The Battle for Donbas could be a turning point – and it’s a battle both sides need to win
By Deborah Haynes, Sky’s security and defence editor
Russia’s war against Ukraine has entered a second, potentially decisive phase, with a new Russian assault on the east marking the biggest test yet for Ukrainian defenders.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, used a nightly video address on Monday to declare “Russian troops have begun the Battle for Donbas”.
He said: “A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive. No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves.”
The comments signalled a concentrated Russian offensive in the east is now underway, with both sides aware that whoever wins the battle could dictate the future direction of the war.
Ukraine has already dealt Russia a serious blow by forcing its troops to abandon an attempt to capture the capital Kyiv.
If Ukrainian forces can prevent Russia’s soldiers from achieving their objectives in the east, it would significantly strengthen Ukraine’s hand in peace talks – unless President Vladimir Putin, backed into a corner, chooses to escalate even further by unleashing a nuclear strike.
For Russia, by contrast, taking control of Donbas, which spans the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, is vital to recovering the momentum in a war that has been beset by setbacks, losses, and failures for Russian troops.
Russian success in the east would also likely embolden Putin to send his forces back north to finish a complete capture of the country, toppling the government in Kyiv.
Western officials still believe that to be the ultimate objective of Russia’s invasion.
It means the stakes could not be higher.