Ukrainian forces were taking up new defensive lines in the eastern part of their country on Monday, preparing for a new phase of the war as President Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russia's victory in the months-long battle of Luhansk.
Russia captured the city of Lysychansk on Sunday, bringing an end to one of the biggest battles in Europe in generations. For two months, Moscow brought the full might of its ground forces to bear on a small pocket of the front line. The capture completed Russia's conquest of Luhansk province, one of two regions it has demanded Ukraine cede to separatists in the Donbas region.
During a brief televised meeting with his defence minister, Putin congratulated Russian forces on "victories in the Luhansk direction". Participants in that combat should "absolutely rest and recover their military preparedness," while other units continue fighting in other areas, he said.
The battle is the closest Moscow has come to achieving one of its stated objectives since its forces were defeated trying to capture Kyiv in March. It marks Russia's biggest victory since it captured the southern port of Mariupol in late May.
Both sides suffered thousands of dead and wounded, while claiming they inflicted far greater losses on the other side, along a loop of the Siverskyi Donets river that winds through Luhansk and Donetsk.
Military experts said the battle could be a turning point in the war, making a big impact on both sides' ability to fight on, even though the strategic value of the ruined cities themselves is limited.
"I think it's a tactical victory for Russia but at an enormous cost," said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think tank in London. He compared the battle to the huge fights for meagre territorial gains that characterised World War One.
"This has taken 60 days to make very slow progress," he said. "I think the Russians may declare some kind of victory, but the key war battle is still yet to come."
Moscow will hope Ukraine's retreat gives Russian forces momentum to push further west into neighbouring Donetsk province, where Ukraine still holds the cities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Bakhmut. (Reuters)