Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

Ukrainian forces are taking up new defensive lines in the eastern part of the country as President Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia’s victory in the months-long battle of Luhansk.

Russia captured the city of Lysychansk on Sunday (local time) bringing an end to one of the biggest battles in Europe in generations.

For two months, Moscow brought the full power of its ground forces to bear on a small pocket of the front line.

It completed Russia’s conquest of Luhansk province, one of two regions it has demanded Ukraine cede to separatists in the Donbas region.

During a brief televised meeting with his defense minister, Mr Putin congratulated Russian forces on “victories in the Luhansk direction”.

Participants in that combat should “absolutely rest and recover their military preparedness”, while other units continue fighting in other areas, he said.

Vladimir Putin rests his head against his hand, with one finger pointed towards his temple
Mr Putin says participants in that combat should rest and recover “their military preparedness”.(Reuters / pool: Yuri Kochetkov)

The battle is the closest Moscow has come to achieving one of its stated objectives since its forces were defeated trying to capture Kyiv in March.

It marks Russia’s biggest victory since it captured the southern port of Mariupol in late May.

Both sides suffered greatly, with thousands killed and wounded, while claiming they inflicted far greater losses on the other side, along a loop of the Siverskyi Donets river that winds through Luhansk and Donetsk.

Relentless Russian bombardment razed Lysychansk, neighboring Sievierodonetsk and surrounding towns, many of which had heavy industrial plants that defenders had used as fortified bunkers.

Russia had repeatedly tried and failed to surround the Ukrainians, eventually opting to blast them out with artillery.

Military experts said the battle could be a turning point in the war, making a big impact on both sides’ ability to fight on, even though the strategic value of the ruined cities themselves is limited.

“I think it’s a tactical victory for Russia but at an enormous cost,” Neil Melvin of the RUSI think tank in London said.

He compared the battle to the huge fights for meager territorial gains that characterized World War I.

“This has taken 60 days to make very slow progress,” he said.

Moscow will hope Ukraine’s retreat gives Russian forces momentum to push further west into neighboring Donetsk province, where Ukraine still holds the cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut.

‘It hurts a lot’

Ukraine could have withdrawn from Luhansk weeks ago but chose to keep fighting to exhaust the invasion force.

It hopes the ferocious battle will leave the Russians too depleted to hold gains elsewhere.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, acknowledged that his entire province was now effectively in Russian hands, but told Reuters:

“We need to win the war, not the battle for Lysychansk‚Ķ It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war.”

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