ANALYSIS-Putin takes Mariupol, but wider Donbass victory is out of reach
Even as the Kremlin prepares to take full control of the ruins of the city of Mariupol, it faces the growing prospect of defeat in its attempt to conquer all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass, as its badly maimed forces lack the manpower for significant progress.
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have to decide whether to send more troops and equipment to replenish his greatly weakened invasion force as an influx of modern Western weapons bolsters Ukraine’s combat power, according to reports. analysts. The Russian forces are unlikely to be defeated quickly, even if no major new troop deployments materialize, paving the way for the four-week battle for Donbass.
“I think it will either be defeat with the current posture of the forces or mobilization. I don’t think there is common ground,” said Konrad Muzyka, director of Poland-based consultancy Rochan. . He and other analysts said the Russian invasion force was facing unsustainable troop and equipment losses, and their breakthrough window was shrinking, with Ukraine now bringing Western heavy artillery into the fray. .
“Time is definitely against the Russians. They lack equipment. They lack particularly advanced missiles. And, of course, the Ukrainians are getting stronger almost every day,” said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that “everything is going according to plan … there is no doubt that all goals will be achieved,” the RIA news agency reported.
But in an unusually critical comment on Russia’s main TV channel this week, a prominent military analyst said the Russians should stop swallowing “informative tranquilizers” about what Putin calls a special military operation. With the increasing flow of US and European arms supplies to Ukrainian forces, “the situation will frankly get worse for us,” said Mikhail Khodaryonok, a retired colonel.
AZOVSTAL FALLS Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in a failed campaign to seize the capital, kyiv. He then withdrew to focus on a “second phase” announced on April 19 to capture the south and all of Donbass, part of which has been held by Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
Russia retained its land corridor in southern Ukraine but was hampered by Ukrainian troops who resisted heavy shelling for 82 days at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol before ending their resistance this week . Meanwhile, Putin’s forces pushed against fortified and hardened Ukrainian positions to the east, while trying to cut them off in a massive encirclement by advancing south from the Ukrainian city of Izium.
About a third of Donbass was held by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion. Moscow now controls around 90% of the Luhansk region, but has failed to make major inroads to the key cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in Donetsk to expand control over the entire region. “I am deeply skeptical about their prospects” of conquering all of Donbass, said Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at CNA, a US nonprofit research and analysis organization.
“They are dealing with a greatly weakened force, probably with greatly reduced morale. There is a weak desire among officers to keep trying to continue the offensives and the Russian political leadership as a whole seems to be dithering even as it faces strategic defeat itself.” he said. Muzyka said Russia appeared to be changing direction in Donbass and moved battalion tactical groups east after failing to breach Ukrainian defenses in Donetsk.
“They couldn’t get through from Izium, so they moved to Sievierodonetsk and Lyman, perhaps with the aim of trying to surround the Ukrainian forces around Sievierodonetsk and Lyman. Whether that happens or not is a whole other matter,” he said. General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian army chief of staff, visited the frontline this month with the apparent aim of ironing out the problems, but there is no evidence that he succeeded. said Jack Keane, president of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. .
“This offensive is indeed at a standstill,” he said. North of the Donbass, kyiv launched a counteroffensive near the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, which cleared Russian forces of fire from the country’s second largest city and even reaches the border at one place.
Muzyka said Ukraine could secure a significant part of its border with Russia north of Kharkiv this week. But Ukraine will not be able to replicate this rapid advance in the Donbass where Russian troops are much more densely concentrated.
“It’s going to be a tough fight. It’s going to be a tough fight and potentially a long fight. The Russian army didn’t do well on the offensive, but they don’t rout or surrender easily either,” Kofman said. “ARTILLERY WAR”
The influx of Western heavy weapons, including dozens of American – and some Canadian – M777 howitzers that have longer ranges than their Russian equivalents, could give Ukraine an edge in a war that has revolved around artillery duels. “The Ukrainians are starting to overtake the Russians. This means they are able to operate without the threat of counter-battery fire from the Russians,” Muzyka said.
“Don’t get me wrong, the Russians still enjoy the overall superiority of artillery in terms of numbers, but I don’t know if the same is true for quality now… It’s an artillery war . Muzyka and Kofman said that even if Putin sent more troops, such a move could take months to organise.
“It’s very clear that they are preparing for at least some kind of action to call up men with previous service experience. But right now, from what I can tell, Putin is just giving a thumbs up. stepping into the street and letting the situation within the Russian military actually get worse,” Kofman said. “Right now,” he said, “this looks like the Russians’ latest offensive.”
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