While Russia relies on overwhelming destructive force to advance a mile or two a day into eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers fighting some 400 miles to the south have worked tirelessly to eliminate enemy positions. Russian front line across an expanse of steppes and swamps.
The fighting is fierce on both fronts, and the unfolding of the two campaigns is key to understanding where the war stands, amid growing fears that a prolonged conflict will bring new economic costs to the allies. from Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said last week that he thought he was waiting for the West. While the Russian leader rarely acknowledges Russian losses or defeats, military analysts said the blows his army has suffered have raised questions about whether it can sustain broad offensive operations after its campaign to capture ends. Luhansk province.
Russia has committed the bulk of its combat forces to taking Lysychansk, the last urban center of Luhansk still controlled by the Ukrainian government, and it could fall any day.
Russia has sent thousands more troops east in recent weeks to bolster its offensive in neighboring Donetsk province, where it will likely attempt again to overwhelm heavily fortified Ukrainian positions with its vast arsenal of artillery, missiles and air power, even if its ground forces are reduced.
How diminished each army is after more than four months of war is an open question. Kyiv only releases general estimates of its losses, and Moscow says next to nothing.
British defense chief Ben Wallace said last week that 25,000 Russian troops had been killed since the war began. The number, which could not be independently confirmed, is the highest estimate provided by a senior Western official. The Ukrainian government has admitted to having suffered enormous losses, with hundreds of victims every day.
Even if Russia can drive deeper into Donetsk, its army is struggling to maintain an advance along multiple lines of attack in different parts of a country roughly the size of Texas.
Thursday’s Russian defeat on Snake Island in the Black Sea, where its troops were forced to retreat under heavy Ukrainian bombardment, underscored just how much the Russians depend on superiority in heavy weapons.
The Russian withdrawal from the island was expected to undermine Moscow’s control over vital grain transport routes from Odessa. And when Russian missile strikes on a residential building and recreation center near Odessa killed at least 21 people on Friday, Ukrainians saw it as an act of revenge.
“It was an act of revenge for the successful liberation of Snake Island,” Yevhen Yenin, the first deputy minister of internal affairs, said in an interview. He scoffed at Russian claims that leaving the island was a “goodwill” gesture.
With its forces reduced, Russia has been trying for months to fortify its defensive positions in the south, where Ukraine has retaken parts of the Kherson region west of the Dnieper that Russia captured at the start of the war.
The Ukrainian army said the Russians had been driven out of perimeter defensive positions in several places and that Ukrainian soldiers were operating within 20 miles of the city of Kherson. A senior US Department of Defense official said last week that the Ukrainians were not only retaking villages, but also showing an ability to hold retaken ground.
The Ukrainian army also claimed to have hit Russian military targets near Kherson on Friday. “Operating in pairs, our pilots struck ammunition depots, a strong point and a group of enemy troops and equipment in the area of Snihurivka, Blahodatne, Olhany and Davydiv Brid,” Southern Command said in a Facebook post. , referring to villages. north of Kherson along the line of contact.
But military analysts have warned that despite Ukrainian gains in the south, they are unlikely to be able to mount a broad offensive and move soon on the city of Kherson, the only provincial capital to fall to the forces. Russians.