Future of war in Ukraine is being decided in two cities

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The war in Ukraine, on the ground, has been essentially stalemate for almost two months. The last major development was in November, when the Ukrainian army liberated the city of Kherson. After that, the counter-offensive to push back Russia slowed down, while the Russian advance in the eastern region of Donbass was itself already slow. Since then, the energies of the respective armies have mainly concentrated on the battles in two cities, Bakhmut and Kreminna, both important to evaluate the future developments of the war.

The first is located in the Donetsk region, the second in the Luhansk region. They are about eighty kilometers apart, both are located in eastern Ukraine and have become the most contestable areas of Donbass.

Since the invasion of Russia began in February last year, the war has gone through various phases: from the initial one in which it seemed that the annexation of a large part of Ukraine was imminent, to an intermediate one, during which the The Russians withdrew and scaled back their objectives concentrating on the Donbass, the region closest to the border where fighting was already taking place before that February. The long southern front, that of the Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia, also remained quite active.

In this new phase, the Russian army has adopted a different strategy: where it does not arrive with men and means, it strikes from a distance with violent and periodic bombardments, without making a distinction between civilian and military targets. The last ones have been there this weekwith massive rocket attacks on various cities, including the capital, Kiev. In the meantime, however, Russia has also tried to conquer ground on the field, but it has done so with difficulty, also due to the unexpected and rapid counter-offensive by Ukraine in the north-east. In September the Kharkiv region was liberated and in the following weeks some surrounding towns were also liberated, including Lyman, about thirty kilometers west of Kreminna.

The Russian plan to annex the Donetsk and Luhansk regions through a referendum deemed bogus by the entire international community it therefore failed, but the offensive did not stop. And as a result the fighting in these areas continued.

The situations in Kreminna and in Bakhmut are somewhat similar. In the first, which was already conquered by the Russians in April last year, it seems that the Ukrainians have the advantage. Controlling this city would allow them to open their way to the southeast, where there are the important cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, already liberated last summer and then retaken by the Russians. The envoy of Republic Daniele Raineri Friday has written that according to local sources some Russian vehicles and men were seen moving eastwards from Kreminna, then towards Russia, but this does not necessarily mean that the retreat is imminent: «If the city had fallen, the Ukrainians would have already announced it on all channels : for now it hasn’t happened», writes Raineri.

Despite the apparent advantage, however, it seems unlikely that Ukraine will prevail any time soon. Earlier this week the US research center Institute for the Study of War (ISW) published a reports in which he writes that Russia is sending troops to that area continuously, and from various points, to compensate for losses.

In Bakhmut, on the other hand, it is Russia that is trying to regain ground, but in vain. She is doing it stubbornly for over two months, without an apparent strategy, given that the city is far from the other fronts. Above all, Russia is sending thousands of soldiers to die in the open field, a cost that is probably too high compared to the objective. The offensive is led by mercenaries from the Wagner group, which is de facto affiliated with the Russian government and is led by one of President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest allies, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The accounts of the offensive describe a continuous frontal attack without particular defenses and which systematically causes the death of Russian soldiers.

As this war has repeatedly demonstrated, it is risky to make predictions, but if Ukraine were to really take Kreminna the balance in Donbass could shift and resolve the stalemate on the ground. Conversely, if the Russians conquered Bakhmut by sending soldiers, Russia could claim the symbolic meaning of that victory, trying to revive the morale of an army that has long been described as demotivated. In any case, in recent weeks Russia has shown that it does not want to negotiate nor, probably, decrease the scale of the invasion, given that recently the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu has announced of wanting to increase the soldiers enrolled in the army, bringing them to 1.5 million.

Future of war in Ukraine is being decided in two cities – Il Post