Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 15 June 2022 Author: Grzegorz Kuczyński
Donbas Operation: Counteroffensive On Other Fronts
Ukraine’s fierce defense of the eastern town of Severodonetsk is more strategic than tactical, which resembles the defense of Mariupol. Kyiv is taking advantage of the Russian strategy where politics prevails over purely military considerations. Moscow’s efforts to amass troops in Donbas allow Ukraine forces to perform more efficient strikes both in the east and south. So seizing the whole Luhansk region, which is politically important, may mean territorial losses elsewhere, notably in the south.
One may wonder why Ukraine is pushing for defending the eastern bank of the Donets river even though it has claimed many lives by now. The authorities in Kyiv are playing the Kremlin’s political blindness, well aware of the fact that seizing Severodonetsk is now a top priority for Moscow, as was the case of Mariupol a few weeks before. Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to seize the whole Luhansk region by June 22. Russian forces could encircle Severodonetsk within days and plans to “completely cut off” the key eastern city. But fierce battles are now taking place in the town of Lysychansk on the west bank of the Donets River. So Russian forces are unlikely to capture the whole region within a week. This could be possible if Ukraine was afraid of being cut off. But that does not seem to be the case here. Russian advances from the north (Izium, Lyman) and the south (Popasna) are little efficient. There is still a link available between Severodonetsk, Lyman, and the rest of the country. So the Russian invasion of Donbas will last weeks, and not days. Here is where Moscow made a mistake. It deployed considerable forces to Donbas while exposing the flanks, notably that in the south. While in the northern region of Kharkiv, Russian forces put up some resistance after some initial Ukrainian successes, they are unlucky in the south, from Kherson to Hulaipol through Melitopol. The Ukrainian army is pushing the Russians slowly but steadily towards the lower reaches of the Dnieper river and is now some 10 kilometers off Kherson. No details have been provided on how Kyiv distributed Western weapons and manpower to the front. Perhaps Ukrainian forces will surprise Moscow, by staging a massive attack on the Kherson region and seizing it eventually. Even if they are slowly losing the Donbas region, this could be a strategic success for Kyiv. But to make it happen, Ukrainian troops need to win a firing advantage over Russians along a specific section of the front. Russia is firing as many as 50,000 artillery rounds a day into Ukrainian positions, and the Ukrainians can only hit back with around 5,000 rounds a day. Ukraine liberated some twenty villages around Kherson in the past two weeks.
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