Asia Times is initiating a near-daily Ukraine war situation report based on multiple military and think tank sources. It’s our unvarnished bid to cut through the propaganda and misinformation of all sides that contribute to the fog of war.
After entering the city of Severodonetsk from the northeast two days ago, “Russian forces are attempting to gain full control of [the city] and to encircle the Ukrainian defenders,” according to the May 31 evening report of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
German Lieutenant General (ret) Roland Kather, a former Kosovo Force (KFOR) commander and member of the NATO Military Committee (MC), the seniormost NATO military authority, said that “full [Russian] control of the Donbass is a matter of days … but preparations are already being made to go further.”
EU leaders decided on an oil embargo-light, leaving Russian pipeline oil to the EU untouched but cutting overall Russian oil deliveries by two-thirds by the end-2022. Natural gas deliveries were not discussed.
The Russian ruble rose in response and now trades at the highest level since the highs of the May 2018 – 2020 period. Russia and Serbia agreed to a 3-year oil deal.
East and Center
Severodonetsk fighting is reported to be “very fierce” by the Ukrainian side. Russia claims it now [May 31 noon local time] occupies one-third of the city.
The Russians are building up forces in Lyman to the north of the corridor out of the Severodonetsk Kessel (cauldron) and at Popasna to the south, and are conducting reconnaissance of Slovyansk and Bakhmut in between. A front line south from Izyum down to the area of Donetsk will complete Russia’s Donbass seizure.
The strategy is of interest and will likely be pursued elsewhere, including in the south and the northeast, according to an American source.
“It has been assumed that the Russians were trying to generate larger pockets and encircle large numbers of Ukrainians in major ground movements,” the American source said.
“The Russians may have adopted a different tactic, one that has been used very effectively by the Israelis in finding a weak spot, using coordinated artillery, armor and infantry for a small, localized breakthrough and then penetrate behind the local defense and rapidly turn and roll up small pockets of the enemy.
“This has apparently taken place in several instances over the past several days and appeared to be a deliberate tactical choice by the Russians,” the American source said.
German Brigadier General (ret) Klaus Wittmann believes that the strategy of concentrating forces on limited targets may also indicate the present inability of Russian forces to conduct larger scale and simultaneous operations in different locations.
He does say, though, that due to “far superior” Russian firepower, the strategy is succeeding.
North and South
In the northeast around Kharkiv and well further north to Sumy, nearly 24/7 Russian artillery fire continues but no ground operations have occurred.
Similarly, in the region northeast of Kherson, there was incessant Russian artillery fire toward towns in the direction of Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine’s seventh most populous city.
Kryvyi Rih does not look like a significant strategic target and attacks there may well be an attempt to distract from attacks on Mykolaiv, a key point in any possible later attack on the strategic port city of Odessa.
Russian positions in the area of Kherson are continuing to be fortified and forces are being supplied with significant numbers of tanks. Sporadic Ukrainian attacks yielded no success.
Russian action in the northeast and south are preparatory for new concentrations of forces once the Donbass is secured. Heavy artillery fire in multiple locations is keeping the Ukrainians guessing. Major Russian attacks in the south, meanwhile, appear most likely.