After Putin declared Donetsk and Luhansk independent states, the risk of resuming hostilities with Ukrainian government troops increased. However, those who control the separatist areas, which now, due to escalation from Moscow, have much greater territorial claims.
These people, separatists in eastern Ukraine, took to the big stage in the Kremlin in Moscow. Since April 2014, they have controlled part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and are fighting against the Ukrainian government army. Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” as independent states, which has drawn harsh criticism in the West. As a result of this recognition, the separatists’ claims to the neighboring territory of Ukraine have increased significantly. So far, they have controlled only about 32 percent of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. There is a risk of resumption of hostilities with Ukrainian government forces controlling the rest of the country.
Independence is only an intermediate goal of the separatists on their way to Russia. In the aftermath of the fall of the previous government in Kyiv in February 2014, Russian-speaking locals, who were employed in heavy industry and mining in the east, initially demanded linguistic and economic self-determination within the country.
After Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014, the two regions were quickly declared completely independent of the central government in Kyiv. The separatists’ goal was to join neighboring Russia. However, Berlin and Paris, which were trying to implement a specially designed peace plan for Donbass, did not anticipate this.
Initially, the separatists were led by Russians such as Igor Girkin, a former intelligence officer, and Alexander Borodai, a current member of Russia’s parliament. Later, local officials took key positions in the leadership. Luhansk separatists were led by 51-year-old former intelligence officer Leonid Pasechnyk. In Donetsk, the leader of the separatists is 39-year-old Denis Pushylin.
Ukraine estimates that the separatists have more than 35,000 members
Even before being recognized as an independent state, Kyiv regarded these areas occupied by the Kremlin as Russian. Kyiv has lost more than 400 km of its border with Russia between the Sea of Azov and the Seversky Donets River, which was seized by separatists. Areas controlled by the Ukrainian government have separated more than 420 km of front lines with border crossings. Provision of the population, due to the blockade on the Ukrainian side, is carried out exclusively across the Russian border with several road and rail crossings. The facts of the supplies were also, as part of some proceedings, inadvertently documented by a sensational court decision in the neighboring Russian city of Rostov.
Ukraine’s military intelligence estimates the number of separatist forces at about 35,000. About 3,000 Russian officers from Russia are in charge of combat training for local residents. However, a well-known separatist leader, former Ukrainian intelligence officer Oleksandr Khodakovsky, briefly objected, saying such numbers could not be reached in the future.