Russian forces appear to have broken through Ukrainian lines along several axes on a very localized front in the Luhansk region. It appears to be part of a big push by the Russian military to shut down a pocket of Ukrainian resistance that would give it full control over Lugansk, which is about half of the greater Donbass region.
Importantly, the exact dispositions of Ukrainian and Russian forces in Donbass are fluid, and the two sides have traded gains often in recent weeks. Securing Luhansk would be an important victory for the Russian government, which has claimed full control of Donbass as its immediate priority in the conflict.
Luhansk, together with the Donetsk region, constitutes the largest Donbass. Ahead of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the People’s Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, breakaway regions administered by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, as independent countries .
Artillery has been an important reason for Russia’s recent successful advances in Luhansk, as well as Ukraine’s ability to hold the line against invading forces more generally. over a month ago, The war zone explored in detail how artillery was likely to be a major factor in fighting throughout Donbass.
The Russian military’s latest successes come just a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for more long-range artillery during a speech to attendees of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which he spoke remotely from Kyiv.
Separately yesterday, at a press conference following the second meeting of the US-led Ukrainian Contact Group, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy , Poland and Norway had all announced plans for new military aid programs for Ukraine containing additional artillery pieces and ammunition.
Secretary Austin also said that the Czech Republic had transferred a number of Mi-35s Hind attack helicopters, plus a batch of unspecified tanks, probably Soviet-era T-72s. The Czech government has already sent T-72s, as well as BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles. Additionally, Austin said Denmark has promised land-based Harpoon anti-ship missile systems, which you can read more about here.
Today, Canadian authorities announced that they are working to expedite the delivery of 20,000 155mm artillery shells to the Ukrainian military specifically to aid in the defense of Donbass. The ammunition was first purchased from the United States at a cost of approximately C$90 million, or approximately US$76.4 million at the current conversion rate.
If Russian forces succeed in taking full control of Luhansk, it remains to be seen whether this will lead to greater gains elsewhere. For months, the Russian army has struggled to make real progress outside the Donbass region, and its units have even been pushed back in some areas, notably around the city of Kharkiv in the northeast.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphical elements.
Before we get into the breaking news below, The war zone readers can first catch up on recent developments in the conflict in Ukraine with our previous continuing coverage here.
Reported Russian breakthroughs in the Donbass region over the past 24 hours have occurred in areas near the town of Popasna. The town of Lynam, located northwest of Popasna, would now also be contested. The main objective of these thrusts, by all indications, is to encircle Severodonetsk, the pocket around which remains the last part of Lugansk under Ukrainian control.
“Russia has increased the intensity of its operations in Donbass as it seeks to encircle Severodonetsk, Lyschansk and Rubizhne,” according to an assessment by the British Ministry of Defense earlier in the day. “At present, the northern and southern axes of this operation are separated by approximately 25 km. [~15.5 miles] of Ukrainian-held territory.”
“There was strong Ukrainian resistance with forces occupying entrenched defensive positions,” British officials added. “Russia did, however, achieve some localized successes, partly due to the concentration of artillery units.”
As fighting in the Severodonetsk Pocket and other parts of Donbass intensified, the critical role played by artillery on both sides became evident from the mountain of video footage on social media. An ever-increasing number of clips have appeared online recently showing Ukrainian and Russian forces firing various types and the results of their strikes at various targets in the Donbass, as well as elsewhere in the country. It is also clear that the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles to help direct this fire is an increasingly common phenomenon everywhere.
Ukraine’s growing arsenal of Western-supplied 155mm howitzers was on full display. This includes the M777 towed howitzers that Canada, along with the United States and Australia, have provided and French-made CAESAR wheeled self-propelled types. Before this conflict, the Ukrainian army did not use any type of 155 mm, although it tested various models, in particular the domestically developed 2S22 Bohdana, and therefore had no real stocks of 155 mm ammunition. Thus, additional ammunition shipments from Canada and other countries are just as important as the weapons themselves.
Canada’s 20,000 155mm artillery shells “will be crucial in Ukraine’s ongoing struggle to defend its eastern territory,” Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said. said today. “Work is already underway to get this aid to Ukraine as soon as possible.”
“We are working around the clock to identify and provide even more military aid to Ukraine,” she added.
Other foreign-supplied artillery systems, such as 122mm RM-70 Multiple Rocket Launcher that Ukraine received from the Czech Republic, are also actively used.
On Monday, New Zealand announced it would send 30 military personnel to the UK to help train Ukrainian personnel on the operation of 105 mm howitzers L119.
Of course, as we have already noted, artillery is only one element of foreign military assistance to Ukraine. Additional armored vehicles and air defenses on the ground, among other things, have also been important in bolstering the Ukrainian military’s continued ability not only to check Russian advances, but also to counterattack, particularly around Kharkiv.
Russia’s deployment of relatively rare BMPT Terminator armored vehicles to support the Donbass offensive also highlights the additional resources it has sent there.
Russian forces securing Lugansk will not necessarily translate into advances elsewhere in the Donbass either. “If the Donbass front line moves further west, it will stretch Russian lines of communication and likely see its forces face further logistical resupply difficulties,” the UK Ministry of Health’s assessment said today. defense.
There continue to be indications that the Russian military is interested in at least trying to push elsewhere in Ukraine, or at least working to consolidate existing territorial gains, particularly in the southern Kherson region. Russian-backed local authorities in Kherson have now asked the Russian military to establish a formal basis the. They had previously called for full annexation in the Russian Federation.
Ukrainian President Zelensky said today that Russian forces will have to leave all areas they occupied, including those seized before this conflict, such as the Crimean peninsula. before it can come to an end.
Russian air and missile strikes also continue to hit targets across Ukraine. On Monday, Ukrainian President Zelensky acknowledged that 87 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a military training center in the northern Chernihiv region on May 16. Over the weekend, he said that up to 100 Ukrainian servicemen were dying every day.
The Russian government is accused of stealing Ukrainian grain and transporting it out of the country by sea in order to sell it. It comes amid a total blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Navy, which has prevented the country from exporting its own grain, causing concern about a possible global food crisis. Before the conflict, only Ukraine was the source of about 12 percent of world wheat.
The Lithuanian government has proposed a potential international naval mission to create a safe corridor to and from Ukrainian ports along the western end of the Black Sea, particularly Odessa. The United Kingdom would have expressed an interest in the idea, at least in principle. However, it remains to be seen whether this naval “coalition of the willing”, which would appear to require a willingness to commit Russian forces at some level, will materialize.
The western end of the Black Sea has already become something of a flashpoint in recent weeks, with fighting centering on the Ukrainian island of Zmiinyi, or Snake Island, which Russian forces currently occupy. Satellite imagery that emerged online today shows that a Russian Navy self-propelled crane barge has returned to the island, possibly to try again to recover a sunken landing craft and/or the system of Tor surface-to-air missiles which crashed with it after a strike by one of the Ukrainian Turkish-made TB2 armed drones. Various other vessels have also been spotted in the area. You can read more about when this barge last appeared on Snake Island and the fights that took place above this outpost here.
The Romanian military recently recovered the wreckage of the Ukrainian TB2, which appears to have run aground in the town of Sulina in the Black Sea. It is not entirely clear if this drone was shot down or crashed during operations in this general area, which could have involved participating in the various strikes on targets on and around Snake Island.
Ukrainian President Zelensky on Monday signed a bill that provides a process for the country to seize and sell the assets of individuals determined to support Russia’s invasion. Russian government-owned assets in Ukraine, as well as those owned by Russian nationals, are expected to be targeted until this law, with proceeds from their sales going to support the country’s war effort.
We will continue to update this post with new information until we say otherwise.
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