Colonel Janno Märk, head of planning for the Estonian Defense Forces Headquarters, said that it is still not yet known whether Russia will use its troops to try to hold the city of Kherson as Ukrainian units attempt to liberate the city. Märk added, that observing the behavior of Russian elite units operating on the west bank of the River Dnieper may help to predict Russia's next move.
According to Colonel Märk, information has been received over the past few days to suggest Russian troops may have withdrawn from the west bank of the Dnieper and Kherson. However, this has not yet been verified, with Märk adding, that whether Russian units are planning to fight there or not remains unknown.
While a statement made by the occupying Russian authorities on Thursday, urged residents to leave Kherson, Märk said Russia's elite forces, including airborne and naval units, were continuing to operate in the city and on the west bank of the Dnieper. Newly mobilized troops and additional equipment are also still being sent to the area.
Märk stressed, that in order to understand Russia's next move in relation to Kherson, it is necessary to monitor the status of these elite airborne and naval units. "If these units should start to withdraw from the area, it will be a sign that a new assessment needs to be made," Märk explained.
In the south of Ukraine, Ukrainian artillery fire on Russia's rearguard, logistics and railway infrastructure have increased on the whole over the past week, in some cases reaching as far as the ports on Azov Sea. Märk attributed this, at least partly, to the influx of Russian reserves and freshly mobilized troops into the occupied southern regions.
"In the Kherson region, Ukraine is amassing troops for a new offensive and organizing its logistics. Ukraine is also working on the Russian side's positions with artillery fire, including areas with large concentrations of troops, logistics, ammunition and fuel points, as well as anti-aircraft weapons and electronic warfare equipment. Attacks have also been carried out at crossing points of River Dnieper," Märk said.
Mobilized Russians begin to reach front line
Colonel Märk went on to say, that according to the Russian Ministry of Defense as well as other publicly available sources, around 85,000 newly mobilized Russian troops had already arrived on the Ukrainian frontline. "And if this is the case, it partly explains Russia's continuing high losses along the entire front," he said.
At present, the heaviest and most intense fighting is taking place in the areas surrounding Bahmut and Donetsk, with Russia attempting daily attacks in several location of both cities every day.
However, so far Ukraine's defenses have held firm, said Märk, adding that, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia is paying a heavy price for launching localized attacks in the region.
"According to Ukrainian sources, in the last 24 hours, Russian troops have carried out more than forty localized attacks in Bahmut, Avdiivka and western parts of Donetsk Oblast, suffering 100 deaths and 300 wounded as a result," said Märk.
Ukraine still holds the initiative
According to Märk, the initiative in the war remains with Ukraine, and although there have been no major changes to the front line over the past week, Ukrainian forces are continuing to apply pressure both to the north and south.
Märk explained, that Russia is attempting to carry out offensives in eastern Ukraine in the direction of Bahmut and Donetsk, and aiming to fix the frontline in its current location, either to buy time to form and train new combat-ready units, or to better position itself for political negotiations.
In response to earlier defeats on the front line and in an effort to regain a strategic initiative, Russia is now focusing on attacking Ukraine's civilian infrastructure, particularly its energy infrastructure. Märk said, that while Russia's attacks with Iranian kamikaze drones and missiles have caused significant damage to Ukrainian electricity and water supplies, at the same time Ukraine's air defenses have demonstrated their effectiveness, by eliminating around 80 percent of the drones and missiles fired.
Märk added, that Russia is additionally attempting to maintain strategic initiative through the use of diplomatic maneuvers and strategic communication and information operations surrounding Belarus.
Editor: Michael Cole