The best way to find out about an enemy is to talk to those who fought against him. We had a very interesting conversation with the intelligence and planning commander of one Ukrainian battalion Andrii “Pidlyi”. He agreed to share his thoughts and experiences about the Russian army and the separatists, their capabilities, armaments and tactics.
What kind of people form the core of “separatists”?
Most of them are Ukrainians from Donbas region.
What is the probable morale of the soldiers and the motives for the fight?
At the beginning of the war their goal was to separate and become a part of Russia, now – just a salary without any motivation
How did you assess the combat possibilities of the “separatists” before and after encountering them? Are they gradually improving or regressing?
They changed significantly. In 2014, there were different groups of well prepared Russians and the groups of native separatists without any skills. Now, the structure of separatists consists of Russian officers (mostly) and native separatists, well prepared as Russian instructors work with them thoroughly.
How did you assess the combat possibilities of the Russian Federation forces before and after encountering them? Are they gradually improving or regressing?
I didn’t know exactly who was on another side when we had met on the battlefield. Chief positions – battalion commander, brigade commander – are taken by Russians. Mostly “natives” that I met. Better prepared soldiers come from Russia: snipers, artillerists, anti tank units.
Did you see the interaction between RF and “separatists” (fire and maneuver support, control) on the battlefield and how would you assess it?
They are now working as one structure. Because of that, the skills of separatists and Russians in Donbas improved a lot. Russians take all the important positions and control all the processes.
Do you have any knowledge of how the planning of operations works? Are they planning them on their own or are they getting tasks straight down from RF?
It depends on the operation, of course, but most often the whole planning comes from Russia. For example, the local battalion commanders represent a formal position only, as each unit has an assigned officer from Russia who oversees everything.
Is command and control centralized or decentralized? What role does the FSB / GRU play at the tactical level? What decision-making power and freedom do local commanders have? Would the removal of the commanders disrupt the rhythm of the battle?
Command in the separatist army is centralized. The FSB performs the same functions as in Russia, they are usually intermediaries between the local separatist government and Russia. Changing commanders is not a problem and commanders change quite often due to the death or conflict of interest, but this does not affect the course of the battle, as the motivation is money.
What are you able to say about the combat training of “separatists” (in-depth defense and in the line of contact)?
They are really very well prepared and the discipline is high. Currently, they are not inferior to Ukrainian soldiers. The Russians have passed the compulsory training in Russia, while the local battalions usually have training sites 5-15 km away and the training is taking place there on a regular basis.
Do “separatists” carry on long range reconnaissance? What is their composition and at what distance from their forces do they operate ? Are they covered by indirect fire?
Long-range reconnaissance is rare. Battalion reconnaissance patrols usually do not go further than 5 km in depth, it is usually covered by the Russian artillery and air reconnaissance.
A different thing is the special forces coming from Russia, which take exams in Donbas. They have their tasks when they look for places where they can pass through the lines of defense, they go far away, they come to the positions and kidnap or kill a Ukrainian soldier in them. The similar case is with artillery, FSB groups, snipers. They have their own separate tasks and don’t stay long.
Describe a standard RF / “separatist” reconnaissance team (size, tasks, armament, combat support, size of operation area, tactical principles)
The reccy group consists of 1-2 sections, but as I previously mentioned, the tasks of the local separatists and the Russian military are different. Russian intelligence operates within the distance of up to 10 km, with the most common tasks being to mine roads or capturing prisoners. Separatist intelligence usually performs the functions of guarding command posts, and sometimes operates within a distance of up to 5 km to locate Ukrainian forces in a particular area.
Describe a standard RF / “separatist” attack operation (size, tasks, armament, combat support, size of operation area, tactical principles)
There have been no major separatist attacks in the last few years. Most of what is done is an attack on the position of the section or platoon base, but such decisions are not supported by Russian troops and it happens chaotically. If we take 2014 as an example, then the offensive planned by the Russian Federation was carried out as part of brigades with the involvement of all available forces and means and was managed from the Russian Federation.
Describe RF / “separatists” in defense (size, tasks, armament, combat support, size of operation area, tactical principles)
The structure of the separatists is identical to the Russian one. Two army corps consisting of brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and sections. Most positions consist of sections that are at a certain distance from each other. Their tasks are to carry out defense and install engineering barriers. They are well disguised, know how to camouflage well and sometimes test new technologies in the Russian army.
Do they carry out echoloning and do they have reserve left behind?
Yes, in each battalion they traditionally have a system of two echelons of trenches and an additional reserve.
Describe RF / “separatists” in a march
There are not as many of them as in 2014. About every 9-10 months the battalions rotate and each works a little differently. However, the battalions remain in the same positions and do not make a lot of movements. As for mobile groups, they are destroyed by our artillery and / or armored groups, so they do not have much opportunity to move around.
How do you assess RF / “separatists” logistics?
They are very well prepared and can last for a very long time without any replenishment. We estimate that stocks of fuel and ammunition will last for about 5 more years to come.
Have you come across RF EW tools and what can you say about such an experience?
They usually make noise in our communication systems to make communication more difficult. They also have electronic rifles that are being used to stop the movement of our drones, then we no longer receive a video signal. Sometimes they try to interfere and pass on fake information.
What role do drones play in RF / “separatists” operations ?
Reconnaissance and bombing with VOG-17 ammunition (depending on the type of the drone) are mainly carried out. They often use Chinese models. Also used for the correction of artillery. They have the night vision ability and therefore conduct reconnaissance at night as well. Such drones, like in Bayraktar, have not yet been used in Donbass yet.
Methods of distinguishing separatists from the civilian mass? Do they act alone or in teams, do they have exceptional looks or clothes?
They mostly wear Russian uniforms, however, they live not only in the trenches, but also inside the buildings near where the civilians live.
During rallies or other demonstrations, do separatists “fuel” the crowd or do they only act as observers / information gatherers / security?
During rallies or demonstrations, separatists take an active part in them, usually disguising themselves as civilians.
Weapons used by the separatists? Is it RF charity (old model) or new model armament being tested in battle conditions?
Usually it is both old and new or experimental models of weapons. For the Russian Federation, Ukraine is a testing ground for testing new weapons and weapon models. You can see more about the weapons used by RF in Donbas here: https://bit.ly/2K5Ndgj 
Is the intensity of the battle influenced by RF / UKR / international holidays?
It depends on the situation, usually it is not the case.
Is there a rotation of forces (not in the positions, but on the battlefield) and if so, for how long do the shifts last?
Usually every three months, separatists rotate their companies within the battalion, it continues for 2-3 days. Usually two companies are active in the battalion, and one remains in reserve and usually rests in the cities or trains in the rear training grounds. At the brigade level, each battalion also rotates.
What type of psychological operations do they perform? Are the operations targeted only at civilians or also at the UKR army?
These are mainly conducted through the mass media that spread the fake news, it is applied for both the civilian population and the Ukrainian army.
Is there persecution / intimidation of family members of UKR forces?
It was the case in 2014, but it is no longer the case.
What are the possible ways of providing Class I equipment (food, water)? Is the support provided only by RF forces or also by the locals?
Most of the time everything comes from RF, but there are local volunteers who organize the supply.
Is it possible to identify that it operates under some kind of standard operating procedures?
Yes, in reality everything is based on standard Soviet tactics.
Do they use anti-aircraft defence systems? If yes, what type?
Yes, they use all the Soviet and Russian systems that you can find on Google.
Before the Minsk peace agreements, our drones were usually shot with their rifles and machine guns. But the more fun case was when our drone was shot down with the OSA system. The value of our drone was $10,000, and the value of one of their rockets fired was $50,000 dollars.
Does it feel that there may be infiltrators / information providers to the separatists in the UKR forces?
Yes, and there are many situations like this. However, I will not go into details in public here, but such situations can also be exploited.
Is mining done manually or mechanically? Is the mining of positions carried out according to the doctrine or it’s unpredictable – without mining sheets and the mining steps?
It is mostly done manually, as there is a big risk of losing the transport during the process. The most commonly used are POM-2 anti-infantry mines.
How is the communication between separatist units and within the unit carried out? Mobile phones, radio stations, landline telephony, internet, commercial messaging apps?
They use all of that. They use secured connection systems, change diapasons, numbers (every few seconds), much like the American Harris system. Between positions they use the Soviet lines of connection TA57. They also use the Chinese radio stations, but do not transmit information through them, it is mostly for signaling. They have the internet, they also get secured information through it.
How important is artillery in RF/separatists operations? Are the artillery adjusters local or do they come from RF? When firing artillery, do they use shooting landmarks (churches, tall buildings and etc.) and is the fire accurate enough?
Artillerists here also come to hold their exams in Ukraine. Local artillerists complete the courses with RF soldiers. They mostly use just maps and drones.
Do they use snipers and what is their role? We saw a video with FSB sniper in contact line. Can you feel when professionals are working and when “tractor driver – separatist”
Now about 80 percent of all deaths are from sniper bullets. Artillery is used more for psychological effects. In 2014, there were a lot of “snipers” with SVD who didn’t have much experience. Now snipers are professionals and mostly come from RF, mostly with new weapons. They usually work at nights, have night vision systems (can see up to 1 km at night). Depending on the operation, different calibers are used. They do not come from ordinary battalions, but are instead assigned to individual reconnaissance battalions, very well prepared.
If we talk about snipers from GRU and special forces, they use British armaments (Accuracy International), American scopes, operate in pairs or groups. Depending on the situation, they have other rifles (including anti-drone), use their drones for reconnaissance (to determine distances to positions). We estimate that the value of the equipment alone is 40 thousand dollars. They are commonly used after receiving some information from separatists, are invited to conduct assignments. Operations take about 1-3 days, can be up to a week.
In 2019, we destroyed such a group of snipers, I also participated in that operation. At night, the drone spotted their movement, we then launched a glowing missile, and the unit destroyed them with all the weapons at hand.
Read more from InformNapalm:
- Advanced Russian EW system Navodchik-2 spotted in Donbas for the first time 
- The Information Defense Legion on Tackling the Kremlin Propaganda 
- The Karabakh Knot: Which one is stronger – Turkey or Russia? 
- The Kremlin’s influence and governance model is falling apart 
- CSTO’s Strategic Command and Staff Training in the South Caucasus (Document) 
- Evidence of Russian aggression: New type of modern Russian technology discovered in Donbas 
- Proofs of the Russian Aggression: InformNapalm releases extensive database of evidence 
- Retrieved: complete personnel and armaments data of so-called 1st Motorized Rifle Brigade self-propelled artillery battalion 
- Russian Weapons in Donbas: Analysis of the “MGB DPR” and OSCE Documents 
- Shelling in Donbas is most actively carried out by 3 units of Russian 1st Army Corps 
InformNapalm Partner in Lithuania: Res Publica – Civic Resilience Center.
Support InformNapalm