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Severodonetsk – the fortress between the Russian pincers

Severodonetsk became the last bastion of the Ukrainian army in the Lugansk province, where Russia is closing its pincers to create a springboard to “liberate” the Donbass region.

The city of Severodonetsk in the east Ukraine has emerged as a flashpoint of fighting between Russia and Ukraine in recent weeks. Fierce fighting continued to break out as the Ukrainian army managed to hold on and launch counterattacks to prevent Russian forces from taking control of the entire city.

After withdrawing troops from Kiev and northern Ukraine, Moscow in April shifted the focus of its military campaign to the east, aiming to control the entire Donbass region including the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Severodonetsk is a city located in the Lugansk Oblast, more than 140 km from the Russian border. The city is located near the Donets River, which flows through eastern Ukraine.

The Donbass region has since 2014 been divided into territories controlled by the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists, with sporadic fighting regularly breaking out for eight years along the “demarcation line”. After the separatists took control of the city of Lugansk, which was the administrative capital of the Lugansk Oblast, Ukraine turned Severodonetsk into an alternative administrative center.

Smoke rises after shelling in the city of Severodonetsk, Lugansk province, eastern Ukraine on June 2.  Photo: AFP.

Smoke rises after shelling in the city of Severodonetsk, Lugansk province, eastern Ukraine on June 2. Image: AFP.

Before the conflict, the population of Severodonetsk was about 100,000. Region Donbass It is known as the industrial center of Ukraine and Severodonetsk has a number of factories, including the Azot chemical plant, one of Ukraine’s largest fertilizer production facilities. Before the conflict, fertilizer here was produced for export around the world.

At the beginning of the second phase of military operations in the Donbass, Russian forces have crossed the line to control almost the entire Lugansk province in recent months. Severodonetsk was one of the last cities to stand in the way of Russia’s control of the entire Lugansk province. The city is also strategically located near the Donets River.

Severodonetsk, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk are three cities that Russia needs to capture to take full control of the Donbass region, according to Michael Kofman, director of the Russian studies program at CNA in the US.

Capturing Severodonetsk would give Russia a springboard to attack the city of Lysychansk across the river, as well as secure control of the entire Lugansk province. Once Lugansk is captured, Russia can push its forces south-west of Donetsk.

To attack SeverodonetskRussian forces have adopted new tactics. They formed a pincer position, besieging the city from three sides, making the most of artillery fire pouring down on suspected enemy defensive positions. After the artillery changed lanes, Russian scouts with tanks and armor would cautiously advance, continuing to open fire on suspicious targets.

If the Ukrainian army returned fire, they would reveal their defensive position. At that time, Russian armored reconnaissance and armored personnel carriers withdrew, instructing the target for long-range artillery to continue suppressing in order to crush the resistance of Ukrainian soldiers. With this tactic, Russia is said to advance about 500 meters in Severodonetsk per day.

Russian forces besieged Severodonetsk from three sides.  Graphics: Guardian.  Click on the picture to see details.

Russian forces besieged Severodonetsk from three sides. Graphics: Guardian. Click on the picture to see details.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Lugansk, said early last week that 70% of Severodonetsk was under Russian control. However, he said today that the Ukrainian army had managed to counterattack and retake 50% of the city, although he acknowledged “the situation is very difficult”.

The Donets River continued to be an obstacle for Russian forces to advance into Lysychansk, as well as into Donetsk. Governor Gaidai said over the weekend that Russian forces had bombarded bridges over the Donets River to prevent Ukraine from sending reinforcements from Lysychansk into Severodonetsk.

For Ukraine, holding on to the Severodonetsk fortress will help them prevent Russian forces from winning a major symbolic victory in a military conflict that has dragged on for more than three months.

The Russian military on June 5 attempted to launch attacks on the Bilohorivka and Mykolaivka areas on the outskirts of Severodonetsk to close the siege on this city. However, the Russian forces encountered fierce resistance from the Ukrainian army and were forced to withdraw with many casualties and material losses.

However, Ukrainian officials do not rule out the risk of Severodonetsk being completely surrounded if Russian forces use their superiority in artillery fire to capture areas along the Donets River. In that case, the Ukrainian army will most likely withdraw from Severodonetsk to strengthen its forces elsewhere, instead of holding out in despair like what happened in Russia. Mariupolaccording to the Institute for the Study of War based in Washington, USA.

In addition to its military significance, Severodonetsk is also of great symbolic importance to Russian forces, according to observers.

If the fortress is controlled, Russia will achieve an important victory, after weeks of slow advances in the Donbass. It will allow the Kremlin to declare it is making progress in its goal.”liberate, release, free” in the Donbass region, where the majority of the population speaks Russian.

President Vladimir Putin describes Russians and Ukrainians as “one people”. He considers Donbass and Ukraine in general to be part of the “Russian World”, as well as claims to want to “protect” Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

Location of the city of Severodonetsk and the eastern region of Ukraine.  Graphics: BBC.

Location of the city of Severodonetsk and the eastern region of Ukraine. Graphics: BBC.

President Putin recognized the independence of two breakaway regions in Donetsk and Lugansk before launching a military operation on February 24. Last month, US officials said Russia was preparing to annex these regions, along with the southern city of Kherson, although the Kremlin said it was up to the will of the people in the region.

But with the resistance of Ukrainian forces, Russian forces will have to maximize artillery fire to destroy structures that the enemy can use to defend in Severodonetsk.

Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said the fighting had destroyed all important infrastructure and the President Volodymyr Zelensky says 90% of houses in Severodonetsk have been damaged.

“Russian forces with their superiority of fire may eventually take control of the fortress of Severodonetsk, but what they will gain will be a completely ruined city,” said Claire Parker, veteran policy commentator. foreign affairs of Washington Post, identify.

Thanh Tam (Follow Washington Post)

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