Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 499, 13 April 2022

Russia: The strategic shift from Kyiv to the Donbas
Rishma Banerjee

Russia: The strategic shift from Kyiv to the Donbas
In the news
On 6 April, the Russian forces after trying to capture Kyiv, started withdrawing, amidst allegations of war crimes, torture, and mass killing.  Earlier, the Defence Ministry spokesperson, Sergei Rudskoy mentioned Russia's refocus of its military offensive. He said: “The main aims of the first phase of the operation have been fulfilled. The military capacities of Ukraine’s armed forces have been significantly decreased, which allows efforts to be focused on achieving our main aim: liberating Donbas.”

On 11 April, the Pentagon spokesperson, John Kirby said: “We have seen some early indications that the Russians are in fact trying to resupply and reinforce their efforts in the Donbas.” On 12 April, a UK Ministry of Defence released a statement: “Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with further fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a renewed push towards Kramatorsk. Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts in Ukraine.”

On 12 April, the TASS reported on the state of people in the DPR region. As per the report, due to continuous attacks from Ukraine’s military, the people in the region had been sustained without water, food, heating and gas. According to the Donetsk separatists group, immediate measures to repair the damages were being carried out. Apart from them, it reported on how the Ukraine military had destroyed homes, social infrastructure, and bridges in the area.

Issues at large
First, the withdrawal from Kyiv. While the withdrawal of troops was hopeful, it has left several areas in and around Kyiv in devastation. Images from Bucha indicate the killings of civilians by the Russian troops. Mass graves and killings have been discovered in many places in Kyiv like the suburban areas of Irpin and Hostome. Ukraine has accused Russia of war crimes and claim 5,600 alleged cases of war crimes. 

Second, the Russian offensive in the east. The partial blockade of Kharkiv continued amidst the use of rockets and grenades by Russian forces in the residential areas. Units of Russia’s 1st Guards Tank Army and the 20th Combined Arms Army have been deployed to Izyum. The UK’s defence ministry also reported that Russian troops in Belarus have been posted in Donbas. Artillery attacks have increased in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Heavy fighting continued in Mariupol, which has been under siege from 24 February. Marines posted there complained about fatigue, and lack of stocks and ammunition and are reportedly close to surrendering.

Third, the humanitarian crisis and loss of property. According to the UNHRC report, about 4.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and 4335 civilians have been killed. There has been a significant loss of property and infrastructure. Even though foreign aid keeps pouring in for Ukraine, how long they will be able to zmobilize their people and maintain this steady retaliation against all odds?

In perspective
First, Russia’s failure in capturing Kyiv. Several factors possibly contributed to Russia's inability to capture Kyiv. The most important factor was the grit and resistance from the Ukrainians . While Russia has made several advances in the south, along the Black sea coast, it could not breach the defence and take over the capital.

Second, Russia’s plans for the Donbas region. Donbas is strategically important;the region rich in coal and steel, and has Russian-speaking and Russian sympathizers. NATO expects Russia to try and connect Donbas and Crimea via a land bridge. Control over this area, and the accompanying part of the Dnieper basin is also likely to facilitate a better-functioning trade hinterland. The Russian offensive at Mariupol has thus been kept at a constant high, as this port city is of great strategic importance to establish better control in the eastern region of Ukraine.

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