Russian offensive in Ukraine begins with a series of failures

“Russia continues to introduce large numbers of troops into the theater. Those troops are poorly equipped and poorly trained and that is why they are taking heavy casualties,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said alongside his Estonian counterpart during a visit to the Baltic nation on Thursday morning. “We hope that continues.”

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC on Wednesday that 97% of Russia’s military is now inside Ukraine.

“Actually, we haven’t seen this concentration of a single force to break through a major offensive. We have just seen an effort to move forward, and that has come at a huge cost to the Russian military,” he said.

Although Western officials are not unified on whether the new offensive they expect has begun, they are currently focused on fighting that has escalated dramatically in recent days in and around Vuhledar and Bakhmut, two key cities some 100 miles apart in the eastern region. Ukraine known as Donbas, where Russia began to interfere militarily in 2014.

Austin and others have pointed to the particular dangers Ukrainian forces face in Bakhmut, where Russian troops have made modest gains. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent forces there, and artillery units sharply increased attacks on Ukrainian forces in a continued attempt to encircle the city.

The defense secretary noted that the region has been contested “for some time,” adding that “we hope it will continue.”

“If the urban warfare reaches the center of the city of Bakhmut, the situation may become irreversible,” Can Kasapoglu, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, concluded in the latest situation report from the think tank on the fighting in Ukraine.

Russia’s forces there, particularly the armored corps on which it largely depends, have suffered embarrassing setbacks as Ukraine’s poor military leadership, inadequate support and skillful use of reserve troops have hampered attempts to Putin to stabilize a new front, a point made even by influential Russian military bloggers. have pointed.

“However, other factors played larger roles in Vuhledar,” Kasapoglu wrote. “Our open source intelligence monitoring suggests that Russian combat formations suffered heavy armor losses, revealing their inability to carry out large-scale mechanized offensives. The great combat prowess of the Ukrainian artillery, as well as its potent use of anti-tank mines (including remote anti-armor mines launched by 155mm class artillery), inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian units.”

Local commanders also erred in the choice of troops to use. Russia’s 155th and 40th Marine Brigades are generally successful in the missions they were designed for, primarily attacking coastal defenses and launching amphibious landings. But they have little experience coordinating with other ground forces and maneuvering in sync on land.

“Eventually, the Russian marines suffered mounting losses and became completely ineffective in combat,” Kasapoglu wrote.

The Russian failures are not limited to their ground offensive. British military intelligence assesses that the Russian air force has ramped up the number of sorties it has launched in recent days to levels not seen since the height of the fighting last summer.

Those forces, however, appear to be limited to only operating over Russian-occupied territory in an indication that Ukrainian air defenses pose a prohibitive threat to them, “preventing them from carrying out their key strike role effectively,” according to UK defense intelligence.

He adds that the Russian air force retains a fleet of about 1,500 manned aircraft, although it has lost 130 since the invasion began on February 24, and that it is unlikely that this force is preparing to expand its air campaign “as under the Under the current battlefield circumstances, it is likely to suffer unsustainable aircraft losses.”

However, reliance on manned aircraft is not the only approach that forces loyal to Moscow are employing in an attempt to create new opportunities for Russian ground forces, or to make Ukraine spend its own resources unnecessarily.

Several news outlets reported this week that Russia appears to be increasingly employing spy balloons over Ukraine, some of which have reportedly drifted into neighboring countries, forcing them to scatter fighter jets to intercept them. Unlike the widely documented Chinese spy balloon that traversed the continental US this month before being shot down by a fighter jet, the Russian objects appear not tasked with gathering intelligence, but rather with strangling Ukraine’s ability to identify and defend against other aerial threats such as drones, rockets or missiles, and expend valuable anti-aircraft munitions.

“Ukraine suspects the balloons are the latest tactic deployed by Russia in a campaign of kamikaze missile and drone attacks that has intensified in recent weeks,” private intelligence firm CNS The Soufan Group concluded in a new analysis note.

Colonel Yuriy Ignat, a spokesman for Ukraine’s air command, said Russia launched the “false targets”, while other officials said the military had shot down about six of them without elaborating how.

Ignat added: “They will exploit it when the weather is in their favor. The weather was with us today.

The air war remains the focus of Ukraine’s international appeals in recent days as it increasingly asks Western countries for more fighter jets, specifying the need for US F-16s, a consideration. about which the Biden administration has so far remained silent.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also identified at a summit on Tuesday the speed with which Ukrainian forces are running out of ammunition, artillery shells and other essential weapons and the need for Western countries to dramatically increase production. He stressed the urgency of the situation as Putin has shown no signs of interest in any kind of peace deal.

“What we see is the opposite,” he told the defense ministers gathered at NATO headquarters, “it is preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks.”

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