Putin retreat could be distraction to land blow on Ukraine, expert claims

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Vladimir Putin has decided to shift his military focus to "liberating" the Donbas in what could be a pivotal moment of maximum peril for Ukraine's survival, a military expert claims.

Russian forces continue to face fierce resistance from their Ukrainian opponents, as Moscow's invasion of the country enters its second month.

Putin's army has succeeded in taking just one major city in that time – Kherson in Ukraine's south.

However, recent reports suggest that Ukraine has now launched a major counteroffensive to recapture the port city.

Sergey Rudskoi, the head of the Russian General Staff's Main Operational Directorate claimed on Friday that Russia had achieved "the main objectives of the first stage of its operation" and would now concentrate on "liberating" the Donbas.

A senior diplomatic source in Moscow described it as a face-saving move and possible prelude to a climbdown by Russia.

A former British military officer cautioned that the move could lead to a "significant and irreparable blow" to Ukraine's ultimate defence.

Defence and security expert Dominic Nicholls said that President Zelenskyy faced a difficult military and political dilemma: to stand firm and defend the Donbas or to retreat.

If Ukrainian forces were to stay put, then they could face the threat of being cut off and surrounded by Russian forces and defeated in the field.

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At the same time, to retreat and give up the Donbas to the Russians would be a significant blow to Ukrainian morale and would weaken Mr Zelensky's negotiating position in any future peace talks with Moscow.

Mr Nicholls said: "If Ukrainian forces in the east are cut off and surrounded by Russian troops, no matter that 13 of the 16 battalion tactical groups being rushed into the area of operations by Moscow are conscripts, that could be a significant and irreparable blow to the ultimate defence of Ukraine."

He noted that Russian forces had retaken the strategic city of Izyum, gateway to the Donbas, last week.

The former British Army officer continued in the Daily Telegraph: "They (the Russians) can’t pull out.

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"To do so in contact with the enemy would invite a chargeback to the sanctuary of the West Bank of the Dnieper river being harried from three different directions.

"That would be military folly. It would also be a difficult political calculus for Volodymyr Zelenskyy to give up such hard-fought and totemic ground.

"Ukraine has been at war with Russia since 2014. That war has been conducted (in plain sight anyway) in the east of the country.

"And if this conflict is to have a negotiated end – as almost all do – Mr Zelenskyy does not want to be going into talks with the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts already lost.

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"Vladimir Putin cannot end this reckless, ridiculous and illegal adventure without the Donbas.

"He will not survive without it. Equally though, Mr Zelenskyy cannot allow the area to fall."

Russia's Defence Ministry claimed that Russian-backed separatists now controlled 93 per cent of Ukraine's Luhansk region and 54 per cent of the Donetsk region.

Together the two regions comprise what is known as the Donbas. A war has raged in the area since 2014.

  • British Army
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Military
  • Russia
  • Russia Ukraine war
  • Ukraine

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