1,500 Russian soldiers about to be surrounded in Ukraine

Rainer Saks.
Rainer Saks. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Another group of Russian soldiers is about to be encircled by Ukrainian forces, security expert Rainer Saks said. He added that Russia is most likely behind damage to the Nord Stream pipelines as it is attempting to maintain the initiative in its confrontation with the West.

After Russia suffered a disastrous defeat near Izium and Kharkiv, Ukraine is pushing east of Izium and is close to liberating the entire Kharkiv Oblast and the northern parts of Donetsk Oblast before entering the Luhansk Oblast, Saks said on the "Vikerhommik" radio show on Thursday.

Russian forces have tried to hold on to the outskirts of the city of Lyman and the area around Svatove in the north to stop the Ukrainians moving into Luhansk, he added.

"But the area is defended by what's left of Russian forces who escaped from Izium and a few other units. There's not too many of them, but because the Russian leader said there would be no retreating, their commanders could not stave off the threat of encirclement that was created a few days ago. It seems that the Ukrainians completed the maneuver yesterday and are probably busy reinforcing their new positions," Saks suggested.

It is likely that Ukrainian units will not be pushing forward now, and will try to surround the Russian troops and deal with them first. Over 1,500 Russians are trapped there – there is talk of two battalion tactical groups and forces that retreated from Izium, Saks emphasized.

It is not the only heading where the Ukrainians are active, Saks remarked. They are also trying to push toward Svatove north of Lyman. "Once that falls, Russia will have serious trouble supplying the entire northern part of Donetsk Oblast," he found.

"Right now, Ukraine has made it possible for Russia to pull its troops out of the area, while I believe this window will remain open for a few more days to avoid urban fighting. It would probably not be easy to root out the Russian presence from the encircled settlements," Saks said.

Daily victims number 600-700

Asked how many people die in the war each day, Saks suggested it could be between 600 and 700.

"It varies and depends on Ukrainian activity and Russian air strikes. In Ukraine, civilians count for a lot of the victims, while there is nothing like that in Russia," Saks said.

Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities luckily only results in five or six daily victims right now, while around 50 Ukrainian troops are also killed. To this we must add 400-500 Russian casualties every day.

"There is another type of victim that we do not yet know about. Victims of Russian war crimes whose number is also mounting daily – but we will only learn of them after the fact," Saks noted.

"Therefore, 600-700 daily victims could be close to the truth," he said.

Troops sent to the front right after mobilization will change nothing

Talking about whether and when the newly mobilized troops will be battle-ready, Saks said they never will. "They will never be fit for battle and taking them to the front rather lays a burden on the troops already engaged. They have received no training whatsoever. While they have been through conscriptions in the past, Russia's own methods of waging war have changed since then. They cannot act on the battlefield. They are also a threat to themselves as they have not trained together as units. The list of things they can't do is endless – basically, they can't do anything."

"Simply taking people to the slaughter in this manner is in no way rational or fair toward them," he said.

Saks added that condemning those mobilized from prison to die is also an inhumane act that will achieve nothing at all.

"The effect of steps being taken will become clear in a few months, but the political risk was very high," Saks said. He added that he initially believed the mobilized would be offered some training, while the fact they are being sent straight to the front is deeply unprofessional and a sign that the Russian brass is in dire straits.

However, we must admit that the entire mass is not being taken to the front right away, Saks said.

But once news of what happens to those who are being deployed immediately reaches people in Russia, it will bring great setbacks as we can see that the mobilization is already very unpopular, the expert added.

Mines and rain obstacles for Ukraine

Saks said that clearing Ukraine will take a long time as Russian units have left a lot of mines behind.

They did not have time to lay mines when pulling out of Izium and left their equipment behind instead. Machinery left behind was mined when the Russians pulled out from Kyiv in spring. This time, the Ukrainians have taken possession of a lot of Russian technology that has not been boobytrapped.

That said, Russian units are mining roads and bridges to stop the Ukrainians from advancing rapidly as mine clearing takes time.

Rains in the north of the country are also obstructing the Ukrainian advance.

Russian leadership confused

Commenting on news that the annexation of oblasts Russia has conquered (following sham referendums – ed.) might be postponed, Saks said it points to the Russian leadership's confusion but also flexibility to change plans.

It is unclear whether they will declare the annexation tomorrow or postpone it. There are two considerations for the latter, Saks suggested.

First, that the Russian leadership has begun to realize the mobilization is not going to plan. They are mostly concerned over the painful reaction in society – that it has come off as a violent operation and the mass of people leaving the country who make up a considerable part of a certain target group. This has startled the Russian brass and created confusion. It is not a problem for them that the mobilized receive no training, rather, it is the people's painful reaction, Saks found.

Failed efforts to recruit volunteers also suggest there is little support for military activity, he added.

Secondly, it is possible the annexations have been postponed because of the West's reaction that failed to meet Putin's expectations. The West's response has been strong enough, and Russia's intimidation tactics have failed. Therefore, Russia is now proposing a time window in which to negotiate with Ukraine.

"However, my guess is that they will decide the annexation tomorrow to suggest the Russian leadership has run out of moves," Saks said.

Nord Stream explosion attempt to maintain initiative

Saks said there is little doubt as to who organized the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions as only Russia has the motivation and capacity to go about it this way. "A few other countries could have the capacity, but that is not how those countries go about their business," the expert noted.

Asked what did the act of sabotage achieve, Saks said he is only speculating as there is no evidence at present. "The first incentive could have been to create an ecological disaster to deter Sweden and Denmark who are among Ukraine supporters and strongarm them into environmental cooperation," Saks reasoned.

The other motive is to demonstrate Russia's ability to hit such cables and pipelines in the Baltic Sea and elsewhere," Saks remarked.

"The first move likely did not work and there are attempts to create a new narrative," the expert added.

Saks pointed out that a narrative according to which USA organized the explosions took off in German media. He described just picking up such a narrative to in bad taste.

"It is an attempt to retain the initiative in this war," Saks said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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