Russian forces have made progress in Moscow’s new assault on eastern Ukraine, US and NATO officials say, as their military tries to resolve the myriad issues that plagued the first weeks of the war. ‘invasion.
The United States has seen “some evidence” of an improvement in Russia’s ability to combine air and ground operations, as well as its ability to resupply forces on the ground, officials say.
Progress is “slow and uneven”, said a senior US defense official, allowing Russian forces to advance only “several miles or so” each day.
But the United States believes Russia is trying to learn from the mistakes it made early on, where columns of tanks and armor ran out of food and fuel, leaving them easy prey for Ukrainian crime tactics. leak.
Russia has placed command and control elements near its border with eastern Ukraine, according to a senior NATO official, in a sign that it is trying to address communication and coordination problems seen during the the attack on Kyiv.
Before the start of the invasion on February 24, Russia mustered 125-130 battalion tactical groups, known as BTGs, around Ukraine and near kyiv in particular, but when the fighting started, the Russian military leaders have shown little ability to make them fight together.
There are currently 92 BTGS in the country, with another 20 just across the border in Russia, according to the senior defense official.
“The attacks are a little better coordinated but with small formations. Company-sized units with helicopter support,” a European defense official said. “The lowest level of mutual support. In NATO, it would be basic stuff.
Yet Western officials familiar with the latest intelligence say that while Russia has learned key lessons from its systemic failures during the first stage of the conflict, it is not clear that Moscow will be able to implement the changes needed to dominate in the Donbass region.
His army has suffered heavy manpower and equipment losses and officials believe other equipment moved from different parts of Ukraine is likely not yet fully repaired. Many combat units cobbled together soldiers who never fought or trained together.
“I don’t know how many lessons they can actually operationalize. It’s not a simple thing,” the senior NATO official said. “You don’t just move tanks and personnel and say, ‘Now get back to the fight!'”
US and Western officials largely agree with the assessment that a few weeks is not enough for Russia to reconstitute its forces from the first phase of the campaign – which took place over large swathes of Ukrainian territory and has resulted in the loss of thousands of Russian soldiers. – and believes that Moscow will continue to send additional forces into the conflict on a piecemeal basis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been under pressure to demonstrate he can show victory, and eastern Ukraine is where he is most likely to be able to do so quickly, according to US officials. US intelligence intercepts suggest Putin is focusing on May 9, Russia’s ‘Victory Day’, but even if he makes some sort of statement then, officials say he is unlikely to mark the end of its war against Ukraine.
“I think that date will probably be a date when something is declared, but then they move on to the rest of the campaign,” the senior NATO official said.
US and Western officials warn that Russia’s new assault, focused on breaking through Ukraine’s defenses in the east using troops and equipment pulled from across the north of the country, is not yet fully underway. Russia continues to shell Mariupol in the south, but in Donbass its advances have been much more gradual.
Officials anticipate that the second phase of the campaign, focused on eastern Ukraine, will in some respects play out quite differently from the initial assault which largely focused on capturing large urban areas. The dry, grassy plain is not homogeneous throughout the region, but in some places it can favor more conventional tank warfare. And unlike the rest of the country, Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed separatists there since 2014 from trench positions.
“This renewed effort in the Donbass, we’ll see Russia mount a campaign that I think will be a lot like conventional fighting, really going back to WWI and WWII: much heavier equipment, different terrain, much more open .,” the senior NATO official said.
Russia is ‘sticking much more to classic Russian military doctrine this time around’, another NATO official said – in part because proximity to the Russian border allows Russia to maintain supply lines shorter and more efficient. Russian forces offered more coordinated air support to ground troops in the Donbass and “put the troops in less danger to reduce casualties”.
Western officials expect Russia to launch a three-pronged offensive to try to isolate and defeat the pinching Ukrainian forces.
“The concerns of the fight in the East are multiple,” Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, told CNN. “First of all, it’s better ground for the Russians. Second, shorter supply lines, lessons learned and the fact that you have a very angry Putin trying to rehabilitate, I think, the Russian army to the rest of the world.
One of Russia’s main advantages remains the sheer size of military force and equipment that the Kremlin has committed to this war. Last week, the United States estimated that about 75% of the forces it had prepared for this invasion were still intact, and the Kremlin showed its willingness to commit as many forces as necessary for its declared objective of controlling the Donbass region.
He has a military ‘mace’ which he is ready to throw at the objective until it is finished, a source tells CNN, noting that Putin has shown complete indifference to the number of Russian soldiers killed in the process.
Yet despite the military advantages Russia still has, it is unclear whether this is enough to guarantee them the battlefield success they have failed to achieve around kyiv and elsewhere.
Russian units are in worse condition than expected, according to a US assessment, a defense official told CNN. “Some tanks have a driver and no crew,” the official said. “Some (armored personnel carriers) have no one in the back.”
Some of the units are reduced to 70%, the official noted, which is the line where Western combat doctrine states that a unit can no longer be effective in combat. The Russians used poorly maintained and obsolete equipment to retrofit their BTGs, mixing modernized and unmodernized equipment that could degrade their ability to maneuver effectively on the battlefield.
At every stage, Russia’s attack on the Donbass region faces the same fierce Ukrainian resistance that halted their advance towards kyiv, with one notable difference. Ukrainian forces have fought Russian-backed separatists for years in this region, giving them ample time to dig into fortified defensive positions.
The Ukrainians are integrating new weapons and vehicles received from other countries, including the United States, and continue to exact a heavy toll, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
And as Russia needs to expand its supply lines in the Donbass, they will become more vulnerable, the source said.
US officials also continue to take note of the composition of the Russian military, including Putin’s decision to extend enlistments and withdraw the next wave of conscripts – many of whom have been inactive for a long time.
That suggests Putin is “scratching the bottom of the barrel,” the source familiar with the matter said.
“Putin faces an enigma. His strength diminishes in ability and his personal status is one of his biggest problems. Reaching the reserves isn’t going to help…in fact, I’d say it’s going to hurt. It may provide ‘bodies’, but not trained soldiers who will make a difference,” said CNN military analyst and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.
And the morale problems that plagued the Russian forces are still present.
“We have early indications that even though conscripts start out with high morale because they feasted on Russian propaganda, it doesn’t take very long before morale is sapped once they are put into combat. and face Ukrainian resistance,” the senior defense official said Thursday in a background call with reporters.
Finally, the weather can hinder Russian tanks. The mud can force them to stay on the roads, leaving them vulnerable to Ukrainian forces, as was the case on the outskirts of kyiv. And taking urban areas in any war is a challenge – and favors the defender.
“I don’t think the war will end in the short term,” the senior NATO official said.