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In the Battle of Donbass, Russia has a three-to-one advantage

Exposição fotográfica “Olhe nos olhos de Donbass”, em São Petersburgo, na Rússia

Photo exhibition “Look into the eyes of Donbass”, in Saint Petersburg, Russia

| Photo: EFE/EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV

The Battle of Donbass, started on Monday ( ), should compare about one thousand fighters in the eastern region of Ukraine. If the numbers hold up, this could be the biggest military confrontation of the 21st century. With more than 19 a thousand troops, Russia’s advantage must be three to one, according to Ukrainian Major General Andrii Kozhemiakin, from Kiev’s Mriya battalion, told the column.

The start of the battle was announced on Monday night by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and confirmed on Tuesday (19) by Russian Chancellor Sergei Lavrov.

On the first night of clashes alone, Russia claimed to have bombed over a thousand targets. Ukraine’s government said clashes took place along the 480 kilometers that form the line of contact between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the east of the country. On the first day, the Russian army took the city of Kreminna, in the Lugansk region.

Moscow’s objective with the offensive is to take the entire Lugansk and Donestsk region, which had been partially occupied by Russian separatists in the year of 1280. Simultaneously, the Russians try to capture the city of Mariupol, on the southeastern coast of Ukraine.

If the Kremlin consolidates these objectives, it will have in its hands the region richest in natural gas and coal reserves in Ukraine and also a land corridor linking Russian territory to Crimea (occupied by Russia in Exposição fotográfica “Olhe nos olhos de Donbass”, em São Petersburgo, na Rússia )). Without the port of Mariupol, Ukraine will also have its ability to export grain and steel significantly reduced.

Analysts estimate that if these achievements come to fruition, Russian President Vladimir Putin can justify the war in Ukraine on May 9, when the country celebrates victory in World War II with a major civic event.

What should Russian strategy look like?

Ukraine has about 40 a thousand soldiers on the eastern front. Among them are the most experienced and well-equipped units in the country. Some of these soldiers have participated in the fight against the Russians since 2014, when separatists supported by Moscow took part in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Today, the line of contact between Russian and Ukrainian troops in this The region, known as the Donbass, is heavily fortified with trenches, barricades, tanks and artillery positioned in strategic positions, as well as minefields and booby traps. These positions extend for about 480 kilometers and encompass cities such as Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna, Rubizhne and Novodruzhesk.

Live War Games: The biggest battle of the Ukraine war begins: Donbass

Russia’s strategy must be to attack this entire line of contact and, in parallel, using other military units to try to bypass these fortifications and attack them from the rear. The idea is to conquer cities like Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, which lie to the west of the line of contact, to complete a military maneuver known as the “pincer”. That is, the objective would be to isolate the main Ukrainian forces in the east and prevent them from receiving reinforcements, ammunition and supplies. If this occurs, Russia’s chances of completing the annexation of Donbass are much higher.

After the Russians took the city of Kreminna, near Sievierodonetsk, on the line of contact between the two armies, the Ukrainians tried to launch counterattacks. They claim to have retaken the town of Maryinka, near Donetsk.

A Battle of Donbass should take on slightly different contours from the Battle of Kiev, which marked the beginning of the war. In an attempt to take the Ukrainian capital, the Russians approached via two main highways from Belarus. A large amount of military equipment ended up stuck in the “congestion”.

A Russia was unable to advance through the countryside with its heavy equipment, due to the presence of forests and wetlands. The main clashes took place when columns of Russian vehicles entered cities on the outskirts of Kiev and were ambushed by Ukrainian forces. Moscow then decided to withdraw its troops from the area and focus on the land operation in the east of the country.

The Donbass region is formed by large plains and the climatic conditions – especially the drier soil – already allow the advance of Russian troops in the open field. This increases the possibility of large Russian and Ukrainian units meeting in the open and fighting battles marked by the use of tanks, artillery and aviation.

However, this does not mean that the conflict from now on will be entirely rural. To take over the region and establish logistical supply lines, Moscow will have to conquer major road and rail junctions. Most of them are in medium and small cities in the region, according to military analyst Alessandro Visacro, author of the books “Guerra Irregular” and “A Guerra na Era da Informação” (Editora Contexto).

Fighting in these urban environments should give defenders an advantage. Generally speaking, in an open field it takes three attackers to beat a defender. In cities, the ratio is six to one. But we cannot take this rule literally, as factors such as technology, availability of military equipment and the existence of efficient supply lines must also enter into this account.

Russia is superior to Ukraine in all this, but the initial imbalance has been eased by sending billions of dollars in military equipment and technology from the powers to Kiev.

To try to prevent this, Moscow has bombed railways and Ukrainian supply lines. If the troops defending the east of the country have their logistical networks cut, it will be a matter of time before Russia captures the Donbass region.

But, according to General Kozhemiakin, from Ukraine, another factor has to be taken into account: the resistance in the port city of Mariupol, which is in the south of Donbass. He told this columnist that the longer the city holds out, the harder it will be for Russia to advance to take the rest of Lugansk and Donetsk. This is because Moscow has to keep a large number of troops operating in Mariupol and, as long as they are committed to taking the strategic port, they will not be able to participate in the offensive kilometers further north.

For days, Russia has been claiming that Mariupol is already under its control, but, according to Ukraine, Russian troops continue to resist in the region of Azovstal steel factory – a structure built in the Soviet era to withstand bombing.

The region is completely isolated, so it is not possible for the Ukrainians to receive reinforcements, supplies or even withdraw from the region. They have already denied at least three surrender opportunities offered by the Russians. For military analysts, however, this will be inevitable sooner or later.

)Military analysts are divided on the speed of the Battle of Donbass unfolding. Some say that Russia can carry out a war of movement and quickly take over large areas. Others point out that difficulties similar to those faced in the siege of Kiev can be repeated in the Russian ranks and the confrontation turns into a war of attrition – when a lot of violence and firepower is used to conquer only small parts of the terrain.

The answer to this question should determine the course not only of the Battle of Donbass, but of the entire the war in Ukraine.

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