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By Chris Covert

Rebel commanders and Russian military analysts expect Ukrainian forces to launch a new offensive in the next ten days, according to Russian language news accounts.

Deputy defense minister for the Donetsk republic Eduard Basurin said that the Ukrainians are massing troops at several locations including Artemovsk, Kostantinovka, Dzerzhinsk, and Peski, among others.

Artemovsk and Kostantinovka are immediately north of the former mouth of the Debaltsevo salient, and before the fall of Debaltsevo were a logistical hub for the Ukrainians supporting their units in Debaltsevo.

Dzerzhinsk is a locality immediately west of Gorlovka, which local rebel commands have been trying to take since last fall.

Peski is a western suburb of Donetsk city.

Russian military journalist Boris Rozhin said in his livejournal account that Volnovakha contains the largest concentration of Ukrainian troops, 15,000 by his estimate, and 250 armored vehicles.

A report by rustoday.info quoted the Deputy Chief of Staff of the 5th Battalion of the Donetsk Republican Guard, identified as Aleksandr Matyushin, as saying that Ukrainian troop concentrations have been spotted near Mariupol.

According to Matyushin, Ukrainian artillery have been hitting rebel targets in Gorlovka and at the Donetsk airport.

According to Matyushin, his command, the Varyag assault company, has been under regular fire from automatic grenade launchers in Peski, while other rebel media claim that small arms fire has been exchanged in northwestern suburbs of Donetsk city.

According to Matyushin, the Ukrainians are planning to launch an attack intended to push rebel forces away from Mariupol "within one or two weeks."

In western press sources, as well as in some rebel media, Mariupol has been considered to be a prime prize for both sides, and both sides expect renewed fighting to take place there.

Shirokino, only a few kilometers east of Mariupol has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting since the February 12th ceasefire, colloquially known as Minsk II. Most of the town has been in rebel hands since September, but units of the Ukrainian Azov battalion have been clinging to the western part of the town for the last three weeks.

According to a news report posted on informnapalm.com, the rebels are unlikely to consider a frontal attack on Mariupol, opting instead for an enveloping attack from Dokuchaevsk, and ending up at Berdyansk. The total distance for such a strike would be close to 100 kilometers, and the total distance between rebel front lines and Berdyansk is about 16 kilometers.

According to a separate rustoday.info report, pro Russian military analyst Vladislav Shurigin said that Ukrainians attempting to hold on to a sliver of western Shirokino, he characterized as window dressing for the press: "an outpost for which the Ukrainians will fight to the last."

Shurigin said that any rebel attack on Mariupol will likely bypass centers of resistance set up by the Ukrainians.

However, Shurgin said that the Debaltsevo operation damaged the Ukrainian operation in southeastern Ukraine so badly, they may not launch offensive operations for the foreseeable future, a view this writer shares.

To date the longest successful offensive strike launched by the rebels has been the coup de main at Logvinovka in the early days for the Debaltsevo campaign, which was a distance of less than ten kilometers.

That attack, which took place overnight and with heavy, constant artillery support, initially totaled a rebel light rifle company and an armored group. According to Ukrainian accounts, the Russian 5th Tank Brigade took a hand in this sub-operation, presumably before being withdrawn toward an area around Krasnii Luch to the east, which was the closest rail hub to the front lines at the time.

The Debaltsevo operation, inasmuch as rebels claim the Ukrainians were hurt badly in that operation, delivered a severe beating to the rebels as well.

Ukrainian military correspondent Dmitri Tymchuk reported on his website that rebels lunched a short range attack on the western Donetsk suburb of Opytnoye on Wednesday, hitting Ukrainian positions with diversionary forces while attacking with their main forces from the flanks.

According to Tymchuk, that attack was driven back by Ukrainian forces deployed nearby with the help of an armored unit. Rebels say Ukrainians have been using tanks as mobile artillery platforms in the last 24 hours.

Opytnoye has been a site for Ukrainian artillery since the Donetsk airport fell to the rebels in February.

Avdievka, yet another suburb of Donetsk city, was attacked by rebel infantry groups.

Tymchuk also said rebel forces near Mariupol have reinforced with two rifle companies and an armored group consisting of seven tanks and 22 armored combat vehicles.

Combat in northern Lugansk

According to Russian language media, Ukrainian forces have been conducting attacks on rebel positions in northern Lugansk. Rebel media claim that the Ukrainians have been firing on rebel positions using tanks south of the Northern Donetsk River near Slavyanoserbsk.

Roman Burko said in his website that rebel positions near Highway T1303 have been reinforced since last Tuesday, and could be a preparation for subsequent rebel operations to capture Artemovsk.

Tymchuk said the rebels recently moved in forces near Artemovsk including three armored combat vehicles and six tanks.

Tymchuk also said that direct firefights have taken place near Krimskoye, which is north of T1303 and on the right bank of the Northern Donetsk River.

In that fight, a rifle group and a BMP-2 platoon took up what appeared to be prepared positions and fired on Ukrainian positions using small arms, 120mm mortar fire and heavy antiaircraft artillery guns.

A Ukrainian counterattack drove the rebels back from the advanced positions.
Elsewhere, according to Tymchuk, rebels have been moving supply vehicles from Russia toward marshalling points near Alchevsk. The vehicle total include 38 vehicles, including 16 fuel tankers and five specialized vehicles.

Chris Covert writes about foreign military issues for Rantburg.com. He can be reached at grurkka@gmail.com. You can read past articles about the 2014 war in southeastern Ukraina by clicking here.

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