Military analysts have been saying for days that Russian forces have “suspended” offensive operations in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. But try saying that to Ukrainian fighters under fire and entrenched in defensive positions in towns and villages.
Skirmishes raged in at least 10 locations in Donetsk province, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday, as the Russians tried to improve their positions along a fragmented front line, apparently ahead of what is expected to be a much larger military push to seize the pieces. of the province they do not control.
“The occupiers tried to take control of the section of the road” which connects the cities of Bakhmut and Lysychansk, declared the Ukrainian general staff in an evening bulletin which listed a multitude of clashes. Russian forces also carried out “assault operations” in several other locations, including the villages of Nagirny and Bilohorivka, according to the bulletin. “Ukrainian soldiers stopped all these evil attempts of the enemy with fire and pushed him back.”
Elsewhere in the province, the bulletin recounted how Ukrainian soldiers had “again succeeded in repelling” an assault and, in another place, it was written: “Under the fire of Ukrainian soldiers, the remnants of the enemy forces withdrew”. . There was no immediate comment on the fighting from Moscow.
Donbass, which is close to the Russian border which was a region of heavy industry, mining and agriculture, has been the focus of President Vladimir V. Putin’s campaign in Ukraine ever since Russian forces failed to failed to capture the two most important cities of the country, Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, at the start of the conflict. Donbass is made up of the provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk.
Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at NAC, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia, said this week that “this is a very temporary reprieve; it’s not really an operational pause. Speaking on the ‘War on the Rocks’ podcast, he said Russian forces were still trying to press, “not with much success”, on fortified Ukrainian positions around the city of Sloviansk.
He said the next Russian advance would most likely target that city and another further south, Kramatorsk, and the fight for Donetsk province could drag on for months. He and other analysts, including Western intelligence officials, pointed out that Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses and face serious manpower problems.
This week, US officials and others familiar with intelligence assessments estimated that a total of about 20,000 Russians were killed and about 60,000 wounded. Russia has tried to recruit more soldiers with offers of large cash bonuses for volunteers, Ukrainians from breakaway territories, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units.
Ukraine has also lost a significant number of soldiers: in June, a senior government official said the country was losing up to 100-200 soldiers every day.
The military also faces equipment shortages. Nearly a third of Russian equipment has been destroyed, according to Western officials, although the Kremlin retains a significant advantage in heavy weapons.
This led Ukrainian officials to repeatedly plead for more heavy weapons and ammunition from the West, saying they needed supplies to counter Russia’s long-range advantage. On Friday, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, greeted the arrival of the first M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, an armored vehicle that is its most advanced artillery rocket launcher.
Mr Reznikov said the weapon would be “good company” for US-supplied high-mobility artillery rocket systems or HIMARS. The United States has delivered eight and promised four more truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers. The Ukrainian army says it is using those who have arrived to hit Russian bases and depots behind the front lines.
Still, some analysts say Ukraine needs dozens more to effectively combat Russian artillery, and Ukrainian officials have said they need 300 multiple rocket launchers.