Ukraine under threat from a new front

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Russian bombings on Ukrainian army positions, near the Serebriansky forest, in the vicinity of Lyman (Ukraine), in Donbass, May 4, 2024. LAURENT VAN DER STOCKT

Volodymyr Zelensky wants to be reassuring. “We keep control everywhere”, declared the Ukrainian president in a video message broadcast on Monday May 20 following an interview with his staff. However, concern persists in the Western camp after Russia opened a new front in northeastern Ukraine. Since crossing the border separating the two countries on May 10, Russian forces have conquered a little more than 150 km2 of territory in the Kharkiv region. In ten days, around ten villages and hamlets were taken and more than 14,000 inhabitants had to be removed from the fighting zone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

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For Western analysts, this opening of a new front was carefully considered by the Kremlin. For months, the Russians have been trampling in Donbass. In one year, the only significant cities conquered by Moscow’s forces were Bakhmout, in May 2023, and Avdiïvka, in February, at the cost of heavy losses each time. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the total conquest of Donbass, partially occupied since 2014, his main war goal since the failure of the “special military operation” which was to take control of Ukraine. in a few weeks.

By opening a new front in northern Ukraine, the Russians are betting that the Ukrainians, exhausted by more than two years of war, will not have the capacity to hold their positions throughout the entire conflict zone, long some 1,000 km. “By crossing the border at this location, the Russians are stretching the fighting line and forcing the Ukrainians to make lateral transfers of troops, which can weaken their positions elsewhere, in the east or south of the country”explains Thibault Fouillet, scientific director of the Institute for Strategy and Defense Studies.

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In fact, the conquest of Kharkiv, the second most populous city in Ukraine (it had 1.4 million inhabitants before the war), seems beyond the reach of the Russians, even if their most advanced units are only 30 km from the city. “But that’s not their goal. What the Russians want is to force the Ukrainians to move their best mechanized brigades, those who hold the front in the Donbass, to the region.explains Stéphane Audrand, international risk consultant and reserve officer, who sees in this tactic ” a lesson “ for the French army: “The Russians are showing that fielding poorly trained conscripts with bad weapons can be enough to achieve an advance. Mass matters! »

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