The Geographical Reality of the War in Ukraine: Russia Has Conquered Much of the East


POKROVSK, Ukraine – Russia’s nearly three-month-old invasion of neighboring Ukraine was interrupted by flawed planning, poor intelligence, barbarity and wanton destruction. But obscured in the daily fighting is the geographic reality that Russia has made gains on the ground.

Russia’s defense ministry said on Tuesday that its troops in eastern Ukraine had moved to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk, the two Russian-speaking provinces where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army for eight years.

The ministry’s claim, if confirmed, bolsters the prospect that Russia could soon gain full control of the region known as the Donbas, compared to just a third of it before the February 24 invasion.

That is a far cry from what appeared to be the grand ambitions of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia when he launched the invasion: quick and easy seizure of large parts of Ukraine, including the capital Kiev, the overthrow of a hostile government and a replacement with undisputed allegiance that would ensure the submission of Ukraine.

Nevertheless, the seizure of Donbas, coupled with the early success of the Russian invasion in conquering parts of southern Ukraine bordering the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, gives the Kremlin enormous leverage in future negotiations to to stop the conflict.

And the Russians are enjoying the added benefit of maritime dominance in the Black Sea, the only maritime route for Ukrainian trade, which they have crippled with an embargo that could eventually starve Ukraine economically and already contribute to a global grain shortage. .

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Tuesday of a “prolonged conflict” in Ukraine as Russia seeks extensive territorial gains outside the Donbas region, including the construction of a land bridge along the Black Sea coast of Ukraine.

But Ms. Haines warned that Mr. Putin would struggle to make those gains without a large-scale mobilization or draw, which he doesn’t want to order for the time being. As Mr Putin’s territorial ambitions conflict with his military’s limited capabilities, Ms Haines said the war could take “a more unpredictable and potentially escalating trajectory” in the coming months, increasing the likelihood that Mr Putin will direct threats against the use of nuclear weapons.

In recent weeks, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged in a grueling war of attrition, often fierce fighting over small areas as a village falls into Russian hands one day only to be recaptured by the Ukrainians a few days later.

Ukrainians are increasingly dependent on an infusion of Western military and humanitarian aid, largely from the United States, where the House voted Tuesday night to approve a nearly $40 billion emergency package.

“The Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re kind of at a stalemate here,” Lieutenant General Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, testified. next to Mrs. Haines.

Still, Russia has almost achieved one of its main goals: capturing a land bridge connecting Russian territory to the Crimean peninsula.

When Mr. Putin ordered the invasion, some of his army’s most skilled fighters poured out of Crimea and southern Russia and quickly captured a ribbon of Ukrainian territory along the Sea of ​​Azov. The last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in this area, the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol, has been reduced to a few hundred hungry troops now largely locked in bunkers.

But Russian forces’ efforts to expand and strengthen the land bridge have been complicated by Ukrainian forces deployed along an east-west front that ripples through vast wheat fields, sometimes inundating villages and towns.

Although Russian artillery and rockets have devastated residential areas, razed houses and terrorized local populations, the Russian military has not deployed enough troops to significantly move the line or the main industrial center of Zaporizhzhya, the largest city near the front line, Colonel Oleg Goncharuk, the commander of the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, said in an interview last month.

“They will try to prevent our troops from moving forward and they will try to fortify their positions,” said Colonel Goncharuk, whose troops are deployed along the southeastern front. “But we don’t know what their orders are or what their ambitions are.”

It is in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk where the fighting is most fierce.

At the main hospital in Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk, ambulances pour in day and night with soldiers wounded at the front, who describe being pinned down by near-constant shelling.

About 80 percent of patients are injured by explosives such as mines and artillery shells, said Captain Eduard Antonovskyy, the deputy commander of the hospital’s medical unit. Because of this, he said, very few patients have serious injuries. Either you’re far enough away from an explosion to survive, or you’re not, he said.

“We are getting moderate injuries or deaths,” said Captain Antonovskyy.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces now control about 80 percent of Donbas and have concentrated their efforts on part of the Ukrainian-occupied territory with Kramatorsk at the center.

All over the city the rumbles of distant battles are heard every hour and heavy smoke hangs like a morning mist. Almost daily Russian troops launch rocket attacks and air raids on the city itself, but the most punitive violence is reserved for those places within range of Russian artillery.

About 100 kilometers northeast of Kramatorsk is Severodonetsk, where Russian artillery, parked about five or six miles outside the city, rarely gave in, making it difficult for the roughly 15,000 remaining residents to venture above ground.

Oleg Grigorov, the chief of police in the Luhansk region, likened the violence to the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II, when Soviet troops turned the tide against the Nazis, but only after suffering massive casualties.

“It never stops. Not at all,” said Mr. Grigorov. “Entire neighborhoods are being destroyed. Days, for weeks, they are shelling. They are deliberately destroying our infrastructure and the civilian population.”

Mr Grigorov said about 200 of his officers remained in the city, which has lost electricity and water. Their primary job is to provide food to people who take shelter in their basements and bury the dead.

The Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea has not diminished the Kremlin’s desire to take control of Odessa, Ukraine’s main port, which has been the victim of several air strikes. In the latter case, Russian forces fired seven rockets, hitting a shopping center and consumer goods warehouse, killing at least one person and injuring several, Ukrainian officials said.

The strike came just hours after European Council President Charles Michel visited Odessa, where a new attack forced him to take cover in a bomb shelter.

Meeting with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of Ukraine, Mr Michel criticized Russia for strangling Ukraine’s grain exports that feed people around the world.

“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and maize ready for export,” Michel said in a statement. “This much-needed food has been stranded by the Russian war and blockade of ports on the Black Sea, with dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the international community to pressure Russia to lift the blockade.

“For the first time in decades, there is no usual movement of the merchant fleet, no usual port functioning in Odesa,” he said in a late-night speech. “Probably this has never happened in Odessa since World War II.”

Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink by 30 percent this year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Tuesday, worsening the forecast from just two months ago when it forecast a 20 percent contraction.

The war has “put enormous strain on Ukraine’s economy, with the heavy destruction of infrastructure and manufacturing capacity,” the bank said in an economic update.

It is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of Ukrainian businesses have closed, 10 percent of the population has fled the country and another 15 percent are internally displaced.

The bank also forecast that the Russian economy would contract 10 percent this year and stagnate next year, with bleak prospects unless a peace deal leads to the relaxation of Western sanctions.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Pokrovsk, Ukraine, Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland and Michael Levenson From New York. Reporting contributed by Julian E. Barnes and Emily Cochrane from Washington, and Eshe Nelson and Cora Engelbrecht from London.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here