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4 questions in the Russian campaign attacking eastern Ukraine

4 questions in the Russian campaign attacking eastern Ukraine 2

4 questions in the Russian campaign attacking eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on April 18 that Russia had begun a military campaign in the Donbass region, eastern part of the country.

Experts say that the war situation during this period will be very difficult, because the eastern region of Ukraine is strategically important to both Moscow and Kiev.

A Ukrainian soldier on the front lines in Donbass on April 11.

Where did the decisive battles take place?

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the focus of the second phase of the special military campaign in Ukraine is to `completely liberate` the Donbass region, especially the Lugansk and Donetsk areas.

Just before the campaign, President Vladimir Putin recognized independence for these two areas currently controlled by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

`If Russia controls both major areas, it will bring Mr. Putin some tangible results from the campaign. The next step will likely be to annex Donbass into the territory, just like Russia did with

To prepare for decisive battles, Russia spent a lot of time redeploying forces, mobilizing weapons as well as bringing more resources to the region, aiming for a final victory.

But the terrain in eastern Ukraine will pose a big challenge to Russian forces as they advance.

Russian forces on the night of April 17 launched an attack on the city of Kreminna in the Lugansk region and took control of this target after two days of fighting.

However, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), headquartered in Washington, USA, predicts that other targets will not be so easy for Russian forces.

If Russian forces advancing from the city of Izyum in Kharkov province are able to capture Slovyansk, they could use the city as a springboard to choose to advance east toward Severodonetsk to encircle the relatively small group of Ukrainian forces.

Another hot spot of fighting is the port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine.

How ready is Ukraine to defend?

Ben Barry, an expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said that Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region have had many years to prepare a defensive posture and the Russian army will face many difficulties when confronting them.

During 8 years of fighting with separatists in the east, the Ukrainian army deployed its most elite and battle-hardened units to Donbass.

`Ukrainian forces not only dug intricate trenches in the style of World War I, but they also turned important towns and villages into defensive fortresses,` he commented.

4 questions in the Russian campaign attacking eastern Ukraine

A convoy of armored vehicles of pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine.

According to him, Ukraine’s armored forces and other heavy equipment have been arranged in combat emplacements, trenches or bunkers to better withstand Russian firepower.

Many Ukrainian soldiers in the east have extensive combat experience after many years of fighting with separatists.

How will Russia attack?

According to Barry, Russia is likely to still apply the traditional `artillery first, post-shock` strategy on the Donbass front.

Artillery is a heavy weapon that can fire bullets much farther and more powerfully than small weapons.

Russia has many types of weapons to use for this tactic.

Self-propelled guns have a tank-like shape, but fire rainbow-style bullets, rather than aiming directly at the target.

To attack Ukrainian positions from longer distances, Russia has deployed multiple rocket launchers and is likely to use them extensively.

According to some reports, thermobaric weapons have also been used by Russian forces in many regions of Ukraine such as Mariupol in Donetsk and Izyum in Kharkov.

They have much greater destructive power than conventional bullets of similar size, thanks to the mechanism of dispersing the flammable mixture like a cloud that covers the target, then explodes, creating a huge fireball.

Expert Samuel Cranny-Evans from the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said thermobaric weapons are `primarily designed for urban warfare` because the flammable cloud can disperse and creep.

If artillery successfully destroys Ukraine’s key defense lines, Russia is likely to deploy infantry and various types of tracked armor and tanks with heavy firepower to overwhelm the target.

The air force includes fighter bombers and armed helicopters that can provide effective fire support for infantry.

What could hinder Russian forces?

Analysts are unclear whether Russian forces have resolved the serious logistical problems they encountered in the first weeks of the campaign.

Russian soldiers at that time were said to have encountered many difficulties due to lack of fuel, food, drinking water and basic equipment such as walkie-talkies or warm clothes.

`The key lies in training, combat motivation and command ability. Russian forces did not perform well in Kiev and we do not know whether they have learned from experience or not,` Barry said.

Reports also show that up to now, Russia has lost significantly more military assets than Ukraine.

Oryx, an open source military analysis website, estimates Russia lost more than 400 tanks, 20 planes and 32 helicopters, as well as hundreds of armored vehicles and other equipment in 54 days of fighting.

4 questions in the Russian campaign attacking eastern Ukraine

New Russian attacks in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s smaller losses may reflect the size of Ukraine’s armed forces, but may also indicate their tactical success.

Michael Kofman from the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), based in the US, said it will take some time before Ukraine can master these weapons to make a clear difference on the battlefield.

If the fighting in the East lasts longer, Russia can gain an important advantage, especially when Western weapons support to Ukraine cannot meet battlefield needs, while Russia can produce its own weapons.

`For every missile launcher or artillery piece destroyed, the Ukrainian army has almost no replacement options. But Moscow still has the production capacity, so the Russian army can completely replace the destroyed equipment.`

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