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Russian advances could give Ukraine’s ‘fortress belt’ (ISW) a chance

  • Russian forces are set to advance towards the “fortress belt” of four cities in eastern Ukraine.
  • The towns constitute a stronghold of Ukraine in Donetsk Oblast, just northwest of Avdiivka.
  • Russia gained ground, forcing Ukrainian troops to withdraw.

Russian troops appear to be making tactical advances just northwest of Avdiivka toward a so-called “fortress belt” of Ukrainian towns, war analysts report.

Although it remains to be seen whether the Russian command will concentrate its troops in this area, it is preparing the ground for offensive operations in this direction. And they have long aimed to capture these four cities.

As Russian forces continue to consolidate their positions northwest of Avdiivka, a war-torn town they captured in February, they now have a choice over which objectives to pursue. Ukraine has repeatedly warned that Russia is seeking to seize Pokrovsk, southwest of Bakhmut.

But according to a new assessment from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank that has closely followed the conflict, Russia has the opportunity to “conduct possible follow-on offensive operations” around Chasiv Yar , a town near Avdiivka that “is operationally important as it would provide Russian forces with a staging base to launch offensive operations” near two of the “four major cities that form a fortress belt” for Ukraine in Donetsk Oblast.

Chasiv Yar, another town under enormous pressure, is close to Duzhkivka and Kostyantynivka, the two southernmost towns in the belt. The other two, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, are located a little further north, but still along the same highway.

“Russian military command may decide that advances northward along the H-20 highway would allow Russian forces to conduct complementary offensive operations from the east and south against the southern edge of the Ukrainian fortress belt in Donetsk Oblast,” wrote the ISW.

But the efforts will neither be quick nor easy for Russia, analysts add. And they could still decide to prioritize advancing west, attacking the borders of Donetsk Oblast, rather than heading northwest from Avdiivka towards the fortress belt .

Currently, ISW reported, Ukrainian officials say Russia has deployed up to four brigades, “roughly the equivalent of a division boosted in combat power,” to the northwest of ‘Avdiivka to stabilize sections of the front and support penetration operations.

The Russian situation is not without challenges, however.

Ukraine appears to have slowed Russian advances near Avdiivka through the replenishment of reinforcements in the region, despite severe manpower shortages and general disadvantages. That said, in recent days, Ukrainian military officials have acknowledged Russian tactical progress in the region, citing a dire situation pending the arrival of U.S. aid.

The potential for progress in this sector comes ahead of an expected Russian offensive this summer, when Moscow’s troops could have the opportunity to make significant gains in the Chasiv Yar region and beyond.

At present, it is unclear what arms packages and security assistance Ukraine will have received by then and whether the country’s forces will be able to sufficiently defend themselves against a Russian offensive.


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