When Russia announced it’s “stage two goals” this week, they made it clear that not only does Russia intend to take all of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine, but an area all along the Black Sea coast from the Donbas to the border of Moldova. Previously, Russia had made noises as if all these various areas of occupied territory were to be treated as “independent republics” which would be be given an opportunity for some kind of “referendum” to define their relationship to Russia. All of that was BS to begin with, and now Russia isn’t even keeping up the pretense. Instead, Russian officials are insisting that the area will become a single large “federal district” of Russia.
Putin’s war was always a war of conquest. As the days go past, Russian attacks meet ever more resistance, and more civilian areas are targeted for destruction by a frustrated Russian military, the whole story about those “independent republics” is being discarded. The problem for Russia is that if those republics were always a cover story, the idea of their Russia to Transnistria corridor seems like a fairy tale.
On Saturday, Russia tossed a reported three more cruise missiles into Odesa, apparently striking a residential area. How much damage, in buildings or lives, those missiles have caused isn’t yet clear. But they certainly didn’t cause any harm to Ukrainian defenses. They absolutely don’t serve the Russian goal of extending the area it controls beyond Kherson.
Throwing cruise missiles at Odesa isn’t a military tactic. It’s an act of murderous petulance. For all the damage it causes, it’s an expression of how powerless Russia is to actually take the things it wants from Ukraine.
How much trouble is Russia having in achieving it’s stated goals? Let’s go back, once again, to the other side of the country and the town of Popasna. Before the invasion, Popasna had a reported population of 19,000. It’s less than two miles from the larger town of Pervomaisk, which Russia has controlled for eight years.
On Saturday, as Russia was sending missiles at Odesa, it was lobbing artillery shells into Popasna. At least two people are reported dead. But the fact that Russia is still throwing artillery at Popasna clearly underlines one thing: They still haven’t taken it. Russia has run an unknown number of armored columns down that single broken stretch of highway. On Wednesday, it reported that it had captured Popasna. Russian state television ran video of a triumphant tank commander reportedly sailing into the town as they announced the “complete occupation.” Only it is not occupied.
Russia is making advances in the east, but so is Ukraine. Over the last two weeks, Russia has not been able to mount any major attack. Unfortunately, Ukraine has also not been able to mount a major counterattack. Kherson is still under Russian control, Ukrainian forces don’t seem to have made a significant advance toward the supply chain supporting that Izyum salient. No one has been able to break through to relieve Mariupol.
But then, Ukraine may not be focusing on any of those things. With thousands of new tanks, UAVs, helicopters, transports, and artillery pieces to deal with, it’s all that Ukraine can do to get the new equipment into place, deal with the suddenly wealth of gear (and increased complexity), and prepare themselves to move when Russia moves.
Russia ramps up it’s excuse game. Because it’s not as if they gave up on getting defenders out of the Azovstal plant because those defenders were winning.
This represents the greatest southern advance from that Izyum salient. However, it’s only just over 10km of movement, along a highway with no additional towns or villages, in over two weeks. It’s not clear to what extent Ukraine has been contesting this advance.
The Ukrainian army is reportedly concerned about the possibility of forces on the east side of the Siverskyi Donets River (east of this advance) being attacked from three sides, and has reportedly made contingency plans to pull back beyond the river, withdrawing from the area south of Oskil.
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