Russia continues siege of Severodonetsk in Ukraine as morale and desertion fears rise

Four months of war in Ukraine appear to be straining troop morale on both sides, sparking desertions and rebellion against officers’ orders, British defense officials said on Sunday.

“Combat units on both sides are engaged in intense fighting in the Donbass and are likely to be experiencing variable morale,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its Daily War Assessment.

“Ukrainian forces have likely suffered desertions in recent weeks,” the assessment said, but added that “Russian morale most likely remains particularly troubled.”

He said “cases of entire Russian units refusing orders and armed clashes between officers and their troops continue to occur.”

Separately, Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate released what it said were intercepted phone calls in which Russian soldiers complained about front-line conditions, poor equipment and general understaffing, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.

WATCH | What happened in week 17 of Russia’s attack on Ukraine:

What happened in week 17 of the Russian attack on Ukraine

Russian forces have tightened their grip on the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk and almost claimed the entire Luhansk region, while Ukraine has established grain export routes through Poland and Romania in an attempt to avoid a global food crisis. Here is a recap of the war in Ukraine from June 11 to June 17.

Meanwhile, the NATO chief warned the fighting could go on for “years”.

In an interview published in the German weekly Bild am Sonntag on Sunday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “nobody knows” how long the war might last. “We have to be prepared for this to last for years,” he said.

He also urged allies “not to weaken support for Ukraine, even if the costs are high, not only in terms of military aid, but also due to rising energy prices and foodstuffs”.

In recent days, Gazprom, the Russian gas company, has reduced deliveries to two major European customers, Germany and Italy. In the case of Italy, energy officials are expected to meet this week to discuss the situation. The head of Italian energy giant ENI said on Saturday that with additional gas purchased from other sources, Italy should get through next winter, but he warned Italians that “restrictions” affecting the use of gas might be necessary.

Germany will limit the use of gas for power generation amid concerns over possible shortages caused by reduced supplies from Russia, the country’s economy minister said on Sunday. Germany tried to fill its gas storage facilities to capacity before the cold winter months.

WATCH | Ukraine closes key gas pipeline between Russia and Europe:

Ukraine closes main gas pipeline from Russia to Europe

The Ukrainian pipeline operator has halted Russian shipments through a key hub in an area in the east of the country controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Germany would try to compensate for the decision by increasing the burning of coal, a dirtier fossil fuel. “It’s bitter, but it’s just necessary in this situation to reduce gas consumption,” he said.

Stoltenberg, however, pointed out that “the costs of food and fuel are nothing compared to those paid daily by Ukrainians on the front lines”.

Stoltenberg added: Moreover, if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to achieve his goals in Ukraine, such as when he annexed Crimea in 2014, “we would have to pay an even higher price.”

Fighting in the Donbass

Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region – home to Moscow-backed separatists – has been at the center of Russian attacks for more than two months after an initial attempt to take Kyiv failed.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russia and Ukraine continued to carry out heavy artillery bombardments on axes north, east and south of the Severodonetsk pocket in the Donbass, but with little changes on the front line.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said via Telegram on Sunday: “It’s a very difficult situation in Severodonetsk, where the enemy in the middle of the city conducts round-the-clock aerial reconnaissance with drones, adjusts fire, adapts quickly to our changes.”

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Sunday that Russian and separatist forces had taken control of Metolkin, a settlement just east of Severodonetsk.

Bakhmut, a town in Donbass, lies 55 kilometers southwest of the twin cities of Lysyhansk and Serverodonetsk, where fierce military clashes are raging. Every day, Russian artillery hammers Bakhmut.

“We will not give the south”

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled south of Kyiv to visit troops and hospital staff in the Mykolaiv and Odessa regions along the Black Sea. He handed out awards to dozens of people at each stop, shaking their hands and thanking them again and again for their service.

Zelensky, in a recorded address aboard a train back to Kyiv, vowed to defend the south of the country.

“We will not cede the south to anyone, we will return everything that belongs to us, and the sea will be Ukrainian and safe.”

He added: “Russia doesn’t have as many missiles as our people want to live.”

Zelensky also condemned Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports amid weeks of inconclusive negotiations over safe corridors so that millions of tonnes of silage grain can be shipped ahead of the approach of the new harvest season.

Firefighters battle a blaze after a Russian bombardment in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, on Sunday. (George Ivanchenko/Associated Press)

In other attacks in the south, the military operational command of southern Ukraine said on Sunday that two people were killed in the shelling of the Galitsyn community in the Mykolaiv region and that the shelling of the Bashtansky district was continued.

The Russian Defense Ministry said ship-borne missiles destroyed a factory in the city of Mykolaiv where howitzers and armored vehicles supplied by the West were stored.

Heavy weaponry supplied by the West is reaching the front lines, but Ukrainian leaders have been insisting for weeks that they need more weapons and they need them sooner.

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Post expires at 11:08pm on Wednesday June 29th, 2022