War in Ukraine: Cities, a strategic and moral issue for kyiv

PostedJune 13, 2022, 3:49 PM

Mariupol, Severodonetsk… The Ukrainians defend their cities, even when defeat seems inevitable. A way to slow down the Russian advance and to galvanize the morale of the troops.

In order to slow down the Russian advance, the Ukrainian army defends its cities with abnegation, including when defeat seems inevitable. However, the method is expensive. Moscow’s forces are nibbling ground and blindly bombarding the adversary (here in Severodonetsk).


On the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov, the Ukrainians held the industrial complex of Azovstal for weeks, while the rest of Mariupol, in ruins, was already under Russian control. For some time now, Severodonetsk has also seemed on the verge of falling. The Ukrainian army announced on Monday that it had abandoned the city center.

But to stop the fight, there is no question. Two cities largely destroyed, weeks of fire bordering on despair, but for different issues. “The siege of Mariupol forced the Russians to allocate substantial forces” to seize it, explains William Schneider, a researcher at the American Hudson Institute, estimating that the deployment of more than twelve Russian battalions to Donbass had been delayed for take the port city.

Severodonetsk, at the gates of the region, “has a broader politico-military significance”, notes the American, since Moscow wants in the short term “to take control of the entire region and annex it”.

“Encouraged by example”

Since the start of the Russian invasion, kyiv’s forces have defied the odds. The capital did not fall, the north of the country resisted. Moscow has revised its objectives to focus on the east. At the same time, the Ukrainian nation revealed itself to itself, behind the previously disputed figure of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who became the charismatic guide of a fierce resistance.

“Every time the Russians were slowed down in a city, it prevented them from having a dynamic maneuver.”

A French officer

“In Mariupol in particular, the Ukrainians can appear as martyrs”, notes a French military source on condition of anonymity. “Even if it is desperate, it is a way of guaranteeing the cement and the homogeneity of the units, which are increasingly armed by young soldiers or volunteers who joined the war late, units which also need to be encouraged by example.”

Desertions and human losses

The effect is therefore largely psychological, but also extremely concrete. “Each time the Russians were slowed down in a city, it prevented them from having a dynamic maneuver”, notes the French officer. However, the method is expensive. Moscow’s forces are nibbling ground and blindly bombarding the adversary. The British Ministry of Defense spoke last week of desertions on the Ukrainian side. “There are starting to be soldiers who, by the pressure, the fatigue, the firepower that falls on them, drop out,” confirms the French soldier.

kyiv recently admitted around 100 dead and 500 injured per day. On the Russian side, it is perhaps even worse. Reliable figures are lacking, but the history of warfare shows that the defense suffers less than the attack.

A war of attrition

Certainly, what is being played out is a war of attrition. “The subject is not the limited, progressive Russian progression, but rather who uses whom, faster than the other?” summarizes, on Twitter, Gustav Gressel, analyst at the European Council on International Relations. Why fight for Severodonetsk? “The city is favorable to the defense,” he recalls. “If you can force the enemy to fight there, you have a better chance.”

In a recent analysis of the start of the war for the French Institute of International Relations, former French colonel Michel Goya noted that more than 30 Ukrainian cities had the size necessary to “resist a full Russian army for more than a month “. Added to this are “four superbastion cities of more than a million inhabitants” east of the Dnieper River, which cuts Ukraine in two. The rest of the conflict could therefore freeze around other cities.


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