As Russia intensifies its offensive in the east, more troops are withdrawing in the north. But experts say it is unlikely that soldiers will be sent from Kyiv to the front line in the Donbass.
Six weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities announced that they would be stepping down Military activity around the capital Kyiv. At the same time, the Russians restored control of Chernobyl, located on the border with Belarus.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that this withdrawal in The reality is regrouping.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Pentagon also reported that there was talk of a withdrawal — not an end to the fighting.
Soldiers must rest
Lieutenant-Colonel and Director of the Norwegian Defense College, Geir Hagen Carlsen, says it is not surprising that Russia is now withdrawing some of its soldiers from areas in northern Ukraine.
They have to reorganize. These divisions had been in battle for several weeks now, and suffered heavy losses in materiel as well. Carlsen says they are hardly able to fight because they have lost so many soldiers and are under too much pressure.
They have to retire, get new equipment, and simply let people rest.
The Russian army had announced earlier that it would focus on “liberating” the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. According to experts, the city of Izyum, located outside the borders of the Donbass, could be the next target of the Russians on the Eastern Front.
– It may seem that they are trying to isolate the Ukrainian forces in Luhansk and Donetsk. Then they cut the supply lines, Carlsen explains.
One way to succeed, he says, might be for troops to move southwest toward the Dnipro River, or down toward the Sea of Azov. However, this will require significant resources.
– We are talking about long distances and the fronts have barely moved in five weeks. One of the things, says Carlsen, is to seize an area, the other is to hold on to it and provide adequate supplies
But in short, Russia appears to be reorganizing itself into a defensive near Kyiv, while continuing the offensive front in the Donbass.
On the western side, Ukrainian forces repelled the Russians in the areas around Mykolaiv. Experts say developments on the fronts may be an indication that Russia has scaled back its invasion ambitions.
– Perhaps it was a plan to take Mikulajev, and then move to Odessa, but they clearly do not have enough strength for this. It may seem as if they took a realistic approach, says Karslin.
Tom Rosth, an assistant professor at the Armed Forces Staff School and director of the intelligence division, says the Kremlin now appears to be changing its tactics.
– They no longer have the same pressure westward in the south flank. They spread a lot and fought on many fronts. It seemed that they were now amassing more power in the East. It could be more effective for them, says Røseth.
In its latest release Analytics The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote that although many Russian forces are now redistributed from the regions around Kiev, Chernihiv, and Sumy to eastern Ukraine, these units are unlikely to make much difference to Russia’s combat power.
– These units are likely to be severely damaged and demoralized.
Rosth also says that it is unlikely that soldiers from the northern regions will be sent to the Eastern Front immediately.
– There is a lot of wear and tear on the units whether with men injured or material damage. It’s hard to say how long it takes before they’re ready up front in the East. It may take time, Rosth says.
Other dynamics in the East
Synchronized Russian forces surround the port city of Mariupol. Both Karslin and Rosyth say it’s only a matter of time before they take over the city.
If they did, they could free up resources from there that could move to Izium, or focus on northern Ukraine.
Mariupol saw fierce fighting and was one of the main war spots in recent weeks. Rosth says, however, that there is an entirely different dynamic in the forces in the East than in the North.
– They are more enthusiastic from both sides. There are legions from Donetsk that are the old rebel-controlled forces, and then there are the Chechens in the interior. Then there is the Azov Brigade, which is part of the Ukrainian side, he says.
– At the same time, urban warfare is more difficult. Even if you shoot a building to pieces, there are still places to hide.
Ukraine largely consists of flat landscapes with farmland. Rosth believes that with the arrival of spring, the battlefield will be greatly expanded in several places.
– At the moment, the Russians rely heavily on roads because the ground is wet and muddy, but in a month the ground will dry up. Then there is the risk of escalating the fight.
I think Russia will continue to occupy Kyiv
On Friday evening, Reuters reported that Ukrainian forces recaptured the city of Bucha, north of Irbin, near Kyiv.
It is clear from Karslin and Rosyth that downsizing in the north does not mean that Russia has given up the battle for control of the capital.
– We do not think that they will withdraw from Kyiv. The more areas they control, the better their starting point will be in the political negotiations that will eventually come. If they are near Kyiv, says Karslin, they have a way to leverage.
What we see now is that they are withdrawing some forces to places where they can more easily defend themselves, and they are protecting themselves with mines and artillery. They’ll probably keep some troops on the north side, but you’ll have to wait and see, Rosth adds.
However, he stressed that while all indications were that Russia was escalating its offensive to the east, this might also be part of the diversion of Ukrainian forces.
We don’t know until we see the changes on the ground. But if you add Russia’s rhetoric, that they are trying to recruit more soldiers and persuade the conscripts to extend the contract, this is a clear indication that Moscow has no plans to surrender.
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