The third round of mutual withdrawals of Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed militants from the Donbass war zone has been successfully completed, according to the Ukrainian military.
The phase-out process was launched on November 9 at noon in the front-line section of Petrivske in Donetsk oblast, a town some 600 kilometers south-east of Kiev. The disengagement is expected to last up to three years.
On November 11, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reported to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the completion of the “practical phase” of the disengagement operation near Petrivske.
From 12 November at noon, demining will be launched in the demilitarized zone.
Under the agreement, Ukrainian forces were to withdraw 42 soldiers and three armored vehicles one kilometer from the front line, occupying new combat posts closer to the Ukrainian-controlled town of Bohdanivka, about five kilometers away. west of Petrivske.
According to the Deputy Commander General of the Ukrainian Joint Forces in the Donbass, Bohdan Bondar, Ukrainian troops have been moved to fully equipped and properly fortified lines beyond the area of direct contact with the enemy. The new Ukrainian defenses in the region plan to staff primary combat posts and also maintain alternative and reserve entrenchments.
At the same time, Russian-backed activists reported to the OSCE their withdrawal under the agreement as early as November 9.
Nonetheless, the region still experienced serious ceasefire violations by Russian-backed militants. On November 10, four Ukrainian soldiers from the 128th Mountain Brigade were wounded as the enemy targeted a military truck moving on a road with an anti-tank missile near the village of Starohnativka, about 10 kilometers southwest of Petrivske .
The disengagement operation near Petrivske marks the third round of the mutual withdrawal of manpower and arms from the Donbass, as part of a peace initiative by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Previously, Russian-backed militants and Ukrainian forces had been disengaged near the Stanytsia Luhanska entry point in late July and near the town of Zolote in late October.
The Ukrainian military claims that the creation of a larger demilitarized zone between the warring parties along the front line will ensure better security for local civilians and allow the reconstruction of vital infrastructure.
Demilitarized zones will be patrolled by Ukrainian police and National Guard units to ensure public order, while Ukrainian-controlled towns like Zolote will be ruled by Ukrainian civilian authorities, according to the military.
Nonetheless, Russian-backed activists associated with the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” pledged on November 11 to return their armed formations to Petrivske in case the Ukrainian police or national guard entered the demilitarized zone.
A successful mutual withdrawal of the three disengagement points was agreed as early as 2016 and is seen by the Zelensky administration as a step towards a new Normandy Quatre summit between the Ukrainian, Russian, French and German leaders, during which President Zelensky hopes for negotiate a comprehensive roadmap to peace in a region ravaged by five years of Kremlin-sponsored proxy warfare.
Nevertheless, the initiative has drawn strong criticism from segments of Ukrainian society who view the withdrawal of forces from Donbass as a “surrender” to the Kremlin and the surrender of the country’s territory to the enemy.
The prospects for another Normandy Four summit, meanwhile, remain uncertain as the Kremlin continues to avoid setting certain dates for a high-level meeting on the Donbass.
On November 11, Yuriy Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, reportedly said that a summit in Normandy could take place by the end of the year.