Debaltseve connects the railways between Donetsk-Luhansk and to the east. Controlling Debaltseve would allow Russian backed militias faster transportation (troops, equipment, coal), therefore it is the key for territorial and economic consolidation of DNR/LNR.
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) February 17, 2015
Since August, forces of Ukrainian Army hold Debaltseve. Over time a caldron formed, civilians fled, Russian militias took towns and villages around Debaltseve. Parallel to this the attempts of Germany and France to mediate a cease fire intensified.
Diplomatic attempts resulted in the Minsk 2 agreements, signed by lower charges of Russia, Ukraine and the representatives of separatist militias. The latter did not consider Debaltseve as included in the agreements since it was not explicitly mentioned (it’s our territory, so we can shell it). It became clear that if there will be a cease fire, it would be fragile at best.
According to the agreement the cease fire should start on Sunday, Feb 15. So clashes intensified significantly over the weekend. The German Chancellor and the White House expressed their ‘concerns’ over the situation, explicitly naming Debaltseve.
On Sunday fighters mainly followed the cease fire but fighting around Debaltseve continued (OSCE). There are various numbers mentioned how many fighters of Ukrainian Army are still in Debaltseve and around (40th Battalion, 4’000-8’000), it is considered as ‘heart of the Ukrainian Army’ (Spiegel). In consideration of the ongoing fighting, the German diplomacy again expressed their expectations that heavy weapons should be redrawn on Tuesday.
Monday Feb 16: Ukrainian Army rejects an offer to leave the caldron. ‘There are the Minsk agreements, according to which Debaltseve is ours. We will not leave‘, a military spokesman was quoted on phone (Reuters). Meanwhile Russian militias continued to cutt off the city from the Ukrainian held territory. And in social media rumors spread that Poroshenko’s family left the country…
Tuesday Feb 17: Russian militias enter Debaltseve, reports of street fights, hundreds of prisoners taken. The commander of the 40th Battalion points out how serious the situation is and how decisive his troops. Meanwhile ATO spokesperson is quoted ‘I have no information about the 40th Battalion now’ (UNIAN). A Facebook post indicates that Ukrainian troops leave Debaltseve, destroy equipment. A gas pipeline was hit – I am not an expert but it seems to be a rather large one. Large pipelines in that area flow from east to west.
On social media, users tried to frame and to make sense out of the situation. Just to give an impression: ‘Defending Debaltseve is a show of strength towards the separatists’,’leadership had no information about encirclement’, ‘incompetence, no organization’, ‘Ukrainian Army is disintegrating‘…
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) February 17, 2015