russian army units.)
I think that Novorussia has some momentum. In recent 24 hours, they managed to encircle Debaltsevo, a 50,000-people or so town which is an important railway hub. The Ukrainian Armed Forces would have held Debaltsevo for quite some time – it was a "tongue" through which the Ukrainian territory was penetrating to the Novorussian land. But I guess that "tongues" may be rather hard to defend and they are likely to turn to encircled areas.
Meanwhile, near the beaches, the important port of Mariupol – almost 500,000 people before the exodus – is at stake, too. It is currently controlled by Kiev. However, it's a city where the champions of Novorussia may enjoy a majority, too. It is arguably the most crucial city on the possible land bridge between mainland Russia and Crimea. The idea that Novorussia is geometrically connected with Crimea must be rather attractive for those who stand against Kiev.
The attack on Mariupol has already been launched by the Donetsk independent president Zakharchenko before he revoked this order. But I think that it is more likely than not that an attack on Mariupol will begin again. We are being told that the main pro-Kiev force that will defend the city will be the Azov Batallion that uses the swastika as their ID, among related things.
By this composition, one that is among top 10 of my favorite classical music pieces, Sergei Prokofiev (a Russian born in the Donetsk Region who would move to the West after the Bolsheviks took over) predicted the dance of the knights of both sides, Romeo and Juliet, at the airport named after him, the composer. BTW I always tended to confuse the composition with Wagner's Valkyries, do you see my point?
All these deaths, suffering, and destruction are so unnecessary... It would be enough to replace the battle by a referendum in the city. Folks in Mariupol, do you want to be a part of the residual Ukraine, or do you want to join Novorussia? The outcome could be highly correlated to the outcome of a prolonged battle. Except that the deaths, suffering, and destruction would be avoided.
By the way, I have always found it insightful to visualize "proper elections" as a "civil war done in the right way" without all the damages.
Unfortunately, people who are excited about wars don't think in this way. The government in Kiev still wants to believe that it may pretend that the Novorussian forces are just an irrelevant bunch of criminals who can be ignored, who don't have to be negotiated with, and who will affect nothing in the future. Needless to say, the folks on the Novorussian side are showing Kiev that this description is deeply flawed.
I urge both sides to negotiate. To realistically estimate the expectation value of the territory they could still control after another year of the war. And to look whether these estimates have a chance to be compatible with the estimates of the other side. If that's the case, a deal may be made. Referendums may be made in all individual districts. Where do the people want to belong?
As long as at least one side will keep on pretending that it faces no comparably strong or legitimate foe, the war will have to continue.
BTW some critics have "accused" Poroshenko of clandestine talks with "Russia". They argue that a secret amendment to the Minsk protocols already assumed that the Donetsk Airport would be given to Novorussia, much like an extra strip on the Ukrainian-Novorussian current border/front, in exchange for the island around Debaltsevo. Well, if Poroshenko is secretly negotiating with anyone closer to the other side, it's surely good news.