• On April 3, Russia withdrew its forces from the Ukrainian capital to launch a new phase of combat in the south and then in the west of the country.

    It is characterized by progressive and concentrated attacks in the cities of these regions.

  • If the Russian tactic consists in taking strategic points in order to more easily seize an entire geographical area, on the Ukrainian side, this ground war is a strong message sent to its population, its army and to the rest of the world.

  • A psychological aspect that sometimes takes precedence over the implementation of a more global and effective combat strategy.

    It nevertheless causes serious damage to the Russian troops.

One strategy, two objectives.

Since the failure to take kyiv, the Kremlin has begun a second phase of combat aimed at eastern Ukraine, in order to take Donbass.

New geographical area, but also new attack tactics.

Michel Goya, a former colonel in the navy and now a war historian, evokes in one of his analyzes a transition from “combats of movement” to “combats of position”.

Attacks are now done "city by city".

First, because Vladimir Putin's armed forces don't really have a choice: "Cities in this region are everywhere and that's where the Ukrainian defense has settled", explains to

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General Dominique Trinquand, former head of the French military mission to the United Nations.

Then, because for the Russians, the capture of this chain of cities has a tactical interest.

Michel Goya thus takes the example of the city of Izium where a major Russian maneuver took place recently.

Located 100 km south-east of Kharkiv, it is “the necessary starting base to envelop the Donbass from the west”.

For the expert, the Russian army will only have to "seize the two pairs of towns Sloviansk-Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk-Lyssytchansk, as well as the small town of Pokrovsk, to consider that the Donbass is conquered" .

#Ukraine: Russia announces the establishment on Wednesday of a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation to a locality under Russian control of civilians in the Azot factory in Severodonetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine ravaged by fighting #AFP pic.twitter.com/XmohWfA4Lk

— Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) June 14, 2022


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A psychological question more than a tactical one

But it's not just the Russians who benefit from this "city-by-city" combat strategy.

If the Ukrainian troops set up their defense there, it is not by chance.

On the tactical aspect, the city gives the advantage to the defenders who can “rely on obstacles such as buildings in which they can barricade themselves”, analyzes General Dominique Trinquand.

“These are areas where the firing ranges are quite limited.

However, close combat is favorable to those who know the terrain well, ”continues the expert.

The “battle of Donbass” or the “final phase” of the war in Ukraine https://t.co/zLumCKJu4H

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Volodymyr Zelensky's troops have thus managed to slow down, or even impose, the withdrawal of the Russian army, while limiting material losses, which are generally the responsibility of the attacker, observes Michel Goya.

"Each time the Russians were slowed down in a city, it prevented them from having a dynamic maneuver, from taking territorial advantages or from overtaking the Ukrainian weapon", notes the French officer again.

Beyond tactics, the city war is a psychological battle for Ukrainians.

"Each city becomes a symbol to be defended," notes General Dominique Trinquand.

When the army signals that it is defending Severodonetsk, people identify with it.

A much stronger message than if kyiv were talking about fighting in fields between two regions.

The limits of the war of symbols

If Ukraine prevails on communication and symbols, it is sometimes to the detriment of a military strategy which could have served it better.

"At Mariupol, we praised the incredible defense of the heroes of a battle lost in advance," comments General Dominique Trinquand.

But in the end, a thousand men died or were wounded and another thousand were taken prisoner when they could have reinforced the troops elsewhere.

»

Another more recent example: the battle of Severodonetsk, also particularly publicized.

For the former head of the French military mission to the United Nations, the defense of the Ukrainians would have been "much simpler if they had not stayed inside, but outside the city, on the other side of the Donets River.

According to him, kyiv should measure its ability to defend more and thus limit losses.

According to the Ukrainian president, they are today from 50 to 100 deaths per day, only in Donbass.

Russians slowed down, worn out and limited

However, the game is far from over on the Russian side, which is short of men.

"For an 'army without infantry', a single Ukrainian brigade solidly entrenched in a city of more than 50,000 inhabitants (and there are 83 in Ukraine) is a problem", assures Michel Goya.

And to thus estimate that the Russians do not take less than three weeks to take a city of 45,000 inhabitants held by two Ukrainian brigades “on condition of engaging a strongly reinforced motorized infantry division there”.

Our file on the war in Ukraine

If the Russians have managed to reverse the Ukrainian advantage by razing the cities, the army is also beginning to wear out and see its human potential reduced.

“This will probably limit the depth of his aggression, projects General Dominique Trinquand.

I think it will eventually be able to conquer the Donbass entirely, but will find it difficult to go further.

»

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