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Putin’s New Ukraine War Plan Is Clear: Conquer Mariupol and Donbas

Russia Su-34 Ukraine
Russia's Su-34 fighter-bomber. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

On day 55 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military has launched the long-awaited renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are defending across the frontline, while the defenders in Mariupol are still fighting.

The Second Phase of the Invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers are gambling that the Russian military will manage to achieve its objectives this time around. Should they fail, the Kremlin will have to admit defeat or escalate even further by mobilizing the Russian people or even launching a tactical nuclear strike.

The second phase of the war will be one of logistics. Which side can supply its forces best? And for how long can they do that?

“[I have] been saying this for awhile, but will repeat for emphasis: The next few weeks will be a battle of logistics. Ukraine will win it,” retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling, who commanded the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), wrote on Twitter.

“They’re trying to set the conditions for more aggressive, more overt, and larger ground maneuvers in the Donbass. But again, I would remind this is an area of the country that has seen fighting over the last eight years. This is a terrain that both sides understand and know. And the Ukrainians, it’s not like they ever left the Donbass and only had been, you know, racing to get there in the last few days,” Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a press briefing.

Meanwhile, Mariupol continues to hold fast against the Russian forces. The Ukrainian defenders have been forced into a small pocket at the Azovstal iron and steelworks factory.

“And the fighting of Mariupol, as you guys have all seen continues, the Ukrainians are still resisting. The city has not fallen to the Russians. But they continue to pound it from the air and through long range fires. So, it’s been just over the last several days, you can see — you can continue to see the Russians are doing what we call shaping,” the Pentagon press secretary added.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Monday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 20,800 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 169 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 150 helicopters, 802 tanks, 386 artillery pieces, 2,063 armored personnel carriers, 132 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), eight boats, 1,495 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks, 67 anti-aircraft batteries, 158 unmanned aerial systems, 27 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems.

The rate of casualties had slowed down considerably over the past couple of weeks due to the withdrawal of the Russian forces from the north of Ukraine. But now, with the new offensive underway, the rate of casualties is expected to rise again.

However, there are indications that the Russian military has adjusted its approach. Now, instead of just plowing ahead and not caring about casualties, Russian commanders try to probe Ukrainian defenses in search of weak spots. Once any weak spots have been found, then the Russian commanders focus their forces there in an attempt to make a breakthrough.

Russian Missile Strikes 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky focused on the Russian missile strikes that keep killing civilians across Ukraine, including the western cities, which are hundreds of miles from the frontlines. According to the Pentagon, the Russian military has launched more than 1,500 ballistic and cruise missiles since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

“The Russian army is not slowing down the use of missiles against Ukraine. Although it should have realized that it will be extremely difficult for it to restore the missile arsenal given even already imposed sanctions. Without imports, they can’t even do that. And when all the loopholes used to circumvent sanctions are closed, and when even tougher sanctions are imposed, restoring Russia’s missile capabilities will be unrealistic. That is, Russian missile strikes lead to only one thing – missile self-demilitarization of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said in his daily address to the Ukrainian people.

The Russians are also using a brutal tactic known as the “double tap.” They launch a strike against a target causing damage. Then, they wait for the emergency services and rescuers to respond to the first strike before launching a second one in an attempt to kill or maim the responders.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.