Ukraine updates: Russia signals a more aggressive combat phase

Recognition…Mauricio Lima for the New York Times

Military analysts have been saying for days that Russian forces have “paused” offensive operations in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. But try to tell that to Ukrainian militants who are under fire and dug into defensive positions in towns and villages.

Skirmishes raged in at least 10 locations in Donetsk province, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday, as the Russians attempted to improve their positions along a fragmented front line, apparently ahead of an expected much larger military push to seize parts of the province they were holding not control.

“The occupiers tried to take control of the section of the road” that runs between the cities of Bakhmut and Lysyhansk, Ukraine’s General Staff said in an evening bulletin listing a multitude of clashes. Russian forces also conducted “assault operations” in several other locations, including the villages of Nagirny and Bilohorivka, the bulletin said. “Ukrainian soldiers stopped all these bad attempts by the enemy with fire and pushed him back.”

Elsewhere in the province, the Bulletin spoke of Ukrainian soldiers “again successfully repelling” an attack, and elsewhere said, “Under fire from Ukrainian soldiers, the remnants of enemy forces retreated.” There was no immediate comment the fighting from Moscow.

Located near the Russian border, Donbass, a region of heavy industry, mining and agriculture, has been the focus of President Vladimir V Putin’s campaign in Ukraine since Russian forces failed to capture the country’s two main cities, Kyiv , the capital and Kharkiv, early in the conflict. The Donbass consists of the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Michael Kofman, director of Russian Studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia, said this week: “This is a very temporary respite; it’s not really a pause in operations.” On the War on the Rocks podcast, he said Russian forces were still trying, “not very successfully,” to advance into fortified Ukrainian positions around the city of Sloviansk.

He said that the next Russian advance would most likely attack this city and another further south, Kramatorsk, and that the battle for Donetsk province could last for months. He and other analysts, including Western intelligence officials, have stressed that both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy casualties and face serious personnel problems.

This week, US officials and others familiar with intelligence assessments estimated that a total of about 20,000 Russians were killed and about 60,000 injured. Russia has tried to recruit more soldiers by offering large cash rewards to volunteers, Ukrainians from separatist areas, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units.

Ukraine has also lost a significant number of soldiers: in June a senior government official said the country was losing 100 to 200 soldiers a day.

The armed forces are also confronted with equipment shortages. Almost a third of Russian equipment was destroyed, according to Western officials, although the Kremlin retains a significant advantage in heavy weapons.

This has prompted Ukrainian officials to repeatedly request more heavy weapons and ammunition from the West, saying they need the supplies to counter Russia’s advantage at long range. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday, welcomed the arrival of the first M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, an armored vehicle that is the most advanced artillery rocket launcher.

Mr Reznikov said the weapon was “good company” for the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. The US has delivered eight of the truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers and promised four more. The Ukrainian military says it is using those that have arrived to attack Russian bases and depots behind the lines.

But some analysts say Ukraine needs dozens more to effectively counter Russia’s artillery, and Ukrainian officials have said they need as many as 300 multiple rocket launchers.

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