Vladimir Putin ordered his army to push deeper into the Donbas region yesterday after the Kremlin declared victory in the bloody capture of Luhansk.
Russian forces were told to “press ahead” after a months-long battle that has seriously damaged Moscow’s armed forces in exchange for a relatively small parcel of land.
“Military units, including the east group and the west group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” the Russian president told Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister.
Some military analysts questioned whether Russian forces would need to pause and recuperate before advancing further into territory now well-defended by Ukraine.
During a meeting between the pair yesterday, Putin said he had received plans from two senior generals on “how to continue the offensive operation”.
Hours after Moscow declared victory over Lysychansk – the final Ukrainian-held city in Luhansk – a Russian artillery barrage on Slovyansk, some 65km from the fallen town, killed at least six civilians and left dozens injured.
Slovyansk, where many of the Ukrainian troops previously defending Luhansk have now retreated, and neighbouring Kramatorsk stand in the way of Russia’s ultimate goal of seizing the entire Donbas.
Ukraine’s armed forces said troops were withdrawn to preserve lives in the face of Russia’s superiority with long-range weapons and adopt stronger defensive lines, for counter-offensives. “To preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw. Unfortunately, steel will and patriotism are not enough for success – material and technical resources are needed,” its general staff added.
In his address on Sunday, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, vowed to retake the ceded ground but said his armed forces needed “the most modern weapons” from Western allies.
With the fall of Lysychansk, the fighting is expected to move south-west into Donetsk, with nearby Bakhmut, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk the likely targets of Moscow’s next advance.
Having been embarrassed by its failed attempt to capture Kyiv, the Kremlin in March switched its focus to the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which is made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, said the weeks-long battle for Lysychansk had forced Russia to deploy extra troops who could have been used for fighting elsewhere, and given Ukraine time to fortify positions in Donetsk to make it “harder for the Russians there”.
“The Russian tactics will be the same,” he added. “They will shoot at everything with artillery, but it will be difficult for them to move forward.”
Lysychansk and Severodonetsk, the two main towns in Mr Haidai’s region, were almost entirely razed to the ground by artillery and rocket attacks in Russia’s attempts to capture them.
Ukraine’s general staff reported attacks on towns north of Slovyansk, but insisted Russian forces had not made any territorial gains.
In its daily intelligence update yesterday, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said Russian forces would “almost certainly” switch their focus to Donetsk after capturing Lysychansk. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited