Russia advances positions in eastern Ukraine by controlling the key city of Lisichansk | International
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With a brief statement and without the rhetoric of past victories, the Russian army claims to have achieved the definitive achievement of one of its first two territorial objectives in Ukraine: the conquest of the Lugansk province. After 130 days of fighting, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigú, informed Vladimir Putin on Sunday that the city of Lisichansk, the last city of importance controlled by kyiv in the area, has fallen into his hands, according to the Russian military department.
Despite the fact that Russia assures that it controls the city in its entirety, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense responds that parts are still in the hands of the kyiv forces. Speaking to the BBC, the ministerial spokesman explained that the situation in Lisichansk has been “very intense” for a long time, with Russian troops “attacking without pause”. Regardless of the information provided by each side, there is no doubt that Russia is advancing its control of Donbas and that its control of Lisichansk is either complete or very advanced.
Just an hour before Shoigu’s announcement, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov explained that the battle for the city was continuing. “Russian troops and units of the Luhansk People’s Republic are fighting inside Lisichansk, thus completing the defeat of an encircled enemy,” the army representative said. The head of the pro-Russian separatist zone of Lugansk compared this July 3 “with the distant 1945”, the year that World War II ended. “I congratulate everyone on this new great Victory Day. This date also has tears in the eyes, the battles were hard and bloody,” he told the Russian news agency Tass.
The spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense added that, although Russia finally takes over the entire Lugansk province, the battle for the Donbas area “is not over”, since other cities in the Donetsk province are still in Ukrainian hands. The controversy is reminiscent of the one that took place weeks ago in Severodonestk, a town that the Russians still took a long time to fully control from the moment they said they had already fulfilled their objective.
On February 21, three days before starting his offensive, Vladimir Putin signed two decrees that recognized the two self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent countries, something that other close allies of Moscow such as Kazakhstan have not done. The Russian president later clarified that his borders would correspond to those drawn by the separatists in May 2014 in two illegal referendums. This included the territory that the Ukrainian government managed to keep after the war until 2015.
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On the eastern front, Ukrainian troops are facing an intense artillery offensive in residential areas. In recent weeks, Moscow has intensified missile attacks in areas far from the war front, hitting civilian targets. Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has accused Russia of state terrorism.
Oleksii Arestovich, advisor to the Ukrainian president, has admitted that Russian troops have crossed the Donets River and are approaching Lisichansk from the north. “It’s a threat. I do not rule out any outcome. Things will be much clearer in one or two days,” said Arestovich, who believes that, even if the Russians take Lisichansk, things will be complicated for the Kremlin, which will have to focus on defending six major cities in the Donbas area. .
Ukrainian military expert Mikhailo Samus downplays the taking of Lisichansk. “Already at the beginning of the war, Putin said that he had liberated the entire Luhansk province. But it has taken four months to complete the operation, ”he says in a telephone conversation. Samus argues that from a global perspective, the key in the war for Ukraine is now to liberate southern cities like Kherson and Melitopol. And the fact that all Russian forces are concentrating on the battle in the east gives the kyiv troops more chances to advance south.
Samus believes that the Russian strategy of attacking civilian targets with no military interest – as happened on Monday in a shopping center in Kremenchuk, in the center of the country, or on Friday in a residential building on the outskirts of Odessa – responds to the will of the Kremlin to increase psychological pressure on the Ukrainian population and lower their morale. “Of course it is a tragedy for us the loss of human lives, but Putin only wants us to become demoralized and more and more Ukrainians to think that we are facing an enemy that is too powerful, and that it would be better to give up,” he concludes.
The thinktank The US Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on Saturday that geolocation images showed that Russian forces had met no resistance on their entry into Lisichansk. On June 24, the Ukrainian army reported that it had withdrawn from Severodonestk. Already then it was clear that the next objective of the Moscow forces would be Lisichansk, the twin city of Severdonetsk on the other side of the Donets River. The ISW added that, in all likelihood, Russian troops would take over the entire Luhansk province in the coming days. Once they succeed, the next objective will be Siversk, a town in the neighboring province of Donetsk.
Putin admits his concern for his own casualties
The Kremlin has claimed to have different objectives in Ukraine throughout these four months of fighting. Putin announced the entry of his troops into Ukraine on February 24 from three fronts, including from Belarus, with “the demilitarization and denazification” of the country as goals. Later, after abandoning the fighting for kyiv in March, he has reiterated that it is a “special military operation for the defense of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.”
Leonid Pashenchik, leader of the Lugansk secessionists, welcomed the Russian advance. “Ukrainian neo-Nazis who came to our land to kill and steal were defeated!” he stated with the usual rhetoric about a territory that Russia has recognized as Ukrainian for more than three decades.
Putin admitted on June 29 that the advance of his troops in the east is taking place more cautiously to avoid a greater number of casualties. “You shouldn’t talk about deadlines, that’s life. They are real things. It is wrong to stick to some deadlines, this is due to the intensity of the hostilities, and the intensity is directly related to the possible losses,” said the president, who stressed that “everything is going according to plan” because the Russian forces continue to advance.
In these four tragic months, the Russian Ministry of Defense has only announced an official number of casualties twice, the last one on March 25, when it claimed to have registered 1,351 dead and 3,825 wounded among its troops until then. However, the figures estimated by the Ukrainian government and the NATO countries multiplied those numbers several times.
The conflict has also reached the Russian border region of Belgorod this Sunday, whose governor, Viacheslav Gladkov, reported that at least four civilians died on Saturday night when fragments of a Tochka-U missile fell on the capital. As the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry later explained, its anti-aircraft systems hit a total of three rockets and several drones.
The Lugansk region was the front from which Russia started with the most advantage due to its previous control of the area through the separatists. The battle for Donetsk, however, ventures more complicated. His forces have yet to reach the city of Sloviansk, the place where Russian paramilitaries sparked the war eight years ago.
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