What will Russia do next? Putin plans for fresh offensive in Ukraines Donbas – expert

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Ukrainians are bracing for yet another hammer blow from Russian forces as President Putin orders troops into a renewed assault on Ukraine’s eastern regions. Ukraine’s defence ministry said the Kremlin is bolstering its presence in the region before launching yet another offensive in an area that has been in near-constant war since 2014.

What is Russia planning next?

A senior US defence official has said Russian troops who were withdrawn into Belarus from the Kyiv region are now moving east towards the Donbas.

The Donbas has long been the subject of Russian interest, with a war being fought in the region since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some 14,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict in the region between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army.

Now, it would appear Russia are focussing all of their resources on taking the region.

One unnamed western official said: “I would imagine that, at outside estimates, what you’re looking at is a force which is probably the Russians looking to double or even treble the amount of force that they bring into that Donbas area.

“But I would note that that is going to take some considerable time to bring them up to that sort of number.

“And even when they bring themselves to that number, there is a question over how effectively they can bring those forces into the battle.”

However, Professor Michael Clarke, from the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute believes a fresh incursion into the area will not happen in the immediate future but could take some weeks to materialise.

He told Express.co.uk: “The real, and probably decisive, battle for the Donbas has already begun.

“In fact, the Russians have started to push hard earlier than their military commanders probably would have wanted because they are evidently under pressure from the Kremlin to come up with something – anything – that can be presented as a victory in time for the Victory Day parade and speeches in Red Square on May 9th.

“The truth is that their reinforcements from the north are at least a couple of weeks away from being able to take up positions in the Donbas as they make the long journey via Belgorod on the Russian side of the border, to redeploy into the south east of Ukraine.

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“So although the pressure on Ukrainian forces has become more ferocious in recent days, they have the opportunity to inflict some local defeats on Russian forces before the bulk of their opponent’s power arrives at the battlefront.

“The Ukrainians will certainly be trying to disrupt the sense of forward momentum that this big Russian push in the southeast is designed to create.”

Most recently, a pro-Russian rebel leader claimed that separatist forces in eastern Ukraine have taken control of Mariupol.

Ukrainian fighters have been preparing for their “last battle” in the besieged city as Russian forces close in after 47 days of unrelenting fighting in the eastern city, which is important to Russia due to being a land bridge between the Donbas and Crimea.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region, said on Monday: “Regarding the port of Mariupol, it is already under our control.”

His claims have not been independently verified.

Additionally, the situation is likely to escalate further by the appointment of one of Russia’s most feared generals to oversee the remainder of the war.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said the appointment of Russian General Alexander Dvornikov – dubbed the “Butcher of Syria” – is consistent with Moscow’s “scorched earth” policy.

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