Battles may be tougher for Ukrainians as war shifts to wide-open terrain in east
But much will depend on whether the Russians can rectify the mistakes they made in the first phase of their invasion, ranging from the failure of supply lines, logistical challenges and poor planning to using insufficient manpower for the size of the area they were attempting to seize, analysts say.
That the Ukrainians have not only managed to hold the Russian army at bay but also forced its troops into a humiliating retreat from the north of the country is testament both to their fighting ability and to the Russians’ poor performance so far, experts say.
Russian forces have now completely withdrawn from the areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv in the north, where their attempt to launch a sweep into the capital was thwarted by fierce Ukrainian resistance, U.S. officials say. Those troops are in the process of being refitted and resupplied, apparently for redeployment to the east, the Pentagon says.
In one sign that Russia is trying to fix some of the problems it initially encountered, the Russians have appointed a general with extensive experience in Syria and the Donbas to oversee the war effort, marking the first time a single commander has taken control of the entire Ukraine operation, a senior U.S. official said Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The appointment of Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, the commander of Russia’s southern military district, signals an attempt by Moscow to bring some coherence to what military experts describe as a chaotically executed operation so far that has taken the lives of seven generals.
The new focus of the battle is expected to be the Donbas region, which has been contested since Russia invaded in 2014 and seized a portion of the oblast, or province. Ukraine has since been fighting to maintain control of the rest of the area, and some of its best and most battle-hardened troops are stationed there.
The Russians are widely expected to attempt to push south from the Kharkiv area and north from the city of Donetsk to encircle the Ukrainian troops in Donbas, maneuvers that will play to Russia’s numerical superiority in terms of tanks and armored vehicles. In recent days, Ukrainian military officials said, the Russians have begun pushing south from the town of Izyum toward Slovyansk, with the aim eventually of seizing Kramatorsk, the capital of the Donetsk and site of the missile attack on a train station that killed over 50 people on Friday.