Aleksandr Zakharchenko Donetsk
© Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters
Donetsk, Ukraine, September 2, 2018
The tragic murder of Alexandr Zakharchenko solidified Ukraine's intent to retake the Donbass region by force. We know the attack on Donetsk Republic leadership was meant to throw the fledgling nation into an emotional and political turmoil and cause a crisis in succession for the Republic.

Ukraine gravely miscalculated the response Poroshenko received which was both deliberate and dignified by Donetsk Republic leadership and LNR's interim president Leonid Pasechnik.

The murder was possibly to set up the conditions for a September 14th assault.

Donetsk People's Republic Operations Command spokesman Daniil Bezsonov notes Ukraine is making a lot of noise but doesn't have the fuel or munitions on hand. To make an assault from Mariupol possible they need to resupply. Donetsk Intel says Ukraine is trying to remedy this for the 14th and Ukraine has over 12,000 troops ready.

It's common knowledge US and NATO trainers have been hard at work training Ukraine's new and improved army. The problem with the army is that even with new and improved weaponry, tactics, and equipment, it still remains essentially what it was in 2014-2015.

In reality, it fits right into the outlook of Ukraine's civil and military leadership to mount an attack without the supplies for the tanks to make it to the battle lines.

At Ilovaisk, Ukraine hoped to celebrate their victory in the civil war in August 2014. Instead, Ukrainian leadership got a lesson in how deeply layered ineptness was ingrained across Ukraine's military leadership.

Not being able to deny this, even the Kiev Post laments the fact that Ukraine's officer corps was so poor, its inherent strength lay in its ability to snatch victory out of Kiev's hands and deliver it to Donbass militia forces it was fighting time and again.

In a crushing article by Andrew Higgins for the New York Times, Petr Poroshenko is described as the perfect kind of partner NATO should be seeking right now. Even though Ukraine's military budget has jumped from 2.5 % to 5% of the national budget, Ukraine's corruption is using the extra bonanza money to set up plush accounts for Poroshenko's friends and business associates.

In Jan 2018, Ukraine announced it was purchasing 100 new ambulances for use on the front lines of the conflict which was music to the ears of Ukrainians on the front lines. The no-bid contract went to Poroshenko's good friend Oleg Gladkovsky and the ambulances came pre-broken down. Ukrainians on the front lines will be stuck using wheelbarrows for the casualties again because corruption is so rabid in Ukraine. They will be lucky not to get paintball body armor like they did in 2014.

According to the Times article, "There is no proof that he influenced purchasing decisions, and there never will be. It is all secret," said Victor Chumak, an independent member of the Ukrainian Parliament and deputy chairman of its anticorruption committee. "The merging of politics and business is our biggest problem."

What Chumak describes is called Corporatism or Fascism. It is going on in real time in 2018 Ukraine. Are reforms possible under this type of government? They never have been anywhere else it's been tried.

So, with all the new training and all the new weapons the Ukrainian military in 2018 must be much better prepared than in 2014, right? Wrong.

If that was the case, Ukrainian soldiers and officers would not be suffering a moral and morale crisis so great, they are voting with their feet and retreating from Ukrainian armed services.

According to Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, 11,000 servicemen and officers left service because they were demoralized by the conditions. The soldiers paid less than low paid citizens. Another 18,000 are leaving this year.

This type of officer corps attrition alone precludes any sane government from mounting an armed campaign. Replacement officers don't have the training, experience, or temperament for the command positions they will be tasked with.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the same top brass that is responsible for Ukraine's military degeneration is not capable of making many of the reforms that are necessary. Remember, before 2014, if you joined the Ukrainian military, there was no guarantee you would ever touch a rifle or receive hands-on training for equipment.

While some may have excelled under foreign trainers, leadership from the field to the Defense Ministry remains inadequate. Compounding this, they have even changed the language of the military from Russian to Ukrainian. Ukrainian as a language didn't modernize and lacks basic terms for modern technology, social, and political expression.

This means either inventing new words on the fly which will take time to spread and learn or borrow terms from other languages. All of this leaves the command effectiveness wanting.

When Ukraine starts the assault on LDNR, I expect it will be conducted in a similar fashion to 2014. The reason for this is simple. Unless they bought an airforce or large scale surface to surface missiles, the terrain and layout hasn't changed. Trying to blitz in will only go so far before your troops are decimated. The Ukrainians started pounding Donetsk and Lugansk in 2014 to get the republics to defend the cities and then tried to roll in around them.

The first targets to take are the two main roads connecting the cities. Next, Ukraine will probably try to roll in overland and avoid contact as much as possible on the way to the border. In 2014, they had guides taking them across the open land.

The 12000 troops and equipment in Mariupol are there for two reasons. One is to serve Ukrainian propaganda with possibly a feint to draw DPR resources away from where Ukraine wants to be. The other reason is to roll up the entire border while the contact line troops engage DNR and LNR defenses. In 2014, Ukraine did not allocate near enough resources to do this even though other than key border areas the borders were relatively unprotected. This led to Ukrainian Diaspora volunteers sniping locals that were trying to flee the conflict.

Ukraine's strategy now is probably similar, for the same reasons. There is no reason to get caught up fighting in the cities with a strong opponent. If they cut off both republics from access to supplies from Russia, they will be able to starve the cities out. The two governments ability to reinforce each other is a large multiplier when it comes to defense they need the connector roads clear to do so. The opposite is also true and losing control of the connector roads will be difficult, especially to Donetsk.

There are some large and glaring differences today that didn't confront the Ukrainians in 2014. The majority of Ukrainians know exactly what's going on inside their country today. They've had to suffer under the post-coup leadership and decaying conditions throughout the peaceful regions of Ukraine.

Most don't see differences between themselves and the people of Donbass that didn't exist before 2014 and like the people in Donbass, they want the war to end.

The inadequacies Ukraine faced in 2014 and display today show how quickly inept, bumbling leadership can turn to vile criminality. The Ukrainian Diaspora volunteer battalions like Donbass, Kiev1, Dniepr, Azov, etc, almost immediately turned to rob, raping, murder, and torture in the towns and villages they came across. They weren't fighting forces but they had military weapons and hardware with no real leadership and a very cultivated drunk and drugged up nationalist perspective.

With the combined inherent conditions, it is doubtful the Ukrainian army will be able to survive its lack of command very long. Nationalist aggression in war might be helpful in remote situations but more often helps Donbass unintentionally. Just ask every nationalist volunteer punisher battalion commander that got shot in the ass or other soft tissue in 2014. Oh wait, that was nationalist volunteer punisher battalion commander that saw combat like Dimitry Yarosh.