When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russia hoped to overtake Ukraine in a blitzkrieg that lasted days or weeks. Many Western analysts thought so too.
But as the conflict moves into its third Tuesday, Moscow is increasingly engulfed in what appears to be a war of attrition, with no end in sight and with little success on the battlefield.
No quick victories over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s powerful army, no defeats that would allow the Kremlin to control much of Ukraine and establish a puppet government.
Instead, Russian forces were bogged down outside Kyiv and in other large cities due to the strong Ukrainian defenses. A Russian armored convoy appeared to be stuck on a long stretch of highway. The military ran out of supplies and gasoline and became easy targets on the ground and in the air.
A little over a month after the invasion began, Russia effectively recognized the failure of the blitz and withdrew its troops from the area near Kyiv.Moscow-backed separatists have declared a shift in focus to the industrial eastern part of Donbas, where they have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
To be sure, Russia controlled a significant amount of territory around Crimea, annexed by Moscow eight years ago. It also completely cut off Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and finally gained full control of the main port of Mariupol after a siege that prevented some troops from fighting elsewhere while fighting the stubborn Ukrainian army. Trapped in a huge ironworks.
But the offensive from the East also appears to be bogged down. As Western forces flowed into Ukraine to bolster Ukraine’s overwhelming army.
Every day Russian artillery and fighter jets relentlessly attack the Ukrainian positions in Donbas, You are about to break through the lines of defense built up during the separatist conflict.
They gained only gradual gains, clearly reflecting Russia’s insufficient number of troops and Ukrainian resistance. In a recent episode, the Russians lost hundreds of people and dozens of combat vehicles in the Luhansk region while trying to cross the river to build a bridgehead.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that “the Russians are far behind what we hoped for when they started this revitalized effort in the East.” Changing hands every day.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces have systematically targeted Western arms shipments, ammunition and fuel depots, and critical infrastructure through cruise missiles and air strikes to undermine Kyiv’s military and economic potential.
The Kremlin still appears to have more ambitious goals to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea coast to the Romanian border, which could allow Moscow to build an overland route to Transnistria, a separatist region in Moldova with Russian troops. It is also an action. stationed.
However, Moscow seems to know that this goal cannot be achieved with its currently limited forces.
“I think they’re increasingly realizing that they can’t do it all at once and they can’t do it all at once,” said Justin Crump, former British tank commander who heads strategic advisory firm Sibylline.
He said Moscow’s losses made him increasingly reliant on hastily patched troops that he could only get little by little from Donbas.
“It’s about continuing to lower gears towards smaller goals that Russia can actually achieve,” Crump said. “And on the biggest scale, I think, they actually scaled down their strategy to better fit their abilities on the ground.”
Many in Ukraine and the West believed that Putin would dedicate his resources to Donbas and achieve a decisive victory by the Victory Day on May 9, when Putin celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Russia mistakenly called the war a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine is a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who wants close ties with the West.
However, rather than launching a large-scale campaign in the east, the Kremlin opted for a series of tactical small-scale offensives aimed at steadily securing a base to encircle Ukrainian forces.
“Russian leadership is urging the military command to show minimal performance, and there is nothing they can do but keep sending more troops into the massacre,” said Mikola Sunkhrovsky, a military expert at the Kyiv-based Rajumkov Center. ” he said. Tank.
Many in the West expected Putin to declare an extensive mobilization to fill the ranks of Russia. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has warned that Putin could make an announcement on the anniversary of his victory.
However, that did not happen and Russia continued to rely on limited forces that were clearly insufficient to defend Ukraine.
Massive mobilization will fuel widespread discontent in Russia. It fuels anti-war sentiment and carries enormous political risk. Authorities opted for a more limited option as lawmakers drafted a bill exempting the current age limit of 40 for those willing to join the military.
The resource scarcity was highlighted by the sudden withdrawal from an area near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, where Russia has been bombed since the outbreak of the war last week. Some of them were obviously relocated to Donbas, but not enough to tilt the scales on the battlefield.
“We had to reduce the forces around Kharkiv simply because we were trying to maintain too many fronts with too few troops,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Petersburg. Andrews of Scotland.
The battles in Donbas are increasingly turning into artillery duels, and “will go on for quite some time without much movement on the front lines,” he said.
“So, O’Brien added that there will be more position battles at that point, and success will go to those who can “get it knocking”.
Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to receive a steady supply of Western weapons, including American howitzers and drones, Polish tanks and other heavy equipment immediately put into battle.
“Ukraine’s plan is simple and clear,” said Sunhurovskyi of Kyiv. “In the nearest month, we will weaken the Russian forces as much as we can, give them time to receive Western weapons and train them to use them, and then launch a counterattack in the southeast.” -Based military experts.
He said he hopes Ukraine will receive much more powerful Western weapons, such as the US HIMARS multiple rocket launcher, anti-ship missiles and more powerful air defense weapons.
The eastern stalemate has enraged Russia’s hardliners, warning that Moscow cannot win without mass mobilization and devoting all its resources to a decisive attack.
Igor Strelkov, a former security officer who led the separatists in Donbass in 2014, condemned the Kremlin’s indecisiveness and said it could pave the way for defeat.
“In the case of Russia, the strategic stalemate is deepening,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities are becoming more and more daring as Russia’s attack speed has been slow and Western support has increased.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reaffirmed last week that returning Russia to its pre-invasion position would mean victory, but some of his aides have declared even more ambitious goals.
Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine was not interested in a ceasefire “until it was ready to completely liberate the territories occupied by Russia”.
Meanwhile, Russia is aiming to bleed Ukraine by systematically attacking fuel supplies and infrastructure while gaining military advantage in the east. The Kremlin may also hope that Western interest in the conflict will eventually fade amid economic challenges and other problems.
“Their last hope is for us to completely lose interest in the Ukraine conflict by the summer,” he said. “They are calculating that Western audiences will lose interest in the same way Afghanistan did last year. Russia thinks time is working in its favor.”
Contributed by Danica Kirka from London, Lolita C. Baldor from Washington and Yuras Karmanau from Lviv, Ukraine.
Follow the AP report on the Ukraine war: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine