Russia stepped up its offensive on Tuesday against the last pockets of resistance in the Ukrainian region of Luhanskin the eastern Donbass basin, and said it was determined to achieve all its “goals” in a war that has entered its fourth month. Ukraine managed to repel invading forces away from kyiv and Kharkovbut recognizes “difficulties” in containing the offensive in the Donbass, which includes the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, already partially controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists.
“We are not chasing any deadlines. All the goals set by President Vladimir Putin will be achieved. It cannot be otherwise because the truth, including historical truth, is on our side,” he said. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council. After a first month of lightning offensive, the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine was characterized more by Russian withdrawals from the north of kyiv and the outskirts of Kharkov than by notable victories.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Moscow “will continue the special military operation until all its objectives are achieved, regardless of huge Western aid to the kyiv regime or unprecedented pressure from sanctions” applied against his country. On Monday, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskywarned: “The next weeks of war will be difficult”.
Luhansk in the crosshairs
Russian troops are currently concentrating their attack on Luganska stronghold of resistance to the east, and attempt to encircle the nearby towns of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense reported heavy fighting very close to these two cities, about 100 kilometers northwest of Lugansk, in the towns of Popasna and Bakhmut. In the last hours, Heavy shelling has destroyed schools and hit refineries and chemical plants in the region considered Ukraine’s industrial powerhouse.
Although shelling is constant, many residents refuse to leave. “People don’t want to leave,” Bajmut deputy mayor Maxim Sutkoviy lamented in front of a half-empty bus intended to steer civilians away from the fighting. The city of Severodonetsk is being bombarded “around the clock” by the Russians, who are “using scorched earth tactics”, Lugansk Governor Sergei Gaidai said, reporting four dead in a bombardment.
Securing control in the East
Mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boitchenkoaccused the “Russian occupation forces” behave like a “terrorist state”in a virtual address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. After the fall of Mariupol, Severodonetsk would be a precious war trophy for Moscow in the Donbass.
Russia would thus strengthen its control of the Eastafter having established the land connection between the Donbass and the Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014. The first step to achieve this, in the first days of the war, was the capture of Kherson, in the south of Ukraine and in the north of Crimea.
The southern front currently appears stable, although the Ukrainians report an “advance” of their divisions “in the direction of Kherson, through the Mikolaiv region”. In Kharkov, the metro has started to work again, after serving for weeks as an air-raid shelter and where many displaced people are still staying.
In the early hours of Tuesday three Russian Iskander missiles hit near Kharkov, the country’s second largest, causing significant damage to a power plant but no casualties. The Iskanders are supersonic cruise missiles with a range which, according to some sources, can reach five hundred kilometers, which have high accuracy and can overcome anti-aircraft defenses.
In parallel, the Russians claimed to have destroyed with air-launched missiles a large magazine of 155 millimeter shells for the American M-777 howitzers, known as howitzers. In his Morning War segment, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov pointed out that the Russian attack took place in Rozdolivka, Donbass.
In three months thousands of people, civilians and soldiers, have died without a precise toll of the victims.. In Mariupol alone, the authorities estimate the death toll at 20,000. The office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Iryna Venediktova, denounced that 234 children died and that 433 suffered injuries throughout the conflict, while the Kremlin admits “significant losses”.
Ukraine continues to demand more weapons
While the fighting on the ground seems endless, the Ukrainian government is urging Western countries to send it more weapons. Among the equipment delivered so far is Denmark’s promised Harpoon anti-ship missile system, which could help Ukraine break the blockade against the Russian navy off the Black Sea port of Odessa. This blockade paralyzes the export of millions of tons of wheat, with the fear that it will generate a world food crisis.
The war in Ukraine has sent energy prices skyrocketing and is drawing new frontiers on the European security map, after Sweden and Finlandtwo countries traditionally not aligned militarily, apply for NATO membership.