Russian micro-fronts deplete Ukrainian forces in Donbas region

In eastern Ukraine, the Russian forces, outnumbered and better armed, have switched from the steamroller strategy to that of patient advance, which the kyiv forces can hardly resist under the current conditions.

"It’s not like 2014, there is no defined front along one axis"explains Iryna Rybakova, the press officer of the 93rd brigade of the Ukrainian forces, referring to the war with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region (east) eight years ago.

The Russian military created multiple ‘micro-fronts’, dispensing and exhausting the Ukrainian forces.

"There is a village of them, a village of ours. You have to see it as a chessboard"says the military officer, who acknowledges, more than two months after the start of the conflict, that Ukraine "does not currently have the ability to push back the enemy".

A quick victory for Russia seems out of the question, according to analysts, who credit Russian President Vladimir Putin with wanting to show off triumphantly at national ceremonies on May 9, when Russia commemorates victory over the Nazis.

Russian troops have taken the port of Mariupol (southeast), allowing them to open a land corridor to Kherson, further west, the only regional capital conquered since the start of the offensive on February 24.

But Donbas – the mining basin that encompasses the Donetsk and Lugansk regions that Russia says it wants "release" of the yoke of "nazis" Russophobes in power in Kiev – is far from over.

"Although there is some advance of the Russian troops on the ground, it is not very fast" Russian military analyst Alexandre Jramchijin tells AFP.

difficult advance

"In the Lugansk region (north of Donbas, ndlr), the objectives announced by Moscow are close to being achieved" the analyst continues. "But in Donetsk, progress is more difficult" add.

The front line, established since the 2015 peace accords, has not changed in these two months of offensive.

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But for some analysts, the Russian advance seems irreversible.

"It’s too late for us"says a Ukrainian soldier at an armor repair center.

The offensive is concentrated in the north of the region: Moscow is gradually closing a pincer, which descends towards Kramatorsk – "capital" de facto kyiv-controlled Donbas – from Izium, a northern Ukrainian city conquered in early April.

The Russian troops this time have in their favor – contrary to the offensive against kyiv at the beginning of the war – the advantage of direct logistical continuity with their rear.

Proof of the prevailing pessimism, is that everything is ready to slow down the advance of the Russian troops: an abandoned train at the level crossings, mining of road infrastructure, anti-tank obstacles on the roads.

Disproportion

Regarding weapons, in the midst of the great plains of the region and the industrial cities, the confrontation is carried out through artillery, "Goddess of War"in an expression consecrated by Stalin.

But the relationship of forces remains extremely disproportionate, until "five times superior in terms of material"according to Irina Terehovich, a 40-year-old sergeant of the Ukrainian 123rd Brigade.

The "closing" from the sky by NATO, long awaited by kyiv, has not taken place. And Ukraine only has a few Su-24 and Su-25 planes left to attack Russian positions.

On the ground, the Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbas would be between 40,000 and 50,000, according to analysts. Moscow does not communicate about its forces in presence.

Even if they hold out, many Ukrainian infantrymen feel overwhelmed by events.

"Viking"a 27-year-old sergeant, is demoralized, and his exhausted men await an order to retreat.

"If it was an infantry vs. infantry war, we’d have our chances. But here it is mainly an artillery war, and we don’t have enough material" says the soldier.

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