It was a question of when and not whether the remaining Ukrainian units in the eastern city of Severodonetsk would be withdrawn.
Over the past several weeks, Russian forces have simply destroyed every defensive position the Ukrainians have adopted, pushing them into a few square blocks in and around the city’s Azot chemical plant.
Ukrainian forces held out at Severodonetsk much longer than many observers expected, forcing the Russians and their allies to allocate resources to the city that might have been used to press the offensive elsewhere.
But it is clear that the Ukrainian military has made a decision that there is nothing else to defend – and that the hundreds of civilians sheltering at the plant are being put at greater risk with each passing day.
According to the War Institute, a US think tank that closely follows the campaign, “Severodonetsk’s loss is a loss for Ukraine in the sense that any terrain captured by Russian forces is a loss—but the Battle of Severodonetsk will not be a decisive Russian victory.”
The battle now moves across the Siverskiy Donets to Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk under the control of Ukrainian forces. And there are already indications that the Russians will use the same ruthless tactic of bombing the region to destroy Ukrainian forces, deploying fighter jets, multiple launch missile systems and even short-range ballistic missiles like the Tochka-U.
Serhiy Heidi, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, noted on Friday: “There is a lot of military equipment. According to our information, no less than six Tochka-Us left in the direction of Lysychansk only from Starobilsk. One of them is enough destructive power – six disaster perfect “.
The loss of Severodonetsk—and perhaps Lysychansk in the coming days—may have been appreciated in Ukrainian accounts, given the enormous firepower of the Russian forces and the apparent improvement in Russian logistics since the abandonment of the campaign against Kyiv. But every town and city that is defended provides an opportunity to weaken the enemy.
There are still large areas of the neighboring Donetsk region under Ukrainian control. The Regional Military Administration says that about 45% of Donetsk is under the control of Ukrainian forces, including the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
There are not many obvious defensive positions west of Lysychansk, in the area of open countryside. Ukrainian leaders will have to decide whether it is better to abandon the entire enclave — which has been bravely defended for weeks — for a stronger defense of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, Donetsk’s industrial belt.
The question is whether the losses inflicted on Russian forces in recent weeks will weaken their ability and willingness to gobble up more territory, especially as Ukraine deploys more accurate Western weapons such as the HIMARS missile systems.
Likewise, it is not clear whether the punishment to which Ukrainian units have been subjected in the Donbass region over the past two months has provided them with sufficient resources to launch counterattacks against the Russian flanks (they also tried against Russian forces advancing from the Kharkiv region in the north.)
The Kremlin has not deviated from its ultimate goal of capturing both Donetsk and Luhansk. She now has almost all of the latter. It will take weeks, possibly months, to complete the Special Military Operation, if at all. It has become a classic war of attrition.
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