Russia expands its hold on Ukraine's East, setting the stage to war's next phase

Russians now control the last Ukrainian fortress in an important eastern province.

04 July 2022 Monday 16:19
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Russia expands its hold on Ukraine's East, setting the stage to war's next phase

Russians now control the last Ukrainian fortress in an important eastern province.

Vladimir Putin's victory in Luhansk may not only be a boost to his public image but could also mark a significant development on the battlefield that could help set the stage for future decisive battles.

Ukraine acknowledged that its troops had pulled out of Lysychansk just over a week ago, after having withdrew from Sievierodonetsk, its twin city. While Kyiv claimed that the retreat was an attempt to conserve manpower while it faces a long war, Moscow declared a major victory.

Russian state media focused on Lysychansk's fall Monday as Putin met with Sergei Shoigu for a rare face-to-face televised meeting to express gratitude to the soldiers and Ukrainian separatist forces that captured Luhansk. It was captured in space photos and propaganda videos.

Kremlin forces were already planning to move further in Donetsk's neighbor, which together with Luhansk forms the industrial region known the Donbas. So attention turned toward the possibility of a Russian invasion.

"The loss in Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, and other cities is significant," stated Michael A. Horowitz (the head of intelligence at Le Beck), geopolitical analyst and security analyst.

He said, "On the ground the war is still not won."

Russia has taken control of half the eastern industrial heartland, where it had been focusing its war for many months, with the fall of Lysychansk.

However, Moscow may consider it such, but Ukraine's withdrawal doesn't yet amount to a strategic breakthrough by Russia, according to Neil Melvin, director of international security studies for the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Melvin said that for this claim to be true, there would have to be evidence that the Ukrainian defenses collapsed and Russia was rapidly pushing into Ukraine. This also happens as Ukraine is making progress elsewhere, building towards a counteroffensive against the occupied South and forcing Russians out of a key Black Sea outpost last week.

He said that Ukraine had lost some territory, and Russia must be prevented from gaining significant momentum.

The Kremlin has been focusing its attention for months on capturing the entire Donbas, a region rich in minerals that was partially controlled by Moscow-backed separatists before the invasion.

Its forces have made incremental gains in the face of an artillery bombardment that has decimated many villages and towns throughout the region. After a series embarrassing setbacks, Putin now has perhaps the most important military achievements in Ukraine.

This victory is one that Putin can "sell" to his domestic audience to show that the Kremlin's "special military operation" in Ukraine has made progress, despite heavy battlefield casualties. Horowitz stated that it is a victory that Putin could "sell" domestically. This gives Putin more time to think about what next, and decide whether he wants the Donbas to be seized or if he wants to go on a longer-lasting war with wider aims.

According to observers, Moscow will have a stronger base from which it can launch more aggressive attacks on Donetsk.

"Luhansk is gone, but Russia won't get Donbas until Russia takes the rest," stated Michael Clarke, a professor in war studies at King's College London.

As they attack Russian fuel and ammunition stores, the Western-supplied weapons will allow them to strike further behind Russian lines, Clarke stated that the Ukrainian troops are likely heading towards the Donetsk cities of Slovyansk or Kramatorsk.

According to the Institute for the Study of War (a U.S-based military think tank), Russian forces are likely to next attack Siversk, which is located just 15 miles west of Lysychansk. The Institute for the Study of War also stated that the Russians may launch additional attacks on Bakhmut and Slovyansk.

Six people were killed in heavy shelling at Slovyansk on Sunday. This could indicate Russia's next target.

According to state news agency Tass, Putin suggested that troops who had fought in Lysychansk could take a strategic break to rest and "increase" their combat abilities.

Horowitz stated that capturing Donetsk's rest will prove more difficult.

"In March, Russia had already controlled upto 85% of Luhansk. However, it only controls about half of Donetsk right now -- and it took months to capture the last 15% of Luhansk."

This means that supplies of Western arms are crucial.



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