On 26 October 2021, the Ukrainian Armed Forces used Turkish Bayraktar TB2 attack drones for the first time in the Donbass. According to witnesses, they were used to destroy artillery, which was reportedly fired near the village of Granitnoye. The order to use the Bayraktar TB2, according to journalist Yuri Butusov, was given by the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny.
In a video report, a volunteer Roman Donik said in the commentary below the video: ‘Bayraktar attack drones were first used to destroy enemy artillery. Today, militants from the maximum possible range (15+ km) fired at the village of Granitnoye in the Donetsk region. They were unable to detect the battery by conventional means. In response, to save the lives of soldiers and civilians, the Bayraktar UAV was lifted, a battery was discovered and a gun was destroyed by a missile’. These words were echoed by journalist Yuri Butusov: ‘Remember this historic day! 26 October 2021 – the first combat use of Bayraktar attack drones in the Donbass! Today, a battery of Russian D-30 howitzers began another bombardment of the positions of the Ukrainian 93rd Mechanized Brigade in the Granite area From the fire of this battery “Stop the enemy with diplomatic methods, as always failed. The Russians turned right on the road, without any cover, in full confidence of their impunity. But the armed forces of Ukraine were sent into the Bayraktar battle area and the Russian howitzer was destroyed by a guided bomb. This is the first combat use of ‘Bayraktar’ in the war. Russian air defence and electronic warfare systems were deployed in the area, but the Russians could not erect obstacles, could not shoot down and could not even detect Bayraktar,’ Butusov wrote.
Late on the same day, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces via Facebook confirmed information on the first combat use of the Bayraktar attack drone: ‘Today, 26 October 2021, by order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Bayraktar unmanned reconnaissance and attack system was used for the first time in the area of the joint forces operation. The drone did not cross the line of collision and destroyed a cannon with a guided bomb”.
On 28 October, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba told the press that the Bayraktar attack on a ground target in the Donbass did not violate the Minsk agreements. The then Defence Minister Andriy Taran said on the same day that the Ukrainian army was only training with Turkish drones and had not used them in battle. Online the video of TB2 destroying weapons of the DPR People’s Militia was declared a fake by “Russian propagandists”.
The French, who were directly involved in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, thought otherwise. According to the representative of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the use of heavy artillery and drones was contrary to the Minsk agreements: ‘We are concerned about the increasing intensity of hostilities in eastern Ukraine’.
In the meantime, Oleksiy Reznikov left his post as deputy premier and moved to the Ministry of Defence. And already in December, on the 11th, ‘Oleksiy Reznikov and the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny are in the area of the operation of the joint forces in the east of the country on a working trip, following which men and military means will be sent to strengthen the defence of the state and counter the hybrid threats of the Russian Federation in the region’, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine itself said. On the same day Oleksiy Reznikov said that the next batch of Bayraktar would arrive in Ukraine next year.
On November 21, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny and the CEO of the Turkish company Baykar, Makina Haluk Bayraktar discussed the creation of a working group on unmanned aircraft in the Ukrainian army. “Today I had an important meeting with the CEO of the Turkish company Baykar Makina, Haluk Bayraktar. We discussed the creation of a permanent working group on unmanned aircraft in the Ukrainian armed forces,” says Zaluzhny.
Bayraktar representatives also purchased 30 AI-450S engine assembly units from Motor Sich to complete the AI-450T engine and equip them with Akinci attack UAVs. On 18 November, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada ratified an intergovernmental agreement with Turkey on deepening security cooperation, under which Ankara pledged to provide $18.5 million for Ukraine’s military needs. On 20 November, in Kharkiv, the graduation of Bayraktar TB2 attack drone operators, who were trained in Turkey, took place. On 15 November, Turkey and Ukraine signed an agreement for the supply of AI-322F turbofan engines and the integration of AI-25TLT turbofan engines for the promising Turkish drone MIUS. Zaluzhny and Baykar Makina CEO also discussed the construction of a training and testing centre for the repair and maintenance of UAVs that have entered service with the Ukrainian army in the Kiev region.
In late November, on the 23rd to be exact, the military press service denied the use by Ukrainian security forces in the Donbass of Javelin anti-tank missile systems provided by the US to Ukraine as part of a military aid package. “At the moment, the Javelins have not been used in the Donbass,” said Yaroslava Melnichuk, head of the press service of the joint forces operation. In turn, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny said the Javelin anti-tank systems were used during exercises at the Shirokiy Lan training camp.
Since 25 November, unofficial videos of drones striking Donbass and separatist positions have become numerous. On December 4, Ukrainian media reported that 36 Bayraktar TB2s had been purchased by Ukraine.
On 6 December, another statement by the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, arrives: “The Ukrainian army has gone through a difficult path of development and is ready for any option for the development of the security situation. He also said that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now one of the leading armies in the world. The combat experience and courage of Ukrainian soldiers are also highly appreciated by our partners. And our future belongs to NATO,” Zaluzny added.
In December 2021, then, Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation in the Contact Group on the Donbass Boris Gryzlov stated that: “Ukraine’s representatives during the eight-hour talks failed to give a definitive answer to the Donbass initiative, including the proposal that Kiev officially disavow the statements of the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny and the commander of the joint forces operation Oleksandr Pavlyuk regarding the procedure for opening fire at the sole discretion of the military, as well as the use of unmanned aerial combat vehicles in the Donbass. Moreover, Ukraine’s representatives were not ready to confirm a return to participation in the coordination mechanism agreed on 22 July 2020 to prevent the escalation of firing. The Ukrainian delegation asked for additional time until 9 December to prepare substantial proposals on the initiative of the Donbass.”
On 23 December, a Ukrainian communiqué read: ‘The Ukrainian army in the Donbas is not forbidden to return fire in the event of a threat to the life and health of military or civilian personnel – Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny’. As a matter of fact, on that date, a civilian was wounded, while in the operations bulletin of the Ukrainian headquarters no bombing was recorded by the LDNR.
On 24 December, the commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, approved a new system of military awards. According to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, ‘the concept of the award system presented to journalists was developed on the basis of national combat traditions and taking into account the experience of the award systems of Ukraine’s partner states’. The national traditions are represented by ‘a synthesis of the military symbols of ancient Russia, Cossack Ukraine, the Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Ukrainian rebel army, Western experience’. According to artist Alexei Rudenko, the main idea was to introduce crosses into the award system.
In January, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny said in an interview with Ukrinform that the Ukrainian military had taken a huge step towards full NATO membership. “Today, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have taken a huge step towards getting closer not only to the MAP (Action Plan for Alliance Membership), but also to full NATO membership. We have mastered more than 300 NATO standards in the documentary and only the formal levels. I do not want to criticise anyone, but as far as I know, far from all the armed forces of European countries that are already members of the alliance have mastered such a number of standards.”
On 27 January 2022, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Zaluzhny, together with general staff officers, was in the Donbass. The LPR People’s Militia assumes that the area where the command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces will carry out the reconnaissance will become the direction of the main attack against the separatists.
On 4 February, Zaluzhny stated, “There are no plans to conduct a military operation in Crimea and Donbass.” But according to the Donbass authorities, specifically the official representative of the LPR People’s Militia Department, Ivan Filiponenk: “The preparation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for the offensive in the Donbass has entered the final stage. Most of the anti-tank missile systems (ATGM) Javelin, TOW and NLAW received by Ukraine from the United States and Great Britain have been delivered to the front line in the Donbass. Another confirmation of this is the planned visit of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny and the General Staff post to the Donbass to assess the readiness of the troops for the offensive.”
A week after the Russian attack, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valeriy Zaluzhny declared, “The enemies will not be greeted with flowers, but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAW. Welcome to hell!” Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny then said that the active phase of the Snowstorm 2022 large-scale exercises will begin on February 16. February 16 is also called the date of the ‘Russian invasion’ and the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, by his decree, made it the ‘Day of Unity’.
On 17 February the Donbass authorities decided to start the evacuation of the Donbass following explosions and sabotage in the separatist republics after several days of bomb scares in Lughansk and Donestsk. The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, in the same reported that according to the information coming from ORDLO, in some settlements, including Donetsk, the evacuation of the population is planned due to a possible aggravation. “We officially announce: the Armed Forces of Ukraine comply with the Minsk agreements and the norms of international humanitarian law, do not plan offensive operations or bombing of civilians. Our actions are exclusively defensive in nature. The occupying state of the Russian Federation is responsible for the situation in the temporarily occupied territories. Any damage caused by which may be inflicted on people or infrastructure in the temporarily occupied territories is a provocation,” said the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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