Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region on Monday, a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last stronghold of resistance in the province.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin in a televised meeting on Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with neighboring Donetsk province make up Ukraine’s industrial heartland – Donbas.
Shoigu told Putin that “the operation” was completed on Sunday after Russian soldiers occupied the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.RELATED
Putin, in turn, noted that the military units “who participated in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest and increase their combat capabilities.”
Meanwhile, the Russian armed forces were trying to push into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian army confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday. Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the city to avoid being encircled.
“There was a risk that Lysychansk would be encircled,” Haidai told The Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held out for a few more weeks, but they would have paid too high a price.
“We managed to make a centralized retreat and evacuate all the wounded,” Haidai explained. “We recovered all the equipment, so from that point of view the withdrawal was well organized.”
The Ukrainian General Staff stated that Russian forces are now focused on advancing towards the Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut line in the Donetsk region, half of which is already controlled by Russia. The Russian military has also stepped up shelling of the main Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.
An intelligence report from the British Ministry of Defense on Monday corroborated the assessment of Ukraine’s military forces, saying that Russian forces would now “almost certainly” try to take Donetsk. The conflict in Donbas has been “attrition”, the report added, and that is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.
Although the Russian military has a huge advantage in firepower, military analysts say it does not have a significant superiority in troop numbers. That means Moscow lacks the resources to gain ground quickly and can only advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket barrages to chip away at Ukrainian defenses.
Putin has made capturing Donbas a key objective in his war with Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014, when they declared independence from kyiv following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Russia officially recognized the self-proclaimed republics a few days before it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The Russian invasion has also devastated the Ukrainian agricultural sector and disrupted supply chains for seeds and fertilizers needed by Ukrainian farmers, as well as blocking the export of grain, a crucial source of income for the country.
In its intelligence report on Monday, the British Ministry of Defense mentioned the Russian blockade on the important Ukrainian port of Odessa, which has severely restricted grain exports. The report estimated that as a result, Ukrainian agricultural exports this year would reach just 35% of the 2021 figure.
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