Lull in fighting prompts some locals to fear Moscow is retooling its strategy, while others suspect it has abandoned them
It was mid-morning when the bombs began to fall on Artyomove, a crumbling mining town on the frontline in eastern Ukraine. One mortar landed in Nina Dmitrievna’s garden. It flattened her fence. Another hit next door, gouging a large raw hole in a black plot of vegetables and rose bushes. “I saw it fly through the air,” she said, showing off the remains - a silvery tail-fin.
With the rouble in freefall, western sanctions hurting and winter near, Moscow has concluded that the bill for its Novorossiya project is too big. Citing Kremlin sources, the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta reported that the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics would not become independent after all. Nor would they join Russia. Novorossiya has been mothballed.
Instead, Moscow wants the eastern regions to return to Ukraine under a new federal structure that would allow Moscow to call the shots. The Kremlin has recently shuffled out Novorossiya’s three most prominent leaders: Major General Igor Bezler, “the Demon”, whose fighters control Gorlovka; Igor Strelkov, the DNR’s Russian military supremo; and Nikolai Kozitsyn, an oddball Cossack commander.
“It’s terrible,” his friend Dmitry, 19, said. “But we’ve got used to it.”