"Russia has increased the intensity of its operations in the Donbas as it seeks to encircle Severodonetsk, Lyschansk, and Rubizhne" in eastern Ukraine, and it has "achieved some localized successes" over "strong Ukrainian resistance," Britain's Ministry of Defense said early Tuesday. "Russia's capture of the Severodonetsk pocket would see the whole of Luhansk Oblast placed under Russian occupation," and trap the Ukrainian troops defending the strategic city.
Russian forces have been making "incremental progress" in encircling Severodonetsk, and it's likely they will succeed, a Western official tells BBC News. But the Ukrainian defenders are "performing a vital function" because "they are degrading the Russian forces" and "creating time" for the remainder of Ukraine's forces in the Donbas to prepare and strengthen defenses elsewhere.
The Institute for the Study of War agreed Russia is making "marginal gains to encircle" Severodonetsk, but said at home, "more Russians supportive of the Kremlin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine are beginning to criticize the Kremlin openly," including military bloggers and an assembly of military veterans, and the loss of an entire battalion in a bungled river crossing especially "shocked Russian military observers and prompted them to question Russian competence."
Ukraine has been suffering heavy casualties in the Donbas — President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainians could be dying every day "defending our country and our independence" in eastern Ukraine.
But "Russia has likely suffered a similar death toll to that experienced by the Soviet Union during its nine year war in Afghanistan," or about 15,000 slain troops, Britain's Defense Ministry said Sunday. "The Russian public has, in the past, proven sensitive to casualties suffered during wars of choice," and as the body count rises, "public dissatisfaction with the war and a willingness to voice it may grow."
"The Russian president and military high command will continue to demand advances, but at some point in the next month or two, any capacity of the Russians to do so will be at an end," thanks to mounting losses, dropping morale, increasingly insurgency in occupied Ukraine, and Ukraine's growing arsenal of Western-supplied weapons, Australian military analyst Mick Ryan writes, "The recent Ukrainian decision to cease its defense of the Mariupol steelworks provided a small yet pyrrhic victory for the Russians. But it is unlikely that there will be more of such minor successes for the Russian Army."