Russia Militarily Driving to Take Key Economic Assets in Ukraine‘۪s Donbass on a More Permanent Basis
Military experts and Western intelligence officials are acknowledging that Russian-backed forces have launched a major offensive across several fronts in eastern Ukraine. It appears to reflect a shift from an opportunistic, hedged strategy by President Putin to one of more permanently seizing territory in the Donbass region and ensuring that the economic infrastructure and revenue streams are likewise captured so that a new rump state (in effect, Novorossiya) is viable as an independent entity.
The array of new, sophisticated Russian weaponry openly driven across the Ukrainian border this month alone is impressive and provides the capability to support this seeming fundamental shift in Kremlin strategy and objectives. Naturally, the stripping away of major industrial and economic hubs in eastern Ukraine would have the dual-advantage from Moscow‘s perspective of crippling further the economy of the balance of the country run by Kiev.
The former Deputy Chief of Ukraine‘s General Staff, Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, stated, ‘‘‘Today we are facing full-scale military attacks focused on capturing strategic cities vital to Ukraine‘s economy and expanding separatist territory as a whole.‘ Among Russia‘s immediate economic targets, according to the Financial Times, are: a power plant that supplies electricity to the entire region located near the towns of Stanytsia Luganska and Schchastya; a railway hub in the city of Debaltseve, which controls the flow of coal from around the region; Ukraine‘s largest coke manufacturer near the city of Avdiivka used in the production of steel, the country‘s largest export item and source of hard currency earnings; and the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, which is a major trade hub and home to two of Ukraine‘s three largest steel mills.
Moscow‘s new Donbass strategy is already being compared to Georgia‘s Abkhazia enclave controlled by Russia as well as to Moldova‘s Transnistria region. Regrettably, Greece and arguably other EU and NATO member states are threatening to disrupt the implementation of new Western sanctions against Russia, no doubt emboldening the Kremlin.