Stronger military efforts by Russian forces in the east of Ukraine would make sense but they’ll have to fight hard to maintain control, a defence expert has said.
As Russian troops face fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces in key cities like Kyiv, the Kremlin now says it will refocus its efforts on the Donbas region.
But in a visit to Warsaw today, President Joe Biden said he is “not sure they have” when asked if he believed the Russians have changed strategy in Ukraine.
Many experts, however, have said that Vladimir Putin’s original war aims focused on regime change – but his troops have made limited progress, particularly in key areas like the capital.
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First phase of invasion ‘complete’
Despite setbacks, Russia’s General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate claims they’ve accomplished the first stage and will now focus on the “main goal” of controlling the Donbas region.
‘Liberation of Donbas’
The Donbas region, located in the east of Ukraine bordering Russia, is largely controlled by separatists and is made up of two areas – Luhansk and Donetsk.
The Russian defence ministry said Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93% of Ukraine’s Luhansk region and 54% of the Donetsk region.
Donetsk and Luhansk declared self-independence in 2014 and have engaged in ongoing fighting with Ukrainian government forces since then.
Russia will ‘have to fight’ to hold Donbas
Defence and security analyst Michael Clarke said it would make sense for the Russians to concentrate their forces in the Donbas, but if they take control they’d have to fight hard to keep it.
“At the moment, they’re all stuck. The Ukrainians are successfully countering them and hitting back and pushing them back, which is remarkable”, he said.
He added that even if Putin decides to take Donbas, Ukrainian forces will put up a fierce resistance.
“I don’t think Ukraine would accept it because they are actually now in the ascendant politically and the rest of the world will back whatever the Ukrainian government can live with”, he said.
US says Donbas move used for leverage
In response to hints from the Kremlin about Russia prioritising Donbas, a senior US defence official said the move could be used to build leverage in negotiations to cut off Ukrainian forces in the rest of the country.
They added that the US was seeing that Russia had made the Donbas area “a higher priority on their list”.
Russia continues to besiege key cities
Russian forces are continuing to besiege a number of cities including Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv, which are subject to heavy fighting with severe human costs.
According to authorities in Ukraine, around 300 people were killed after a bomb hit a theatre in Mariupol last Wednesday – which would make it the war’s deadliest attack on civilians.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said today that 10 human corridors had been confirmed for the day across the country – this did not include Mariupol.
The UK’s defence ministry said Russian forces are preferring to rely on air and artillery bombardments and are likely to continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas, to limit its own losses.
A map from the ministry posted on Twitter, shows Kyiv continuing to be encircled, as well as predicting advances into more cities in the north and south of the country by Russian troops.