“I think the Ukrainians feel strong enough to continue with this offensive,” said defense expert Peter Wijninga of the Hague Center of Strategic Studies. “But there is a risk that you go too far. You have to be able to stop in time.”
Several important hubs are now back in Ukrainian hands. A week ago that seemed unthinkable. This concerns, for example, a train connection in the northeast, via Kupyansk, the most important in the region. The city of Izhum is also almost completely owned by the Ukrainians. “While it was the intention that the battle for the Donbas would be shaped by the Russians via that city,” says Dick Zandee of the Clingendael Institute.
Painful for Russia
Instead of attacking further, the Russians are withdrawing, ostensibly for tactical reasons. Wijninga: “The story has always been that Russia was all about the Donbas. As long as they don’t lose territory in that region, that’s still possible.”
The Donbas consists of the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. Luhansk is completely in the hands of the Russians, Donetsk to a large extent. “So the Ukrainians are very interested in preserving that part of Donetsk, there are even reports that they have already crossed the river at Severodonetsk,” says Wijninga.
If so, it means that parts of Luhansk are again in Ukrainian hands. Painful for Russia, because losing the Donbas is not really an option. “Otherwise they have no position at the negotiating table and cannot claim a victory.”
Wijninga therefore does not think that the war will be over any time soon. “Barring all kinds of sudden twists and turns,” he adds. The Russians may now flee from some area, they will want to strike back. A new corps would already be set up on Russian territory to send into Ukraine. “If it’s fully manned, it could be 15,000, but given the problems Russia has, I don’t expect that.”
The advance of recent days has mainly taken shape in the north of the country, but the Ukrainians are also regaining ground in the south. Important bridges over which Russia supplied its men have been demolished or no longer accessible for large equipment. And the only major city in Russia’s hands, Kherson, is virtually shut down. “The Russians there are like rats in a trap.”
It sounds tempting for Ukrainians to push through now that things are going so well, but as said before, that’s not always smart. “It takes a huge logistical operation to do that. In the end, the stocks have to be replenished. The only problem is: then you also give the Russians some respite.”