- Ilya Abishev, Pavel Aksenov
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The Russian army has become noticeably more active in the Donbass. It strikes in many directions, storming one settlement after another, and more and more often it manages to capture them, and the reports of the Ukrainian General Staff are becoming more and more alarming. As a result of the advance of Russian troops, the threat of encirclement of Ukrainian units in the area of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk is created.
The assault on the city of Liman in the north of the Donetsk region began, half of the city was occupied by Russian units, Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed DPR, said on Tuesday evening. Reports of the beginning of the offensive on Liman were received the day before.
On Tuesday morning, it became known that Russian troops and forces of the “people’s militia” of the DPR occupied the city of Svetlodarsk and hoisted a Russian flag over the building of the local administration. Svetlodarsk, with a pre-war population of 11,000 people, is located in the Bakhmut district, 28 kilometers southeast of the regional center.
British intelligence in its morning report reported that Russian units were slowly advancing towards each other in order to encircle Severodonetsk and Lysichansk. According to her, between the northern and southern ends of the potential “pincers” – only about 25 kilometers.
The Ukrainian General Staff also reports on the threat to Severodonetsk and Lysychansk: according to its information, the enemy is preparing to force the Seversky Donets River to the east of the agglomeration, pulling up rocket and cannon artillery there.
To the south, the Russian units are moving towards Bakhmut and have already reached the highway that connects this city with Severodonetsk. It supplies the Ukrainian group in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
What is happening in Donbass?
The Russian army is trying to surround the grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Judging by the front line and incoming reports of fighting, Russia has until recently tried to form a kind of double encirclement. The front line there is curved in an arc, which first runs from Izyum to the east past Yampol, then turns south in the Rubizhnoye area, goes around Severodonetsk and Lysichansk, and then heads southwest through Popasnaya and Gorlovka to Donetsk.
Two ledges – in the Izyum region in the south and near Gorlovka in the direction of the North-West – are directed to the large industrial center of Donbass Kramatorsk. They show that the Russian command at least had a plan to try to encircle a large grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Recently, however, reports of battles have been coming from two other small ledges – in the areas of Yampol in the north of the semicircle and Popasnaya in the south. They are directed towards two large cities, through which large roads pass: in the north, through Yampol, the offensive is being carried out towards Slavyansk, from Popasnaya towards Bakhmut. These two cities are connected by the M03 highway. According to the General Staff of Ukraine on May 23, Russian troops are trying to break through to Bakhmut, but so far without success.
From the side of the northern ledge, where, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia was preparing an offensive towards Yampol and Seversk and where the troops would have to force the Seversky Donets River, according to the latest data, there is no troop advance. The river flows between these two cities. Clear lines along which Russian forces would move on the edges of the salient are impossible to build due to the rather slow pace, changing directions and low intensity of the offensive.
Finally, another direction in which the Russian troops are trying to attack is the area of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk. These two settlements are actually one city. And this is the extreme point in the Donbas arc. There, Russian troops continue their offensive, and this southwest-bound effort would have to push Ukrainian units out.
However, the advance of the Russian troops cannot be called successful and fast. There are also difficulties with crossings across the Seversky Donets, where earlier, when trying to cross, Russian troops lost a large amount of manpower and equipment.
What can the Ukrainian army do?
In the current situation, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have two main options for action. The first is to leave Severodonetsk with Lisichansk and retreat with rearguard battles to the southwest, strengthening the defenses on the Verkhnekamenka – Bakhmut line.
This will lead to the loss of the last large settlements on the territory of the Luhansk region, but will allow maintaining a strong grouping, which is now engaged in the defense of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, and stopping or at least delaying the advance of Russian troops advancing from the bridgehead in Popasna.
The second option is to try to counter the advancing Russian groups by bringing reserves into battle. Ukraine has them, but so far it has tried, if possible, not to throw them into battle immediately, but to carry out a gradual planned rotation with units on the front line.
This option is dangerous because if the offensive of the Russian forces cannot be stopped, you can be left without reserves and doom the group in the Severodonetsk-Lisichansk agglomeration to encirclement. In addition, the excessive concentration of troops in the conditions of modern warfare carries serious risks – the Russian army still has a lot of fire weapons.
The third option is to continue the defense of Severodonetsk and Lisichanka, regardless of the advance of the Russian troops, turning them into fortress cities. But such a step makes sense only if the Ukrainian command is confident that it will be able to unblock its besieged units in the very near future.
What caused the success of the Russian troops?
Having suffered a series of setbacks at the first stage of the war, the Russian General Staff abandoned the “Napoleonic” plans for the rapid capture of large cities and vast territory and focused on more pragmatic goals. The occupation of the entire territory of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions was chosen as the main one.
True, this understanding also did not come immediately – at first there was a plan to encircle the entire Ukrainian grouping in the Donbass, then half, but after fruitless attempts to break through the Ukrainian defenses, the tasks narrowed even more.
But it was precisely this strategy – a systematic offensive on a relatively small sector of the front – that gave the Russian army a chance to realize its advantage in manpower and equipment. Due to the numerical superiority, Russian units can attack the enemy along the entire line of contact, making it difficult for him to transfer forces and equipment from one sector to another and go on the counteroffensive.
Advancing along a broad front, and not in armored wedges, as was the case at the beginning of the war, allows you to gain reliable control over the occupied territories, facilitates logistics and protects the rear. If in the first month of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups smashed supply columns one after another, leaving the battalion tactical groups that had broken through without fuel and ammunition, now such tactics no longer work.
Slowly and with heavy fighting, biting into the Ukrainian defenses, Russian troops manage to create the threat of small “cauldrons” in neighboring areas, forcing the Ukrainian army to withdraw troops from well-fortified positions and occupy new ones.
Until a certain moment, this state of affairs generally suited the Ukrainian command – the advancing troops faced stubborn resistance and suffered heavy losses, the territory given to the enemy was insignificant and did not really change the situation on the battlefield, time was won for rearming the army and accumulating reserves.
But now the position of Ukrainian troops in the east of the country looks difficult. With the advance of the Russian army, the Severodonetsk ledge becomes vulnerable, and very combat-ready units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are concentrated there, which Ukraine cannot risk. An alarming situation for the Ukrainian army is developing in the Liman area west of Severodonetsk, and on the southern flank near Svetlodarsk – there are also threats of encirclement.
It is obvious that in the near future the Ukrainian General Staff will make serious decisions, as a result of which the map of hostilities in the Severodonetsk direction will undergo significant changes.
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