Russia has changed course. What is Putin’s plan for eastern Ukraine?
As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters a pivotal new phase, fighting is intensifying in the east of the country and officials have warned of a battle that “will remind you of the Second World War.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday that fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine was ramping up but that it “has not reached its maximum scale.”
“Russia has its plan, we have ours, and the battlefield will decide the outcome,” he added.
Over the next few weeks, officials expect Russian forces to resupply and reposition with the aim of launching a brutal new offensive in Donbas, which encompasses the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
Already, much of the region has come under an unrelenting assault. Russian forces are trying to wipe the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol “off the face of the earth,” a Ukrainian military commander currently in Mariupol told CNN on Wednesday night.
Serhiy Volyna, Deputy Commander of the Marine Battalion in Mariupol, who has been fighting in the region since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, called the situation “critical.”
“It is a humanitarian catastrophe. The military that were involved in active hostilities here are completely surrounded. There are supply problems with water, food, medication and general supply. It’s a very difficult situation.”
“We have been encircled in Mariupol for more than 40 days. The enemy outnumbers us and in terms of weaponry, their artillery, they have sea-based artillery, tanks, armored vehicles and of course mortars. It is difficult for us,” Volyna said.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Wednesday also listed the cities of Volnovakha, Izium and Popasna as places where there have been “allegations of numerous civilian casualties.” Russian troops carried out 27 strikes on residential areas of the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday night, the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, Oleg Synegubov, said in a statement on Telegram.
Taking control of Mariupol would allow Russia to create a land corridor linking Crimea to Donbas, allowing troops to freely move from the southern peninsula to boost its units on the mainland.