President of Russia Vladimir Putin declared victory in the region of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine on Monday. This happened a day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.
In a televised meeting, Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister reported to Putin that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk.
Shoigu told Putin that the operation was completed on Sunday after Russian troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.
Luhansk, together with the neighboring Donetsk province, make up Ukraine’s industrial nucleus of Donbas.
Putin said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”
The declaration came as Russian forces tried to extend their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday.
Serhii Haidai, the Luhansk governor, told the Associated Press that, “Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being surrounded. There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement.”
He also added that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.
“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all [those] injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point, withdrawal was organized well.”
During his daily night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the withdrawal but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.
President Zelenskyy said, “If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular, this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons.”
Russia Intensifies invasion of Ukraine from Luhansk
Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka, and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region about half of which is controlled by Russia.
The Russian army has also intensified its offensive of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.
According to local authorities, on Sunday, six people, including a nine-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian attack of Sloviansk and another nineteen people were wounded. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.
During an intelligence briefing on Monday, the British Defense Ministry supported the Ukrainian military’s assessment, noting that Russian forces will “now almost certainly” switch to capturing Donetsk. The conflict in Donbas has been “grinding and attritional,” and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.
The British defense ministry further pointed to the Russian blockade of the key Ukrainian port of Odessa, which has severely restricted grain exports. They predicted that Ukraine’s agricultural exports would reach only 35 percent of the 2021 total this year as a result.
President Vladimir Putin stated that capturing the entire Donbas is a key goal in his war in Ukraine, which has now lasted for five months.
Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before its February 24th invasion of Ukraine that kicked off the current insurgence.
Russia’s potential to sustain the war
While the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military analysts say that it doesn’t have any significant superiority in the number of troops.
This implies that Moscow lacks resources for quick land gains and can only advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket barrages to soften Ukrainian defenses.
Upon failure to take over Kyiv and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast early on in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing aggressive shelling and engaging in house-to-house combat that has devastated cities in the region.
Russia’s invasion has devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupting supply chains of seed and fertilizer needed by Ukrainian farmers and blocking the export of grain, a key source of revenue for the country.
As Russian troops intensify offensive across Ukraine’s east, areas in Western Russia came under attack on Sunday in a revival of sporadic, apparent Ukrainian strikes across the border.
The governor of the Belgorod region in Western Russia said that on Sunday, fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.