Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 11 March 2022 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Day 15 of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Stalled Incursion, Diplomatic Failure
After the first three days of the offensive, it was clear that the war was not going as Russia had planned. Last week saw some territorial gains from the Russian army that yet got stalled. After nearly two weeks, Russian forces are unable to encircle Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The Ukrainian army is still fighting in Chernihiv, Suma, and Kharkiv. Russian forces indeed encircled Mariupol but are incapable of seizing the city. Mykolaiv has been under intense fire by Russian forces, but the aggressor did not seize the city. In some Russian-occupied towns, people take to the streets in the most visible example yet of resistance to Russian occupation. Russian troops are now suffering low morale. Yet mercenaries are unlikely to be deployed to the war theatre instead of young conscripts. What shows Russia’s worsening position is that its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to hold talks with Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba, but nothing concrete came out of this meeting.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is slowly becoming trench warfare. Apart from some Russian forces heading northwards from the city of Kherson, Russian forces do not move forward. Air strikes hitting Zhytomyr and towns nearby did not bring the result Russia had expected––they were supposed to introduce Russian troops marching from the north and cut Kyiv off western Ukraine. Before the war broke out, the Ukrainian military had been aware of a possible assault from Belarus to cut western Ukraine from the rest of the country, impede supplies from the West, and prevent civilians from escaping to Poland. Nearby Zhytomyr, Rivne, and Lutsk, Ukrainian forces are large enough to repel Russian assaults from the north. Even by deploying Belarusian troops, Russia will fail to break the Ukrainian defense. This is one of many reasons why the Russian attack on Kyiv stalled. The Russians indeed seized some towns northwest of Kyiv, but it is not enough to storm the capital. On the opposite bank of the Dnipro river, Ukrainian forces are fiercely attacking the enemy to prevent it from seizing Chernihiv and advancing towards Kyiv. After a month-long war, Kherson is the first major city to be taken by Russia, which was thanks to an offensive from Crimea at the beginning of the war. The Russian strategy of encircling and seizing large cities is falling, as was the case in the eastern city of Sumy. Kharkiv’s defenders are thwarting all attempts by Russian invaders to enter or pass through the city. It is key for the whole left-bank Ukraine. As long as the Ukrainians successfully defend this city, the Russians are unable to accelerate their offensive and reach the Dnipro river nearby the city of Dnipro. If the Russian military proved successful, they would cut off a large Ukrainian military group in Donbas whose soldiers now defend Zaporizhzhia. It is little surprise that Russian forces have made scarce progress in Donbas, where the war has been on since 2014 while Ukrainian troops are well positioned. Thus, Russian soldiers are unable to capture the city of Mariupol and besieged the sea hub in a bid to force its capitulation. In the south, there has been no major progress and it is where Russian forces advanced most rapidly. East of the Dnipro river, the Russians failed to advance toward Zaporizhzhia. In the west, Russian forces have not seized the city of Mykolaiv. A delayed assault on Odesa, which is located further to the west, forced the Black Sea Fleet vessels to withdraw to Crimea, possibly just to regroup and replenish supplies, as those had been waiting for a week to perform an amphibious attack on Odesa from the east. Why has the Russian offensive stalled? First, Ukrainian soldiers are well prepared for the defense. Secondly, Russian forces are facing serious logistical challenges. Thirdly, it is all about poor Russian military morale––most soldiers are badly trained conscripts. Last but not least, Russia failed to win Ukraine’s airspace and has lost a substantial number of aircraft, helicopters, and missiles. No wonder Moscow agreed to take part in talks with Ukraine. Turkey has taken on the role of a mediator to host the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers at a meeting in Antalya. Sergey Lavrov, Moscow’s chief diplomat, is the first senior Russian official to hold high-level talks with a representative of the state Russia sought to “denazify.” This confirms best the fiasco of the Kremlin’s initial strategy but it is still too soon to declare anything. The meeting in Turkey ended in nothing while Lavrov, who is Russia’s chief diplomat, just obeys Putin’s orders and refuses to make any commitments.
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