Russia takes more ground in east Ukraine but loses another ship at sea

Ukraine’s naval drones score another hit in the past week, but its troops continue to fall back in Donetsk.

A volunteer who aspires to join the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces takes part in a basic training, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine March 5, 2024. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A volunteer who aspires to join the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces takes part in basic training in Ukraine's Kyiv region [Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters]

Russian troops continued a relentless march in eastern Ukraine for a third straight week, giving defenders no respite since seizing Avdiivka on February 17.

Geolocated footage on February 29 showed Russian troops had advanced 5km (3 miles) west of Avdiivka to the outskirts of Orlivka and Berdychi.

The following day, they were in central Orlivka. By Monday, they were spotted close to a road that connects Orlivka to the village of Tonenke to its south.

By the estimate of the Russian Ministry of Defence, it took Moscow’s forces four months to advance 9km (5.6 miles) through the Donetsk region before seizing Avdiivka.

By that standard, 5km in three weeks – including 3km (nearly 2 miles) in the past week alone – was fast progress.

(Al Jazeera)

It was a similar story west of Bakhmut, another city in Donetsk, which Russian forces captured in May.

Ukrainian forces said on Sunday that they were fighting fierce battles to hold onto Ivanivske, a village 2km (1.2 miles) west of Bakhmut. Geolocated footage showed Russian troops making their way into the village centre that day.

“Our military is heroically resisting and trying to repel the enemy from the occupied lines,” said Captain Ilya Yevlash, a spokesperson for the defenders in the area.

A spokesperson for the Tavria group of forces fighting there said they were managing to build tank trenches, ramparts and bunkers but these were isolated, not contiguous. It may not have been a coincidence that Ukraine’s military on Sunday announced record spending on fortifications in the Zaporizhia region on the southern front.

Russian troops claimed to have advanced marginally at many points along the battlefront in Donetsk. Another advance was confirmed in the village of Novomykhailivka. Geolocated footage published on Tuesday showed Russian forces in the fields south of the settlement

“I don’t buy … that this is going to shift the course of the war,” retired US Colonel Seth Krummrich told Al Jazeera.

“Show me the map. Show me what’s been achieved in two years. … I see maybe one-eighteenth [of Ukrainian territory] in Russian control at the cost of 250,000 to 500,000 casualties. I don’t see imminent victory by the Russians,” said Krummrich, now vice president of Global Guardian, a security consulting firm.

(Al Jazeera)

Yet the situation was worrying enough to bring Ukraine’s newly installed commander-in-chief, Oleksandr Syrskii, to the eastern front for three days.

On Friday, Syrskii revealed he had made command personnel changes and reinforced decision-making in some brigades around Avdiivka.

“I have sent groups of specialists to individual brigades where there are problems … to transfer experience and provide assistance,” he said. “In some cases, when … the actions and commands directly pose a threat to the life and health of subordinates, I am forced to make personnel decisions.”

There appear to be qualitative changes in Russia’s tactics that could spell trouble for Ukraine.

The Russian assault on Bakhmut last year relied heavily on pardoned prison inmates who were thrown into battle in continuous waves with little training and suffered heavy casualties.

A number of Ukrainian soldiers who fought in Avdiivka recently told The Washington Post that the Russian assaults were well-prepared and the units well-manned and mostly well-trained.

They also said Russian artillery targeting was accurate and fast.

Ukrainian fallback positions were being shelled soon after Ukrainian defenders reached them, and a column of retreating troops was decimated, they added.

“It was … a convoy of the best men ever. And in front of our eyes, this convoy was destroyed by artillery,” one survivor said.

(Al Jazeera)

Perhaps most worrying was Russia’s effective use of air support to drop satellite-guided glide bombs – inertial bombs fitted with flight surfaces to achieve greater range and accuracy.

Ukraine’s air force has been taking out the Sukhoi-34 and Sukhoi-35 fighter-bombers that deliver those bombs in increasing numbers, including six Su-34s on February 28 and 29 alone.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv’s forces had shot down 15 Russian military planes from February 1 to Sunday, an unusually high number.

Russia may have decided to accept higher losses for increased firepower on the ground.

Forbes and The New York Times have reported that Russia was adopting more aggressive air tactics, conducting an increased rate of 100 or more sorties a day on the eastern front.

Observers have blamed Republicans in the United States Congress for holding up aid to Ukraine as the biggest cause for Russian advances.

“The collapse of Western aid to Ukraine would likely lead to the eventual collapse of Ukraine’s ability to hold off the Russian military and significant Russian advances further west, likely all the way to the western Ukrainian border with NATO member states,” wrote the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

Zelenskyy warned on February 25 that Russian forces were planning a major new offensive as early as May.

War in the air

Russia’s war on Ukraine’s will to fight scored a direct hit on Friday when a Russian drone demolished a nine-storey apartment building in Odesa, killing at least 12 people. It was the deadliest attack of the past week and one of the worst this year.

“The delay in the supply of weapons for Ukraine, air defence systems for the protection of our people leads, unfortunately, to such losses,” Zelenskyy said after the attack.

INTERACTIVE Ukraine Refugees-1709730145
(Al Jazeera)

Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuri Ignat said on Tuesday that it was not possible to protect Odesa from all missiles and drones.

“Odesa is … a densely populated city bordering the coast, large buildings, infrastructure. The location of air defence in the Odesa region is built in such a way that it is not always possible to intercept both drones and missiles on the approaches to the city itself,” Ignat said.

Another drone struck Odesa on Wednesday as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with Zelenskyy in the city.

Ukraine’s air defences downed 36 of 43 drones that Russia launched from February 29 to Tuesday, but officials have warned that it could run out of missiles for its air defence batteries without further support.

Maksym Timchenko, who runs Ukraine’s largest electricity utility, told the Financial Times that Ukraine was better prepared for Russia’s first drone onslaught on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last winter, and that increasingly in recent weeks, drones were reaching their targets. Russia had targeted energy infrastructure no fewer than 160 times just this year, he said.

The war at sea

The brightest spot for Ukraine during the week was its sinking of the Russian patrol ship Sergei Kotov near the Kerch Bridge off eastern Crimea early on Tuesday.

Ukrainian military intelligence’s Group 13 launched Magura V naval drones, which Ukraine claims to be the fastest in the Black Sea. Military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said the ship suffered five direct hits.

The final pair of drones seemed to detonate inside the hull, which had been ripped open by previous explosions.

Group 13 has undertaken previous special operations with naval drones, sometimes in cooperation with the Security Service of Ukraine, sinking or disabling from one-third to half of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine, in this handout picture released March 2, 2024. Press Service of the Operational Command 'South'/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Rescuers work at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian drone strike in Odesa, Ukraine [Press Service of the Operational Command South/Handout via Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera