Russia’s offensive in Donbass: Can Ukraine hold out?

Since that night, the Russian army has been bombing several areas of Donbass in an attempt to gain control of this area, facing a Ukrainian army ready to besiege.

On Tuesday, Moscow said it had carried out about 10 strikes in eastern Ukraine, after it officially launched its offensive in Donbass on Monday, 55 days after the conflict began. The Ukrainian authorities, for their part, called on the population to flee this “hell” despite the lack of humanitarian corridors.

In recent weeks, after failing to capture the Kyiv metropolitan area, the Russian military campaign has refocused the Donbass Basin, an area at war since 2014, the eastern part of which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Most of the Russian and Ukrainian forces are currently concentrated in this region.

“Now we can say that the Russian troops have begun the battle of Donbass, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now devoted to this offensive,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday evening. “No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight. We will defend ourselves,” he said.

‘It’s a new war’

“It is a new attack and a new war” that began on Tuesday, explains Emmanuel Dupuy, head of the Institute for Foresight and Security in Europe (IPSE) at BFMTV. “We can clearly see that for 55 days the Russians have not been able to get the decisive decision. But this is a new major phase” in the war, reiterating on BFMTV General Jerome Belestrandi.

After the failure of the capture of Kyiv, this new front includes new goals, which will be acquired by May 9. This date was introduced several times, because it is the day of the Russian Armistice of World War II, the day of celebration of the victory over Nazi Germany, and which Vladimir Putin wishes to celebrate his victory over Ukraine, or at least part of the country.

“It is estimated that about 76 Russian battalions have been assembled, including 11 in the past few days, so this is already a new key stage for the Russians, they should get a final decision,” the general repeats.

Thus, the restoration of all Donbass, the occupation of neighboring lands, especially over the Crimea, can be seen, or at least said, as a victory for the Russian people.

Status of the Russian attack on Ukrainian territory as of April 18, 2022
Status of the Russian attack on Ukrainian territory as of April 18, 2022 © Ministry of the Armed Forces

“If the war ends today, then the Russians have won. They occupied part of the Ukrainian lands, and even if the war froze over the next ten years, today they have more space than they did.” War,” says General Nicolas Richeau, formerly at the head of the 7th Armored Brigade, on our antenna.

What are the chances of Ukraine?

But the immediately assembled Ukrainian forces were ready to fight. It’s hard to know how many soldiers are currently in this area, facing roughly 70,000 Russian soldiers. However, for General Nicholas Richeau, even if their number was less, the advantage could still be with Ukraine.

Under these conditions, for him, “70,000 men is not so great. In order to be able to defeat an established army since 2014, you need a balance of forces of 1:3 to 1:5 as a minimum,” he explains on our antenna. “I think that [les Russes] He can only aspire to an attack with limited results right now.”

On the other hand, Russian soldiers have been at war for nearly two months in a foreign country, and “these battle groups have been exhausted for the past 55 days,” as General Jerome Belistrandi explains, “there has been no break in operations. So it is not Surely these seventy thousand men will be able to hold out for a long time, especially if the Ukrainian resistance is strong. ”

Indeed, in this region, despite the fatigue of soldiers after two months of the war, “the Ukrainian army has units that have already been in contact since 2014, which know their opponent perfectly, and which have been strengthened by the mobilization of regional militias, reservists. Then they got weapons, especially defensive ”, recently. “Ukrainian forces regrouped, modernized with the contribution of foreign armament,” Emmanuel Dupuy recounts.

Finally, the front line extends for more than 500 kilometers, an important area that is difficult to fully control.

Russia “pounds then go ahead”

However, before getting there, Russia, which has a large artillery, fights by attacking the area from the sky, covering the ground with bombs to open the passage for its forces on the ground. It is also about inflicting maximum damage on the opponent while keeping his forces from fighting.

The main front line at the moment is above the town of Kramatorsk, in the municipalities of Kremina, Robizhny and Popasna, which the Russians are trying to take as follows: “We cover with bombs and we will try to advance after that,” sums up Patrick Suss, BFMTV’s international political columnist. “It’s very classic, from World War I: we bomb and then we advance,” General Richeau also explains, and “this can preform a ground offensive.”

“The Russians are stepping up their airstrikes and artillery fire in the Donbass and in the south, especially toward Mariupol,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby explained. They are “doing what we call shaping, trying to create the conditions for more aggressive, open, and more significant ground maneuvers.”

According to the testimonies of the local authorities, Russia is already attacking all the infrastructure on the site. “At the moment, all villages and towns under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region, without exception, are bombed, and not a single place is safe,” the governor of the Luhansk region, Sergey, said Tuesday on our air. Gaïdaï.

According to Patrick Seuss, it appears that, for the time being, Russian forces are trying to “chomp” the territory little by little. “We will fight with the idea of ​​advancing a front, maybe a few kilometers, and it may last,” he said. The civilians who managed to escape left to avoid confrontation, and at once the fighters prepared for a siege. This is how our special correspondents in Kramatorsk describe the trenches dug by Ukrainian soldiers, or reinforced infrastructures to block the advance of Russian tanks.

Because then, “it will be a ground battle” between two heavily armed camps. “We will end as in the Second World War, with battles with tanks and motorized infantry, it will be a massacre on both sides,” General Belistrandi stated, “The coming days will see large quantities of equipment and men who will compete.”

No peace in the short term

“None of the major Ukrainian cities, except for Mariupol, have fallen at the moment,” notes Emmanuel Dupuy, adding however that the fall of Mariupol “is imminent. We can already say that Mariupol has fallen, only the last square of resistance at the Azovstal plant.” But “the goal is to arrive on May 9 with a symbolic victory” for Russia, which means “occupied cities.” He cites for example the city of Kramatorsk, “an important place, it is the administrative capital of Donetsk Oblast”.

“Failure to take Kyiv, the cruiser Moskva sank … the Russian army goes from failure to failure, from humiliation to humiliation, even if it achieves tactical successes on the ground,” advances General Pelestrandi, “Putin, at some point, must be done hold them accountable.”

In this sense, it is difficult to easily imagine the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, without achieving major victories.

“Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goals have not changed, and control of Ukraine remains the ultimate goal,” explains Patrick Seuss. “Anyway, the Russians are there, you cannot imagine that once Donbass is taken, if it is captured, they will go home. That is why we are very afraid in the medium and long term. There may be a ceasefire, but it is difficult to see a medium-term peace treaty”.

Salome Vincendon

Salome Vincendon BFMTV journalist

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