Russia focuses on Donbas, eastern Ukraine

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Russia focuses on Donbas, eastern Ukraine

Ukraine - For weeks, Ukraine and its western allies have been waiting for Russia's promised offensive in the Donbas — an eastern region of the country that borders Russia — in the wake of Moscow's retreat from around the capital, Kyiv.

That offensive has begun now.

With troops concentrated for a major ground attack, airstrikes bombarding cities and Ukraine s forces steeling for what could be a series of decisive battles, many expect this Russian offensive to be better equipped and organized than the failed first phase of the war.

Why has Russian President Vladimir Putin refocused his military efforts on this region of eastern Ukraine, and what should we expect in the days and weeks to come? The region is of territorial importance and making gains there could give the Kremlin some form of victory after attempting to achieve its initial objectives in the war.

Valeriy Akimenko, a senior research associate at Conflict Studies Research Centre, said Russia sees the land as valuable and historically Russian, gifted to Ukraine during the Soviet era. He added that it is part of the Russian World concept that Moscow aims to construct.

The region, almost twice the size of Belgium, is an industrial powerhouse filled with valuable coal and metal deposits and processing centers, as well as strategically important ports on the Sea of Azov, which sits between Russia, Crimea and Ukraine.

Since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. The conflict killed an estimated 14,000 people over the past eight years, according to the United Nations, until Russia invaded its neighbor nearly two months ago.

That move followed Putin's recognition of the independence of two separate regions in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic. They are named after the two main areas that together make up the Donbas.

The Russian operation's goal is to defend Donbas one of the narratives promoted by the Kremlin Akimenko. The capture of Donbas would allow Russia to claim success and declare victory, interim as that might be given Russia's apparent greater ambitions. Putin originally appeared to be set on deposing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's western-leaning government and re-exerting the Kremlin's influence over its neighbor with a sweeping military operation.

But with the casualties mounting and western sanctions hitting his economy, the liberation of Donbas might prove appealing – especially if it arrives on May 9, Russia s annual Victory Day.

Ukrainian forces have been fighting in the defense of eastern Ukraine for a long time, while all eyes have been on Kyiv.

It is a location where some of the bloodiest battles have occurred over the past eight weeks, from towns near Kharkiv in the north to Mariupol in the south, where Ukrainian forces are desperately trying to maintain a foothold in the crucial port city under siege.