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Putin’s War on Donbas Could Turn Into a Nightmare

Russian T-90 tank firing its main gun. Image Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense.

The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine started on Monday night. For weeks the Russian military had been preparing for the renewed offensive in the Donbas, or the second phase of the “special military operation,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers have called the invasion.

But the Ukrainian military is still conducting counterattacks in the region and has the potential to seriously frustrated the Russian offensive.

The Russian Goals 

The goal of the Russian renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine is to cut off the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. To achieve this, the Russian military is launching an offensive with two axis of advance, one from the north in Kharkiv and another from the south in Mariupol.

However, despite the Russian concentration of forces in the Donbas and the Russian military’s superiority in long-range fires, the U.S. Department of Defense does not believe that a Russian victory there is inevitable.

Although the Russian military now has exponentially shorter supply routes and can feed and fuel frontline forces much quicker because of their proximity to Russia and Crimea, it is still liable to logistical problems.

Instead of waiting to mass its forces, the Russian military began the offensive without the full complement of battalion tactical groups. Instead, Moscow is replenishing and reinserting battalion tactical groups into the fight as they become available. The Pentagon assesses that there are about 78 battalion tactical groups inside Ukraine, an increase of 13 from last week.

But the Pentagon also assessed that the Russian military has dedicated 11 battalion tactical groups to the siege of Mariupol. With approximately 1,000 men in each of these combined-arms task forces, the Russians are committing about 11,000 troops to the Ukrainian port city.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the Russian military is still moving equipment and men to the Donbas.

“The movement of damaged equipment of the military units of the Eastern Military District continues by rail from the territory of the Republic of Belarus to the russian [sic] federation. The Armed Forces of the russian [sic] federation continue to use the airfield network on the territory of the republic of belarus [sic] in order to launch air strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated on Tuesday.

Ukrainian Counterattacks 

The Russian forces began their offensive with an attempt to cut off Ukrainian forces south of Izium. However, the attack was repelled by the Ukrainian forces, and the Russian troops had to withdraw to their starting positions after suffering casualties.

A day before the Russian offensive, the Ukrainian military began a series of counterattacks in the proximity of Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces attacked from the north (Kharkiv and Chuhuiv) and the south (Svyatohisk) in an attempt to cut the logistical lines of the Russians coming out from Belgorod. Should such counterattacks prove successful, the Russian forces in the north of the battlefield will be left with only one road to get supplies. And the war so far has shown that this is a recipe for disaster as Ukrainian mobile anti-tank teams can lay waste to Russian resupply convoys.

The Ukrainian military also conducted a counterattack near the town of Marinka toward Donetsk and pushed back the Russian forces who had occupied the town, forcing them to retreat.

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.