Russian forces attempted to break Ukrainian frontlines across the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky and a Ukrainian security official said, confirming weeks of reports that Russia would begin shifting its attention to the region after failing to to capture Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv.
Russia has “begun the battle for Donbas,” Zelensky said in an address Monday night, adding that a “very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused” on the region.
Russian forces attempted to break through the Ukrainian frontlines around Donetsk and Luhansk, which collectively make up the Donbas region, but could only break through the lines at two points, Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov said in a television address, according to a translation from the New York Times.
U.S. intelligence has seen Russia continue to add forces and artillery in eastern Ukraine in recent days, Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby said in a Pentagon news briefing Monday, as well as in the south, where some experts believe the besieged city of Mariupol will be completely captured by Russia in the coming week.
“You can continue to see the Russians are doing what we call ‘shaping,’ Kirby said. “They’re trying to set the conditions for more aggressive, more overt and larger ground maneuvers in the Donbas.”
Last month, Russian officials announced the country would be shifting its military attention to the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of Ukraine, which have been partly controlled by pro-Russian seperatist forces since 2014. Russia claimed the purpose of its now nearly two-month-long invasion had always been to “liberate” the region, and that it attacked other regions like the suburbs of Kyiv in order to “significantly decrease” Ukraine’s military capacities. The pro-Russian forces and Ukrainian soldiers have fought in the Donbas region on-and-off for eight years—a history Kirby points out makes both sides familiar with the geography of the region as more fighting begins to mount.
What To Watch For
The U.S. last week announced it would send $800 million worth of additional military aid to Ukraine designed specifically to assist the country in the Donbas. The package includes more artillery systems and ammunition, as well as helicopters.