With exhausted troops facing ironclad opponents, Putin’s gamble in Donbass could backfire
In order for Russia to gain “full control of Donbass and southern Ukraine,” Vladimir Putin must quickly reorganize his armed forces.
It’s a bold ambition. But where will the troops come from?
Russian forces were defeated in the north of the country along with Voznesensk and Mykolayiv in the south.
The mayor of Mykolaiv said this week his city was “over-motivated” to repel the invaders, despite the low morale of Moscow’s troops. “Go home and live,” he told Russian soldiers trying to force his city to surrender, “or come here and die.”
Even if the nine tactical battalion groups fighting in Mariupol are released, their exhaustion will mean they will not be able to advance north to Zaporizhia for the foreseeable future, or west to Mykolaiv and possibly Odessa.
The logistical lines being stretched and constrained by Ukrainian raiding parties are unable to open an axis to the west and advance into the Donbass.
Perhaps Moscow’s recent statements about taking all of southern Ukraine were aimed at keeping Ukrainian reinforcements stationed around what was left of the Ukrainian coast rather than defending Kherson, Izyum and Donetsk.
For Russia to control the south of the country, it must first overcome the many shortcomings it demonstrated in the march on Kyiv.
In particular, the prospect of an amphibious assault to threaten Odessa is fanciful, especially given the loss last week of the warship Moskva, which would have provided a substantial defense against air attack.
The greater the declared war aims, the greater the likelihood of failure unless Putin’s forces can operate as a coherent military force.
A Western official said that in the renewed offensive in Donbass, Russian forces continued to operate in long convoys on individual roads, leaving themselves vulnerable to attack.
Moscow’s troops have shown “some improvement,” the official said, but are “not a transformed force.”
Any forces that have recovered from operations in the north of the country “are being fed into this battle piecemeal, for the most part, rather than being held back.”
“We still see that the Russian Air Force is limited to operating over its own troops.
“She is still very concerned about the capabilities of Ukraine’s air defenses.”
Ukrainian forces have shown adeptness at launching raids deep behind Russian lines.
This will thwart all of Russia’s plans to advance west.
Could the bridge to Crimea be next?
The 2014 annexation of Crimea was popular in Russia, where many saw the Black Sea Peninsula’s “return” as righting a historical wrong.
But after the annexation, Western sanctions were immediately imposed on all transactions with the peninsula.
Russian state coffers had to foot the bill.
Transporting goods from mainland Russia became extremely expensive.
Moscow had to build a bridge.
In fact, it built two side by side for almost 20 km and cost 3.2 billion euros.
Together, the bridges limit access to the Sea of Azov, the northeastern part of the Black Sea.
Ukrainian ports in it are no longer accessible for large ships.
The Kerch Bridge, as the structure is called, has a high symbolic value, but as a means of supplying Crimea after the annexation it is more than just a vanity project.
So why didn’t Ukraine try to destroy the bridge?
Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said: “Given Crimea’s importance both to the Russian armed forces and as a logistics base, it is well protected by surface-to-air missiles.”
Therefore, the bridge would be a difficult target to attack.
It may also be that the bridge is simply not a priority for Ukraine, given the well-protected airspace over Crimea by radar and surface-to-air missiles, and other targets elsewhere that require attention.
He suggested there might be another reason the bridge is still standing.
“Politically, it could symbolize that Ukraine will not attack Crimea in peace negotiations.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/with-exhausted-troops-facing-steely-opponents-putins-gamble-on-the-donbas-could-backfire-41579290.html With exhausted troops facing ironclad opponents, Putin’s gamble in Donbass could backfire