Russia has made some progress in eastern Ukraine and is on track to control the entire Donbass region, but an end to the war is still unlikely anytime soon.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced earlier this week that its forces in eastern Ukraine have reached the border between Donetsk and Lugansk, two Russian-speaking provinces where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years.
The Russian Defense Ministry statement highlights the prospect that Moscow will soon gain control of the entire Donbass region, down from just a third before the operation began on February 24.
Western observers say this outcome is quite limited compared to President Vladimir Putin’s original ambitions. However, the takeover of the Donbass, coupled with early successes in controlling the southern region bordering the Crimean peninsula, would give the Kremlin major leverage in future negotiations to end the conflict.
Control of the Donbass region also helps Russia open a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, completely blocking Ukraine’s direction to the Sea of Azov and increasing pressure on Kiev’s economy and sea trade.
Since early April, Russia has focused on attacking eastern Ukraine, the front stretching from Kharkov province in the northeast to Lugansk and Donetsk in the east, where the city of Mariupol was for many months a stronghold of the Azov battalion’s resistance.
After a month and a half, Russian forces had almost pulled out of Kharkov after a grueling war of attrition. The place of the fiercest fighting today is the Donbass region, which includes the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The Russian military currently controls about 80% of Donbass and is focused on attacking the remaining territory, which is defended by Ukrainian forces, centered on the city of Kramatorskn in the Donetsk region.
Ambulances drove around the clock at a main hospital in the city of Kramatorsk along with soldiers wounded by the constant shelling. About 80 percent of the people were injured by explosions or shells, said Captain Eduard Antonovsky, deputy commander of the hospital’s medical unit. As a result, most patients are seriously injured.
Around the city the explosions of the skirmishes echoed almost continuously, and the smoke from the shells was as thick as the morning fog. Russian forces continuously fire missiles into the city almost every day.
Barely 100 km from Kramatorsk, Severodonetsk reeled under fire when the Russian artillery position was just 10 km outside the city, making life very difficult for the 15,000 people who live there.
“The shelling never stops,” said Oleg Grigorov, the police chief of the Lugansk region. “All quarters were destroyed. They bombed for days, for weeks.”
Grigorov said about 200 police officers under him remained in the city, with the main task of feeding people sheltering in basements and burying the dead.
Russia’s efforts to extend and consolidate control beyond the Donbass region into southern Ukraine are encountering major difficulties due to opposition from Ukrainian forces.
Russian forces have stepped up airstrikes on Odessa, home to Ukraine’s main seaport, and tightened a blockade of the Black Sea, a key export route for Ukrainian goods.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the international community to increase pressure on Russia to lift the Black Sea blockade.
“For the first time in decades, cargo fleets cannot move normally. There is no normally functioning port in Odessa,” he said. “Maybe that hasn’t happened in Odessa since World War II.”
According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Ukraine’s economy is expected to contract by 30% this year. Two months ago, the forecast was still 20%.
The war has put Ukraine’s economy under enormous pressure, with infrastructure and production capacities severely damaged. An estimated 30-50% of Ukrainian businesses have closed, 10% of the population have left the country and another 15% have been internally displaced.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also forecasts that Russia’s economy will contract by 10% this year and stagnate next year, with a bleak outlook unless a peace deal eases sanctions.
However, US intelligence said the future of negotiations between the two countries was very uncertain. “With both Russia and Ukraine believing they can continue to make military advances, we do not see a viable negotiating path, at least in the short term,” said Avril D. Haines, the US director of national intelligence.
than tam (Corresponding New York Times)