Can Putin Really Fight a Two-Front War in Ukraine?

Ukrainian self-propelled artillery shoots towards Russian forces at a frontline in Kharkiv region, Ukraine
A Ukrainian self-propelled artillery shoots towards Russian forces at a frontline in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on July 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)

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On day 172 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military is struggling with a strategic conundrum in Ukraine: attack in the Donbas or defend in the South?

South or Donbas? 

Russian forces are trying to conduct operations on two fronts at the same time, according to the daily estimate of the British Ministry of Defense. However, the two efforts rely on two different sources of troops, and are thus likely to have dissimilar effectiveness.

In the Donbas, or at least some parts of it, the Russian offensive operations are relying on Russian-backed separatist forces that are trying to reach Bakhmut from Donetsk City. In other parts of the Donbas, the Russian military or the mercenaries of the infamous Wagner Group are taking the lead in operations.

In the south, the Russian military continues to relocate forces from the rest of the battlefield in an attempt to defend against the incoming Russian counteroffensive against Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Kherson is the most important urban center to have fallen to the Russian forces and the only provincial capital Kyiv has lost.

Equally important, Kherson is the only ground north of the Dnipro that the Russian forces have captured and held. With a limited or non-existent bridge-crossing capability, the Russian military needs to hold Kherson if it wishes to push northwards.

“Over the past week, Russia’s priority has likely been to re-orientate units to reinforce southern Ukraine,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

“However, in the Donbas, Russian-backed forces – largely militia of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic – have continued to attempt assaults to the north of Donetsk city,” the British Ministry of Defense stated.

“Particularly heavy fighting has focused on the village of Pisky, near the site of Donetsk Airport. The settlement probably remains contested. The area has been on the front line of the Donbas Line of Control since 2014,” the British Ministry of Defense added.

“The Russian assault likely aims to secure the M04 highway, the main approach to Donetsk from the west,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

Russian Casualties

The Russian military continues to lose an unsustainable amount of men in Ukraine, frustrating any offensive plans in the Donbas.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Sunday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 43,550 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 233 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 194 attack and transport helicopters, 1,864 tanks, 980 artillery pieces, 4,126 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 261 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 15 boats and cutters, 3,039 vehicles and fuel tanks, 136 anti-aircraft batteries, 784 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 91 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 187 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

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