The Battle of the Donbas

The Second Stage of the War: the Course and Consequences

 

 

Ivan Sichen

Recently, the beginning and course of the so-called great battle of the Donbas has been the main factor influencing the development of the situation around Russia’s war against Ukraine. As you know, Russian troops have intensified offensive operations in the East and South of our country, aimed at establishing control over the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions, creating a buffer zone along them, as well as expanding the land corridor to Crimea.

However, despite Russia’s concentration of most of its forces in the Donbas, it failed to achieve decisive success. Fighting in the East and South of Ukraine has taken a protracted positional form, as has been the case in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Mykolayiv. That is why Moscow is unlikely to be able to achieve its goals in the second stage of the war. The battles that are taking place now will be crucial both for the present and the future of our country. Given the fundamental importance of this issue, we will analyze it in more detail.

 

So, what is happening in the East and South of Ukraine and in what can the fighting in these regions end? In principle, developments are known from the reports of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, speeches by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities and experts’ assessments. However, these estimates are quite fragmented, which requires their generalization in a single system.

Thus, today – during the second stage of Russia’s war against Ukraine – the offensive of Russian troops is focused on several main and auxiliary directions.

Main directions:

  • from the area of Izyum – towards the Sea of Azov in order to surround the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas or, at least, to prevent the possibility of their redeployment to other areas;
  • from “DPR” and “LPR” – towards Severodonetsk, Popasna, Rubizhne, Kramatorsk, Slovyansk and Maryinka in order to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as to destroy or cause critical losses to the above-mentioned Ukrainian forces;
  • from the “DPR” and the South of Zaporizhzhya region – towards the city of Mariupol in order to capture it completely.

Auxiliary directions:

  • in Kharkiv region – from Kupyansk towards Balakleya;
  • in Zaporizhzhya region – from the town of Polohy towards the town of Huliaipole and surrounding settlements;
  • in Kherson region – towards administrative borders with Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

The aim of the actions of the Russian Armed Forces in all the auxiliary directions is to improve the tactical positions of its troops, as well as to restrain Ukrainian forces.

In total, Russia has involved about 90,000 troops directly in the war zone. Up to 30,000 troops make up the operational reserve of the Russian Armed Forces near the Ukrainian border in Belgorod, Voronezh and Rostov regions, as well as in the North Caucasus. Most of these units were withdrawn from the North of Ukraine or formed from remnants of Russian military resources.

It should be noted that Russia has not been able to establish an effective command system for its troops in Ukraine, as well as to organize their uninterrupted logistics. In fact, the tactics of the Russian troops remained the same as before. Its basic principles have not changed since the First and Second World Wars and provide for the suppression of the enemy by a total advantage in strength and means, despite own losses.

 

However, in the conditions of the war in Ukraine, such an advantage does not allow Russia to win a decisive victory. Evidence of this is the development of events in all sections of the front in the East and South of our state. In none of them did Moscow succeed in achieving not only strategic but even operational goals. There is only some tactical advance of Russian troops near some settlements in the Donbas.

Such “achievements” of the Russian army do not mean its real success. In fact, the Armed Forces of Ukraine use methods of mobile defense, which allow for tactical retreats in order to maintain their forces and inflict maximum losses on the enemy. One example is the temporary withdrawal of our units from Kamyanka near the town of Izyum, after which the Russian troops that entered it were destroyed by artillery fire.

Moreover, the Armed Forces of Ukraine turn to counterattacks where there is such a possibility or need. In particular, such offensives are being carried out south and east of Chuhuiv in Kharkiv region in order to repulse the enemy from Kharkiv, put pressure on Russian troops in the Izyum area, and threaten the logistics center of the Russian Armed Forces in Kupyansk.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine do not give up the principles of tough defense, either. For example, Ukrainian forces are fighting to the last in Mariupol, where the worst situation has developed. A powerful defense system has been established in the Donbas (in the areas of Severodonetsk, Popasna, Rubizhne, Kramatorsk and Slovyansk), around Kharkiv and in Zaporizhzhya region against the offensive of Russian troops (first of all, in the area of Huliaipole).

The same applies to western districts of Mykolayiv region and eastern and southern districts of Dnipropetrovsk region. Let us also mention the virtually impregnable coastal and anti-landing defense of the Black Sea coast of Odesa region.

So far, the Armed Forces of Ukraine cannot launch a full-scale offensive to liberate the Russian-occupied territories. However, according to the Adviser to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine O. Arestovych, after our state’s receiving the necessary weapons, such an offensive may take place by May 9, 2022.

Recall the results of a video call of NATO leaders and their partners on April 19, 2022, where a joint agreement was reached to prevent Russia’s military victory over Ukraine. In order to implement such a decision (before its official approval) for the needs of the Ukrainian forces, the supply of heavy weapons, including armored personnel carriers, tanks and artillery systems, has already begun. Besides, Ukraine received a batch of spare parts for aircrafts, which allowed to return to service more than 20 Ukrainian fighters and bombers that were in storage.

The agreement of some NATO members from Central and Eastern Europe to carry out free repairs of Ukrainian armored vehicles and other equipment at their plants is important for Ukraine. This form of assistance from our Western partners nullifies all of Russia’s efforts to destroy Ukraine’s defense industry.

 

In general, these circumstances determine the prospects for the battle of the Donbas and the further course of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Thus, given the available resources in the Russian Federation, the active phase of hostilities in the East of our country can last from two weeks to a month, without real success for Moscow. After, the following options are available for the development of the situation:

  • the final transition of the war into a phase of protracted armed confrontation in those positions that will be taken by the parties;
  • conducting a large-scale counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and liberating the occupied territories (or at least part of them). According to some media, Ukrainian reserves have already approached the battlefield in the East of our country;
  • Russia’s consent to continue negotiations, which will remain complex. However, according to their results, Moscow will be forced to make concessions to Ukraine.

By the way, why is Russia trying to achieve at least some success before Easter or May 9? Of course, these dates are sacramental for Russian society, both in terms of their religious feelings and neo-imperial sentiments. However, the objective reason is completely different. At the end of April and the beginning of May, Russia can expect a default, which will have critically negative consequences both for its economy and for the whole country. Therefore, Moscow needs at least some victory that would give it the opportunity to strengthen its position in negotiations with Ukraine in order to create the conditions for a cessation of hostilities and lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation.

The second part of the article:
“The Battle of the Donbas. Peculiarities of the Situation and Prospects for Its Development”

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