They have eliminated most Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region, consolidated control of a belt of territory to the south, improved their logistics and command structure, and blunted the effectiveness of Ukrainian attack drones.
Within the past week, the Russians have been rewarded for their intense — some would say merciless — bombing of the remainder of the Luhansk region conducted by Ukrainian forces, who eventually abandoned Severodnetsk and lost the area south of Lisichansk.
The head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Paschnik, predicted last Friday that Russian forces would completely encircle Lisichansk within two or three days. So far they haven’t, but the city is in imminent trouble.
Russian forces have also intensified attacks in the Donetsk region, approaching the belt of industrial cities in the region that runs south from Sloviansk to Kramatorsk to Kostiantinivka.
The immediate dilemma for the Ukrainian military is whether it is committed to defending Lisichansk, with the risk of losing troops and weapons if the city is besieged – and whether Ukraine’s political leadership will order the withdrawal of new defensive lines.
If so, can units now in pockets of Ukrainian occupied territory retreat without being destroyed? Large stretches of highway from Lysychansk to Bakhmut are littered with rubble, and Russian units are only approaching Bakhmut.
It appears that despite repeated attempts to break through the Ukrainian lines, Russia is currently not making much progress from Izium in the north towards Sloviansk. Still, Ukrainian officials cautioned on Sunday that Russian forces were “accumulating” north of Slovak. The Russian army can quickly mobilize a handful of battalion tactical groups across the border.
Some Russian military bloggers are not being impressed by the optimism. Yuri Kotynok, for one, believes that the Russian army does not have enough manpower to encircle the heavily fortified cities of Slovensk and Kramatorsk.
In the long run, the Ukrainians’ best hope is that as they deploy more Western weapons capable of destroying Russian artillery, rocket systems and command posts behind the front lines, they will gradually reduce the firepower. can reduce.
But weapons such as the HIMARS rocket system, which has a range of 70 kilometers (43 mi) in the configuration supplied to Ukraine, require several weeks of training. And in the Donbass, several weeks is a long time, given the current pressure on the Ukrainian forces.
The pressure is even greater as many units stationed in the region are among the most experienced in Ukraine. They are worn out by the sheer intensity of Russian bombing and are not easily replaced.
And the Ukrainian army has already been defeated in the war, with some weapons reaching the front. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed last week that Russian strikes have already destroyed some US-supplied M777 howitzers.
The Russian offensive also learned from the mistakes made during the initial and fruitless campaign towards Kyiv. Air defenses, primarily the S-300, have been deployed to provide broad rather than local cover, making Ukrainian attack drones less effective. Unsurprisingly, there seems to have been fewer videos posted on social media recently showing Ukrainian fighter planes in action.
Russia appoints new commanders
The Russian hierarchy was also reorganized, with new commanders for southern and central forces committed to Ukraine under the overall leadership of Deputy Defense Minister Gennady Zhidko.
“The Russian high command is reshuffling and restructuring the military command to better organize operations in Ukraine,” the Institute for the Study of War said.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the first alleged visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and senior commanders to forces involved in a “special military operation” occurred when the tide was drifting in Russia’s favor. Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
Rob Lee, an analyst with the Russian military at King’s College London, said that Zhidko sat next to Shoigu in meetings during his visit. Lee recalled that Russia apparently had “no overall commander at the initial stage (in March), which violated the unity of command doctrine.”
The great unknown is whether Russian success in advancing the Ukrainian defense at Donetsk could encourage it to pursue its war goals beyond a special military operation – perhaps an attempt to maintain momentum, as far as Dnipro. river, which essentially divides Ukraine in two.
This is the worst-case scenario for Ukrainians and for now it remains a distant prospect rather than an imminent one. The Ukrainian military is still defending about 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 sq mi) of Donetsk alone (an area the size of Connecticut.)
Despite the Ukrainian debacle in recent weeks, there is still plenty of evidence that Russian armor has also suffered from a high rate of casualty. Western officials believe that some battalion tactical groups have been reorganized.
And there may be a glimmer of hope for Ukraine on the battlefield: They make the case for an accelerated weapons pipeline from the West as the G7 leaders meet.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of President Zelensky’s most committed supporters, is aware of the risk of “Ukraine fatigue” as the battlefield turns in Russia’s favour.
“The first few weeks and months of Ukrainian resistance are characterized by overwhelming global unity and a huge surge in support for the Ukrainian people,” he said as the G7 in Germany was underway.
“It is necessary that this last longer. Russia’s behavior and the atrocities committed by Putin should not be normal in the eyes of the world.”
For now – there’s no sign that either side is going to blink, not least because there’s a lot at stake.
Hal Brands, writing in Foreign Affairs, said that the conflict “has exposed and deepened today a fundamental global rift – the conflict between advanced democracies who are committed to the existing international order and the Eurasian autocracy seeking to overturn it.” “
But for Putin, this war of choice is an installment (a bigger) of the existential struggle against American hegemony.
The Institute for the Study of War concluded that the Kremlin “intends to conduct a protracted conflict in Ukraine and seeks to advance mobilization efforts to support long-term military and political goals in the Ukrainian occupied territories.” Used to be.”