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Putin’s Ukraine Challenge: Can the Russian Military Still Take Donbas?

Ukraine
Ukrainian Army Tank Firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Despite Increased Activity in Southern Ukraine, Russian Forces Continue to Make Bloody Attempts at Advances in Donbas – Although outside observers are increasingly watching Russia’s noticeable repositioning of troops towards southern Ukraine to shore up its position in the environs of the southern city of Kherson, fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region continues to rage, particularly near the long-occupied city of Donetsk. Russia has not slowed down its attacks in Donbas, even as its forces in Kherson are coming under increased logistical strain.

How is Russia Repositioning?

Since July, Ukrainian forces operating in the south of the country have begun to ratchet up pressure on Russian forces positioned to the north and west of the city of Kherson. Since May, more than 50 settlements near Kherson have been liberated as Ukrainian forces chip away at Russian-controlled territory there. Russia has been forced to construct pontoon bridges to compensate for Ukrainian strikes on the bridges which link Kherson with the rest of Russia’s occupied regions, the most direct and critical of which being the Antonivskiy Bridge which directly links Kherson with the eastern side of the Dnieper River. Simultaneously, Ukrainian military leaders have publicly warned that Russia may be building up forces in the region not just to counter a long-planned Ukrainian counteroffensive towards Kherson, but possibly to make a thrust northwards towards the city of Kryvyi Rih on the west side of the Dnieper, as well as the city of Zaporizhzhia on the eastern bank of the river. Ukraine is eager to thwart reported Russian plans to facilitate the annexation of the territories it occupies in Ukraine by organizing “referenda” along the lines of the internationally condemned polls which took place in Crimea in 2014. Continued Ukrainian strikes on the infrastructure which Russia’s invasion forces near Kherson relies on for its logistics could also complicate Russia’s defense of its current positions from Ukrainian counterattacks as well as any renewed assaults Moscow has planned.

Donbas Fighting Continues

Even as a general repositioning appears to be taking place, the intensity of fighting in Donbas has not been flagged. In his August 2 nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the battlefield conditions faced by Ukraine’s forces in the region as “just hell,” and said that Ukrainian forces remained outgunned and outmanned on the battlefields of Donbas. In recent days, Russia has continued to make frontal attacks on the frontline cities of Slovyansk, Siversk, and Bakhmut, only making piecemeal progress there.

According to the Institute for the Study of War’s August 7 assessment, Russian forces have also made a concerted effort to advance to the north and western suburbs of Donetsk, achieving some small gains. Fighting along this section of the frontline has been particularly difficult for Russia since the battle is concentrated around Ukrainian positions to the west of Donetsk which Ukrainian troops have had almost eight years to fortify since the conflict in eastern Ukraine originally flared up in 2014. Local Ukrainian military leaders in the city of Sloviansk, which was one of the most contested cities in eastern Ukraine in the opening weeks and months of the 2014 conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-organized separatists, have begun preparing for what they see as an imminent Russian offensive towards the city, the seizure of which would be a symbolic victory for Moscow.

In recent days, activity on the frontlines to the east and north of Sloviansk has picked up as Russian forces make probing attacks, despite assessments that Russian forces had pulled a significant portion of their forces away from sectors near Sloviansk to fight in Kherson. The focus of Russian attacks and activity in in the east for now appears to be centered around the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, which Russia would realistically need to seize before making a serious attempt at attacking Sloviansk.

Even as Russia has made an effort to maintain its attacks in Donbas, the ambiguity surrounding the buildup of forces by both armies near Kherson could influence the outcome of Russia’s plans for further offensives in Donbas, depending on how its forces fare in the south. The success of Russian plans to generate manpower in unorthodox ways will also be important to monitor, as their success or lack of success could determine how long Russia will be able to sustain its invasion.

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. from Russia with love

    August 9, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    I wonder if someone really believes that if a fake of 50 settlements captured by Ukrainians in the Kherson direction is repeated 1000 times, then it will become true?
    By the way, how is the Ukrainian offensive in the Kherson region? will it start soon? in the direction of Nikolaev and Krivoy Rog? 🤣

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 9, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    The Russian’s are reinforcing the Kherson region with troops because they fear a loss there. Clearly the Russians think Ukraine has an opportunity there.

  3. Gary Jacobs

    August 9, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    to From Russia with Hate – I wonder if you really believe that if you spew Putin’s propaganda enough times that people will actually believe it. Spoiler alert: No. Not buying it.

    As has been mentioned to you repeatedly, Ukraine continues to strike DEEP into Southern Kherson Oblast with HIMARS, despite your fantasy that they have been destroyed. Spoiler alert: they havent.

    Russian ammo depots have been obliterated in Skadovs’k, Lazurne, and other areas in Southern Kherson Oblast. All one has to do is look at a map and then check the range on HIMARS at 43 miles to understand that in order for them to strike so far south they have to have a front line very close to northern Kherson City. HIMARS would never be right on the front line.

    I suppose in theory they could be Neptune missiles Ukraine is firing at those coastal areas…but then Russia would have a bigger problem as that would mean Ukraine has a larger stockpile of precision cruise missiles with 170mile range than anyone thought they did. And Russia’s air defense cant seem to do a thing about it.

    Considering the massive explosions at the Russian airbase in occupied Crimea today, i’d say that’s a distinct possibility. Either way it isnt looking good for you comrade. Have a nice day.

  4. from Russia with love

    August 10, 2022 at 6:46 am

    @naive Gary Jacobs
    1) yes, yes, I am familiar with the principles of Western journalism. You can’t tell the truth because the truth works for Putin. you really don’t have a wide choice guy – either the Ukrainian lie is being spread in the Western media, or the truth, but then you have to turn to “Putin’s propaganda”😉 so what do you like? fictional world and lies, or reality and truth?
    2) Are you sure that Ukraine has liberated 50 cities? name them. at least 10. the source on which you rely did not name a single one. By the way, the Ukrainian official who carried this nonsense has already been fired😂 I can tell you one “liberated” settlement. the village of Ivanovka (to the north of the village of Arkhangelskoye). in a month, Ukrainian troops liberated this village 3 times. The peculiarity of the situation is that this village is in the “gray zone” and there are no Russian troops there.😂
    3) about HIMARS. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation NEVER said that they destroyed ALL HIMARS. you are broadcasting Ukrainian lies again. The Russian Defense Ministry announces the destruction of 6 (!!!) HIMARS out of 12 delivered to Ukraine. about the effectiveness of HIMARS. the penultimate attack included 36 missiles, of which 6 (!) hit the bridge. the number of missiles in the last attack is not specified, but only 3 hit the bridge. The bridge was never destroyed. so far, HIMARS has only effectively dealt with strikes against the civilian population and the killing of Ukrainian prisoners of war. 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war with one blow is not a bad result. worse than the Russian “caliber” destroying with one blow several hundred Ukrainian military in the barracks of temporary deployment points, but also not bad.
    4) the destruction of warehouses in Skladovsk and Lazurny is also a common Ukrainian fake. something similar is constantly published by the “mayor” of Kherson, who, by a strange coincidence, is sitting in Kiev😉
    but I’m glad to see that you yourself admit that HIMARS could not do this for objective reasons.😎👍
    given that the information about the destruction of warehouses is fake, your further arguments about missiles with a range of 300 km no longer make sense. the maximum that Ukraine has is TochkaU with a range of 170 km, but their effectiveness is less than 10% (Russian missile defense system does not work badly).
    5) the explosion at the airfield in Crimea was not caused by external influence. you will not find a single video with a rocket or a drone that strikes. they are not, despite the fact that there are a lot of videos of the explosion. the main version is a violation of security rules. the version of the terrorist act is also considered, but it is not the main one. bad news for you, the planes and helicopters that were at the airfield were not injured😉

  5. Gary Jacobs

    August 10, 2022 at 10:00 am

    to From Russia With Hate – common sense isnt strong with you, clearly. There are plenty of videos of the explosions in Crimea. The fact is that two of the large mushroom clouds happen simultaneously at two distinct facilities quite a distance apart which rules out the official Russian version of accidental fire, but it does not rule out either sabotage or long-range missile strike. Satellite images from previous days show clearly that they are at such a distance that no accident would have cause both of those explosions.

    As well, there is plenty of social media footage of Russian ammo depots exploding in various areas of south Kherson. Perhaps you are not familiar with the term geo-locating, but it allows open source footage to be located, and time stamped to confirm authenticity. Speaking of which, social media footage from yesterday also showed a large smoke cloud near Novooleksiivka in Henichensk district, in the vicinity of the Kherson Oblast-Crimean border…that fire lasted for over an hour… with secondary explosions indicating yet another Russian ammo depot exploding…

    FYI: Even Russian propagandist Margarita Simonyan claimed that the incident in Crimea was a result of sabotage rather than a missile or rocket strike.

    I could go on for days obliterating the entire weird fantasy world your living in…but for now I digress.
    Have a nice day.

  6. from Russia with love

    August 10, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    @naive Gary Jacobs
    1) watch the video. both explosions occur at the opposite ends of the object, this is true, but by this moment the object has been burning for about an hour and everything between the explosion points is in smoke. both explosion sites are in the fire zone. you have to try very hard to be blind not to see it.
    2) and where is this “many frames from open sources”? by a strange coincidence, only Ukrainian sources write about this, and this information has no other confirmation. For example, about a fire on the border of the Genechevsk region. There might have been a fire. it’s hot and dry there. but there is no evidence of explosions. Ukrainian journalists tend to lie “a little” to add drama. for example, Denisova, who lied so much about thousands of raped children and women that even the Kyiv authorities decided to fire her. without confirmation, at least indirect, from Russian sources, all this is nothing more than another “ghost of Kyiv” that shot down 40 Russian aircraft or 50 cities liberated in the Kherson region.😂
    3) Do you seriously believe that geolocation is some kind of authenticity marker? you are really a naive person.😎 from the instructions for adding geolocation to a photo: ”
    If you travel frequently and have a large photo history of your trips on your computer, it would be nice to organize your photos so as not to get confused in numerous folders. Adobe Lightroom is an excellent image cataloger. In it, you can geotagging images by adding the GPS coordinates of the shooting location to them. And then you can organize your photos as flags on an interactive world map.”
    4) in the end, did you decide to lie a little again? Margarita Simonyan wrote, “On the spot they believe that it is not arrivals, but sabotage. Or even bungling in general. “most likely you do not know Russian well … the term “bungling” means a lack of order – that is, the violation of security standards that I wrote about.
    5) judging by the fact that my other theses you didn’t dare to try to refute in your magical pen there are not enough rainbow ponies to fight reality😂 you couldn’t name the mythical liberated settlements😉

  7. from Russia with love

    August 10, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    @naive Gary Jacobs
    I think you need to add a little more pepper 😎
    Report of the Russian Ministry of Defense on the progress of the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine 10.08.2022

    ◽️The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation continue a special military operation in Ukraine.

    💥 High-precision strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces in the village of Krasnogorovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed the ammunition depot of the 54th mechanized brigade. The loss of the Ukrainian side amounted to up to 30 military personnel, more than six thousand artillery shells and mortars of various calibers, as well as seven vehicles.

    💥 As a result of the strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces on the points of temporary deployment of units of the 93rd mechanized brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine near the village of Andreevka, Kharkov region, up to a hundred nationalists and more than 20 pieces of military equipment were eliminated.

    💥 The 56th motorized infantry brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine lost its combat capability in the area of ​​the settlement Peski of the Donetsk People’s Republic as a result of the strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Up to 70 percent of the personnel in the units of the compound were destroyed. Most of the Ukrainian citizens mobilized to make up for the losses of the brigade refused to advance to the line of contact and deserted.

    💥 Operational-tactical and army aviation, missile forces and artillery continue to strike at military facilities on the territory of Ukraine. During the day, five command posts were hit, including the 46th airmobile brigade in the area of ​​\u200b\u200bthe settlement of Andreevka, Kherson region, the regiment of the National Guard “Khortitsa” in Kushugum, Zaporozhye region, the nationalist formation “Aidar” in Novoselovka of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the 56th motorized infantry brigade in the city of Nikolaev. Seven warehouses of ammunition and rocket and artillery weapons were destroyed in the areas of the settlements of Nikolaevka, Fedorovka, Vyemka of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Kushugum of the Zaporozhye region.

    💥❗️ In the area of ​​​​the settlement of Novopavlovka, Mykolaiv region, the combat vehicle of the Gepard anti-aircraft missile and gun system delivered to the Kyiv regime by Germany was destroyed. In addition, a launcher of the Ukrainian S-300 anti-aircraft missile system was destroyed in the Kramatorsk region of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

    💥 As part of the counter-battery fight, two Ukrainian platoons of Grad multiple launch rocket systems were suppressed, as well as two artillery platoons of D-20 guns and two platoons of D-30 howitzers at firing positions in the areas of the settlements of Kirovo, Seversk and Verkhnekamenskoye of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

    💥 Fighter aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces in air battles over the territory of the Nikolaev region shot down three aircraft of the Ukrainian air forces: one Su-25 in the area of ​​​​the settlement of Novokhristoforovka, one MiG-29 over Troitsko-Safonovo and one Su-27 in the area of ​​​​the settlement Novoselye.

    💥 Russian air defense systems destroyed nine Ukrainian UAVs in the areas of Chervony Yar, Andreevka, Pervomaiskoye, Vernopolye, Novoye of the Kharkiv region, Ivanovka, Peski, Valeryanovka of the Donetsk People’s Republic and on the western outskirts of the city of Donetsk in a day.

    In addition, two Tochka-U ballistic missiles were shot down in the air over the settlement of Krynki, Kherson region, and seven shells of the Khaimars multiple launch rocket system were shot down in the areas of Novaya Kakhovka, Lyubimovka and Chervony Mayak, Kherson region. Also, in the Veseliy Kut area of ​​the Nikolaev region, four shells of the Smerch multiple launch rocket system were intercepted.

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