Is an Escalation in Luhansk Near?

Recent attacks and threats in the Luhansk Oblast

Is an Escalation in Luhansk Near?

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On June 6, fighting dramatically escalated in eastern Ukraine around the NovotoshkivskeZholobok and Krymske areas of the contact line in the Luhansk Oblast. This substantial increase in kinetic activity, along with recent announcement from authorities of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), indicates that sides may be attempting to advance military positions.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) recorded abnormally high numbers of heavy weapons explosions. The SMM reported approximately 490 explosions from June 6–7 and some 600 explosions from June 5–6, compared to only 75 from the previous June 4–5 recording period. It is worth noting that there is a large increase in ceasefire violations despite the fact that the SMM is still restricted from the April 23 security incident. Restrictions still impact the number of ceasefire violations that the SMM is able to record, so this escalation is likely more dramatic than reported numbers can portray.

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The Ukrainian Press Center for the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) claimed that Russian-led separatist forces unsuccessfully attempted to advance positions, incurring approximately twenty-five separatist casualties (eleven deaths), along with twelve Ukrainian casualties (one death) reported on June 7 and six Ukrainian casualties (one death) on June 8.

The ATO also reported that Russian-led separatist forces used heavy weapons banned by the Minsk Agreements, including 152mm artillery, 122mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) Grad artillery, 120mm mortars, and 82mm mortars.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Andrey Marochko reported that the separatist forces did not lose any positions after a Ukrainian attempt to advance towards Zholobok (a town between Novotoshkivske and Krymske). The areas on both sides of the contact line around Zholobok were reinforced over the winter, which could explain the large volume of heavy weapons usage. Marochko added that the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) were using the same types of heavy weapons banned by the Minsk Agreements listed above.

Separatists sources reported two civilian casualties in non-government-controlled areas — one in Stakhanov and one in Kirovsk. Substantial damage to twenty-four residential buildings was reported in non-government-controlled Kirovsk on June 7.

Shelling damaged civic buildings, residential areas, and critical infrastructure, cutting off water and gas to towns in the area. Ukrainian officials are discussing evacuating civilians the area in anticipation of military escalation. The UAF reported a failed “LNR” advance while separatist leadership called out the escalation as a Ukrainian-driven violation of the Minsk Agreements.

Fighting has relatively calmed with 85 explosions recorded from June 7–8. However, given the amount of ceasefire violations recorded and types of weapons used during this surge, this area has the potential to be extremely deadly in future attempts by either side to advance their positions.