Narrower focus helps Russia make gains in Ukraine’s east
By Andrea Kannapell, Victoria Kim and Shashank Bengali
As the fourth month dawns in the war in Ukraine, the battle has narrowed to a 75-mile-wide sliver of land in the heart of the eastern Donbas region, where Russia’s concentrated firepower and shortened supply lines are helping its forces make progress toward a handful of key cities.
Moscow’s main immediate target remains Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still under Ukrainian control. Artillery barrages fired by Russian forces approaching from three sides have knocked out water and electrical supplies, driven residents into underground shelters and, in the last 24 hours, killed at least six people, the regional government said Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials said they expect Russian forces to attempt a repeat of the devastating siege tactics they employed in the southeastern city of Mariupol, choking off Sievierodonetsk and other cities as they seek full control of Donbas.
Shrinking its objectives has allowed Moscow to make incremental gains closer to the Russian border in eastern Ukraine, after failing to capture the capital, Kyiv, and other cities in the north. But military analysts and Western intelligence officials believe that Moscow’s forces would face brutal urban combat if they tried to fully capture Sievierodonetsk and that they would struggle to mount an offensive deeper inside Ukraine.
The intensified fighting, with each side trying to encircle the other and prevent entrapment, comes as Ukraine’s Western allies try to maintain pressure on Russia. Representatives from Finland and Sweden were in Turkey on Wednesday to meet with high-level officials in an effort to address President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opposition to the Nordic nations’ bids to join NATO. On the eve of the talks, Turkey laid out a series of security-related demands of Sweden, including that it abandon support for the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party, an organization that Turkey and the European Union consider terrorists.
In other developments:
— President Vladimir Putin of Russia visited wounded soldiers Wednesday and announced a raft of new social welfare measures and military benefits — an apparent effort to show Russians that he was aware times were tough. Pensions for nonworking seniors, along with the minimum wage, will be raised 10% in June, he said.
— Germany plans to order coal-fired power plants that were due to be shut down to be placed in reserve, as part of a plan to ensure the country can keep the lights on if supplies of natural gas from Russia are abruptly cut.
— Aiming to crack down on Russian oligarchs who have held on to their yachts and luxury villas in Europe despite facing sanctions, the European Union proposed Wednesday to make evading sanctions a criminal offense and to strengthen legal measures to confiscate assets.
— China’s army held combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan on Wednesday, a day after China and Russia held their first joint military exercise since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration has accelerated its efforts to reshape Taiwan’s defense systems.