The enormous difference between the tone of Russian propaganda -constant exaggerations, atomic threats, praise of invincible heroes…- and that of President Vladimir Putin this Monday in celebration of Victory Day is surprising. Strictly speaking, it is difficult to find significant differences between yesterday’s speech in Moscow’s Red Square and any of those issued in February to justify the invasion of Ukraine: the nazis are backthe brothers of Donbas must be liberated and what is being done is nothing but a continuation of the Great Patriotic War of the 1940s.
Nothing new. Not a reference to the annexation of any Ukrainian region, not a mention of Mariupol, not a reminder of Kherson, Melitopol, Lugansk or Donetsk, where various parades and celebrations were also held. Putin did not pull any non-existent victory out of his sleevedid not flaunt any of its nuclear weapons, did not use a particularly threatening tone -rather, once again, a victimizer- and the only thing that made it clear was that this was going to take a long time: “No price is too high” to liberate the Novarossiya, that is, the eastern and southern areas of Ukraine of Russian cultural influence, he stated.
Putin also did not formalize a declaration of war as such -we therefore continue with the rhetoric of the “special military operation”– nor did he want to confirm the words of the leader of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, who announced in Mariupol the imminence of an absolute reconstruction of the city and the opening of the commercial port to integrate it into the battered Russian economic structure. In reality, they were all references to the past, both to World War II and to the death on May 2, 2014 of 42 pro-Russian activists in a trade union building in Odessa, one of the great open wounds in the relationship between the two countries since then. .
Since there was no declaration of war, there could be no general mobilization either. It was something that had been speculated on in both Western and Russian media. A risky measure, but one that could have caused a turn in war events with the arrival of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of new combatants. If the idea was ever really entertained, Putin and his staff dismissed it: It is useless to accumulate troops in a front if they do not have enough weapons or resources to survive.
Alarming lack of resources
In this sense, Mijaíl Jodarionok, a retired colonel and military analyst, had recently spoken on Russian television. In a rare reality check in the Kremlin-affiliated media, Jodarionok claimed that Russia had a serious arms and supply problem.… and that the general mobilization would not help to solve it but rather the opposite. “We have no reserves, no pilots and no planes,” said Jodarionok, who also complained that the Russian weapons were more typical of the 20th century than of a modern war. “New tanks, new warships and new planes would have to be built… and all that would take months, even years,” the expert pointed out.
Under these conditions, the mobilization of millions of adults and their sending to the front would only make them cannon fodder for the Ukrainian defenses – the Ukrainian defense ministry estimates 25,000 Russian dead in the waran exaggerated figure, but indicative – and would increase the chaos that we have seen very often in the strategy and disposition of the Russian troops, one of the main causes of their inability to advance practically on any of the open fronts after the first two weeks of the invasion.
This lack of resources can be seen in the current situation on the front lines. The concentration of Russian efforts in the southeast of Kharkov (Izium and Limán) and the northwest of Lugansk (Severodonetsk and Popanska), with small advances, although none decisive, has caused a Huge gap in defending positions harassment of the capital of Kharkiv, the Russian-speaking city with the largest population in the country. From there, the previously defending Ukrainian troops have gone on the attack, making their way to Izium to the south and to the border with Belgorod to the east.
Right now, the Russian army has to decide where to send its troops and where to send its weapons, because there is no way to effectively cover both fronts. If the positions around Kharkiv are protected, there is no way to successfully attack Severodonetsk any further. If an offensive on Severodonetsk is intended -Kramatorsk and Sloviansk have receded into the background due to the inability to advance on both cities-, there are no resources to stop the counteroffensives that seek to return the Russian army to its positions prior to February 24 in the northeast of Kharkov.
All or nothing in Lugansk
In fact, in their attempt to completely conquer the province of Lugansk, 85% occupied by pro-Russian militias, the invading army could have managed to cross the Donetsk river by Bilohorivka. It would be an important move, but risky, almost desperate. Although we know that the pontoon bridges have been deployed over the river, we still do not know one hundred percent if the tanks have managed to cross or if, on the contrary, they have been repelled by the Ukrainian artillery.
In the first case, the taking of Bilohorivka would mean the direct highway route to Lisichansk, a city neighboring Severodonetsk, from which it is only separated by the river itself in another turn of its route. The Ukrainian troops between both sides of the river would be surrounded and in a very complex situation. On the contrary, if the Ukraine has been vigilant and has been able to bomb the access in full operation, the Russian losses both in Bilohorivka and in Dronivka, the other possible crossing point, could be immense. Not only in human lives but in military resources.
The outcome of this maneuver can determine the evolution of the battle for control of Luhansk. If Russia succeeds, the province may be entirely theirs throughout the week, depending on the resilience of its administrative capital. On the other hand, if they lose even more resources, it will cost them a lot to advance, apart from the enormous blow to their morale. Crossing a river in the middle of a battle is usually discouraged in any military manual. If it has been a genius or a disaster, we will know shortly.