Is Russia looking for a symbolic victory by moving on Severodonetsk?
Russia has laid siege on Severodonetsk
The city is one of the last Ukrainian bastions in the Luhansk region
A Russian victory, however, would be more symbolic than strategic
The eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, under siege by Russia, is close to falling, with as much as 70% of the city under Russian control.
A key objective in Russia's push to take the Luhansk region in the Donbas, where a self-proclaimed republic has been acknowledged by Moscow, Severodonetsk appears to have more symbolic value than military importance.
Indeed, according to regional governor Serhiy Hayday, a victory in Severodonetsk would boost Russian morale but would not contribute to any significant military gain.
"It seems to me, but I'm not a military person, that there is no sense in losing a lot of soldiers to recapture the city which has no strategic military sense," Hayday told Sky News.
"In a military sense the city doesn't matter because for example the neighbouring city of Lysychansk has more high ground and the military will have better positions," the governor added, seemingly perplexed by Russia's push to take the city.
However, Russia seems determined to take the city, with the Ukrainian defence ministry stating on Wednesday that Vladimir Putin's forces had reached the city centre.
"The enemy reached central Severodonetsk and is trying to establish positions. The situation is very difficult," defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said on Wednesday at a media briefing.
While capturing Severodonetsk, which is among the last Ukrainian bastions in the Luhansk region, would indeed be an important step in Russia's aim of "liberating" the Donbas, Moscow is reportedly not risking the lives of its soldiers and is only using infantry to determine enemy positions before unleashing artillery barrages and aerial bombardment on the defending forces.
"[After determining our positions] the work of artillery is turned on for hours, tanks and aircraft are used. They are fighting like a Russian war machine – they are trying to grind our positions, as they fought in Syria, Rubizhne [a town near Severodonetsk]," Petro Kuzyk, the commander of Ukraine's Svoboda battalion, told Radio Liberty, commenting on the situation in the eastern Ukrainian city.
"They completely destroyed the city of Rubizhne. They are trying to do the same with Severodonetsk, but our counter-artillery is already working here, although at a much slower pace than I would like," Kuzky added.
With reports suggesting that Severodonetsk might fall despite stiff Ukrainian resistance, Russian generals maybe aiming for a symbolic victory in Ukraine to please an increasingly impatient Putin, whose forces have yet to achieve any significant military victory barring the capture of the southern port city of Mariupol.