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International Relations Conflict Diplomacy

Debacle at Debaltsevo Calls For a New Approach to Ukraine

Anti-Putin grafitti in Debaltsevo. Image: Pryshutova Viktoria/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS) on 18 February, 2015.

Before coming up with solutions it is first advisable to determine the nature of the problem. Right now the United States is considering sending arms to Ukraine, while here in Canada the Defence Minister, Jason Kenney, has been mulling the deployment of Canadian soldiers to train the Ukrainian Army. But is a lack of arms or training the real reason for the Ukrainian Army’s defeats?

To answer that question, it is worth looking at what has been happening in the town of Debaltsevo, where a large Ukrainian contingent, possibly several thousand strong, was encircled by rebel forces. The government in Kiev has repeatedly denied that its troops were surrounded, but even Ukrainian military journalists acknowledge that the main road out of Debaltsevo is in rebel hands and that troops of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have captured most of the town, as well as a substantial number of prisoners. On the night of February 17-18, a large part of the garrison escaped through gaps in rebel lines, but Ukrainian sources report heavy casualties in the process. Substantial quantities of equipment have been destroyed or have fallen into rebel hands. Ukraine has suffered a serious defeat.