"Not a retreat": Defense minister comments on upcoming disengagement of forces in Donbas
Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, has explained that the disengagement of forces in Donbas will not be taking place in certain sections rather than simultaneously along the entire line of contact.
In an interview with RFE/RL, the minister said the determining factor for the Ukrainian side will be that the disengagement of forces takes place on both sides of the contact line.
The defense chief also emphasized that "this is not a retreat, but disengagement."
"Firstly, it will not be done simultaneously and everywhere. This will be done in sections. And there will be oversight to make sure it is being done on both sides. And this is absolutely critical. That is, this is absolutely not a retreat," he said.
According to Zagorodnyuk, the General Staff is now working on a disengagement plan that should take into account all the risks.
He added that this plan will be presented after it has been completed.
"And of course, preparations will be going on for each of these sections, there will be communication, all technical issues, logistical issues, security issues, and so on... This must be done technically correctly, because there are positions out there, there is already a whole system of fortifications that has been built. We spoke with the military, and with the General Staff, so no one will be doing this without preparations. This, of course, will be done correctly to avoid excessive risks related to disengagement. Of course, we will make sure that the other side is also doing this," said the minister.
Zagorodnyuk noted that the Ukrainian military, with whom this issue was discussed, perceive it as part of a wider strategy.
"Those with whom we spoke see it as a strategy that's in place. Firstly, it is a matter of their safety. Because if forces disengage, and if they do it by the rules and under oversight, then the distance [between the warring sides] will increase. Of course, this will reduce a lot of risks," the top defense official said.
The armed conflict in Donbas has been ongoing since 2014, after Russia occupied the Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea. Ukraine and Western powers accuse Russia of armed support for the militants. The Kremlin rejects allegations, claiming that only Russian "volunteers" could take part in hostilities in Donbas rather than the Russian army's regular troops.
According to UN estimates, as of December 31, 2018, the armed conflict in Donbas took 12,800 to 13,000 lives.