Sievierodonetsk fighting signals new phase - analyst

STORY: After being pushed back from the outskirts of Kyiv in May, Russia's troops have focused their efforts on capturing the entirety of the Donbas, an industrial region where fighting has focused in recent weeks on Sievierodonetsk, now largely in ruins.

All remaining bridges linking the city with Ukrainian-held territory on the opposite bank of Siverskyi Donets river were destroyed in recent days, but Ukrainian officials say the garrison is not completely cut-off.

Ukraine still holds a pocket of territory in the wider, eastern Donbas region, which Russia has vowed to capture on behalf of its separatist proxies. Most is on the opposite side of the river, which Russian troops have struggled to cross.

Mathieu Boulegue, a Russia and Eurasia research fellow at Chatham House. explained fighting in Sievierodonetsk is happening "street by street" and both sides were unable to gain ground, which he said would lead to a protraction of the conflict.

The new phase of a drawn out conflict may lead to attempted integration of the territories being fought over, Boulegue said.

And replacing Ukrainian currency with the Russian ruble, as well as installing politicians favourable to Russia would be another form of forced assimilation, Boulegue said.

Moscow said it had opened a humanitarian corridor from the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday (June 15) to allow civilians to escape to Russian-controlled territory. It accused Ukraine's forces of disrupting that plan and using civilians as human shields, which Kyiv denies.

Boulegue said the Kremlin had previously used humanitarian corridors to its advantage and he saw "no reason why the Kremlin would change its strategy at this stage".

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