Ukraine is not planning to invade Russia, but combined with geography, better troops, shorter supply lines and weaker opposition, Moscow’s campaign has advanced far enough to show at least what President Vladimir Putin wanted in the south.
With the capture of Melitopol, Berdyansk and Kherson, Russian forces began to draw up a template for war-related purposes – Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated on Wednesday – the “demilitarization” and “deacification” of the war. Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the two sides also said they were reaching a potential ceasefire agreement, despite major differences, and Putin gave a televised speech to Russia about the “self-cleansing” power of the current events, which offered little apparent reason for hope.
After initial gains, the Russian army has seen resistance from southern progress in resistance in Mariupol, the eastern Ukrainian port city, and in Mykolayiv, the gateway to Odessa to the west, where the vast estuary of the Bug River forms a natural defensive barrier.
However, a step forward for Russia to take the entire coast “would be a disaster for Ukraine, as 70% of our exports go by sea, 90% of our grain,” said Hanna Shelest, director of security programs at the Odessa Council on Foreign Policy. “Prism of Ukraine”.
In addition to the economic and political importance of controlling Ukraine’s access to seaports, Russia could also secure a land bridge from Crimea – where Putin annexed the peninsula to Ukraine in 2014 – to the Russian mainland, opening rail connections for logistics and releasing a large workforce. elsewhere to support military purposes.
The political and propagandistic importance of the region is less important. Novorossiya or New Russia – the name of the imperial era in southern and eastern Ukraine – is central to the rhetoric that Putin’s two countries form a Russian nation.
The first days of the invasion seemed to be fulfilling Russian expectations. His forces withdrew from the Crimea on the morning of February 24 with little opposition and, for the next 10 days, crossed about 500 km (311 miles) of coastline.
“The Russian Army, which has entered from the north of Belarus in the north, is essentially a group B, while elite military personnel from the north-east and south of Kyiv have performed better,” said General Richard Barrons, who has retired. Commander of the United Kingdom Joint Command in 2016. “They also had the advantage of having easier open lands and shorter supply lines, with a strong foothold in Crimea.”
On February 26, Russian troops entered Melitopol, about 130 km northeast of Crimea. A day later it was Berdyansk, 120 km west. March 3 was the turn of Kherson, 130 km northwest of Crimea, with a population of 280,000, the only major Ukrainian city that has so far fallen into the hands of Russian troops.
It seems that the treatment of these cities, as well as some of the smaller towns in the south, followed a plan. First, he secured the army. Subsequently, units of the Rosgvardia, a well-armed gendarmerie that performed a similar role to the Soviet-era special police, moved. Russian flags were replaced by Ukrainians at major administrative centers.
In Melitopol, soldiers kidnapped elected mayor Ivan Fedorov and marched through the town square, according to a fixed camera released by the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Fedorov was replaced by Halyna Danylchenko, a local politician willing to cooperate. In a video address, he called on citizens to accept the “new reality” and stop the “extreme” actions, an apparent reference to the protests.
In Kherson, local politician Serhiy Khlan said they were conducting house-to-house searches in a hunt for pro-Ukrainian security officials, journalists and activists, while Shelest also told Kherson friends.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia was trying to hold a referendum to proclaim the “Kherson People’s Republic”, similar to the separatist People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk further east. Russian authorities have not yet confirmed such a proposal.
On Wednesday, Putin said he had planned to plan a “special military operation” in Ukraine, but that is unlikely in the south. Far from hanging Russian flags, thousands have gathered every day to protest the Kherson occupation. In Berdyansk, younger people shouted “go home”. In Melitopol, protesters clashed with Russian soldiers on March 14 demanding Fedorov’s return.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian presidential office said Fedorov had been released in a special operation. Zelenskiy then spoke to the mayor of Melitopol in an audio call to release a video clip.
Mariupol, on the other hand, is at risk of gaining totemic status in Vukovar or Sarajevo during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, whose destruction and cruelty sparked outrage in much of the world and eventually led to more powerful international intervention. Thousands of civilians have fled Mariupoli this week. The city’s theater, used by hundreds of people as a bomb shelter, was destroyed on Wednesday. Russia has denied responsibility and says it is not targeting civilians.
Odessa will pose an even greater challenge to Russian commanders because it has a special place in Russia’s historical and cultural imagination. So far, perhaps as a result, airstrikes suffered by other cities have been exempted.
The city of just over a million has traditionally had a large pro-Russian population, but if that support is maintained, it has not yet shown itself. Instead, Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov, who had a Russian passport until 2017, denounced the Russian attack and directed volunteers as they filled sandbags and made tanks.
“They really hoped Odessa would raise the Russian flag,” Shelest said. “Now it has to be an attack and that is not easy to suffer either psychologically or militarily.”
First, the Russian army will have to cross Mykolayiv and take the remaining 130 km to Odessa. So far many attempts to break or prevent the town have ended in failure.
And although Russian landing ships have been stranded several times off the coast of the Black Sea coast in Odessa over the past two weeks, it would be difficult for them to land on the offensive. The right beaches have been exploited and defended, Shelest said. Arriving in the city, there are all indications that Russian troops should fight their way through.
Sealing Ukraine from the southern Black Sea is likely to remain a major strategic goal for Russia as the fighting continues, according to Barrons, who is currently chairman of Universal Defense & Security Solutions, a former strategic advisory chair for former military officers. Despite being wary of the firepower that Russia still uses, he was skeptical that anything similar to Putin’s original plan for Ukraine could still be achieved.
“It’s an occupation that will never work,” Barrons said, and Putin’s reasons for looking for an outdoor ramp are growing. The question of Odessa and other cities, he added, is how frustrated Putin will be when he is ready to go, including chemical weapons or ethnic cleansing options, in his efforts to control Ukraine.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a union feed.)