Russia's hurdle in Donbas push: The bridge over the river Seversky Donets
- Russians are finding it hard to cross the Seversky Donets river in eastern Ukraine
- Ukraine is blowing up Russia's pontoon bridges over the river
- The river is critical for Russian troops to receive supplies across the border
Ukrainian military officials have declared that their forces drove away in Russian "trophy" military vehicles after another rout of Moscow's troops at the Seversky Donets river.
The clip from the AFU StratCom [Strategic Communications Department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine] shows the devastation as Ukraine stopped Russia's eastern advance across the river. It ends with Ukrainians driving away in Russian vehicles marked with "Z" - the nation's symbol for the current conflict.
AFU StratCom stated as per Zenger News who initially obtained the footage "Ukrainian soldiers seized the surviving Russian equipment near the Seversky Donets River, which the occupiers failed to cross. Now the trophy is relatively intact: two infantry fighting vehicles and the T-72 tank will destroy the enemy."
That ol' man river just keeps rolling
This is not the first Russian loss in the region as Moscow attempts to push westwards from Luhansk and Donetsk. However, the geographical boundaries set by the Seversky Donets river play a major role in this.
The meandering river begins in Russia and flows into Ukraine where it forms swamps, oxbow lakes, and floodplains, also cutting through chalk cliffs, all of which makes it a strategic nightmare for the military.
Bridge over troubled waters
In April, Ukraine had blown up a bridge in the neighbouring Kharkiv to stop Russian advances.
William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said "Russia has been working on the encirclement of Ukrainian forces", adding "The Ukrainians blew a couple of critical bridges to prevent this. The Russians then created this pontoon bridge, creating a bottleneck with lots of equipment", as per NBC.
Russia's pontoon bridge was destroyed earlier this month, with the Ukrainian army tweeting, "Some bathed in the Seversky Donets River, and some were burned by the May sun."
Head of Luhansk Oblast Military Administration Serhii Haidai said on Telegram that the pontoon attack had taken place on Russian units attempting to cross the river near the town of Bilohorivka.
He said, "Bilohorivka is now an outpost of Luhansk oblast where Ruscists keep trying to cross the river but end up feeding the fish".
Alberque noted how Ukraine is using the Seversky Donets river strategically, saying "Ukraine is using geography, they’re using rivers, anything they can to force the Russians into choke points, and then attacking those chokepoints when they become permissive targets", and added, "To have this many vehicles in this small a space this close to the Ukrainians shows incredibly poor discipline from the Russians."
Heavy losses and a dilemma
A general staff press release from Ukraine noted on May 22 "Crossing the river by Russians is an impossible mission, thanks to soldiers of Ukraine’s 30th mechanized brigade and the servicemen of other army units", adding, "Our units covered the Russians with shelling."
The New York Times on May 16, reported that Russia had lost 80 units of military equipment while trying to cross the Seversky Donets river, and 480 Russian soldiers also died in the attempt.
Earlier that week, satellite imagery analyzed by CNN showed Ukrainian forces had destroyed three such pontoon bridges constructed by Russians.
While some of Moscow's forces have crossed over further west, it is too early to say if it's sufficient. To sustain an offensive in the east, Russia needs supplies from across the border, which will come from Belgorod to Kupiansk, a Ukrainian rail hub, and then move down south.
The disruption of this funnel has seen Ukrainian forces close to the Russian border in some areas, within striking range of their supply lines.
Mick Ryan, a former US major general noted this puts Russian commanders in a dilemma as Ukraine slowly depletes the enemy's military power in the east.