“The Battle of the Donbas will remind you of World War II, with major operations, movements, the involvement of thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, aircraft, artillery. This will not be a local operation based on what we see in Russia’s preparations,” he said. said Kuleba at a press conference in Brussels.
“Russia has its plan, we have ours and the battlefield will decide,” he added.
In the coming weeks, officials expect Russian troops to recapture supplies and relocate with the aim of launching a brutal new offensive in the Donbas, which covers the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
“We are now seeing a significant shift of troops away from Kyiv to rally, re-arm and renew supply, and a shift in focus to the East,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Serhiy Volyna, deputy commander of the naval base in Mariupol, which has been fighting in the region since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, said the situation was “important”.
“This is a humanitarian accident. The army that took part in the active conflict here is completely surrounded. There are supply problems with water, food, medicine and the general supply. This is a very difficult situation.”
“We have been surrounded in Mariupol for more than 40 days. The enemy is more than us and in terms of weapons, their artillery, they have artillery at sea, tanks, armored vehicles and of course grenades. It is difficult for us,” Volyna said.
On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also listed the cities of Volnovakha, Izium and Popasna as places where “there have been allegations of a large number of civilians. Russian forces carried out 27 attacks on a residential area in the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday night, Kharkiv Regional Commander Oleg Synegubov said in a statement on Telegram.
Gaining control of Mariupol would allow Russia to create a tunnel connecting Crimea with the Donbas, which would allow troops to move freely from the southern peninsula to bolster their mainland troops.
But Russian troops have not yet been able to break through Ukraine’s resistance in the east. They will probably try to surround Ukrainian fighters in the east in the coming weeks, and whether they can or not can make a difference in determining the course of the war.
Russia is returning policy
Since the outbreak of the war, Russia has carried out devastating airstrikes across much of the country – with devastating missile and artillery fire that reached far into the central and western parts of the country.
But a ground campaign and a series of military attacks – especially around the capital Kyiv and in the north – mean that Moscow has made much less landfall than most experts expected.
Russian fighters evacuated from the Kyiv region this week after Ukrainian troops regained control of the capital-held region, but Russia has also failed to gain full control of the air in Ukraine and has suffered heavy casualties since the invasion began.
To achieve that goal, Stoltenberg said that NATO expects Russia to launch a “very focused” attack in the east aimed at capturing the entire Donbas region.
It is too early to say whether Putin has permanently abandoned his goal of capturing Kyiv and defeating opposition across Ukraine. But his shift in focus comes in the wake of a series of losses elsewhere in the country that have halted his invasion and stretched his forces.
Major new battlefields
Russian troops are now expected to try to halt Ukrainian forces in the east and join forces across the region.
This means that attention will probably soon turn to the city of Sloviansk, with offensive by Russian troops from Izium to the north.
“The efforts of Russian troops advancing from Izyum to reach Slovyansk are likely to prove to be the next important battle of the war in Ukraine,” the think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC said in an update on Monday. conflict in Ukraine. Its report uses other transcriptions of Ukrainian place names.
Russia’s successful attack on the city would give Moscow the opportunity to join forces with those fighting in Rubizhne, northeast of Sloviansk, or move them south, towards Horlivka and Donetsk, to try to encircle Ukrainian fighters there, the group added. .
But “if Russian forces can not take Slovyansk at all, it is unlikely that the attacks on the Russian front in the Donbas will overthrow Ukraine’s self-defense and Russia’s campaign to reach all of Luhansk and Donetsk regions is likely to fail,” ISW said.
On Thursday, Ukrainian Interior Minister Admiral Vadym Denysenko agreed that the “most difficult situation” facing Ukraine is in the eastern part of the country, where Ukrainian military officials say they have been monitoring the build-up of Russian troops.
“Unfortunately, Russia continues to do everything it did before in Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and so on – to destroy civilian infrastructure,” he said. “The current situation is very difficult for Sloviansk and Kramatorsk,” said Denysenko.
“These are the key issues at this stage of this war. I really believe that the success of at least this stage of this war will largely depend on the conflict in the East.”
What is the situation in the east now?
Cities in eastern Ukraine have been plagued by persistent and devastating attacks by Russia for several weeks.
Mariupol, on the southern tip of the Donetsk region, has been particularly humiliated and has come to serve as a symbol of Russia’s brutal war. In a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko said more than 90% of the city’s infrastructure had been destroyed by Russia and that at least 40% of it was “no longer recoverable”.
5,000 people have died in the city in the first month of the invasion, including about 210 children, Boychenko said, citing preliminary figures.
The humanitarian situation in Mariupol, meanwhile, is “getting worse and worse,” Lucile Marbeau, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told CNN on Wednesday. “Right now there is no, no water, no electricity, hardly any connection,” Marbeau said.
But Mariupol is not alone; Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday that heavy fighting was raging across eastern Ukraine, with the regional governor of eastern Luhansk region urging civilians to evacuate several towns.
Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said: “If we talk about the key policies in which fighting will take place, it’s Slovakia. [Donetsk region] and Barvinkove [Kharkiv region] instructions, in the Luhansk region it is in the Popasna and Rubizhne region and of course in Mariupol.
Serhii Haidai, the general of the Luhansk region, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for the evacuation of several towns in the region. “Russia is destroying railway connections in the Donetsk region,” he told Telegram.
“We will take everyone out if Russia allows us to get to the meeting places,” he said. “As you can see, they do not always respect the ‘ceasefire regime’.”
What does Putin want in eastern Ukraine?
Russia’s pro-Russian separatists seized control of parts of the Donbas region in 2014, when Moscow responded to protests overthrowing the Ukrainian Kremlin-friendly president by inciting an uprising in eastern Ukraine. Fighting has been going on there ever since.
When Putin began his invasion by sending troops into eastern Ukraine on February 22, he argued that the protection of the Donbas population against “genocide” by the Ukrainian authorities was one of the reasons – a false statement that was completely rejected by Ukraine and the international community. . .
This followed the days of baseless assertions about Ukraine’s sovereignty and Russia’s decision to recognize two areas in Luhansk and Donetsk that were held by pro – Russian separatists. And since the start of the civil war two days later, Donbas’ alleged liberation has played a key role in Kremlin discourse.
In the first weeks of the invasion, there were bombings in cities and towns far beyond that part of Ukraine; Russia invaded from the north, east and south, drawing close attention to Kyiv and other major cities, where strikes even reached Lviv in western Ukraine.
But with a revised plan, Putin is focusing on the region that was at the heart of his efforts to justify the invasion. The Russian Defense Ministry’s daily rallies have sought to focus on success in these areas, and in recent weeks various Russian officials have described the Donbas region as the main target of the operation, with other operations aimed solely at bringing down Ukrainian troops.
“In the coming weeks, we expect further Russian invasion of eastern and southern Ukraine, to try to capture all the Donbas and build a land bridge to the occupied Crimean peninsula,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
After six difficult weeks of war, Putin is under pressure to prove himself victorious, and eastern Ukraine is the place where he is most likely to be able to do so soon, said some US officials familiar with the latest US intelligence assessment. US intelligence reports that Putin is focused on May 9, Russia’s “victory day,” according to one official.
But other officials point out that even if it is a Russian festival, a real victory could be far away.
“Putin will march on May 9, regardless of the state of the war or the peace talks,” he said. “On the other hand: a victory march with any soldiers and vehicles?”
Nathan Hodge from CNN, Tim Lister, Ivan Watson, AnneClaire Stapleton, Niamh Kennedy, Chris Liakos, Olga Voitovych, Barbara Starr, Jim Sciutto, Alex Marquardt, Jeremy Herb and Katie Bo Lillis all contributed to the report.