An army of some 20 Russian “battalion tactical groups” has begun launching a thrust south from Izyum to cut off some nine Ukrainian battalion groups in central Donbas. A final assault is under way on the vast Azovstal steel works in Mariupol. Missiles and rockets have rained down on the port city of Odesa. To the north the Russian rouble has been distributed in Kherson, and rejected in angry demonstrations by its citizens. This sets the scene for Putin to declare, for next week’s parade, a series of phony referendums in Luhansk and Donetsk in Donbas, and Kherson to be annexed to Russia itself.
To seize and hold Donbas and the coast to Odesa would require an occupying force in excess of 100,000. Already Russia has lost nearly a third of its forces from the army that invaded on February 24. This suggests Putin will have to declare some form of general mobilisation, calling out extra conscripts and reservists, and martial law. This carries huge risks of sporadic, scattered and possibly uncontainable protest.