Conflict in Ukraine: Putin declares victory in besieged Donbass region

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in eastern Ukraine’s Lugansk region on Monday, a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining resistance stronghold in the province.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin in a televised meeting on Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with neighboring Donetsk province make up Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Donbas.

Shoigu told Putin that the operation was completed on Sunday after Russian troops invaded the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.

Putin, in turn, said that the military units that participated in active hostilities and achieved success, the victory in Luhansk, should rest and increase their combat capabilities.

Putin’s statement came as Russian forces sought to deepen their offensive in eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday.

Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the city to avoid being encircled.

There was a risk of an encirclement in Lysychansk, Haidai told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held out for a few more weeks, but they would have paid too high a price.

We managed to make a centralized retreat and evacuate all the wounded, Haidai said. We recovered all the equipment, so from this point the withdrawal was well organized.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces are now focusing their efforts on advancing towards the Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut line in the Donetsk region, half of which is controlled by Russia.

The Russian military has also stepped up its shelling of the main Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, further inside Donetsk.

On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk and 19 others were injured, according to local authorities. Kramatorsk was also criticized on Sunday.

An intelligence briefing on Monday from the British Ministry of Defense supported the Ukrainian military’s assessment, noting that Russian forces will now almost certainly shift to capture Donetsk. The report said that the conflict in Donbas has been exhausting and debilitating, and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

While the Russian military has a huge advantage in firepower, military analysts say it does not have any significant superiority in troop numbers. That means Moscow lacks the resources to gain ground quickly and can only advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket fire to weaken Ukrainian defenses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key objective in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

In his late-night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the pullout but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.

If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points on the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increased supply of weapons modern, Zelenskyy said.

Since failing to capture Kyiv and other areas in northeastern Ukraine earlier in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce bombardment and engaging in house-to-house fighting that devastated cities in the region.

Russia’s invasion has also devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupting supply chains of seeds and fertilizers needed by Ukrainian farmers and blocking the export of grain, a key source of income for the country.

In its intelligence report on Monday, Britain’s Defense Ministry pointed to Russia’s blockade of the key Ukrainian port of Odessa, which has severely restricted grain exports. They predicted that as a result, Ukraine’s agricultural exports would reach just 35 percent of the 2021 total this year.

As Moscow pushed forward with its offensive in eastern Ukraine, areas in western Russia came under fire on Sunday in a resurgence of apparently sporadic Ukrainian attacks across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in western Russia said fragments from an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people on Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

In other developments:

Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front lines in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia is waging a fierce offensive, describe life during what has become a grueling war of attrition as apocalyptic.

Two Russian planes left Bulgaria on Sunday carrying dozens of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has fueled tensions between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

(Only the headline and image in this report may have been modified by Business Standard staff; all other content is auto-generated from a syndicated source.)

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