On August 6th, 2016, Igor Plotnitsky, figurehead of the Russia-controlled LNR militant organization, is alleged to have survived an attempted assassination by car bomb. Plotnitsky is the latest LNR commander to fall prey to this modus operandi – previous casualties of car-based assassinations included including Alexei Mozgovoy, Alexander Bednov (affiliated with the neo-Nazi Rusich militant group), and LNR Cossack leader Pavel Dremov.

While Dennis Pushilin, spokesman for the Russia-controlled DNR militant organization, accused Ukraine of attempting to escalate hostilities in Donbas, the Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, speaking in his capacity as a spokesman for Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, denied any Ukrainian government involvement in the alleged assassination attempt.

Pushilin stated the following:

There’s an escalation in Kiev’s policy towards the People’s Republics. All of Kiev’s latest actions speak of a looming war. The Ukrainian army is in a ready state. The town of Yasynuvata was recently attacked. And now, there has been an attempt on the head of a republic. In a word, Kiev supports a military solution to the resolution of the conflict – this is a harbinger of full-scale acts of war.

In the People’s Republics, everything was settled long ago. The public rallied around its leaders. In the LNR, around Plotnitsky, in the DNR – Zakharchenko. Judging by the fact that a bomb was used, its possible to conclude that there was a direct attempt to eliminate the leader of the LNR. Kiev wanted to cause a panic in the republic, to eliminate its head.

According to the Russian, LNR, and DNR media, Plotnitsky survived the attempt, and has released an official statement. The somewhat muffled-sounding and disoriented Plotnitsky stated:

Hello, dear residents of the republic. Today is probably not the best day of my life, but I want to calm the people – I’m alive and well. Any efforts to speculate on my health are the machinations of accomplices of the Ukrainian side.

You know that the war isn’t over yet. Behind the Ukrainian security services, of course, stand the security services of the United States, and those who want to rock the situation in Ukraine, and the whole world.

Those who want to change the lawful authorities in the LNR, are provocateurs. I believe that it’s not worth listening to these people, because they’re trying to shake up and nullify everything we’ve created together.

Regarding future events having to do with me or my life, the information about these accomplices of Ukrainian and American security agencies, which are located in different places in the LNR, and probably even in Russia, will be delivered either to the President of the Russian Federation, or to the Director of the FSB. This information is already outside of the bounds of our republic.

That’s why I ask everyone to stay calm. Nothing serious happened. But any [muffled] is a traitor and enemy to the Lugansk People’s Republic. Thank you.

It is worth noting that the timing of the assassination attempt coincides with the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Russia’s war against Georgia started on August 7th, 2008, coinciding with the start of the Olympics in Beijing, which Putin was attending. Although it has been argued that Russia’s war against Ukraine started in the summer of 2013, Russia initiated military action against Ukraine in February 2014, in the form of the Crimean Anschluss, against the backdrop of the Sochi Olympics.

In the days prior to the assassination attempt against Plotnitsky, Russia has been releasing statements threatening an escalation in hostilities, through Pushilin. In the preceding weeks, there had been an exchange between Savchenko, and Plotnitsky; Savchenko challenged Plotnitsky and DNR figurehead Zakharchenko face to face, to discuss possible resolutions to the war. Plotnitsky initially retorted that Savchenko should form a “pro-peace” coalition within the Ukrainian parliament; there were intimations of assembling groups of deputies, ostensibly to lay some sort of groundwork for cooperation. Plotnitsky, as well as other Russian propaganda sources, have already blamed Ukraine for the assassination attempt. Their propaganda media may attempt to claim that Ukraine tried to kill Plotnitsky to sabotage the ostensible “peace talks” with Savchenko.

There exists a possibility that Russia will use the assassination attempt as a casus belli. While a full-scale open Russian invasion of Ukraine remains unlikely at this point in time (although it is possible), there is a significant likelihood of an escalation in the fighting, perhaps accompanied by renewed Russian efforts to capture towns such as Avdiivka or Mariinka.

An escalation is not an end, in and of itself. Although the possibility of capturing more Ukrainian cities is an attractive prospect to Russia, it’s not certain that the capture of a few more towns would be worth the expenditure of resources that Russia, DNR, and LNR would incur (in terms of casualties, damaged equipment, political capital, morale, etc.). Pushilin has already implied that one of Russia’s goals is to force Ukraine to fulfil some of the political points of the Minsk II agreement. However, an escalation could also serve as a pretext for the introduction of Russian soldiers, in one form or another.

It is within the realm of possibility that Russian soldiers will invade Ukraine under the guise of “peacekeepers,” as suggested by Pavel Felgengauer. Felgengauer believes that the “peacekeeper” ruse will serve to mitigate the world’s anger at the Russian invasion. On the contrary, while a fake peacekeeping mission may placate certain concerns that Russia’s gullible domestic audience may have, it will raise international ire, as any peacekeeping operation must be internationally sanctioned. A pretend “peacekeeping mission” would also eliminate the benefits (i.e. “plausible” deniability) that Russia derives from using proxy “Republics” as a cover for its war campaign. Whether it would be possible or feasible to turn this “peacekeeping mission” into a land-grabbing mission (i.e. to expand the Donbas territory under Russia’s control) would very much depend on a.) the international community’s response to this campaign and b.) Ukraine’s military response.

So far, there is no clear signal that Russia plans on an open invasion, under the guise of a fake peacekeeping mission, or otherwise. However, there is a very real possibility that Russia will escalate hostilities in the Donbas, in the coming weeks.

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