Russian blitzkrieg to try and crush Ukraine, writes MARK ALMOND

A blitzkrieg more barbaric and bloody than anything we’ve seen before: The scale of artillery bombardments and the deployment of cruise missiles suggest a ruthless determination to crush Ukraine’s dogged resistance, writes MARK ALMOND

Phase Two of Russia’s cruel war against Ukraine is now under way – and I fear it will be even more bloody and barbaric than Vladimir Putin’s campaign so far.

Over the past 48 hours Putin has upped the tempo. Deeply humiliated by the failure of his intended blitzkrieg on the country in February, he is now doubling down to achieve victory by brute force.

And so from the frontlines in south-eastern Ukraine to the far west on the border with Poland, as many as 2,000 missile strikes and bombing raids have shattered any faint remaining hope that the Kremlin might still be open to peace talks.

The scale of artillery bombardments and the deployment of cruise missiles alongside its long-range bombers suggest a ruthless determination to crush Ukraine’s dogged resistance once and for all.

The second phase of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine could be more bloody and barbaric than the first, fears Mark Almond

Putin claimed his invasion was to protect and liberate the Russian speakers of the disputed territory of the Donbas. 

But in reality he wanted to destroy Ukraine as an independent country. If he cannot achieve that, then conquering the Donbas – regardless of the human cost – will at least let him declare a face-saving victory.

He is seeking to take control of what he calls ‘New Russia’ – that great swathe of southern Ukraine, from the Donbas across the Black Sea coast to the port of Odessa.

With the Crimean peninsula already in his grip, this territorial grab would strangle Ukraine’s economy. For without access to ports, Ukraine would be unable to export either steel or wheat from its fertile plains.

But economic strangulation won’t destroy Ukrainian resistance quickly enough for Putin.

Local resident Tamara, 71, cries in front of an apartment building destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol. Mark Almond writes that Putin is now doubling down to achieve victory by brute force

So he is putting his faith in a new team of generals whom he hopes have learned from their predecessors’ blunders at the start of the war.

Back then, Russia sent a long convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles into the forest north of Kyiv. Strung out along roads, they were sitting ducks for Ukrainian soldiers hiding in the trees with British anti-tanks missiles.

The Donbas is very different – classic tank country – where Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Stalin’s Red Army fought titanic battles between 1941 and 1943.

Soon enough we will find out whether Russia’s revamped command and control have put right the poor battlefield tactics of Phase One of the war and solved their desperate communication problems which resulted in senior personnel deployed to the frontlines with subsequent high rate of loss.

What the Russians do have, in addition to greater troop numbers, are vast reserves of ammunition, artillery shells and bombs.

A local resident walks next to a tank of pro-Russian troops during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol. The Donbas region is ‘classic tank country’, writes Mark Almond

President Zelensky announced earlier this week that the ‘Battle for the Donbas’ had begun, marking a new phase of the war

By contrast, Ukraine has expended a lot of its ammunition already. American intelligence suggests it is using, in just three days, the ammo and weaponry it expected to last a week.

Without regular supplies of desperately needed sophisticated weaponry from the West, Ukraine could soon run out of firepower.

It is for this reason Russia is now focused on bombing Ukraine’s own munitions factories and strafing its transport hubs as far west as Lviv in efforts to sabotage the West’s supply lines. And there is a new worry for Nato leaders – member countries helping Ukraine are beginning to see their own stockpiles of vital weapons being whittled away.

At the same time, Russia will continue to make life hell for Ukrainian civilians; in cities such as Mykolaiv, the Russian air force has bombed the electricity supply and water works.

That is not to say all is lost. From the start, Putin underestimated the determination of the Ukrainian people to fight for their nation, and the ongoing dogged resistance in Mariupol shows how hard the country’s soldiers will continue to fight to hold their territory.

Russian shells and mortars have destroyed buildings in towns and cities across Ukraine, including Zalisia near Kyiv, pictured here

At terrible human cost, every Ukrainian fighting to the bitter end absorbs Russian troops who could be advancing deeper into the country. This buys time to rearm, re-equip and for the West to provide aid.

I suspect Putin’s hopes of celebrating a double parade on May 9 – Russia’s annual celebration of Stalin’s defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 – and his own victory in the Donbas are probably fading. 

But his escalation in military assaults and his ruthless use of all means at his disposal certainly suggest we cannot rule out the possibility of the tactical use of targeted nuclear weapons to ultimately break Ukrainian military resistance rather than accept stalemate.

To anyone who thinks that Putin wouldn’t break the taboo against nuclear warfare, I would urge them to take note of foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s declaration yesterday that Russia has ‘no intention’ of using weapons of mass destruction.

Lavrov vowed his country had ‘no intention’ of invading Ukraine either – right until the very day it did. So his words are a threat, not reassurance.

President Volodymyr Zelensky seems to have abandoned hopes of ending the war by diplomatic means. Victory over the invader is now his brave aim. But his army can only survive if we do everything in our power to support Ukraine to the end. 

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford

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