Azov and Donbass Battalions have been withdrawn from Shyrokyne, Ukraine. Speculation and rumors surround the move as the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate on a political and regional level. Kiev has dismissed any rumors, stating that the withdrawal is based on an agreement to create a 30-kilometer buffer zone between Ukrainian militias and pro-Russian separatist forces.

This activity has led many to speculate that the new Pentagon support model for Ukraine is being revised, especially as rhetoric between Moscow and Washington amps up. On 28 July, 2015, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pratt, called Russia’s activities in Ukraine “unpredictable and irresponsible.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin has discouraged the U.S.-led training mission in Ukraine known as Operation Fearless Guardian: “This is a dangerous process. We would push for all foreign and illegal military units to be removed from Ukraine.”

The West and East continue to use Ukraine as a tug-of-war field; general chaos is on the rise as Ukraine continues to reel in its Battalions of Territorial Defense (BTD). One of the measures taken by Kiev to maintain control has been to withdraw volunteer fighters from the contested seaside town of Shyrokyne, in Donetsk Oblast.

BTDs and locals have argued that the removal of the BTDs will allow the conflict zone to be easily seized by pro-Russian separatists and will threaten the industrial hub and port city of Mariupol, which is approximately 23 kilometers away. The BTDs argue that pro-Russian separatists could use the rolling hills in and around Shyrokyne as a tactical advantage for another assault on Mariupol.

Battalion "Donbass" leaves Shyrokyne volunteers in positions replace Marines. Image courtesy of Zhuranlist A.Tsaplienko
Battalion “Donbass” in Mariupol after being replaced by Marines in Shyrokyne. Image courtesy of Zhuranlist A.Tsaplienko

The spokespeople of Donbass and Azov have taken to social media to lodge their complaints with the order. Yevhen Shevchenko, of Donbas Battalion, commented on the Ukrainian Marines who replaced him and his unit: “[They are] young and inexperienced; most of them are on the front line for the first time.”

Andriy Biletsky, politician and former commander of Azov Battalion, stated in a video interview, “If Ukraine is ready to surrender Shyrokyne, then we have to be prepared for the loss of Mariupol too.” He continued by adding further speculation that the move by Kiev was motivated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), stating that Ukraine should not “give in to the dictate of international institutions.”

Statements such as these and fears rooted in the two previous Battles of Mariupol have left many of the 500,000 (+/-) residents concerned that their city is vulnerable to pro-Russian separatist conquest. These statements have led to some BTD volunteers vowing to stay in Mariupol and residents to stage protests demanding the BTDs remain in position.