With a large pincer attack, the Kremlin wanted to conquer the Donbass. But the big breakthrough did not materialize. Now the Russian military seems to be pursuing a new plan. According to military experts, Moscow is trying to form several smaller cauldrons.

In mid-April, Russian forces in eastern Ukraine launched the second phase of their invasion. Starting from the city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region, Moscow units tried to push south with a large pincer attack in order to establish a connection with their own units in Debaltsveve in the Donetsk region. This maneuver was intended to cut off numerous Ukrainian troops in the salient to the east and force them to surrender. However, continued resistance and Ukrainian gains in the Kharkiv area hampered the operation.

Now the Kremlin seems to have changed its plans. According to the US Institute for War Research (ISW), Moscow’s troops are now trying to encircle several small Ukrainian formations in the Luhansk region in order to gradually gain territory. Accordingly, Russian units are trying to form boilers at Bakhmut, Zolote, Sievjerodonetsk and Avdiivka. The reserves of man and material needed for the attacks would be withdrawn from the areas around Kharkiv, Izyum, Donetsk and Zaporizhia, it said.

Moscow’s military seems to be having more success with the simultaneous attacks at different points on the front. Recently, Ukrainian units are said to have withdrawn southwest of Popasna to protect their lines of communication. In the past week, Russian troops in the Luhansk region have gained more territory than in the whole of May, ISW analysts said. However, they failed to make a decisive breakthrough.

In the Russian focus is Bachmut in particular. The city of 70,000 in the Donetsk region is an important transport hub that currently also serves as an improvised command center for the Ukrainian army. From Bakhmut roads lead to all sections of the front. Should the place fall, the supply line to Lysychansk and Sievjerodonetsk to the north-east would also be cut off. The two industrial cities have a high symbolic importance for both Kyiv and Moscow. They are the last cities in the Luhansk region still held by Ukraine.

According to estimates by British secret services, however, the conquest of Lysychansk and Sievjerodonetsk will pose new challenges for Russian troops. Because the shift of the front to the west would aggravate the existing logistical problems, said the Ministry of Defense in London.