Ukraine withdraws from Lysychansk as Russia claims control of Luhansk
international affairs

04-Jul-2022, Updated on 7/4/2022 6:46:17 AM

Ukraine withdraws from Lysychansk as Russia claims control of Luhansk

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Russia has seized control of the last city in the Luhansk region that was still in Ukrainian hands. The Ukrainian military concedes it has been forced to withdraw from Lysychansk, leaving Russia one step closer to completing control over the Donbas region.


The loss of Lysychansk, another city, is a big blow to Ukraine. But its fall to Russia is also important because of what it says about the broader fight and the now consistent direction of that fight for that eastern region of the Donbas.


Russian forces continue to advance slowly and steadily. They have this grinding momentum, and that's because of one key military advantage on the battlefield. They've unmatched artillery. They are using it on a massive scale to pound Ukraine's defenders, often destroying the ground and the infrastructure, which they then move forward to claim. And it's a situation we've seen repeated. And this is what happened in Lysychansk too.


Ukraine's defenders hold on as long as they possibly can. But that concentrated firepower becomes so intense, the pressure is so great, there is no choice but to pull them out in order to ensure they don't get wiped out.


President Zelensky says that ground lost can and will be regained once Ukraine receives more modern, powerful weapons from its western allies. But the key question is whether or not that can happen before Russia claims the rest of the Donbas. It is a small and shrinking area of territory that Russia is now really advancing against on almost every side, notably one town over from Lysychansk.


We saw intense Russian artillery fire there just yesterday. and the key city of Slovyansk. We saw a cloud of smoke hanging over that city all day because it came under rocket fire, more so than perhaps any other day of this war, resulting in civilian casualties and deaths.


The expectation is that Russia is about to launch a big new offensive on that city from the north to try and take it in the relatively near future. Meanwhile, Russia is going to express its continuing dissatisfaction with US support for Ukraine by not saying congratulations on this Independence Day.


President Putin's spokesman says normally there would be a telegram to that effect, but this year, he says that would be inappropriate because of what he describes as America's unfriendly policies towards Russia.


Protesters carrying a huge European Union flag.


What does this victory mean for Russia?


It's a big moment for the Russians. After five months in which they were basically the superpower that couldn't shoot straight, they have shown that their Plan B, which was consolidating power in the territory closest to them, areas where they have fought for the past eight or nine years, on and off, has worked, and that they were able to seize this territory, move their way on.


It seems pretty clear that they're going to end up taking the whole area of the Donbas, and that means a little more than 20% of the country. So this is an important turning point in the war, as important as the retreat from Kyiv was when the Russians were overstretched. 


And I think it comes at a really critical moment because it's just as this fatigue is setting in with many in Europe and even some here asking the question, how long can we afford to keep pouring these kinds of weapons and this kind of support into the hands of the Ukrainians?


How long do I think the western support will last?


I think it will continue for some time because I think among the Eastern Europeans, this is existential. They think they are next. I think President Biden made it pretty clear in his press conference at the end of the NATO meeting that he sees this in very Cold War terms and that if the Russians win in this region, they will come back for the rest of Ukraine.


But there's also going to be pressure on President Zelensky to find a way out. And that means entering into a real negotiation. And of course, you want to enter a real negotiation when you've got the upper hand, not when you've lost 20% of your country.


More than a fifth of Ukraine is now in the hands of the Russians.The armed forces of Ukraine had this Facebook post where they essentially said that they would return to retake this territory. There's a chunk of their statement. We've seen the Ukrainians retake territory that the Russians invaded and took into their possession.


Do I think it's going to be possible here?


I think it's possible, but it's a lot harder. First of all, this is right on the Russian border, so the Russians don't have the long supply line issues that they had when they were elsewhere in the country.


Second, this is territory that has been fought over for a long time. There are a lot of Russian speakers in this region. The Russians know it well. I think they may take back pieces of it. I think they could make this very painful and expensive for the Russians.


But it is making it pretty clear that the only truly effective thing they can do right now is to get these very powerful long-range weapons that the United States and some others have been offering and really take it out on the Russians.


But that means a long grinding war at a moment when we've already seen the United States focus understandably on other things, from gun violence to abortion and the rest of the Supreme Court decisions. The American focus on a war like this is especially when there are no American troops involved. Unfortunately, right now there aren't any. It's a hard thing to sustain.


There is no shortage of domestic issues for Americans to focus on, especially when the economy is in as rough a shape as it's in. In that Facebook post that I noted moments ago from the Ukrainian military, they sent a not very subtle message to the west saying that will and patriotism will not be enough against the Russians.


What would the Ukrainians need for help to limit the Russian advances as they look to take more territory in Boss?


Well, they're going to need more of these high-marshalling systems, which are satellite-guided, high-precision, very expensive weapons, and I think they've already used them to good effect to take a lot out of the Russians. They're going to need general support for their economy. We haven't even gotten to the discussion of what it's going to cost to rebuild and where that money is going to come from.


Some have suggested it should come from Russian assets held abroad, including the central bank's assets. But the administration has some concerns about the legality of doing that. But this is always the case in wars like this. 


But this is in for the long haul. And I'm not sure that Americans have got their heads around it yet. That's a very central fact because it's going to alter the way we think about Europe, our commitments in Asia, our commitments here at home, and our willingness to put up with high gas prices and about the world order in general.




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