Russian advances in eastern Ukraine mark new tipping point


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For Ukrainians, the news from the front is not encouraging. As we approach the 100th day since Russia launched its invasion, the tide of battle in eastern Ukraine appears to be pulling in favor of Moscow. On Monday, Russian troops entered the outskirts of Severodonetsk, one of the last strategically important towns in the Lugansk region still under Ukrainian control. If the city fell, it would give Russia and its proxy forces de facto authority over half of Donbass, the coveted industrial heartland in the east of the country.

In a recent interview with a French radio station, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the current momentum is part of the Kremlin’s new focus. “Our obvious objective is, of course, to push the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian battalions out of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he said, amid growing fears among Western officials that Russia has the intention to annex territories in Donbass and Kherson, a contiguous region. Crimea already annexed.

The Russian advance was characterized by the same brutality and relentlessness of previous offensives. Observers report tactics similar to those deployed during the conquest of the port city of Mariupol, with endless days and nights of artillery fire and missile strikes pulverizing urban areas.

“They’re just raining metal on us,” a Ukrainian soldier injured in the fighting told my colleagues. Eyewitnesses have spoken of the stench of death lurking in the streets as early summer temperatures rise.

The Russians “use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row, then attack,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai told Reuters. “Those who attack die. Then the bombings and the attacks follow one another, and so on until they break through somewhere.

Ukrainian volunteer fighters in the east feel abandoned

The persistent misery of the battlefield underlies an unstable strategic landscape. “The situation in the east of the country marks a change from an earlier phase of the war, when Ukrainian defenses forced a large Russian retreat in Kyiv and other areas, increasing the confidence of Ukrainians and their supporters Westerners as to the prospects of a total victory over a poorly organized and ill-equipped Russian force,” reported my colleagues Siobhán O’Grady, Paul Sonne, Max Bearak and Anastacia Galouchka.

“Now regrouped, Russian troops are making gradual but steady progress in their campaign to the east and regularly employing heavy flamethrowers and long-range artillery that Ukrainian forces lack, leaving Kyiv on their backs,” they said. they wrote. “Although the Ukrainian resistance has made combat a drudgery for Russian forces, Moscow is moving closer to encircling the largest Ukrainian strongholds in the Donbass region, while fighting in territory contiguous to Russia with lines of easier to supply.”

Moscow seems to have learned from its initial mistakes. “Recent Russian gains appear at least in part to be a product of Ukraine’s past success,” Bloomberg News noted. “By mounting a defense so effective that Russian commanders had to withdraw from the country’s two largest cities – Kyiv and Kharkiv – Ukraine also pressured them to abandon an extremely ambitious battle plan that had left their troops scattered and too far from the logistics lifelines.

It is still true that the war left the Russian military massively exhausted and in some areas short of equipment, manpower and morale. But Ukrainian fighters in the east, as my colleague Sudarsan Raghavan has reported, complain of being understaffed and underarmed. The expansion and consolidation of Russian control in eastern Ukraine marks a new phase of the conflict, which will test both Western and Ukrainian resilience in times of war.

Ukraine suffers on the battlefield as it pleads for US weapons

Ukrainian officials have made their demands loud and clear. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, members of the Kyiv delegation called for more military aid and heavy weapons from the United States and Europe. They formulated the reasons for their demands in ideological terms: the defense of Ukraine was the defense of all liberal and democratic societies. The Russian victory, on the other hand, would mark the victory of might over right, of brutal tyranny over the rule of law.

“You don’t have to die for us,” Ukrainian MP Yulia Klymenko told reporters in Davos, from where Today’s WorldView newspaper recently returned. “But we die for you.”

The Biden administration is set to announce new arms and ammunition shipments to Ukraine, which could include advanced long-range rocket systems that would help thwart Russia’s advance east . On Monday, President Biden indicated that he did not want to send the type of rocket system whose range could reach deep into Russian territory. The Kremlin called Biden’s remarks “rational,” though the Russian position — expressed by both its officials and state media — remains that they are waging war against Western proxies in Ukraine.

In Europe, despite much loud rhetorical unity, there remain pronounced differences in approach to the conflict. France and Germany, for example, recently urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to engage in direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, on ending the Black Sea blockade that has been so ruinous for Europe. Mondial economy. The call has drawn derision from politicians in the Baltic states further east, who want to deepen Russia’s isolation and hand Putin a decisive defeat.

Yet, as the campaign in the Donbass shows, Russia is not close to any definitive defeat in Ukraine.. Politicians in Kyiv and many of their Western supporters maintain a maximalist view of how the conflict should end, with Russian surrender and the return of every inch of territory to Moscow’s control, including the Crimean peninsula.

This view of war comes up against growing fears among foreign policy experts about the risks of prolonging the war. In Davos, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called for immediate negotiations and Ukrainian territorial concessions to avoid further crises and global instability.

During a World Economic Forum panel, veteran US foreign policy analyst Graham T. Allison suggested that a frozen conflict – with disputed borders settled along current lines – would be the ideal outcome, avoiding the risk that Putin does not deploy tactical nuclear weapons. “Either there will be facts on the ground that Putin can live with or he will increase the level of destruction,” Allison said.

His remarks were attacked by Lawrence Freedman, a venerable British military historian and analyst, who warned against setting political conditions for Ukrainians and suggested that it is hardly obvious that Putin – who does not has not even yet been unable to describe the war in Ukraine as a “war” – would be ready to use nuclear weapons.

“Russia does not face an existential threat,” he said. “Ukraine faces an existential threat. … The Ukrainians are not going to stop fighting.

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