Moscow fails to gain territory for the first time in the war
Russia did not capture any land for the first time in the war this week as it appeared to halt large-scale offensives in Donbas ahead of a renewed push.
Wednesday was the first day since the beginning of the war that Russia neither claimed to, nor was assessed to, have made any territorial gains, the Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, said yesterday.
A Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk killed at least one civilian and injured six others despite the slowdown in frontline fighting. Small-scale combat was reported elsewhere as Moscow sought to keep up pressure on Ukraine.
The lull may indicate Moscow is taking an “operational pause” to reconstitute its forces for an attack on the Ukrainian strongholds of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk after the exhausting two-month battle for the Luhansk region.
Reconstitution requires resting and replacing exhausted soldiers and equipment, as well as reorganising the chain of command and composition of units for the coming mission. Both tasks take considerable time, although they do not imply a complete cessation of combat operation.
After Vladimir Putin ordered a retreat from Kyiv in March, it took about six weeks for his army to be in the correct position for the attack on Donbas.
Russian commanders will likely be under pressure to push on before more Western heavy weapons arrive to reinforce the Ukrainian defence.
A series of strikes have hit Russian ammunition depots over the past week as Ukraine seeks to starve Russia’s artillery of shells.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, said yesterday that Western artillery systems including American Himars and British M270 multiple launch rocket systems had “started working very powerfully”.
“Our defenders inflict noticeable strikes on depots and other spots that are important to the occupiers’ logistics. This significantly reduced the offensive potential of the Russian army,” he said.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the Ukrainian security council, told the Wall Street Journal that the country had received nine Himars to date. The US initially said it would deliver eight by the end of July.
Other officials have warned the deliveries are not enough to match the Russians gun-for-gun and that many more weapons are needed if they are to halt the invasion.
Mr Putin said the West was welcome to “try” to defeat Russia on the battlefield.
“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say, let them try. We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems that everything is heading towards this,” he said in televised comments to Russian parliamentary leaders.
Kramatorsk and Slovyansk are the likely next targets for Russia after Ukraine retreated from Lysychansk, its last foothold in Luhansk, on Sunday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said six buildings including a hotel and an apartment block were damaged in the strike on Kramatorsk and warned the initial death toll could rise.
“This is a deliberate attack on civilians. This will continue until we drive them out,” he said.
Vadym Lyakh, mayor of Slovyansk, said there had been casualties after the town came under fire but gave no further details.
At least three people were killed and five injured in a rocket strike on Kharkiv, according to Oleh Synyehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration.
At home in Russia, Vladimir Putin has sacked the deputy head of the Russian Orthodox Church and arrested a missile scientist in a crackdown on anti-war sentiment.
The Russian Synod said that Metropolitan Hilarion had been sent to Budapest, an outlying diocese, and “shall be relieved of his duties as chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church”.
Meanwhile, police in Moscow this week arrested Col Andrey Grudzinsky, who works at the Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences, and charged him with fraud.
It is the latest in a purge of anti-war Russian officials and academics who have expressed negative views over the war in Ukraine.
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