Putin's turnaround in the war?
After several weeks of stagnation, the Russian army seems to have found a way to advance in Donbas.Source: Blic
After the confusing launch of the invasion, it seems that the Russian army is on the way to conquer the entire Donbas, where two self-proclaimed "people's republics" which Moscow recognized are situated.
According to German military expert Carlo Masala, incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have to worry because he seems to continue to "gain more than he loses" by continuing the war.
"He is doing well. That is why he has no motivation to enter into negotiations," the expert said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who last week accused Moscow of carrying out "senseless bombings" and "turning Donbass into hell", said last week that "50 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers" die every day on the front in the eastern region, which maybe up to 3.000 a month.
There are usually three, maybe four times as many wounded, according to the Guardian, which is a great loss for the Donbass defense forces, which were estimated at around 30.000 before the invasion, although that number increased after the mass mobilization in Ukraine.
Russian forces have taken more ground in the past week as they approached the city on the front line in Sievierodonetsk and nearby villages than in earlier efforts in May, the Institute for the Study of War reported on Tuesday.
"The shelling of Sievierodonetsk is growing exponentially," said Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, which is now 95% controlled by Russian forces.
He estimated that about 10.000 Russian soldiers were taking part in the attack, with an additional 2.500 weapons and equipment.
Russian forces intensified the attack on the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk after they announced that they had captured Liman. Local media reported a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense confirming that full control had been taken over Liman, west of Sievierodonetsk, while Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, claimed that the battle for Liman was continuing.
Although Russia's progress is not dramatic, it is persistent and reflects a new strategy. Attempts to expand the encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Donbas have been abandoned, including the failed crossing of the Seversky Donets River in early May, and Russian units are instead focusing on smaller encirclements - or "boilers" - as well as the city of Sievierodonetsk, where Gaidai reportedly damaged 90 percent of buildings.
This was confirmed by the spokesman of the separatist Donetsk operational command, Eduard Basurin, who said that the Russian forces adopted the tactic of creating smaller hoops around the Ukrainian forces in order to deny them logistics and reinforcements instead of trying to surround them on one big field. Russia's efforts in Donbas are also aided by a shorter supply line across the border, as well as a dense network of railway lines in parts of Luhansk occupied by pro-Russian forces in 2014, while forces previously involved in a failed attempt to capture Kyiv continue to arrive. The change in tactics came after Putin appointed General Aleksandr Dvornikov as commander-in-chief of the fighting. The infamous "butcher from Syria", according to the "Guardian", also commanded a motorized division that devastated Grozny in Chechnya in the late 1990s. Dvornikov applied the same tactics to Ukraine.
Nick Reynolds, a Russian warfare expert at the RUSI Institute, says the Russians have "progressively reoriented their operations toward increasingly modest targets" allowing them to occupy villages like Popasna and Rubizhne, although he points out that "their ground forces are still not showing up" , which shows their reliance on artillery.
Weapons are always needed
But not everyone is convinced of that. Nervous Kyiv continues to appeal to the West to send even more powerful weapons. The last time the Ukrainian authorities asked for multi-barrel long-range missile launchers M270, and on Friday, after several weeks of stretching, it seems that the United States is finally ready to provide that.
The M270 launchers come in many versions but can use missiles with a range of over 165 kilometers, while the British version has a limit of about 80 km. Both are still better than anything Ukraine has and would be a significant addition to Kyiv's arsenal.
Ukrainian MP Kira Rudnik said that Ukraine always needs weapons, pointing out that her country and the West should not underestimate Russia now, just because its forces have not made significant progress in Donbas until this week. Rudnik said that she talks to the soldiers at the front every day and that the current problem is that it can take two or more months until the promised weapons from the West arrive.
Ukraine's main problem is that, although it repulsed attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv in the first phase of the invasion, it was unable to recoup territorial losses in the south and east of the country. This means that Ukraine has suffered much greater human and economic losses than Russia.
Russia, meanwhile, hopes to reopen the port of Mariupol, which is fully occupied after nearly three months of siege and cleared of mines, to launch a new supply line for the occupied south. On Saturday, for the first time since the occupation, a cargo ship entered the port.
A spokesman for the port said that 2.700 tons of metal would be loaded on the ship, which would be transported 160 kilometers east to Rostov-on-Don. The Ukrainian ombudsman for human rights, Lyudmila Denisova, assessed that this operation was a robbery carried out by Russia.
"Russia ready for a long war"
The threat to Kyiv is the fatigue of the West and the disruption of the unity of the allies, especially if the war continues next year. Countries that are traditionally less hostile to Russia could put pressure on Ukraine to agree to territorial division, as diplomatic veteran Henry Kissinger suggested at a summit in Davos this week.
There are signs that Russia is satisfied with the current rate of progress. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on Tuesday that the offensive was slowed down "intentionally, in order to avoid civilian casualties". According to the "Guardian", that also suggests that Russia is ready for a longer war. Phil Osborne, the former head of the British intelligence defense service, told the "Guardian" that the military situation is such that Ukraine needs all the help it can get.
The West must constantly focus on Ukraine and be prepared for losses. Putin reckons we will be more and more distracted (just look at how the news is changing and how the voices of 'reason' suggest Zelensky to agree to concessions) and given that Putin has more patience than the West", Osborne concluded.