Between July 22nd and 28th, the Joint Forces Operation in eastern Ukraine reported 65 ceasefire violations on the part of Russian forces that injured 9 Ukrainian soldiers. On July 26th, a Bundeswehr plane evacuated 15 wounded Ukrainian soldiers for treatment in Germany. The following day marked one year since the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) – composed of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE – last declared a ceasefire in Donbas.
Over the past year, Russian forces have opened fire 1,995 times and as a result killed 45 Ukrainian soldiers and injured 163 soldiers. Last week, right before this unwelcome anniversary, the TCG went on vacation until the end of August.
July was an extremely busy month for the Ukrainian military in terms of international exercises. NATO’s annual Sea Breeze exercise, hosted by the US and Ukraine, was held in the Black Sea from June 28th to July 10th and included personnel from 32 countries. Cossack Mace 2021 – the inaugural joint military exercise between Ukraine, Britain, Canada, the US, and Sweden – took place in Ukraine between July 7th and 24th. Finally, the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian Brigade’s Three Swords 2021 military exercise was launched in Ukraine for the first time on July 19th and will run until July 31st. Ukrainian marines are also participating in the Agile Spirit 2021 exercise, hosted by Georgia for the tenth time, that began on July 26th and will end on August 6th.
Meanwhile, Russian troops have already begun arriving in Belarus in preparation for the Zapad-2021 joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus that will run from September 10th to the 16th. The Zapad exercises are held every four years and appear especially threatening this year as Russia continues to station troops along the Ukrainian border. Russian forces are also expanding firing positions at the front lines in Donbas with anti-tank missile systems as well as mines and other explosives. In occupied Crimea, Russian militarization intensified this year as the Kremlin crammed 20 military exercises on the peninsula into the first half of 2021.
The Kremlin is also escalating the so-called “passportization” of eastern Ukraine. In April 2019, Putin signed a decree simplifying the process of issuing Russian passports to citizens living in the Donbas region. This past May, the Russian Interior Ministry reported that 527,000 residents of Donetsk and Luhansk had received Russian passports. On July 20th, Moscow announced that Russian passport holders in Donbas will be able to vote in the September 19 parliamentary elections, and United Russia (the pro-Putin ruling political party) has begun campaigning in Donetsk and Luhansk for the first time.