While Russia is taking an “operational pause” in the Donbass, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are destroying large ammunition depots “behind the enemy lines”. Although Russian troops reportedly prepare to seize more territory, it remains highly uncertain if Moscow is capable to achieve any of its military goals in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his country “has not yet started anything seriously in Ukraine”. Indeed, five months after Russia launched its so-called special military operation, Ukraine has become a heavily militarized country. The United States and its allies continue providing Kyiv with precise artillery systems, and it seems to be a matter of time before Ukraine gets fighter jets. As a result, in the past ten days at least a dozen Russian ammunition depots have been destroyed all over the Donbass and southern Ukraine. It became quite obvious that “demilitarization of Ukraine” – one of alleged Putin’s goals – was just another empty phrase that the Kremlin was using during the “first stage” of its “special military operation”.
Putin now insists that Moscow will continue “helping the Donbass”. In reality, Russia cannot protect Donetsk from the constant Ukrainian shelling. Many locals have already left the capital of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), quite aware that they cannot count on Russia’s help. Meanwhile, the authorities of the Russian-backed entity continue conducting a general mobilization, given that Russia and its Donbass allies desperately lack manpower. The problem, however, is that a number of DPR troops are being deployed to the Russian-controlled Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in southern Ukraine, instead of defending their homes in the Donbass. Thus, in case Ukraine eventually attempts to storm Donetsk, it his entirely possible that it will manage to establish control over a significant part of the city.
In order to relatively successfully protect Donetsk and Horlivka – the two largest cities in the region – Russian and the DPR forces would need to seize the towns of Avdiivka, Niu York, as well as villages of Pisky and Marinka. Given those places are heavily fortified, it would take months for Russia to capture them, while its troops would undoubtedly suffer enormous losses. Even if the strategically important towns and villages are eventually in Russian hands, that does not mean that the Donbass, as well as cities in Western Russia, will be safe from the Ukrainian strikes.
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Now that Ukraine has the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) – which already proved to be very efficient – its forces will likely continue destroying strategically important facilities dozens of miles behind the front lines. Russia, for its part, will continue threatening to strike “decision-making centers” in Kyiv, but in reality Moscow will unlikely dare to make such a move any time soon. It is entirely possible the Kremlin fears that if it destroys administrative buildings in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv can retaliate by seizing Transnistria, sandwiched between Ukraine in the East and Moldova in the West. Therefore, Moscow continues calculating and implementing half-measures in Ukraine.
In order to win the war, Russia would have to completely charge its military and political approach. To start, it would need to declare at least a partial mobilization, which would include a transition to a war economy. Given the Russian neo-liberal economy is run by oligarchs – most of whom have close ties with Western powers – it is not surprising the Kremlin hesitates from taking a step in that direction. There are indications that Moscow attempts to implement “special economic measures” in order to prepare the country’s economy for a long war against Ukraine. For the time being, however, Russia will almost certainly continue conducting a “covert mobilization” campaign, which means that no drastic measures will be implemented any time soon.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin will have to spend billions on the reconstruction of the Donbass, which will have a significant impact on the Russian sanction-hit economy. Sooner or later, however, if it aims to at least save face in Ukraine, Moscow will have to make some very painful political and economic changes.
One of the major reasons for Russia’s debacle in the Eastern European country is a lack of political will to “fight until victory”. To this day, the Russian military has not destroyed a single bridge on the Dniepr River, which means that Ukraine continues to freely supply Western-made weapons to its forces in the southeast of the country. Although Russian generals demonstrated an extremely high level of incompetence on several occasions, the major problem for Russia is an incompetent political, rather than military leadership. The Kremlin, unlike Kyiv, does not seem willing to “fight until the end”, but reportedly seeks to reach a compromise with the West over Ukraine.
The United States, on the other hand, will unlikely push Kyiv to sign any ceasefire deals until Ukrainian troops make significant gains on the ground, and recapture at least parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. After that, a new version of the Minsk Agreements could be signed, but this time under the Ukrainian conditions.
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