Putin says his operation in Ukraine has barely begun

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned those hoping Russia will be defeated militarily in Ukraine on Thursday: “In general, we haven’t even started seriously.”

What he says: In a meeting with parliamentary leaders, Putin claimed that Western support for Ukraine would only prolong the war. Putin, who launched the war in February and took maximum positions for a peace deal, said that “the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian” because it wants to weaken Russia and “enforce its version of the world order”.

Situation: Russia seems to be getting ready for the next phase of its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern border as it completes the capture of Luhansk, one of the two administrative regions of the wider Donbas region.

  • About half of the other region, Donetsk, remains in Ukrainian hands. That is where the focus will now shift after Moscow’s costly but effective offensive into Luhansk.
  • Russia has shelled Ukrainian positions in Donetsk but has not announced any territorial gains in the four days since it claimed control of Lysychansk, the last major city in Luhansk to remain in Ukrainian hands.
  • That could indicate an operational pause as Russia’s depleted forces prepare for the next phase.
  • Both sides have suffered heavy losses in the Donbas, but Russia has had the advantage in manpower and especially in artillery. Military analysts expect that balance to shift over time as Kiev trains additional troops and integrates NATO weapons.

The big picture: Moscow has declared its intention to “liberate” the entire Donbas region, much of which has now been completely destroyed.

  • However, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian Security Council, this week reiterated Moscow’s initial, broader goal of “demilitarizing” all of Ukraine. The Biden administration does not believe that Putin’s ambitions are limited to the Donbas.
  • “We hear they want to beat us on the battlefield,” Putin said on Thursday. “Let them try.”
  • Meanwhile, Ukraine has had some success in its efforts to retake parts of the southern Kherson oblast, which could become another important front as the war continues.

Zoom in: Ukraine chose to abandon the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk rather than conduct the kind of lengthy defenses seen in Mariupol — apparently in an effort to slow down and demote Russian forces without risking catastrophic losses.

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that Kiev “finally” benefited from the weapons and ammunition sent by Western partners.
  • HIMARS missile launchers sent by the US have enabled Ukraine to attack ammunition depots and command and control centers behind Russian lines. Ukraine also recaptured the symbolically and strategically important Snake Island using Western weapons.

What to watch: The pace at which new weapons and troops are integrated into the battle will be critical to Ukraine’s efforts to contain its territorial losses and possibly launch a counter-offensive later this summer.

  • On the other hand, Russia has not imposed mass conscription but has reportedly offered higher-than-normal pay packages to contract soldiers to fill its own ranks.

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