As Western authorities increasingly fear that Russia’s war in Ukraine could drag on for months or years, the Kremlin appears to be concentrating its operations around the town of Izium as part of renewed efforts to s capture the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
According to Ukrainian military officials, Russia has gathered forces around the town, 75 miles southeast of Kharkiv on the Donets River, as well as around the Russian town of Belgorod across the border. . There are unconfirmed claims that Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov was appointed to command the thrust.
In the past week alone, Moscow has added 13 battalion tactical groups to forces fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine, amounting to between 10,000 and 13,000 additional troops.
The growing scale of the offensive around Izium comes as an unnamed US official suggested on Thursday that some Russian troops fighting in the southern port city of Mariupol were being moved northwest, possibly as part of of an effort to encircle areas of Donetsk. and the Luhansk regions still under Ukrainian control.
According to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces appeared to be seeking to bypass Izium to avoid becoming bogged down in fighting there, instead heading towards Sloviansk, an assessment has been resumed. by the latest Ukrainian updates. .
“Russian forces are attacking [the] southwest of Izium are likely seeking to bypass Ukrainian defenses on the direct route to Sloviansk,” the institute’s update read, noting that Russian forces have made only minor gains during of the last 24 hours.
He added, however, that “additional Russian reinforcements continue to deploy to Belgorod to support the Izium advance.”
Russian forces appear to be attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses on a salient northeast of Sloviansk, while attempting to encircle Ukrainian forces to the east at Severodonetsk.
The Kremlin’s new war objective – aimed at building a wide land bridge between the Russian border and occupied Crimea and beyond – was accompanied by a change in tactics towards a slower and more deliberate advance as the he Russian army continued to struggle with logistics and other issues in managing its campaign.
The latest stage of the offensive has been marked by an increased concentration of artillery and the use of artillery fire to support slowly advancing Russian troops, with a Pentagon official describing ‘slow and uneven’ progress in the fighting hard work in the Donbass region. Eastern Ukraine.
According to a Pentagon official quoted by The New York Times, Russian troops, however, are still only making “incremental” progress in the campaign around Izium.
Commenting on the announced appointment of Gerasimov to command the offensive “at the operational and tactical level”, a senior Western official told reporters on Friday that he was highlighting the operational difficulties Russia saw it needed to bring forward its most senior military officer. ranking officer.
“I think the reports, if credible, show the command and control challenges that Russia faces. The fact that Gerasimov came forward to give some impetus to the aggressions is a true statement of the challenges in Donbass.
The official added: “In the Donbass, we see slow progress – sometimes as little as a kilometer a day in terms of terrain. And what we see there is the indiscriminate use of the power of fire as they make smarter use of artillery to support the ground forces, but this is done in such a way that it puts the civilian population in danger in some towns and villages.
With its failed coup attempt against kyiv in the early weeks of the war, which saw Russian special forces infiltrate dangerously close to where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sheltering, Moscow opted for a tactic of slowly crushing Ukrainian resistance.
While Moscow has lost thousands of soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles, Ukraine’s spending on ammunition and weapons systems has also depleted it, explaining the massive $33 billion military aid package (£26.3 billion) announced this week by US President Joe Biden.
All of this has not only raised the specter of a long war, but also the risk that in the end – as Boris Johnson said a week ago – Russia could prevail.
“We have to be prepared for the long term,” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, told a summit in Brussels this week.
“It is absolutely possible that this war will drag on and last for months and years.”
The assessment followed comments by Boris Johnson, made during his visit to Delhi last week, which painted an equally pessimistic picture, including the prospect of a Russian victory.
“I think the sad thing is that it’s a realistic possibility,” he said. “Putin has a huge army. He has a very difficult political position because he made a catastrophic blunder. The only option he has now is really to keep trying to use his horrendous artillery-led crushing approach, trying to crush the Ukrainians.
“He is about to secure a land bridge in Mariupol. The situation is, I fear, unpredictable at this point, but we just have to be realistic about it.
This pessimism was motivated by a number of factors. Even though Bulgaria has offered to help Ukraine export its wheat through the port of Varna, the Russian naval blockade of the Ukrainian coast remains considerably damaging.
In the short term, despite heavy losses in men and equipment, Russian forces still have easier access to equipment resupplies until US and other Western arms deliveries step up, including a significant advantage in deployed naval and air forces, although Western officials say the balance of power is no longer so “overwhelming” for Ukraine.
While the United States and the West believe that Ukraine “can win” the war against Russia – a view expressed by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin after his recent visit to Ukraine – it will likely involve a bloody and prolonged entanglement.