The battle of Donbas could prove decisive in Ukraine war

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News|Russia-Ukraine war

The battle of Donbas could prove decisive in Ukraine war

Russia’s focus in the conflict is now Donbas and a battle that could decide the direction of the entire war.

Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region
Ukrainian rockets are fired near the town of Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine [File: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

Published On 13 Jun 202213 Jun 2022

Day after day, Russia is pounding the Donbas region of Ukraine with relentless artillery and air raids, making slow but steady progress to seize the industrial heartland of its neighbour.

With the conflict now in its fourth month, it’s a high-stakes campaign that could dictate the course of the entire war.

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If Russia prevails in the battle of Donbas, it will mean that Ukraine loses not only land but perhaps the bulk of its most capable military forces, opening the way for Moscow to grab more territory and dictate its terms to Kyiv.

A Russian failure in the battle could lay the grounds for a Ukrainian counteroffensive – and possibly lead to political upheaval for the Kremlin.

Following botched early attempts in the invasion to capture Kyiv and the second-largest city of Kharkiv without proper planning and coordination, Russia turned its attention to the Donbas, a region of mines and factories where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Learning from its earlier missteps, Russia is treading more carefully there, relying on longer-range bombardments to soften Ukrainian defences.

It seems to be working: The better-equipped Russian forces have made gains in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up the Donbas, controlling more than 95 percent of the former and about half of the latter.

Ukraine is losing between 100 and 200 soldiers a day, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the BBC, as Russia has “thrown pretty much everything non-nuclear at the front”.

INTERACTIVE Russia-Ukraine War Who controls what in Donbas DAY 110
(Al Jazeera)

‘Extremely difficult’

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov described the combat situation as “extremely difficult”, using a reference to an ancient deity of sacrifice by saying: “The Russian Moloch has plenty of means to devour human lives to satisfy its imperial ego”.

When the war was going badly for Russia, many thought Russian President Vladimir Putin might claim victory after some gains in Donbas and then exit a conflict that has seriously bruised his country’s economy and stretched its resources.

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But the Kremlin has made clear it expects Ukraine to recognise all the gains Russia has made – including its 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula – something Kyiv has ruled out.

Russian forces control the entire Sea of Azov coast, including the strategic port of Mariupol, the entire Kherson region – a key gateway to Crimea – and a large chunk of the Zaporizhia region that could aid a further push deeper into Ukraine. Few expect that Putin will stop.

Western officials still praise the ability of Ukrainian forces to defend their country, fighting back fiercely, relying on artillery and retreating in some sections while launching frequent counterattacks.

A senior Western official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press news agency the Russian campaign “continues to be deeply troubled at all levels”, explaining how Moscow’s forces are taking “weeks to achieve even modest tactical goals such as taking individual villages”.

Last month, the Russians lost nearly an entire battalion in a botched attempt to cross the Siverskyi Donets River and set up a bridgehead. Hundreds were killed and dozens of armoured vehicles were destroyed.

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