The war for Donbas is about to begin: On day 47 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military is preparing for its promised offensive on eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian forces are also moving forces and weapons to the Donbas in preparation for the assault.
Meanwhile, reports of war crimes committed by Russian troops in liberated Ukrainian towns and villages continue to emerge.
Donbas: The War In the East
For more than a week now, the Russian military has been repositioning its forces in preparation for an all-out assault on eastern Ukraine in the Donbas region.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Monday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 19,500 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 154 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 137 helicopters, 725 tanks, 347 artillery pieces, 1,923 armored personnel carriers, 111 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), seven boats, 1,387 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks, 55 anti-aircraft batteries, 119 unmanned aerial systems, 25 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems.
Heavy Losses as Donbas War Begins
Throughout the war, the Russian military has been very careful to hide its actual losses on the ground from the Russian people. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense estimates that the Russians have lost up to 60,000 troops killed, wounded, or captured so far. These estimates are partly corroborated by Western intelligence services.
But now, Moscow has come forward and acknowledged heavy losses in Ukraine. In an interview with Sky News, the Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov admitted that the Russian military has suffered “significant losses of troops,” calling it a “huge tragedy.”
The admission comes as the war enters a second phase, with the focus now fixed on eastern Ukraine and the Donbas. The high casualties mean that the Russian military might soon need to rely on reservists. But Moscow can’t call them up because Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t declared a war on Ukraine but rather launched a so-called “special military operation.” Peskov’s statements suggest that the Kremlin might be moving toward a more formal state of war that would allow it to fully mobilize the Russian military.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that Moscow’s admission of heavy losses in Ukraine is odd.
“We agree that that was interesting. Rarely do they acknowledge from the Russian leadership, any elements of weakness or any elements of defeat,” the White House Press Secretary said on Fox News.
“It is also significant that the Ukrainians have essentially won the battle of Kyiv. They’ve protected their city and that is because of their bravery, their courage, but it is also because of the supplies, the military equipment, everything we’ve expedited — $1.7 billion worth — from the United States and the commitment and dedication of the American people to this war,” Psaki added.
“Russia has been a member of the P5+1 [United Nations Security Council permanent members]. They have been implementing — played an implementation role. That’s what we’re talking about and what’s been under discussion in these negotiations. We don’t know that we will come to an agreement though it’s ongoing and we’re still considering it,” Psaki added.
War Crimes and Moscow’s Denial
In the interview, Peskov also took the chance to deny allegations of war crimes. The withdrawal of the Russian troops from the north of Ukraine revealed widespread atrocities and war crimes, especially in the suburbs of Kyiv.
“We deny the Russian military can have something in common with these atrocities and that dead bodies were shown on the streets of Bucha,” Peskov said.
But reports of atrocities continue to emerge. Satellite imagery has shown that the war crimes were committed while the Russian military was in control, shutting down Moscow’s claims that the atrocities were staged by the Ukrainians.
Moreover, the British Ministry of Defense assessed that Russian troops have been engaged in widespread sexual attacks on Ukrainian civilians, in addition to other war crimes.
“Further evidence of alleged Russian war crimes continues to emerge following Russian withdrawal from northern Ukraine. This includes the reported discovery of a makeshift grave containing deceased Ukrainian civilians near Burzova. Allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Russian military personnel persist,” the British Military Intelligence stated.
Last week, the United Nations decided to suspend Russia from its human rights council following the reports of war crimes.
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 Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.