Fighting between the Ukrainian military and separatists in the Donbas has increased over the past 48 hours. On Thursday, over 100 explosions were reported in eastern Ukraine. The number increased to nearly 600 on Friday. The blasts are reported to have come from tank and artillery fire on both sides of the Line of Control.
As the fighting picks up pace, the leader of the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, posted a video message calling for “a mass centralized departure of the population to the Russian Federation.” Up to 700,000 are expected to flee the region, with buses already transporting out the first to go. Moscow says it is prepared to feed and house the Ukrainian refugees in southern Russia.
Separatist leaders in the Donbas have been in opposition to Kiev since 2015. Violations of the Minsk Protocol ceasefire agreement are common. However, Both Moscow and Washington have warned that conflict in Donetsk or Luhansk could expand into a larger war. For months, Biden administration officials have claimed that Russia is planning a ‘false flag’ or fabricated attack as a pretext to invade Ukraine.
Shortly after Pushilin’s announcement, a car bomb exploded near the headquarters of the Donetsk People’s Republic, one of two major separatist break-off states in eastern Ukraine. The attack targeted Donetsk’s head of security. No injuries were reported in the attack, but the official’s vehicle was destroyed.
While there was some speculation the car bomb could be the trigger for a Russian invasion, Ukrainian officials continue to downplay the threat. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told his country’s parliament on Friday that “We estimate the probability of a large-scale escalation as low,” adding “Our intelligence sees every move that could pose a potential threat to Ukraine.”
While the US’s dire predictions of invasion have yet to come true, there is no indication the fighting in Ukraine will slow down, with Donbas officials rejecting any talks with Kiev as pointless. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, said he is “very concerned” about the ongoing violations of the Minsk agreement.