Russia's Success in Severodonetsk: Decision on Donbass Awaits?

Published June 30th, 2022 - 09:56 GMT
Warehouse on Severodonetsk
This handout picture taken and released by Ukrainian State Emergency Service Press Service on March 21, 2022 shows firefighters putting out a large-scale fire at a food warehouse in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, destroyed following Russian shelling. (File photo: AFP)

*By Rene Tebel

The last two weeks have indicated it: the defensive lines of Ukrainian forces in Donbass are yielding more and more after weeks of artillery, mortar and tank shelling. Serhiy Hadai, the military governor of Luhansk oblast, said Friday morning that the defenders of Severodonetsk had received orders to withdraw.

On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the capture of the industrial city. This shifts the fighting for now to the sister city of Lysychansk on the other side of the Siversky Donets, where a Russian encirclement is now emerging.

One thing is clear. The Ukrainian army can no longer hold off Russian forces in this section of the front for long. The Russian tactic of constant shelling and dividing the front into small pincers and cauldrons is working. This is of relevance in that these are lines of contact that the Ukrainian defenders had already been intensively fortifying since 2014, which is why they were repeatedly compared to Mariupol in the Russian media. Thus, on Friday, the Ukrainian army also had to evacuate Zolote and Hirske after the Russian forces had already encircled the area from three sides and only a corridor not even 6 kilometers wide was left open for withdrawal.


What does this mean for the coming weeks?

Although the British Ministry of Defense rightly noted in a statement on Saturday that the capture of Severodonetsk is not decisive for the war, the Russian success should not be marginalized. The Russian army has a window of opportunity in the coming weeks during which it will have artillery and air superiority in the Donbass. During this time, the encirclement of Lysychansk will take place. Russian forces already blockade the city and the suburbs remaining under Ukrainian control from two sides. In addition, Moscow's troops are already preparing a bridgehead in the back of the city to cut off Lysychansk from supplies. 

According to the deputy interior minister of the "Luhansk People's Republic", about 12,000 Ukrainian soldiers and mercenaries can be expected in the region. If this figure is reasonably accurate, there would be more than twice as many defenders in the Lysychansk area as in Mariupol, which withstood the Russians for nearly three month.

It is also conceivable that in the next few weeks - as a result of further regrouping by the Russians - the front lines will break in other places as well, and Russia will repeat its strategy of pincers and kettles in areas such as around Svitlodarsk, Avdiyivka, Niu York, or Marinka, or will dare to cross the Siversky Donets River even before taking Lysychansk, which failed in May.

Thus, it is very likely that this summer Slavyansk and Kramatorsk will take over the strategic task of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Then two questions will become pertinent: To what extent will Western arms deliveries increase the fighting capacity of the Ukrainian army and to what extent will the two armies be able to match their personnel losses?

*The author is the Editor of the Tebel Report in Austria. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Al Bawaba News. 

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