Why Russia’s looming offensive in eastern Ukraine may be different – and crucial

As for the battle itself, Kuleba warns that it could be very different from the intense street fighting around Kiev and could look more like World War II, with engagement across open fields and plains, with thousands of tanks, planes and armored vehicles. Ukraine is desperate for Western allies to supply more of these war machines sooner rather than later.

Russia’s invasion has slowly pushed Ukrainian fighters back into some areas, securing about 90 percent of the Luhansk region, said Nick Reynolds, a land war analyst at the London-based think tank RUSI.

Ukraine’s troops have stuck more robustly in Donetsk, which along with Luhansk forms the Donbas region, part of which was seized by Russia-backed separatists in 2014. A significant Ukrainian contingent has been dug in since then.

Ukraine will most likely try to avoid open tank battles by using artillery to target supply lines and equipment and send attack teams to attack convoys and logistics lines, analysts tell Reuters.

“The result of the fight may be that both sides will be hit to the point where neither of them will be able to carry out an offensive or a counter-offensive,” said Konrad Muzyka, director of Rochan, a consulting firm based in Poland. .

“Ukrainians want to defend their country to the last man.”

The Donbas border Russia to the north and east and are Ukraine’s industrial hub – its name is taken from the “Donet’s Coal Basin” – and ethnic Russians make up about 39 percent of the population, according to Ukraine’s 2001 census.

Some commentators believe Putin wants to take the southern and eastern parts of the country as a way to force Ukraine to perhaps make concessions in peace talks or to gain control of its arms industry and prevent its access to the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.

The fight for Mariupol

Mariupol, the central port city that has already experienced some of the most intense fighting in the entire war, could be the scene of a decisive battle in the coming days.

Its mayor, Vadym Boychenko, has said more than 10,000 civilians have died in the city since the siege began, claiming that Russian forces have used temporary crematoria in the backs of trucks to dispose of the large number of bodies.

With increasing pressure on the city’s last military defenders and their supplies declining, Russia claimed on Wednesday that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines had surrendered.

NBC News has not confirmed the claim or the number of people killed.

But the city will not go down without a fight, experts say.

“The [Russian-backed forces] tried to take Mariupol several times over the last eight years, ”said Olga Onuch, an expert in Ukrainian politics at the University of Manchester.

“They have tried again and again and Mariupol still has not surrendered. And even if it does, there would be a setback in the future,” Onuch said, raising the prospect of a Ukrainian insurgency in the event of a major Russian victory there.

Russia has already suffered heavy losses. NATO estimates that at least 7,000 Russian troops were killed in the first month of the war, along with some important military generals, a figure that is now certainly far higher.

After fighting in the first phase of the war, Russia may not find it easier to seize and hold on to eastern Ukraine.

“The population in the eastern part of the country is much more mixed than in Crimea,” as Russia annexed in 2014, said Emmanuel Karagiannis, an international security expert at King’s College London. “The occupation of eastern Ukraine would put Moscow in a difficult situation. Situation to control a potentially hostile population.”

‘Secondly, eastern Ukraine does not have natural borders, unlike Crimea, which is an easily defensible peninsula. This factor would make the occupying forces vulnerable to cross-border attacks, ”he added.

So with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed as a defender of democracy around the world, and with no major city in Russian hands for nearly seven weeks inside this invasion, can turning east secure some sort of victory for Putin?

The conflict is “invincible”, according to Onuch, but is likely to continue for as long as Russia wants. “Just as propaganda calls this a ‘special operation’ rather than an extremely violent war aimed at civilians, the Kremlin can spin everything into a victory,” she said.

Putin can get some satisfaction, she added, from the prospect of destabilizing Ukraine and destroying its infrastructure, or by thwarting its desire to join NATO.

“To us it may seem irrational, but to him it is a means to an end,” she said. “If the means to his end is the complete destruction of Ukraine, then it will be extremely harsh.”

You can take territory, she said, but “you can not kill an idea.”

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