Can the Ukrainian army defend Donbass?

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Faced with the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, which began on April 18, in which bloody fighting has intensified in recent days, the massed Ukrainian forces immediately intend to defend the Donbass. Can they really stand up to Russian steam guns? decoding.

While the expected Russian offensive in Donbass began on Monday, April 18, Russia, which announced on March 25 that it now intends to focus its efforts on the east of the country, has been intensifying its operations in this war zone since 2014. Part of it is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

“This new phase of the war has been announced,” confirms General Dominique Trinquand, former head of the French military mission to the United Nations, guest discussion France 24. “Having had several axes of attack for four weeks including Kyiv and Kharkiv. Having experienced setbacks, the Russian army decided to focus on the Donbass, which is understandable from a strategic point of view. ”

However, the question arises, according to him, whether the Russians have the means to penetrate and circumvent the Ukrainian defense. “That’s the basic question,” said the general.

Time is running out for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hopes to achieve great success in Ukraine before May 9, the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, and the traditional military parade that is organized every year on the occasion on Red Square. .

“Russian General Alexander Dvornikov, who was recently appointed head of all participating armed forces of Ukraine, has only two and a half weeks to complete his task, that is, to achieve victory before May 9, it is too short,” General Dominic Trinquand said.

Dubbed by US general and former CIA chief David Petraeus, Alexander Dvornikov is known as the “Butcher of Syria,” for spearheading Russia’s heavy bombing strategy in Syria. His reputation as a soldier who would do anything to achieve his ends made people fear the worst in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian army equipped since 2014

A “rather short” time, while the Ukrainian army does not intend to let it pass in the Donbass. “No matter how many Russian soldiers are brought here, we will fight,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “We will defend ourselves.”

According to experts, Ukrainian soldiers are able to thwart the plans of the Kremlin in the east of the country.

“Since 2014, the Ukrainian army – who knows this entire region by heart – has been preparing for this front, which explains the Russian advance in the east from the Crimea and not from the Donbass,” assures the former head of the French army’s mission to the United Nations.

“If at the beginning of the invasion the Russian army advanced very quickly and invaded areas in southern Ukraine, in the Donbass on the other hand, then it occupied very little territory. It was not even able to capture Marinka and Avdiivka, the two Donetsk vassal towns which remained in the hands of the Ukrainians since 2014”, recalls Gulliver Cragg, France 24 correspondent in Kyiv. He added that “the Russian forces bombed them very intensively, but they are unable to advance, which speaks of the readiness of the Ukrainians in this region to deal with the attacks.”

In this new phase of the war, Dominic Trenkande explains, Russian soldiers would therefore find themselves facing Ukrainian positions “extremely well-prepared for eight years, i.e. buried and overwhelmed with firing plans, reserve positions and capabilities of reinforcement and counterattack on enemy positions”.

Decentralization of the battle is the key

The general explains that two Russian maneuvers are currently underway to take the Donbass into a pincer movement, in order to reduce the Donbass pocket. “One of them is the direct attack of the Ukrainian defense from east to west on three axes. If one of these axes allows a breakthrough, the Russians will send reserves and reinforcements there,” he said. The second is to surround the Ukrainian forces and isolate them from the reinforcements coming from the west, and this is the maneuver that starts from Izyum in the east and descends towards the south, so as to surround the beautiful Ukrainian flower. The army that has been there since 2014 that has very well-equipped positions and a lot of weapons.”

Front on April 19, 2022. © France 24

However, the Ukrainians did not remain spectators in the face of these maneuvers. “In recent days, the Ukrainian army launched a counterattack in the Kharkiv region, cutting off the rear of the Russian columns that were advancing towards the Donbass,” continues General Dominic Trinkande. “It is the preferred strategy of the Ukrainians which is to isolate the Russian forces from their logistics. They, once deprived of fuel or ammunition, stop dying where they are, and are unable to go any further.”

According to him, the “decentralization of combat is the key to the Ukrainians” whose army showed a certain ability to adapt and pragmatism on the battlefield. “Being able to make a decision and carry out your fight once you are in an area and knowing what effect you want to have when the Russian army is so centralized and deployed its resources like a steam apron.”

Finally, in order to be able to defend the Donbass, Western military aid could partially balance the fighting. “It must be remembered that the assistance provided to Ukraine dates back to 2014, both in the form of training and equipment. And if the Ukrainian army was very brave, it must be recognized today, because it, too, was trained and equipped,” concludes the general. “Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, arms shipments have continued to arrive in the country, but we must not forget all the other support such as intelligence and satellite images provided by the West, which are no less important than the weapons and which allowed the Ukrainians to score points.”

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