Putin will be happy to see the lines on his map creeping westwards, but Kyiv’s troops are achieving their goal of making invaders pay dearly.
By Dominic Nicholls, DEFENCE AND SECURITY EDITOR 4 July 2022 •
Although Russia has claimed a victory in the city of Lysychansk, leaders in Moscow and Kyiv may look favourably upon the end of the fighting in the last pocket of the Luhansk region.
The area has limited strategic value, so while it is always regrettable for a defending force to cede ground, Kyiv’s troops there have largely achieved their mission: slow the Russian advance, make the enemy pay dearly for every mile gained and get out without being decisively engaged.
Vladimir Putin will care little, if at all, for what this most tactical of victories has cost his forces.
That he is relying on tanks and men born in the 1960s and repurposing old anti-ship missiles to be used (inaccurately, as the blast in the Kremenchuk shopping mall shows) in the ground-attack role as he has so few precision-guided munitions left, shows how hollow his army is.
Putin, however, will be happy to watch the lines on his map in the Kremlin slowly creeping westwards, no matter the price for each small territorial gain.
The people least happy with the situation right now must surely be the senior Russian military leadership on the ground. They can see for themselves the price of this folly, and worse, they will be able to anticipate more to come.
Many Russian generals and other senior officers have been killed in this war. Some lost their lives by having to go further forward than would normally be expected, in order to impose their personalities on reluctant and exhausted troops and keep the grinding advance going.
Others have simply been erased along with their headquarters, as the highly accurate Western-supplied heavy weapons have finally been able to reach them. A number of such headquarters have been targeted in this way in recent days, the result of a clever and efficient Ukrainian tactic.
Those generals left alive and in post (General Alexander Dvornikov, appointed in April to much fanfare as overall Russian commander in Ukraine, has apparently been sacked due to the slow progress) will not be happy with the situation.
Russia has generated nothing of the all-important momentum an attacking force needs. It is almost inconceivable they could suddenly mount an armoured breakout, even against a Ukrainian force that is itself tired and much reduced in numbers.
Kyiv’s wily and determined forces will have fallen back to pre-prepared defensive positions to the west to catch their breath and receive more of the Western military support that is finally moving in.
So, what will happen next?
Putin owns his media, so he will undoubtedly declare some form of victory. Over the Luhansk oblast, that is undeniable, but there is a lot of the Donbas still held by Kyiv.
The exhausted Russian army needs time to rest and regenerate, just as it did after being ejected from the north of the country. That would be a risk, given the heavy weapons flowing from the West, but is the correct thing to do.
If it continues to grind on, however, paying dearly for each village liberated, it will be clear the generals are being ignored and that Putin is content to continue trading lives, old and young, in the name of his territorial ambition. Kyiv will likely welcome that outcome.