NOS News•Thursday, 12:10
The Eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk appears to have fallen completely into Russian hands. After the loss of Lysytskian Ukrainian troops have withdrawn behind the Lugansk provincial border. It is widely expected that the Russian effort will mainly go to the conquest of the entire Donetsk province. How will the battle continue?
This is what the battlefield looks like now:
With the exception of the largely destroyed port city of Mariupol in the south and the city of Lyman in the north, the Russian army has made relatively little territorial gains in the Donetsk region. An area the size of two thirds of the Netherlands is still in Ukrainian hands.
The next line is around the towns of Bachmoet and Soledar, says Eastern Europe expert Bob Deen of the Clingendael Institute. “Those places are in a valley, while the Russians are on a hill to the east. As long as the Ukrainians are in the valley, they are vulnerable, but once the Russians enter those places, they are vulnerable.”
This is what the battle will focus on:
That battle will be accompanied by gross destruction, Deen expects. “Since the Russians, like the Ukrainians, have no air superiority, they will have to conquer it meter by meter.”
After that, the main battle awaits around the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, where there are important rail and road junctions and before the invasion 107,000 and 150,000 people lived respectively. Most of them have since left.
Artillery shelling on Sloyansk has increased in recent days:
Shelling on Slovyansk: ‘It wasn’t that bad until now’
Donetsk will cost Russia a lot of people and resources, defense specialist Peter Wijninga of the Hague Center for Strategic Studies expects. “Putin will want to get his hands on the entire Donbas at all costs, otherwise he cannot sell a victory to the supporters. There is a good chance that he will eventually succeed.”
Ukraine will do everything it can to weaken the Russians from well-defensible positions in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, Wijninga thinks. “So that they are so weakened that they can’t go any further after the Donbas.”
How far does Russia want to go?
Russian Security Council chairman Nikolai Patrushev reiterated this week the goals that must be achieved before the military operation in Ukraine is completed: to “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine and ensure a neutral position between NATO and Russia. .
According to the American think tank ISW Putin’s confidant Patrushev’s words show that territorial aspirations extend beyond the Donbas region. This is how Russia would still be after regime change in Kiev: eliminating Zelensky and installing a pro-Moscow government.
The loss of Lugansk does not necessarily mean that Ukraine is losing. There is a high chance of site reconquest around Kherson in particular. Deen: “The flat steppe area there favors the Ukrainians. A reconquest to the Dnepr River is feasible, I think.”
That will be an important victory, says Wijninga. “Then the west bank of the Dnepr will be completely in Ukrainian hands the grain export can get going again, because pressure is being relieved from Odessa and the port of Kherson can also be deployed.” Partly for this reason, Russia will be very interested in preserving this region.
In addition, Russia will want to preserve the region because of the important North Crimean Canal, which brings drinking water to the annexed peninsula.
According to Deen, Ukraine is increasingly successful in carrying out tactical counter-attacks, for example on Russian ammunition depots. In addition, western arms supplies, such as armored howitzers and advanced Himars missile systems, are slowly visible on the battlefield. “But Ukraine should be careful with its deployment, because they will be a favorite target of the Russians.”
For the time being, it is insufficient for a powerful counter-offensive, Wijninga thinks. “An eventual ceasefire will be able to use Ukraine to get enough Western weapons.” Deen: “Without enough weapons there is a stalemate, and that is also to our disadvantage, because the economic damage is already enormous.”