United Armed Forces of Novorossiya

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United Armed Forces of Novorossiya
Объединённые Вооруженные Силы Новороссии
War Flag of Novorussia.svg
Founded 3 March 2014[1]
(as Donbass People's Militia)
Current form 16 September 2014[2]
Leadership
Minister of Defence Vladimir Kononov
(Donetsk People's Republic)
Oleg Bugrov
(Luhansk People's Republic)
Manpower
Active personnel 10,000 – 20,000 (July 2014)[3][4]
30,000 – 35,000 (March 2015)[5]
40,000 – 45,000 (June 2015)[6]

The United Armed Forces of Novorossiya (Russian: Объединённые Вооруженные Силы Новороссии; acronym NAF)[2][7] is the umbrella name for the militias and armed volunteer groups affiliated with the defunct political union called Novorossiya (New Russia). It consists of the Donbass People's Militia,[8][9] the Luhansk People's Militia and autonomous armed groups. It is regarded as a terrorist group by the Government of Ukraine.[10]

The Donbass People's Militia was formed by Pavel Gubarev, who was elected "People's Governor" of Donetsk Oblast by pro-Russian protesters.[11] It was originally involved in taking control of Ukrainian government buildings in the Donetsk oblast. Tensions increased to the point of the militia being actively involved in fighting a war against the Ukrainian government in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The militia was accused by the Ukrainian government of culpability in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on 17 July 2014. The militias of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, merged into one group on 16 September 2014, forming the "United Armed Forces of Novorossiya".[2]

It is widely believed that the separatists are supported by Russian armed forces.[12] Although the Russian government often denies direct involvement stating that their soldiers were there voluntarily and not under orders, some of them were detained riding their combat vehicles with documents proving their origin in Russian armed forces.[13] Moreover, separatists admitted receiving supplies from Russia and being trained there. BBC reported that separatist ranks are composed of thousands of Russian citizens, and NATO accused Russia of deploying their regular troops into Ukraine.[13][14] Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation have been reported to be supporting separatists in the conflict as well. Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, claimed in August 2014 that there are around 3,000 to 4,000 Russian volunteers fighting for the militia, which includes current and many retired Russian Army servicemen.[15]

History

Pro-Russian rally in Donetsk on April 6, 2014

On 3 March 2014, during the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, protesters took control of the regional administration building in Donetsk.[16] A newly created armed opposition group named the Donbass People's Militia participated in it and was led by Pavel Gubarev.[16] This happened when 11 Ukrainian cities with significant populations of ethnic Russians erupted in demonstrations against the new Ukrainian government.[16] On 6 April 2014, 2,000 pro-Russian protesters rallied outside the regional administration building.[17] In the same day, groups of protesters in Eastern Ukraine stormed the regional administration building in Kharkiv, and the SBU headquarters in Luhansk.[11] The groups created a people's council and demanded a referendum like in Crimea.[17] Within a few days, several government buildings in cities such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk were also stormed.[18][19][nb 1] On 12 April, the supporters of the Donetsk People's Republic and members of Donbass People's Militia set up checkpoints and barricades in Sloviansk.[29] The same day, former members of the Donetsk "Berkut" unit joined the ranks of the Donbass People's Militia.[30]

On 13 April, the newly established Ukrainian government gave the separatists a deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist campaign" in the region.[31] Later that day, the first reports of fighting was reported between the people's militia and Ukrainian troops near Sloviansk, with casualties on both sides.[32][33] On 14 April, members of the Donbass People's Militia blocked Ukrainian military KrAZ truck's armed with Grad missiles from entering the city.[34][35] On 15 April, a full scale "Anti-Terrorist Operation" was launched by the Ukrainian government with aim of restoring their authority over the areas seized by the militia.[36]

Sloviansk city council under control of Russian Registered Cossacks[37] on 14 April 2014
DPR troops in Donetsk during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade

On 16 April, the militia entered Sloviansk with six BMD airborne amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles[38][39] they obtained from parts of the 25th Airborne Brigade[40] who had switched allegiance.[41][42][43][44] The "occupants" were disarmed after the vehicles were blockaded by locals.[45] The militia also received one self-propelled 120 mm mortar 2S9 "Nona-S"[46][47] On April 20, an unidentified armed group in civilian clothes attacked a Militia checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Sloviansk. Three attackers and three members of Militia were killed.[48] On May 14, eight members of Militia seized an IMR armored vehicle from Novokramatorsky Mashinostroitelny Zavod.[49]

On May 15, the Donbass People's Militia sent an ultimatum to Kiev. They ordered the withdraw all Ukrainian troops from Donetsk oblast.[50] On May 17, several members of the militia seized two BRDM unarmed armored vehicles from Severodonetsk and Lysychansk (Luhansk Oblast)[51] On May 22, the Federal State of Novorossiya was declared. On May 23, several members of people's militia seized another BRDM-RKh unarmed armored vehicle from Loskutovka (Luhansk Oblast)[52]

The militia were widely suspected to be involved in the downing of a civilian airliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, on 17 July 2014.[53][54][55][56][57][58][59][60]

On August 8, the militia claimed that after battles near border with Russia, they captured 67 pieces of equipment with varying status (serviceable equipment without ammunition and fuel, with faults, damaged in battle and completely unusable), including 18 multiple rocket launching systems "Grad", 15 tanks and armored personnel carriers, howitzers, MANPADS, etc.[61] As of August 12, the militia has at least 200 armored vehicles.[62]

The months of July and early August were disastrous for the militias with many analysts saying they were on the verge of defeat before a sudden counteroffensive, which the Ukrainian Government claims was supported by Russian troops, encircled thousands of Ukrainian troops and forced them into a retreat.[63] The militias soon re-captured several strategic positions such as Savur-Mohyla and Luhansk International Airport.[64] The armies of both the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic merged on 16 September 2014 to form the "United Armed Forces of Novorossiya".[2][65]

On 2 February 2015, Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, announced that there would be a general mobilization in the DPR of 10,000 volunteers, and he aimed to eventually expand the NAF to 100,000 soldiers.[66]

On 20 May 2015 the leadership of the Federal State of Novorossiya announced the termination of the confederation 'project'[67] but the United Armed Forces will be retained as the joint armed service of the two constituent states.

On 14 September 2015, there was a war banner ceremony at the newly established Donetsk Higher Military Command School.[68] Zakharchenko addressed the new students, and congratulated them by saying they will be the officers to lead the DPR Armed Forces and resolve all conflicts.[68] Mikhail Tikhonov is the head of the school.[68]

Structure

Oplot Brigade during a rehearsal for the 2015 Victory Day parade

The militias consist of different armed groups, which took the oath for Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Militant groups which refused to do it were disarmed as gangs in the DPR.[69] Other groups are autonomous forces.[70]

Combat forces

Flag of the Vostok Battalion
Flag of the Sparta Battalion
Flag of the Somalia Battalion

Donetsk People's Republic Donetsk People's Republic

Donbass People's Militia flag.png Donbass People's Militia (Russian: Народное ополчение Донбасса)

  • North Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Север») (unofficial)[71]
  • 1st Slavyansk Brigade SSI.png 1st Sloviansk Brigade (Russian: 1-й Славянская бригада) - Brigade that was formerly commanded by Igor Strelkov.[72]
  • Patriotic Forces of Donbass[73] (Russian: Патриотические силы Донбасса)
  • Oplot Brigade SSI.png Oplot Brigade (Russian: Батальон «Оплот», meaning "Bulwark Battalion") - Commanded by Alexander Zakharchenko.[79][80] Originally a battalion, it expanded to a brigade by May 2015.
  • Flag of the Russian Orthodox Army.svg Russian Orthodox Army (Russian: Русская православная армия) - A senior commander of the unit is Alexander Verin.[80] One of the armed groups, which control Donetsk, formed mostly by locals from coal mine towns.[81] It reportedly had 100 members at the time of its founding. According to Ukrainian sources, in June 2014 has at least 350 fighters.[82] According to independent sources as fighting between separatists and the Ukrainian government worsened in Donbass, membership rose to 4,000.[83]
  • Flag of the Miner's Division.svg Miner's Division (Russian: Шахтёрская дивизия) - Founded shortly after the rebel withdrawal from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. It is commanded by Konstantin Kuzmin. Fighters typically range from ages 22–60. Composed of former coal miners.[84]
  • Consolidated Orthodox Battalion "Voshod" or Voshod Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Восход», meaning "Sunrise Battalion") - Formed in June 2014, it had 300 fighters.[86]
  • Steppe Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Степь»)[87]
  • DPR Security Service Battalion (Russian: Батальон службы безопасности Донецкой народной республики) - Security Service of the Donetsk People's Republic.[85]
  • SSI of the Sparta Battalion.svg Sparta Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Спарта») - Special forces battalion led by Arseny Pavlov, known by the call sign Motorola. Includes Russians, fighters typically have helmets and modern personal equipment.
  • SSI of the Somalia Battalion.svg 1st Independent Battalion-Tactical Group "Somalia" or Somalia Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Сомали») - Tactical group led by Lieutenant colonel Mikhail Tolstykh, known by the call sign Givi.
  • DPR Republican Guard SSI (2016).png DPR Republican Guard (Russian: Республиканская гвардия ДНР) - Elite unit created by Alexander Zakharchenko on January 12, 2015.[88][89] Commanded by Major-general Ivan Kondratov, and is composed of six battalions that totals more than 3,000 fighters.[89]
    • Pyatnashka Brigade SSI.png International Brigade "Pyatnashka" or Pyatnashka Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Пятнашка», meaning "15th Brigade") - International brigade commanded by Akhra Avidzba, known by the call sign Abkhaz. DPR positions in Marinka are held by this unit.[90]
  • Diesel Battalion SSI.png Diesel Battalion (Russian: Батальон «Дизель») - Tank battalion formed in 2015 that is equipped with Russian equipment, including T-72B1s.[91]

Independent DPR forces

Luhansk People's Republic Luhansk People's Republic

LPR People's Militia (Russian: Народная милиция ЛНР). Formerly known as Army of the South-East (Russian: Армия Юго-Востока) until late 2014.[114][115][116]

Independent LPR forces

Flag of the Prizrak Brigade
  • Don Cossacks National Guard Banner.jpg Great Host of Don Cossacks (Russian: Всевеликое войско Донское)[122] - An international organisation that recruits volunteers from Ukraine and Russia.[123]
    • Всевеликое войско Донское (шеврон).png Cossack National Guard (Russian: Казачья Национальная гвардия) - Don Cossack volunteer group commanded by Rashid Shakirzanov.[70] The group has over 4,000 fighters and have access to armor and artillery.[70] From May to November 2014, the group was commanded by Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn.[70][124] Kozitsyn was forcibly removed from power in November 2014 and replaced by Shakirzanov.[70] The group's headquarters is in Antratsyt, and their rule expands to Krasnyi Luch.[70] Initially, this group was identified as Russian Special Forces by the U.S. State Department following the takeover of the Sloviansk city council.[125] In November 2014, the group instated capital punishment in Perevalsk to deter crime.[126] Kozitsyn stated that there is no more marauding, burglaries or car-jacking in the city.[126] They refused to join the LPR's military command but insist on cooperating with them, remaining autonomous and controlling territory.[70]
  • First Cossack Regiment SSI.png First Cossack Regiment (Russian: Первый казачий полк) - Don Cossack volunteer group commanded by Ataman Pavel Dryomov. The group has around 1,300 fighters, and the headquarters is in Stakhanov.[70] Originally part of Kozitsyn's Cossack National Guard until it split in September 2014.[70] Dryomov denounced the LPR's leadership as being corrupt and "pro-oligarchic".[70] Dryomov was killed on 12 December 2015 when his car was blown up by an unknown perpetrator the day after his wedding.[127]
  • «Ghost» Brigade shoulder patch.png Mechanized Brigade "Prizrak" or Prizrak Brigade (Russian: Бригада «Призрак», meaning "Ghost Brigade") - Mechanized infantry brigade that is commanded by Yuri Shevchenko. It was formed and led by Aleksey Mozgovoy until his assassination on 23 May 2015.[72] The group keeps its distance from the LPR authorities and is based in Alchevsk and the surrounding district.[70]
    • Unité Continentale emblem.png Continental Unit (French: Unité Continentale) - French, Serbian and Brazilian volunteer group.[128][129]
    • PiotrBiriukovCommunistUnit.jpg Unit #404 - International communist volunteer group commanded by Piotr Biriukov.[130][131]

Disbanded

Flag of the Rapid Response Group "Batman"
  • United Battalions of the DPR and LPR.[132]
    • North Battalion
    • Battalion Prizrak SSI.png Prizrak Battalion
  • SSI of the Rapid Response Group "Batman".svg Rapid Response Group "Batman" or Batman Battalion (Russian: Группа быстрого реагирования «Бэтмен») - Commanded by Alexander Bednov until he was killed in an attack on his convoy on 1 January 2015.[133] Members of the group said that the attack was ordered by head of the Luhansk People's Republic Igor Plotnitsky.[133] Following this attack, the LPR arrested some of Bednov's men, and dissolved the battalion.[134] Some of its personnel were dispersed into other LPR units, while DPR field commanders Givi and Motorola invited former members to join their battalions.[134]
    • Kolovrat (Коловрат) Swastika (Свастика) - Rodnovery.svg Rusich Company (Russian: ДШРГ «Русич») - Special forces-type company commanded by Aleksey Milchakov. Made up of far-right Russian volunteers.[134] On July 10, 2015, Milchakov announced that the Rusich Company would be withdrawing from Donbass for retraining and refitting.[135]

Non-combat units

  • Novorossiya Humanitarian Battalion (Russian: Гуманитарный батальон «Новороссия») - non-combat unit involved in protecting the delivery of humanitarian aid.[136]

Commanders

Head of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko

Donetsk People's Republic

Luhansk People's Republic

Flags and symbols

Multiple flags and symbols are often used by the armed forces:

Historical flags

Others Flags

Flags of new States, including nongovernment (public) organizations

Flags of military units and troops

  • Flag of the Donbass People's Militia
  • Flag of the Vostok Battalion
  • Flag of the Russian Orthodox Army
  • Flag of the Miner's Division
  • Flag of the Sparta Battalion
  • Flag of the Somalia Battalion
  • Flag of the Prizrak Brigade
  • Flag of the Rapid Response Group "Batman"

Equipment

Vikings Battalion infantrymen with Russian military equipment in July 2015

According to independent sources, rebels mostly used equipment that was available domestically before the Ukrainian crisis. However, the rebels were also seen using weapons that were not known to be exported to or otherwise available in Ukraine. Appearance of some of the latest models of Russian military equipment, which was never exported outside of Russia, is particularly noteworthy.[140]

According to the Donetsk People's Republic all its military equipment is "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[141] However, according to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State this is a false statement and claim the separatists have received military equipment from Russia, including multiple rocket launch systems and tanks.[142] Despite the fact that Russian officials deny supplying arms to the militia, numerous evidence proves that it is true.[140][142][143] In August 2014 Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey claimed the proof for the weapons supply from Russia was that the fighters of the Donbass People's Militia were using Russian-made weapons that were never used (or bought) by the Ukrainian army.[144]

Among such exclusively Russian equipment seen with pro-Russian separatists are Russian modifications of tank T-72 (particularly T-72B3 and T-72BA seen destroyed in Ukraine[140][145]), infantry fighting vehicle BTR-82AM (adopted in Russia in 2013),[146][147] armored personnel carriers BPM-97,[148][149] sophisticated anti-aircraft system Pantsir-S1,[150][151] multipurpose vehicle GAZ Vodnik (adopted in Russia in 2005),[148] Russian modifications of MT-LB, rocket-propelled flamethrower MRO-A, anti-tank missile Kornet, anti-materiel rifle ASVK, suppressed sniper rifle VSS Vintorez and others.[140][146]

Relationship with Russia

As the conflict intensified, the Donbass People's Militia was bolstered with many volunteers from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia; including fighters from Chechnya and North Ossetia.[152]

According to the Ukrainian government and the United States Department of State the Donbass People's Militia have received military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers.[142] Russia denied doing this and has described the Russian citizens fighting with the Donbass People's Militia as volunteers.[142][153] The Donetsk People's Republic claimed on 16 August 2014 it had received (together with 30 tanks and 120 other armoured vehicles of undisclosed origin) 1,200 "individuals who have gone through training over a four-month period on the territory of the Russian Federation".[154][155] The Donetsk People's Republic claims it has not received military equipment from Russia; but that all its military equipment is "hardware that we took from the Ukrainian military".[141] In August 2014 Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey disputed this claim because (according to him) the fighters of the Donbass People's Militia were using Russian-made weapons that were never used (or bought) by the Ukrainian army, and which therefore had to have been supplied to them by Russia.[144]

The injured of the Donbass People's Militia were exclusively treated in Russia.[152] During mid-August 2014, hospitals such as the Donetsk Central Hospital in Donetsk, Russia attended to between 10 and 20 injured fighters daily.[152] The Russian Emergency Ministry assisted with treatment logistics.[152] Those questioned and registered by the (Russian) Federal Security Service[152] and treated in Russia during this period stated that they would not return to Ukraine if the Ukrainian army won the War in Donbass,[152] but would, instead, engage in a partisan warfare campaign in Eastern Ukraine.[152]

See also

Notes

References

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