The crucial question these days is whether Putin will succeed in holding occupied Lyman – if the city is lost it will be a clear sign that Russia is losing the war on the ground. Why is the town so important? Ukraine has largely encircled the city. It is not yet a real pocket that is completely surrounded by Ukrainian troops. But almost a tactical cauldron, meaning the approach roads are dominated by fire from Ukrainian troops.
Here, for the first time in this war, Kyiv could take Russian prisoners on a large scale. In the previous offensive, the Russians abandoned their material in a fleeing retreat, but they were able to evacuate their soldiers. The images of endless columns of prisoners would further fuel the cause of Kiev and further sink morale among Putin's soldiers and on the Russian home front.
In addition, the Lyman case would prove that Russian propaganda sells bogus nonsense. Russia is trying to explain the defeat east of Kharkov something like this: "Yes, it is true that Kyiv has made great gains, but their troops are bleeding to death in useless attacks on our positions." The similarity of this narrative with Goebbels' attempts to sugarcoat the collapse of the German fronts in 1944 and 1945 is remarkable. In line with this are the rumors that the non-military man Putin is now in charge of operational warfare.
In fact, Lyman's fall would be proof that the Russians are failing to stabilize the front north of the Donbass. One could still try to explain away the successes of the first Kharkov offensive. Something like this: the Russians were too careless, let themselves be surprised and Ukraine was lucky and found a weak section.
But weeks later, that cannot serve as an explanation. The troops deployed in this sector were weak and worn out even before the offensive. Now, after escaping and losing much of the material, they are much weaker. At the same time, the front line that needs to be protected has been greatly lengthened by the bulges of the Ukrainian advances. Moscow is obviously not in a position to bring in new, powerful large units that could stabilize the situation or push back the Ukrainians. Pro-Russian activists like "WarGozno" show the impotence of the Russian military, for example when central cities are to be held only by lightly armed volunteer formations.
The last chance should lie in mobilization. With that, Putin could have sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the front. But here, too, the Putin state has done everything wrong that can only be done wrong. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country to avoid conscription. It's to be expected that men will want to evade duty, but this crowd shows just how little trust Russians have in top leadership.
The Kremlin ruler waited until it was too late to make the unpopular decision. Now the new soldiers have to pay for his hesitation with their blood. There are increasing reports that the recruits are not supposed to fill up existing formations in an orderly manner, but are thrown to the front without instruction, without complete equipment and training. Even in 1941 such methods of the Red Army could not stop the enemy, they could only slow down German operations. Later, the German Volkssturm was not even able to do that. In today's technology-dominated war, these patchwork units have no chance of repelling an attack. Or even counterattack to relieve the front bulge at Lyman.
When the otherwise insignificant city falls, the Kremlin's murderous miscalculation will be exposed. More troops would be lost in the pocket. It is hardly to be expected that they can tie the opponent for a long time, like the Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol. Kyiv will use the momentum and push the front further east. Several crossings have been secured across the Oskil River. Ad hoc alert units will not be able to stop them there. On the contrary, the worse the formations that Moscow puts up against the Ukrainian army, the more the morale and self-confidence of Kiev's soldiers will rise. If Putin cannot stop this advance, all positions of the Russian army in occupied Ukraine will falter. Defeat could hardly be averted with conventional means.