Putin’s troops advance towards centre of Severodonetsk but not ‘as fast’ as planned

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Putin’s troops advance towards centre of Severodonetsk but not ‘as fast’ as planned

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ladimir Putin’s troops are advancing in street-to-street fighting towards the centre of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine but are suffering losses with a “terrible smell of death” hanging over the outskirts, according to local reports.

Despite the Russian onslaught, the city in the Luhansk region is not at risk of being encircled, said regional governor Serhiy Gaidai, and Ukrainian soldiers could still retreat across the river to Lysychansk.

Russian troops had advanced into Severodonetsk’s southeastern and northeastern fringes, he added, but Ukrainian forces had driven them from the village of Toshkivka to the south.

“They use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row and then attack,” he said.

“Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again, and so on until they break through somewhere.”

With temperatures rising, there was a “terrible smell of death” on the outskirts of the city, he added.

Russian shelling has reduced swathes of Severodonetsk to ruins, according to reports, but the Ukrainian defence has slowed the wider Russian campaign across the Donbas region.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London said: “Russia’s capture of Lyman supports its operational main effort, which likely remains the encirclement of Severodonetsk and the closure of the pocket around Ukrainian forces in Luhansk Oblast.

“Heavy shelling continues, while street fighting is likely taking place on the outskirts of Severodonetsk town.

“Elements of Russia’s Southern Grouping of Forces are likely leading the most successful axis in the sector, supported by the Central Grouping of Forces attacking from the North. Progress has been slow but gains are being held.”

It added: “Routes into the pocket likely remain under Ukrainian control. Russia has achieved greater local successes than earlier in the campaign by massing forces and fires in a relatively small area. This forces Russia to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory.

“Russia’s political goal is likely to occupy the full territory of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

“To achieve this, Russia will need to secure further challenging operational objectives beyond Severodonetsk, including the key city of Kramatorsk and the M04 Dnipro-Donetsk main road.

Military analysts described the fight for Severodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin.

The city is important to Russian efforts to quickly complete the capture of the eastern industrial region before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defence.

But a Moscow-backed separatist leader was reported by state-run TASS news agency as saying that Russian forces had not advanced as rapidly as they had hoped in the battle for Severodonetsk, the easternmost city still in Ukraine’s hands.

The Russian advance is also reported to be coming at a huge cost to Mr Putin’s armed forces in terms of military fatalities and destroyed equipment.

Russia has been seeking to seize the entire Donbas, consisting of Luhansk and Donetsk which Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Capturing the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets river would give Moscow effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of war.

The leader of the Moscow-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told TASS that a third of Severodonetsk was “already under our control” but progress was less rapid than hoped.

The advance of Russian troops was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Severodonetsk area, TASS reported.

In the south, Kyiv said its forces had pushed back Russian troops to defensive positions in Andriyivka, Lozove and Bilohorka, villages on the southern bank of the Inhulets River that forms the border of Kherson province, where Moscow is trying to consolidate control.

Ukraine has called for the West to send more long-range weapons but US President Joe Biden said Washington would not send Ukraine rocket systems that can reach into Russia, a decision Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev called “rational.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian forces shelled the northeastern city of Kharkiv again on Monday, as well as the border region of Sumy, which was hit from inside Russia.