Hybrid warfare in Donbas: Ceasefire violations, illegal prisons, and disinformation campaigns

Hybrid warfare in Donbas: Ceasefire violations, illegal prisons, and disinformation campaigns

From July 8th to the 14th, the Joint Forces Operation in eastern Ukraine reported 69 ceasefire violations on the Russian side, which resulted in the death of two Ukrainian soldiers. 12 other soldiers were injured by Russian shelling. Russian forces targeted Ukrainian positions near the settlement of Taramchuk on July 13th, firing at civilian infrastructure and destroying several streets in the process. Thankfully, no civilians were hurt.

On July 8th, Russian forces blocked the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine from entering armed checkpoints near the occupied settlements of Molodiy Shakhtar and Novoazosk and forced observers to leave the area. This illegal obstruction of the Mission is just the latest in Russia’s systematic interference in the SMM’s work in Donbas, including jamming signals and shooting down UAVs.

That same day, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Emine Dzheppar posted on Facebook that during the 47th Human Rights Council, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN held an online side event “Izolyatsia.” This event was part of the campaign “Izolyatsia: Must Speak” that was launched by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year to raise public awareness of the human rights abuses occurring in the occupied territories of Ukraine, such as the internment of Ukrainian citizens in the illegal prison Izolyatsia in Donetsk. According to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, more than 3,500 Ukrainian citizens are held in over160 illegal prisons in the Donbas region.

On July 9th, Ukraine’s navy website was shut down for several hours as a result of a cyberattack that the Ministry of Defense believes to have come from Russia. Several “mostly fake” documents and messages about NATO’s Sea Breeze military exercises were published as a result of the attack. The Sea Breeze 2021 exercises concluded on July 10th, and the new Cossack Mace exercises conducted by military personnel from Ukraine, the UK, the US, Canada, and Sweden began two days later.

Russian hybrid warfare reached new heights this week when Vladimir Putin published a propagandistic article entitled “On the historic unity of Russians and Ukrainians” on July 13th that describes Russia and Ukraine as “one nation, a single whole.” According to the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Putin’s “pseudo-historicism” is intended to legitimize the occupation of Ukrainian territories as a “restoration of historical justice.”

Putin’s article comes amidst an aggressive disinformation campaign in both Russia and Ukraine on the part of the Kremlin. Last week, Euromaidan Press summarized the most common disinformation coming from pro-Kremlin outlets, such as conspiracy theories that Ukraine is secretly governed by the US and France; the Sea Breeze military exercises were a rehearsal of the “takeover” of Crimea; and Ukraine has established an apartheid regime against its own Russian-speaking citizens. With anti-Western conspiratorial propaganda on the rise in Ukraine, this article – as well as Putin’s – serve as a critical reminder of the evolution of Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine.