The British Defense Ministry confirmed that Ukrainian forces repelled attempts from Russian troops to cross a strategic river in eastern Ukraine, as experts anticipate President Vladimir Putin to try to annex the Donbas region in coming months. Photo courtesy Ukraine Defense Ministry/Twitter
May 13 (UPI) -- The British Defense Ministry has confirmed that Ukrainian forces repelled attempts by Russian troops to cross a strategic river in eastern Ukraine, as experts anticipate President Vladimir Putin will try to annex the Donbas region in coming months.
The analysis by the British officials Friday comes after the Ukrainian Defense Ministry posted photos to Twitter on Wednesday showing a destroyed pontoon bridge and armored vehicles on the Siverskyi Donets river west of Severodonetsk.
The British Defense Ministry said that Russia lost "significant armored maneuver elements" and the pontoon bridging equipment from "at least one Battalion Tactical Group."
"Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine," the British Defense Ministry said in its statement.
"Russian forces have failed to make any significant advances despite concentrating forces in this area after withdrawing and redeploying units from the Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts."
When sharing the images Wednesday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry had said that the Russian forces had been stopped from crossing by artillerymen of the 17th tank brigade of the Ukrainian Army.
"Some bathed in the Siverskyi Donets River, and some were burned by the May sun," the Ukrainian Defense Ministry posted.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in an update on military movements Wednesday that the Russian troops were "trying to hold positions on the right bank of the Siversky Donets River" while focused on gaining control of the city of Rubizhne.
Sergiy Haidai, the head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said in a Telegram post Friday that Russian forces "almost completely control Rubizhne" which is 80% destroyed, while calling Russian soldiers "Nazis."
Haidai said in a post Thursday that Ukrainians in the village of Belogorivka were "now holding back the Russian invasion" and that fighters "already destroyed pontoon crossings twice."
"Based on the actions of the Russians, the third time will be the same," he said.
The British Defense Ministry said in its statement that Russian forces were "investing significant effort" near the cities of Izium and Severodonetsk in a bid to break through Ukrainian forces toward Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
"The primary objective on this axis is to envelop Ukrainian forces in the Joint Forces Operation area, isolating them from support or reinforcement by units in the west of the country," the analysis read.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., said in an analysis Friday that Putin "likely intends to annex occupied southern and eastern Ukraine directly into the Russian Federation in the coming months."
"He will likely then state, directly or obliquely, that Russian doctrine permitting the use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory applies to those newly annexed territories," the institute said.
"Such actions would threaten Ukraine and its partners with nuclear attack if Ukrainian counteroffensives to liberate Russian-occupied territory continue."
The think tank said that the timeline for the possible annexation depends on the state of his troops and whether they could secure the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which together make the Donbas region.
"If Putin understands his military weakness, he will likely rush annexation and introduce the nuclear deterrent quickly in an attempt to retain control of the Ukrainian territory that Russia currently occupies," the think tank said.
"If Putin believes that Russian forces are capable of additional advances, he will likely delay the annexation in hopes of covering more territory with it."