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Russia and Ukraine’s battle for Donbas could decide the war — and it could go either way

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Ukrainian soldiers stand on their armored personnel carrier (APC), not far from the front-line with Russian troops, in Izyum district, Kharkiv region on April 18, 2022.
  • Russia’s war with Ukraine entered a new phase this week with Moscow focusing its war machine on eastern Ukraine.
  • The move is seen as a bid for Russia to cement its grip on the Donbas — an area which includes two breakaway, pro-Russian self-proclaimed “republics” — and to try to annex it.
  • How Russia’s latest offensive goes in the Donbas region could prove to be extremely significant and decisive in the war against Ukraine, analysts warn.
  • It could determine how Ukraine’s territorial boundaries look in weeks and years to come.

Russia’s new offensive in the Donbas region could prove to be extremely significant and decisive in the war, analysts warn, and could determine how the country’s territorial boundaries look in weeks and years to come.

“The Russian war machine in the east could prove to be a very painful threat for Ukraine quickly,” Maximilian Hess, fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC Tuesday.

“It’s quite clear that Russia’s war aims remain quite extensive,” Hess added, saying that how the battle for Donbas proceeds “will determine how much of Ukraine east of the Dnipro (a river that bisects Ukraine) that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin carves away.”

“I think it’s pretty clear annexation is Putin’s long term goal, how much annexation is the question,” Hess added.

Russian officials have stated that their main objectives in this new phase of the war is the “complete liberation” of the two breakaway, Russian-backed “People’s Republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk. But most analysts believe that the wider Donbas region, an industrialized area rich in coal reserves, will be annexed by Russia.

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Moscow has fomented separatist sentiment in the region over the last eight years ever since it annexed Crimea in 2014, although it denies backing the region’s rebels.

Russia’s long-anticipated offensive in the east appeared to begin in earnest on Monday with its military forces unleashing attacks on a number of areas, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying that “the battle for Donbas” had begun.

By Tuesday morning, Russia’s defense ministry claimed to have struck more than 1,200 targets in Ukraine overnight and later that day, there were numerous reports of intensifying rocket and artillery fire in eastern Ukraine. Officials said Russian forces have seized control of Kreminna, a city in the Luhansk region where street battles reportedly took place.

Wednesday morning, the U.K.’s defense ministry said in an intelligence update that Ukrainian forces were repelling “numerous attempted advances” by Russia in the eastern Donbas region.

The re-focusing on eastern Ukraine comes after Russia pulled back many of its troops from areas around the capital Kyiv and other northern parts of the country after failing to make military gains there. The Pentagon believes that Russia has significantly increased its fighting power in eastern and southern Ukraine now, however, with more battalion tactical groups moved to the area last weekend.

Weapons depleted

Allied global leaders discussed the new phase of Russia’s invasion in a video call on Tuesday with a number of countries, including the U.S. and U.K., promising to send more artillery systems to Ukraine while others, like Germany, pledged more money to help Ukraine buy more weapons.

Just how quickly any new weapons will reach Ukraine is a moot point, with concerns that the war-torn country could struggle to re-arm itself quickly in the east, particularly if Russia increases the frequency of its attacks on its ammunition depots.

Sam Cranny-Evans, a research analyst at the British defense think tank RUSI, told CNBC Tuesday that there was much uncertainty over how the battle for Donbas will progress, and that while both sides will have depleted their respective materiel (military materials and equipment) over the last two months, Ukraine could be in a more vulnerable position.

“The one thing that I’m quite comfortable to say is that I think it [the battle] is going to last a very long time” with both sides having demonstrated “staying power,” he noted.

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“There are a few questions surrounding the availability of ammunition for the Ukrainians and that can become a key problem, especially in the opening phases of mass artillery barrages and airstrikes. If you don’t have the munitions to return fire against those kinds of things then they do have a dramatic psychological effect and a physical effect, and they do destroy things, obviously.”

Nonetheless, he noted that Russia too was “probably on a fairly limited clock in terms of what it can do with its personnel capabilities, and with its material capabilities.”

“The Russians have spent an awful lot of missiles in this war so far, which will be quite hard for it to replace … and there’s the additional questions of how much attrition will the Ukrainians inflict on them in Donbas,” he said.

Cranny-Evans said it’s not impossible to foresee a situation in which the Ukrainians are able to push back against the Russians in Donbas, as they have shown themselves doggedly capable of doing elsewhere.

“If they can organize, and if they can equip their troops adequately, they may be able to do that. And some analysts are cautiously optimistic that Ukraine might even be able to win this war … a lot really does pivot on the next phase of the conflict and it will show which side is likely to win,” he noted.

Who ‘wins’?

The reason analysts find it hard to assess how significant the battle of Donbas could turn out to be in the wider war is that it’s hard to gauge what Putin’s ultimate objectives are in Ukraine.

RUSI’s Cranny-Evans noted that the big question remains whether, by focusing on its self-proclaimed mission to “liberate” Donbas, Putin has abandoned his “maximalist aim of regime change in Ukraine and capturing Kyiv” or whether it might accept a more limited victory in the east.

For Ukraine, he said, there could be a difficult price to pay if it loses the battle for Donbas and Russia annexes the region. In any case, defining the winner and loser of the war will be no easy task amid the already-immense destruction seen in Ukraine.

“[You could say] that Ukraine has won because its country still exists but if it does lose Donbass entirely, is that really a victory? Does it mean that peace will last forever? Or will Ukraine have to fight another war in 10 years time? There is a lot of stake for the Ukrainians,” Cranny-Evans said.

In its assessment of what the next phase of the conflict might entail, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said Monday that Russia’s offensive “is unlikely to be dramatically more successful than previous Russian offensives” but cautioned that its forces “may be able to wear down Ukrainian defenders or achieve limited gains.”

The think tank noted that Russian forces had not taken the “operational pause” necessary to “reconstitute” and properly integrate damaged units withdrawn from northeastern Ukraine into operations in eastern Ukraine.

“As we have assessed previously, Russian forces withdrawn from around Kyiv and going back to fight in Donbas have, at best, been patched up and filled out with soldiers from other damaged units, and the Russian military has few, if any, cohesive units not previously deployed to Ukraine to funnel into new operations,” it said.

It added that frequent reports of disastrously low Russian morale and continuing logistical challenges indicate that “the effective combat power of Russian units in eastern Ukraine is a fraction of their on-paper strength in numbers of battalion tactical groups.”

The institute noted that while Russian forces could wear down Ukrainian positions through “heavy concentration of firepower and sheer weight of numbers,” this would come at a “high cost” and that a sudden and dramatic Russian offensive success remains highly unlikely.

CNBC

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Over 100 injured in Spanish train collision

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At least 150 people have been injured after two trains collided in the Catalonia region of north-eastern Spain, emergency services have said.

The crash, which occurred around 07:50 (06:50 GMT), took place at a station on the outskirts of Barcelona.

Local media reported that the trains had been travelling in the same direction and collided while one was parked at the station.

It is unclear how the accident happened and officials have yet to comment.

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Emergency officials wrote on Twitter that the crash happened at the Montcada i Reixac – Manresa station, about 12km (7 miles) from the city centre.

Writing on Twitter, emergency services said that 150 people were “in a mild condition” and five others had been left with “in a less serious condition”.

They added that three people had been transferred to hospital.

Train traffic was briefly disrupted on several lines due to the accident, the national rail service Renfe said.

One passenger told RAC1, a local radio station, that “train was full and my carriage, which was the last one, was completely full” at the time of the collision.

BBC News
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23 years old Nigerian accused of raping Australian tourist in Indonesia

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A 23-year-old Nigerian tourist risks 12 years in prison after an alleged sexual crime against a 31-year-old tourist in Kuta, Indonesia.

report by Daily Mail revealed that the woman, who is an Australian, was raped after she met up with the Nigerian man on Friday, December 2.

The report also noted that the duo met on a dating app on December 1 and agreed to meet at a bar in Kuta the following day.

Although the Indonesian police are still searching for the Nigerian man, they alleged that he hurriedly took the woman to his hotel after drinking at the bar.

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The woman was sexually abused at the hotel and had cuts and bruises to her arms, hands and waist.

Witnesses said they saw the Australian staggering after drinking at the bar in Kuta.

FIJ gathered online that the Indonesian law provides a maximum of 12-year sentence for anyone convicted of physical sexual abuse.

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Comoros ex-president Sambi jailed for life for ‘high treason’

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Former Comorian President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi (2nd R), escorted by Gendarmes, arrives at the courthouse in Moroni on November 21, 2022. – Sambi, who served as president from 2006-2011 and is the main opponent of current leader Azali Assoumani, has been held under house arrest since May 2018.
Sambi was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.
Three months later he was placed under pre-trial detention for embezzlement, corruption and forgery, over a scandal involving the sale of Comorian passports to stateless people living in Gulf nations. (Photo by Ibrahim YOUSSOUF / AFP)

A court in the Comoros on Monday handed down a life sentence for high treason to ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was convicted of selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.

Sambi, 64, an arch-rival of President Azali Assoumani, was sentenced by the State Security Court, a special judicial body whose rulings cannot be appealed.

“He betrayed the mission entrusted to him by the Comorians,” public prosecutor Ali Mohamed Djounaid told the court last week as he requested a life sentence.

Sambi, who led the small Indian Ocean archipelago between 2006 and 2011, pushed through a law in 2008 allowing the sale of passports for high fees.

The scheme aimed at the so-called bidoon — an Arab minority numbering in the tens of thousands who cannot obtain citizenship.

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The former president was accused of embezzling millions of dollars under the scheme.

The prosecution said the cost was more than $1.8 billion — more than the impoverished nation’s GDP.

“They gave thugs the right to sell Comorian nationality as if they were selling peanuts,” said Eric Emmanuel Sossa, a lawyer for civilian plaintiffs.

But Sambi’s French lawyer Jean-Gilles Halimi said “no evidence” of missing money or bank accounts had been put forward to suggest a crime.

Sambi refused to attend the trial after a brief appearance at the first hearing, as his lawyers said there were no guarantees he would be judged fairly.

He was originally prosecuted for corruption, but the charges were reclassified as high treason, a crime that “does not exist in Comorian law,” Halimi said.

Sambi had already spent four years behind bars before he faced trial, far exceeding the maximum eight months. He was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.

Guardian

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