Exactly the same thing happened once again in Ukraine. Another Russian advance – and another retreat by Ukrainian forces. This time the venue is Lisichansk. It was predicted that there would be intense and protracted fighting. But that did not happen. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the fight had been avoided “through a strategic troop withdrawal”.
In his words, Russia is in a very advantageous position in terms of the number of cannons and the amount of ammunition. They could have destroyed everything from afar – so there is no point in taking a position here.
The Russian occupation of Lisichansk has been described by the Russians. Haidai’s words match. They did not have to face any obstacles to enter the city. As seen in the video posted on social media – Chechen fighters dance in the center of Lisichansk.
They will rejoice. Because the occupation of Lysichansk means that almost all of the Luhansk region was occupied by Russia. This was one of the main strategic goals of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine, or “special military operation.”
What does this mean for the Donbass war or the Russia-Ukraine war as a whole?
Russia wants to “liberate” the entire Donbass region
Let’s look at it first from Russia’s point of view. Their declared goal is to occupy the Donbass territory – in their language “to liberate.” After the capture of Lisichansk and the whole of Luhansk came under Russian control, President Putin gave his commanders the title of “Russia’s greatest hero” – which underscores the importance of this victory.
But what can happen after that? Several types of images can be inferred here. It is fairly certain that Russia will now try to occupy the rest of Donbass – the rest of Donetsk.
In particular, they will target Sloviansk and Kramatorsk – which have already been shelled by Russia. The significance of Sloviansk is different, because – the pro-Russian separatist coup in 2014 started from here.
However, it is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. It depends a lot on the state of their forces after the capture of Donbass. President Putin has indirectly acknowledged this. He says the units that fought in Luhansk, and had successes and victories, must rest – to increase their combat capability.
If these troops continue their rapid advance – then perhaps they can continue their efforts to occupy the whole of southern Ukraine. The expedition may be extended to the city of Donipro or later.
But if they’re tired – as many analysts say, or Mr. Putin hints – then, that Russia may announce the end of a “special military operation.”
In that case, Russia may think that announcing a unilateral ceasefire would weaken international support for Ukraine, and that some countries, such as France and Germany, would push for peace.
Ukraine may continue to fight even after that. But without a regular supply of weapons, the war on the front lines could come to a standstill – as it did in 2014 and 2022.
This will benefit Russia, because it will benefit if instability and strife continue in its neighboring country.
Russia’s goal is the rest of Donetsk?
Many military analysts are skeptical of how strong the Ukrainian army will be able to build up a strong resistance in the Donetsk cities, given the way Russian troops have recently taken control of several important cities in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Looking at Russia’s current strategy on the battlefield, it is clear that they have learned from the failures of the beginning of the war and are moving very carefully.
For the first few days and nights, they have been bombing the area, targeting Ukrainian troops. Then Russian troops with tanks and armored vehicles entered the cities and took control.
Will Russia be equally successful in the cities of Donetsk? How strong will the Ukrainian troops be able to build resistance in those cities?
If they can’t, and if Russia really does achieve the goal of occupying the whole of Donbass, then where will this war go?
Since the fall of Mariupol, Ukraine’s strategically important port, the entire coast of the Azov Sea is now under Russian control. Russia now controls the entire Kherson region, including the port of Kherson, and large parts of the Zaporotia region – all of which are economically important.
The idea is growing among Ukraine and many of its Western allies that if President Putin could easily take over the entire Donbass – he might not stop there.
Maybe he will go the way of occupying more territory in Ukraine – so that any future negotiations will be subject to his terms.
Recently, a Russian general openly stated that they wanted to take control of the area up to the Romanian border via Mikolaev and Odessa, so that a land corridor could be created between Moldova and the Russian-occupied Transnistria.
This means that Russia is planning to separate Ukraine from the Black Sea after the Azov Sea.
“By occupying the entire (Black Sea) coast, Russia could take extreme pressure on Ukraine’s economy to shut down Ukraine’s trade by sea,” said Elenora, a researcher at the Italian Institute of Political Studies in Milan, in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV.
Whether or not Russia continues on this path will largely depend on their defeat in the battle for control of Donbass.
Is the Ukrainian army losing morale?
In an article in the New York Times, analyst Thomas Gibbons-Nef writes that Ukraine’s military is unable to withstand the onslaught of Russian artillery or artillery fire. Lots of their soldiers are being killed, they have to fight with the newly joined troops and they are also upset mentally.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers are being killed every day, according to Ukrainian and Western intelligence sources. The death toll in the Russian forces is the same – but at a slower pace they are advancing the war.
But as Ukrainian forces at the front lines of the battlefield grow tired of long battles, they are increasingly relying on less-trained troops – from the regional defense team or the National Guard.
On the other hand, the ‘reinforcement’ of the Russian forces is coming from Wagner’s paramilitary, pro-Moscow Chechen forces, and separatist fighters in Luhansk and Donetsk.
However, both sides are keen to reject reports that morale among soldiers is declining.
The problem for Ukrainian forces is that the Russians have too much ammunition. In the words of a Ukrainian general, “Ammunition is a problem. When we fire one shot, they fire 50 shots. How do you fight here?”
From Ukraine’s point of view, the most important thing for their troops is to prevent a siege, as happened in Mariupol.
It is true that the way in which the Ukrainian forces fought in Mariupol, the pace of the Russian advance was delayed for a few weeks. But the end result was that thousands of the most skilled soldiers of the Ukrainian forces there were killed or captured.
Ukraine now desperately wants this not to happen again. President Zelensky did not hesitate to say so in his speech. “We will build walls again, restore the land but above all we have to save people’s lives,” he said.
“Our troops have retreated to a place where their position is secure. We have protected Luhansk for five months. As long as this protection was in place, we were building new defenses in the Donetsk region. The troops have now moved there.”
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to President Zelensky, even called the way Ukrainian forces have defended Lysichansk and Severodonetsk so far, a “successful military operation.”
The Russian flag is now flying in these two cities. So it may sound a little weird to hear that. But what Ukraine is trying to say is that they are in a protracted war and are holding on to the time they need here.
To understand this argument, we need to understand the importance of getting Ukrainian weapons from Western countries. Simply put, without NATO-supplied weapons, Ukraine would be much worse off than it is now.
The longer they can thwart Russia’s advance, the more modern rockets and cannons they will have in their hands. The HIMORS rocket that the United States has given to Ukraine is already being used against Russian forces and is said to be shifting the balance of the war.
The longer the war lasts, the more supplies Ukraine will have, and the more they will benefit from the war.
On the other hand, due to international sanctions, Russia is also having difficulty in filling the gaps in its costly equipment and ammunition.
Nothing can be said for sure
Russia and Ukraine – both sides claim they are at war.
In the present situation, nothing can be said for sure. One thing to note is that although Ukraine has been cornered in Donbass, they have also had some success recently.
As Russian troops withdrew from the strategically important Snake Island, the Ukrainian flag is now flying there. But it is safe to say that this war will not end soon. And, Donetsk residents will now probably have to be prepared to suffer the consequences of the fighting.
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