Russia confirmed on Tuesday (19) that it had started the battle for control of eastern Ukraine, the Donbass, and said it had quadrupled the number of military targets hit in the country compared to the previous morning.
Russian forces are bombing positions across the region, and at least one city has been taken to the north, initiating what is suggested to be a move to bypass the former boundary between the breakaway areas of the Donbass and those controlled by Kiev, aiming to encircle perhaps 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
The battle itself began with a massive bombardment of 315 missile targets on Monday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening speech. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov broke the silence and said in an understated tone that “another stage of this operation is starting and I am sure it will be a special moment” to an Indian TV.
This morning (dawn in Brazil), the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have hit 1,260 military targets, four times more than on Monday, with missiles and artillery. However, the attacks appear to be concentrated in the eastern and southern parts of the country, regions with great Russian control.
Tactical aviation, meanwhile, attacked 60 points, like missile launchers, and shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter, according to the report, in the Donbass. The area, which before the war had around 4 million inhabitants on the pro-Russia side, is one of the central reasons for the conflict for the government of Vladimir Putin, alongside the idea of demilitarizing Ukraine and preventing it from joining NATO. , the western military alliance.
More importantly, in the late morning (early day in Brazil), the Russians took Kreminna, a city of 18,000 north of Severodonetsk. “Kreminna is under the control of the orcs [vilões monstruosos da saga ‘O Senhor dos Anéis’, como muitos ucranianos chamam os russos]”, said the governor of Lugansk province, Serhii Gaidai.
It is the first victory of its kind in that offensive, and it indicates an attempt to bypass the well-defended line of contact, the former border in the eight-year civil war between pro-Russian rebels and Kiev. There were bombings across the region, particularly Marinka, Slavianski and Kramatorsk. Kharkiv, to the north, is under intense fire, according to its mayor.
These forces, in Moscow’s presumed plan, are to be joined by soldiers from the south. There, the fall of Mariupol, a port that was turned into a ruin after nearly two months of Russian siege, is expected this Tuesday.
This was announced by the leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadirvov, a Putin ally with forces in the city. Moscow has offered a ceasefire to the remaining defenders, holed up in a metallurgical complex, and to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a whole, in which it should be ignored.
Kiev can have its troops surrounded or see them flee, in the worst case. But it can also win, given that Moscow is estimated to have twice as many attackers (about 80,000 men) on the field as defenders: military theory advocates a ratio of 3 to 1 to guarantee a victory for the aggressors.
But numbers and theory are relative, depending on the quality of training and equipment on the ground. A Zelensky aide, Oleksii Aretovitch, said that “the offensive will fail because they [os russos] they don’t have enough force.” That may be, but that was the central reason for the failure of Moscow’s initial attack, divided into many fronts without concentration of firepower – one wonders if Putin would make the same mistake twice. Arestovitch said that the Russians are moving “cautiously”.
For its part, Ukraine is preparing resistance and has received armored reinforcements from Poland and American artillery pieces, an escalation in the level of aid so far. On Monday, the Pentagon said there are tanks, helicopters and howitzers already on the country’s borders, ready for action, as part of an $800 million package of support announced a few weeks ago by President Joe Biden.
Kiev signals to be alive too. This morning, according to the government of the Russian region of Belgorodo, the Ukrainians bombed with artillery a village near the border called Golovtchino. It is the 12th such incident in the war, and three people were injured, the report says.
For Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choigu, “Washington and some Western countries want to prolong the war” for reasons of their own. It was his first statement in several days. There is no confirmation, but rumors suggest that he lost much of his status due to the initial performance of Russian forces.
Analysts are expecting a different action now, as Donbass has smaller cities and more open ground for manoeuvring. Theoretically, an advantage for the Russians, despite the relative numerical position in the field.
In London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of his cabinet that Ukraine was in a “dangerous” situation. He said Putin was “enraged by the defeats [no norte do país]but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost”.