Ukrainian military & rebels begin new disengagement attempt in Donbass as low-intensity fighting continues (PHOTOS)

Ukrainian troops and militias in the eastern breakaway republics have begun a new round of disengagement, yet sporadic clashes continue. If the process succeeds, a Normandy Four meeting to settle the conflict will take place.

The militaries of Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) have been withdrawing from their positions around the village of Petrovskoye since Saturday. The process is being observed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) on ceasefire and stabilization of the demarcation line.

A puppy walks alongside withdrawing DPR servicemen near the settlement of Petrovskoye on November 9, 2019. © Reuters / Alexander Ermochenko

The DPR representatives said their troops left their positions around the village on Saturday. Their Ukrainian adversaries have promised that the withdrawal will take around three days.

Members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine watch Ukrainian servicemen. ©  Oleksandr Klymenko

It remains unclear why it will take the Ukrainian military that long to withdraw, since their contingent taking part in the disengagement is very small. In all, Ukraine promised to withdraw 42 servicemen equipped with three armored personnel carriers and 48 small arms.

A serviceman of the Ukrainian armed forces shows his weapon to members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. © Reuters / Oleksandr Klymenko

While the disengagement process seems to be going as planned, low-intensity fighting in the region continues. Both Ukraine and the DPR have accused each other of violating the ceasefire and targeting positions of each another 18 times over the past 24 hours, while the village of Petrovskoye itself came under small arms fire from the Ukrainian side early Sunday.

“Over the past day, the Ukrainian military violated [the ceasefire] 18 times. In total, they used 218 munitions,” the JCCC said on Sunday.

If the disengagement process succeeds, it will remove the last obstacle in the way of the next Normandy Four meeting, expected later this year. The Normandy Four format, which comprises the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, was established to bring the conflict in eastern Ukraine to an end, yet the peace process has somewhat stalled – with no full-fledged top-level meetings since 2016.

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Previous attempts at disengagement were marred by sporadic fighting between the two warring sides, and were met by strong opposition from Ukrainian neo-Nazi, pro-war groups, who branded any attempt to reach a ceasefire a “capitulation.” The far-right groups have held a string of rallies across the country, dubbed ‘No to Capitulation’, while trying to send in their own paramilitary groups to replace the withdrawing Ukrainian troops on the frontline.

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