It is an exhausting war of positions that is being played out in eastern Ukraine. Territorial gains are minor. Neither the Russian forces nor the Ukrainian forces seem able to deliver decisive blows to the adversary. “The Russians are not winning and the Ukrainians are not winning, we are a bit at an impasse”, observed General Scott Berrier, director of the Pentagon’s intelligence agency, on Tuesday, May 10, before the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
180,000 men deployed
The Russian army has deployed a considerable force – around 180,000 men, nearly two-thirds of its total ground forces – along a 900 kilometer front, using its overwhelming superiority in tanks, fighter planes, helicopters and heavy artillery. However, Moscow still faces a force generation problem. Many of the 97 “battalion tactical groups” (BTGs) engaged in Ukraine had to leave to reconstitute and resupply, due to the extensive damage suffered in combat.
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Russian conscripts, under-trained and ill-equipped, are always sent to the front line. A “secret mobilization” would also be underway to send conscripts to “clean up” the damage caused by the fighting and hold the ground in the rear.
Significant human and material losses
Above all, the scale of Russian military losses – between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers killed, a figure to be multiplied by three, if we take into account wounded, captured and missing personnel – affects the morale and discipline of the troops. . According to American intelligence, officers refused to obey orders or would half-heartedly carry them out, which would explain the presence of generals on the front lines. In the Zaporijjia region, units abuse alcohol and shoot at their own vehicles to avoid being engaged in offensives.
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To the losses in men are added the losses in equipment: 640 tanks and at least 700 armored vehicles out of action, according to Justin Bronk, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI, London). Troop losses, heavily concentrated in infantry as well as tank and armored vehicle crews, are having a serious impact on the Russian military’s ability to sustain effective combat operations.
An essential but complicated mobilization
But despite speculation by Western analysts, Vladimir Putin did not use the May 9 celebrations to declare war, call for general mobilization or annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories. “To hold this war of attrition and hope to defeat the Ukrainian armed forces, Russia needs men, deciphers Dimitri Minic, researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). “General mobilization, involving the reserve and conscription, is essential from a strategic and operational point of view. Its political and psychological feasibility is more complicated. »
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The mobilization of an enlarged military force remains an option in the near future, however, and the Russian arsenal is only partially depleted. “Russia has a considerable fleet of armored vehicles, including battle tanks, most of which date from the Soviet era, adds Dimitri Minic. One can however doubt the really viable and operational quantity of these immense reserves. »
“Poorly maintained stockpiles of weapons and ammunition”
Even in this hypothesis, some analysts doubt the ability of the Russian army to reverse the situation. “His reserves are largely made up of untrained men who would draw from poorly maintained or corruptly rotten stockpiles of arms and ammunition, points out Eliot Cohen, professor at Johns Hopkins University, on The Atlantic website. And his generals proved incapable of orchestrating a campaign to gain air superiority or launch concentrated thrusts into Ukrainian territory. »
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In the longer term, Western economic and financial sanctions will have a lasting effect on Russian armament modernization plans. The fall in US technology exports is already forcing Russia to use computer chips recovered from dishwashers and refrigerators for certain military equipment, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently said.
Demobilize international aid
Despite the setbacks, Vladimir Putin gives no indication of wanting to curb his “special military operation”, convinced of Russia’s superior endurance. “Putin is likely counting on the weakening of the resolve of the United States and the European Union, faced with food shortages, inflation and soaring energy prices”, supported Avril Haines, director of American national intelligence, before the Senate. Weary public opinion to, in a way, demobilize international aid.
Push of the Ukrainian army in the North
The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine stalled on Thursday, May 12, while the Ukrainian counter-attack northeast of Kharkiv was still gaining ground. This counter-offensive “put Russian troops on the defensive and eased artillery pressure” on the second largest city in the country, points out the American Institute for the Study of War. kyiv has thus “recaptured several towns and villages towards the Russian borderaccording to the UK Ministry of Defence. Russia’s prioritization of operations in the Donbass has left its elements deployed in the Kharkiv region vulnerable to the mobile and highly motivated Ukrainian counterattack force. »