Russia tries to recover in Ukraine as prospects for victory fade

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The Russian army, mired in a war with no end in sight, is trying to revive its faltering offensive in Ukraine, shooting commanders, dividing combat units into smaller formations, and doubling its reliance on artillery and other long-range weapons.

The turnaround comes nearly three months after Russian and American officials alike predicted a quick and decisive victory for Moscow. After the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers and a barrage of failures since the invasion began on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has narrowed his targets in a campaign seen as unsustainable, unrealistic – and potentially unwinnable.

At least seven people were injured after an attack on the Palace of Culture in Lozova, Kharkiv Oblast, on May 20, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Video: Volodymyr Zelensky via Storyful)

This assessment is shared by a group of observers, including Western intelligence officials and independent analysts who have followed the war closely. Mik Maran, director general of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service, said that Russia is losing in Ukraine militarily, politically and morally.

“When we look at the battlefield, we find that Russia’s conventional capabilities are already overstretched,” Maran said. “Losses in Russian manpower and equipment are not sustainable at the same pace of operations that we have seen so far.”

Russia suggests that people over 40 can take part in the war to help make up for setbacks

Unless Russia launches a large-scale mobilization of its military, Maran said, “there is no cure in sight.” And while it appears that “some sense of reality has begun” among Russia’s military leaders, Putin himself remains intent on controlling everything from the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine to the port city of Odessa and Transnistria, a breakaway republic in neighboring Moldova.

“Maybe we will see an ongoing military campaign that is, to some extent, disconnected from what is realistic, and what might be called smart or feasible in the long run,” Maran said. The Estonians had long expected, even before the invasion, that Russia would face great resistance from the Ukrainians.

As the war drags on and Russia’s battlefield gains remain “uneven” and “increasing,” according to the latest Pentagon assessment, many of its high-ranking commanders have been fired. Among them, according to the British Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant-General Serhiy Kessel, who headed the unsuccessful efforts of the 1st Guards Tank Army to capture the northeastern city of Kharkiv, and Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov, who was in charge of the Russian forces. The Black Sea Fleet of the Ukrainian forces Its pioneer, Moskva, drowned. The humiliating strike of the Russian Navy was carried out using Neptune anti-ship missiles of Ukraine. Since then, officials in Kyiv They ramped up their requests for similar weapons from Western partners.

Citing the latest US intelligence assessments of the war, a senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, asserted that “Russian leaders at various levels have been relieved of their duties.” This person said Pentagon officials want to be careful in making predictions about the next phase of the war, but are encouraged that Ukrainian units have not faced the moral setbacks that have plagued the Russians.

The US defense official warned that Russia maintains a significant fighting force available in Ukraine, but “you have to have the will to fight, you have to have good leadership, you have to have command and control.” He said that Russia is “suffering” as a result of these and other shortcomings.

Meanwhile, sanctions against Russia have “virtually broken” the country’s transport and freight logistics, Russia’s transport minister said on Saturday, a rare admission of problems.

But its defense minister confirmed that its army had destroyed a large number of weapons supplied to Ukraine by the United States and European countries. A Pentagon spokesman told the Washington Post that the United States had no comment on Russia’s allegations.

Russia has also stepped up its political campaign, permanently banning nearly 1,000 Americans, including President Biden and Vice President Harris, from entering the country. The ban list included a wide range of officials and citizens, including the murdered lawmakers and actor Morgan Freeman.

United State Keep sending billions of dollars In the military equipment of Ukraine, including heavy artillery, drones and anti-tank missiles. On Saturday, President Biden signed a new $40 billion package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

US intelligence shows that although Putin has deployed more than 100 tactical battalions in Ukraine, each numbering between 500 and 800 personnel, they have made little progress in the Donbass. There is evidence that the Russian army divided some units, sending smaller combat divisions to the villages and hamlets there. The Pentagon assessed that doing so made sense because Putin pursued smaller domestic goals. But Russia is struggling to survive, with its forces sometimes ceding control to Ukraine within days of seizing territory.

The Pentagon says the Russians are attacking in smaller units

In the south, Russia achieved two important victories, taking control of Mariupol, a major port city, and the smaller city of Kherson. Micholev, which housed nearly 500,000 people before the war, was an elusive target, despite weeks of fierce fighting nearby.

Scott Boston, a former U.S. Army officer who studied the Ukraine War for Rand Corp. It appears that there are massive morale problems within the Russian military, undermining Moscow’s goals. He noted the refusal of some units to carry out orders, as well as Russia’s failure to adequately equip and fuel its forces.

“Once it is proven that they don’t care about their own people, they do,” Boston said of Russian soldiers. “It’s hard not to notice.”

The Pentagon has stated that Russia has captured only a few kilometers per day in Donbass in recent weeks. At this rate, Boston predicted the offensive could last a year and “there will still be a lot of Ukraine left,” even as Russian military deaths continue to mount.

“This is just not a serious suggestion,” Boston said.

He added that Russian leaders may realize that their military campaign is faltering, but they are still reluctant to admit that the war is lost.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces destroyed dozens of Russian combat vehicles when the Russians attempted to cross the Seversky Donets River in the Donbass. The attack is believed to have killed hundreds of Russian troops, and appears to highlight their continued failure to carry out basic combat maneuvers.

Rob Lee, a Russian military expert and senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said Russian forces were stunned by both tactical errors and strong Ukrainian capabilities that contributed to defeats such as the deadly crossing near Severodonetsk.

River crossings required favorable terrain and construction of pontoon bridges by military engineers. They are inherently dangerous, he told me, and that the Ukrainian military might have anticipated potential crossing points and recorded their coordinates for future attacks. Reconnaissance drones allowed artillery units to monitor where the shells had fallen and then directed them at Russian soldiers.

The fatal mistake, Lee said, was the failure of Russian commanders to send smaller numbers of troops across the river. Instead, they grouped them together. The mistake cost the 74th motorized rifle brigade a heavy price. According to the analysis of the Institute for the Study of Warwith an estimated 485 casualties and 80 pieces of equipment lost.

“It is an indication that there are continuing problems in the leadership,” he told me of the failed attempt to encircle nearby Ukrainian forces.

Boston, a Rand Corp analyst, said it was difficult to say how long Russia might continue its offensive. He said that even after thousands of Russian soldiers were killed, Russia could continue firing artillery shells from a distance for some time.

However, the course of the conflict puzzles him. Russia defeated Georgian forces in a five-day war in 2008, but the conflict exposed failures within the Russian military, including an inability to adapt quickly when something went wrong. Boston said that Moscow set out to reform its army after this conflict, and showed improvement in others.

“It had this feeling like they had given up everything they had tried to learn over the past 10 years and gone back to an older style that they were more comfortable with,” Boston said. “Frankly, the Red Army in 1944 was much more capable of shooting and maneuvering than much of what we saw from this Russian army, and I do not understand why.”

Julian Doblin, Timothy Bella and Michael Kranish contributed to this report.