Just weeks into its war in Ukraine, Russia has shifted its focus to the country’s east, redeploying weapons and troops and increasing attacks on key towns and cities.
The sudden pivot to friendlier territory — where pro-Moscow separatists have fought for years — comes after Russian forces failed to capture Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
At the start of the invasion, the Kremlin appeared confident that the city would fall without a fight, cowed by the speed and strength of Russia’s advance.
“They’re going to do this in a fast-moving, Hollywood style,” Jim Townsend, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO during the Obama administration, recalled thinking at the time.
But almost immediately, Russian forces stalled outside the city, hobbled by poor planning and critical supply shortages.
They also lacked the sheer manpower to occupy Kyiv, a metropolis of nearly 3 million people.
Russia’s delay allowed Kyiv to build up its defenses and prepare for an urban battle — one that Moscow wasn’t prepared to fight.
Once it became clear that this was a losing battle for Russia, the shift toward the east began in earnest.
“They decided [to withdraw] because they had no other decision to make,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, the former director for Russia on the National Security Council.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Well, we can take the city, but it’s going to cost us too much,’ ” said Edmonds, who also served with the US Army in Iraq. “They just couldn’t do it.
Russia began pulling its troops from Kyiv in late March, sending some north to Belarus and others to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. The energy-rich region on Russia’s western border is held in part by allied separatists, offering Moscow safer territory from which to launch attacks and resupply its forces.
The open terrain is better for Russian armored units, experts say. Near Kyiv, they were forced to use roads, putting forces on a predictable route vulnerable to ambushes and attacks from the air.
Satellite images taken by Maxar Technologies have in recent days shown multiple convoys of Russian vehicles, weapons, troops and equipment moving in and around Ukraine’s east. Experts say Russia may try to besiege Ukrainian by forces linking its troops in the north and the south. It is an effort that analysts warn could include the blockade or capture of more eastern cities.
Russia has already used siege tactics in Ukraine, surrounding and bombarding the port city of Mariupol, as well as Chernihiv in the north. Encircling, isolating and then pummeling a city requires less manpower and equipment than an urban war for control of a major capital.
So far, no large eastern city has surrendered to Russian forces — but their defense has come at an enormous cost. The mayor of Mariupol said this week that Russia’s siege may have killed more than 20,000 civilians, a figure The Post could not independently verify.
The devastation itself can make it hard for the aggressor to hold a city, alienating the local population and breeding further resistance.
“The encirclement and siege of key towns and cities is very destructive and imposes huge costs on the local population,” said Tracey German, a professor in conflict and security at King’s College London.
“Even if Russia achieves a military victory — which is not a given — it is not clear how it can achieve a longer-term political victory after its destructive and indiscriminate use of force,” she said.