Why the city of Lisichansk is a big prize in Putin’s military strategy

Full Russian control over the Ukrainian city of Lysichansk seems a foregone conclusion, with Soviet flags flying in the center and Ukrainian troops retreating.

Moscow boasts of the victory in statements that make it clear that the battle there was far from over one city. Its capture gives Russia a key victory in its quest to capture all of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

Donbass, which includes the territories of Lugansk and Donetsk, is a prize for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Having failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, Mr. Putin has refocused his military campaign on the Donbas, which occupies about 9 percent of Ukraine’s territory but is important for its industry, location and potential bargaining chip for Moscow.

Donbass borders Russia and runs from Mariupol in the south to the northern border near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. According to the latest data, before the Russian invasion, about 6.2 million people lived in the region, where coal mines and steel are located. census data.

Kremlin-backed separatists have held territory in Donbas since 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea in a move Ukraine and its Western allies have called illegal. Proxy forces then captured more than a third of Donbass and proclaimed the formation of two self-proclaimed republics; since then they have been waging a civil war against the government of Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people died in the battles in Donbas from 2014 to last year. But the battle effectively came to a stalemate – albeit with sporadic and deadly artillery shelling along the roughly 250-mile front known as the line of contact – until Russia invaded Ukraine on February 2. 24.

Now Russian forces and their separatist allies control about 80 to 90 percent Donbass, according to the Ukrainian authorities.

In order to take full control of Lugansk, Russia first sent all its forces to the city of Severodonetsk, located across the river from Lysichansk. After bombarding the city and capturing it on June 24, Russian troops set their sights on neighboring Lisichansk.

The sister cities were the last major settlements in the Lugansk region under Ukrainian control. Now, with both in hand, Russia effectively controls the entire resource-rich region and can regroup—with Donetsk in sight.

Control of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk means that Russia can position its forces to attack the cities to the southwest, especially Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut.

Kramatorsk is one of the last major cities in Donetsk still under Ukrainian control. If Kramatorsk falls, Mr. Putin’s forces will effectively control the entire Donbass.

This is important both from a sentence point of view and from a symbolic point of view. mr. Putin can claim a tangible military victory and use the territory like a lever in any future peace talks with Ukraine. Holding Donbass would also expand Moscow’s “land bridge” connecting Russian territory to Crimea.