There are eight days left until the ultimatum of Vladimir Putin to Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov: conquer the entire Donbas before the end of March. Russia has been sending tens of thousands of men to the front lines since late last year in a gradual campaign aimed at completely breaking the Ukrainian defense on the front stretching from Siversk and Kupiansk in the north to Vuhledar and Avdiivka in the south. With winter over, the fact is that the situation is practically identical to that of two months ago, when Putin dismissed Sergei Surovikin as head of the “special military operation.”
Russia is leaving everything on the ground, aware that time is against them and that the weapons promised by the West will soon reach the front line of combat. He has sent units of his regular army to fight in the Kreminna forest and on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, looking for a way to Zaporizhia. He has squeezed every last drop of blood from the mercenaries of the Wagner Group, both from their elite troops and from the patches in the form of inexperienced convicts. He has bombed power plants, has left without electricity or gas to a large part of the Ukrainian civilian population and has tried to undermine their morale with attacks on residential buildings.
The hope that “General Winter” would become an ally for the Russians has been more myth than reality. Spring has just begun, Ukraine has managed to repel all Russian attacks. The only exception, Bakhmut, albeit with many asterisks. To put the situation in the city, which is supposed to be key to later attacking the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk core, into context, it must be remembered that Wagner’s troops took the Soledar salt mines on January 13. By then, it was already said that Ukraine would not be able to sustain its defense. Two months and ten days later, the Russians are still out of control of the city.
[Zelenski planta cara a Rusia y visita a las tropas en primera línea del frente de batalla en Bakhmut]
Zaluzhnyi’s great triumph
Defying all the predictions of Western experts, including the Pentagon, Ukraine is managing to hold out and avoid the pincer that would condemn its troops to immediate surrender. For several days, still in February, there was speculation about an orderly withdrawal of the defenders of Bakhmut to organize a possible counteroffensive a few kilometers away, in positions close to Chasiv Yar. The Ukrainian high command preferred to hold on. There was no guarantee that an orderly withdrawal would not embolden the troops of the Wagner Group and convince the Kremlin that it was time to send more resources to complete the mission.
Valerii Zaluzhnyi he trusted his possibilities and, above all, he distrusted the Russian potential. If he could keep them busy in Bakhmut for a few more weeks, he could beat them. Not only that, but he avoided concentrations of troops at other more important points on the front and, above all, he made sure that, even in the event of defeat, the damage to the invading army would be so deep that it would have no way of recovering in time. to start a attack on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk before the summer arrival of western weapons.
Time seems to have proved him right. The internal dissensions between the faction of Shoigu and Gerasimov and that of Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, are bleeding the Russian army and limiting its already dubious potential. When it seemed that the fall of Bakhmut was a matter of days, the defense ministry was more concerned that Prigozhin did not take the medals of success than to finish the action. For his part, Prigozhin himself, seeing that his enemy did not retreat, did not know how to find a plan B and did not dare to fight street by street with his best men as cannon fodder.
Goodbye to the convicts
The latter makes sense and is part of a complex situation for the Wagner Group and for Russia in general. Many of the convicts who were recruited six months ago with the promise of being exonerated from their sentences have died or been injured. The rest see how these days their commitment expires and they will therefore be released. The news that we receive from independent organizations confirm that this is happening and that Putin is keeping his promise… while trying to enlist men wherever and however to avoid a new mobilization.
[“No es un día más en Zaporiyia”: el vídeo del bombardeo en un edificio residencial]
The result is noticeable on the ground. The offenses are getting weaker. There aren’t as many men to send to certain death for a hundred-meter advance to post on Telegram anymore. After weeks of pessimism, there seems to be some consensus that Russia is losing the initiative and its operations are slowing down. This does not mean that the danger has passed, but it does support Zaluzhnyi’s thesis: resistance will force the enemy, in the worst case, to undergo an arduous recomposition of forces that will prevent him from continuing his offensive. The core of the Ukrainian Donbas seems right now out of imminent danger.
Without outside help – no matter how much the propaganda repeats images of Xi and Putin exchanging complimentsthe truth is that China still has not decided to support Russia militarily – the situation of the Russian army in Ukraine is precarious: neither with its regular units, nor with the mobilization of three hundred thousand extra men, nor with the support of the best professional army in the world are capable of taking a city of fewer than 75,000 citizens after nine months of siege.
a scary year
During all this time, the russians have been banking on a ukrainian escape of their positions. They understood that it was enough to impose themselves in number and strength for the enemy to let them do it. It has not been like that and it remains to be seen what will happen now. If Prigozhin fails to conquer Bakhmut after all his efforts, his political future will hang in the balance. His glorious army will have suffered irreparable damage for absolutely nothing.
In June 2022, when Russia took Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, completing the conquest of the Lugansk region, no one expected that nine months later they would still not approach Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Impossible to imagine that, along the way, they would have lost Liman, Izium, Bilohorivka and all the ground conquered in the spring in the southeast of Kharkov. The fear that the situation will repeat itself this summer-autumn is logical. The time will soon come when Russia will have to consider whether it really makes sense to continue attacking or if it is more convenient to prepare the defense.
[Nueva ola de ataques rusos contra Ucrania con 81 misiles: explosiones en Kiev y Leópolis]