While Russia relies on overwhelming destructive force to advance a mile or two a day in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers fighting some 400 miles to the south are relentlessly working to retake Russian advanced positions in the expanse of steppes and swamps. .
Fighting is fierce on both fronts, and the way the two campaigns unfold is critical to understanding the state of the war as concerns grow that the protracted conflict will impose new economic costs on Ukraine’s allies.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said last week that he thought he would wait until the West was gone. While the Russian leader rarely acknowledges Russian casualties or defeats, military analysts say the strikes against his army have raised questions about whether they can conduct extensive offensive operations after the completion of the campaign to seize the Luhansk region.
Russia has committed the bulk of its military forces to the capture of Lysichansk, the last urban center of Lugansk still controlled by the Ukrainian government, and it could fall any day now.
Russia has sent thousands more troops east in recent weeks to bolster its advance into neighboring Donetsk Oblast, where it is likely to try again to overwhelm well-fortified Ukrainian positions with its large arsenal of artillery, missiles and air power, even as its ground forces have dwindled.
How much each army has shrunk after more than four months of war remains an open question. Kyiv gives only general estimates of its losses, while Moscow says almost nothing.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said last week that 25,000 Russian soldiers had been killed since the start of the war. The number, which cannot be independently confirmed, is the highest estimate provided by a senior Western official. The Ukrainian government has acknowledged that it is suffering staggering losses, hundreds of casualties every day.
Even if Russia is able to push deeper into Donetsk, its military is struggling to maintain an advance on multiple fronts of attack in different parts of the threatened country. about the size of Texas.
The Russian defeat last week on Snake Island in the Black Sea, where their troops were forced to retreat under continuous Ukrainian shelling, showed just how dependent the Russians are on their superiority in heavy weapons.
By stretching its forces, Russia spent several months trying to strengthen its defensive positions in the south, where Ukraine had retaken parts of the Kherson region west of the Dnieper that Russia had captured at the start of the war.
The Ukrainian military said the Russians had been forced out of defensive positions along the perimeter in several places and that Ukrainian soldiers were operating within 20 miles of the city of Kherson. Last week, senior US defense officials said the Ukrainians were not only retaking villages, but demonstrating the ability to hold the reclaimed territories.
But military analysts warn that despite Ukrainian successes in the south, they are unlikely to launch a broad offensive and soon move on Kherson, the only provincial capital captured by the Russians.
At the moment, Ukrainian forces are counterattacking north and south of the city. At the same time, the rebels in Kherson have stepped up their campaign to eliminate Russian proxy leaders and aid the Ukrainian military by participating in sabotage operations and helping to direct fire at Russian targets.
On Thursday, the southern command of the Ukrainian armed forces said its forces carried out rocket and artillery strikes against 150 targets, killing more than 40 Russian soldiers and destroying scores of Russian artillery and armored vehicles. The claims cannot be independently confirmed, but data from NASA satellites that track the fires indicate activity on the southern front.
At the same time, there were battles on land, two armies fought in the sky.
Last week, Ukraine said it had repelled an attack by a group of Russian attack helicopters north of the Kherson region using man-portable air defense systems. At the same time, the Ukrainian Air Force said it carried out seven air strikes, including on a Russian command post and two ammunition depots.
On Friday, the Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian helicopters attacked enemy personnel and military equipment in the village of Belozerka, less than 10 miles from Kherson.