Russia takes stock after failed winter offensive

Russia announced its winter offensive in Ukraine to much fanfare, but the ill-fated campaign was another disappointment for Moscow.

As spring arrives, the two armies are at an impasse with troops stretching from the shores of the Black Sea to northeastern Ukraine – and the Kremlin has once again been forced to adopt a vision to long term after failing to make a breakthrough.

Here’s how Russia suffered a bitter setback and what could happen next:

Battle for Bakhmut

Bakhmut became the longest and bloodiest battle in Ukraine. Both sides suffered heavy losses in the eastern industrial city, which was home to around 70,000 people before the war.

They have waged a war of attrition for months, and the city has taken on enormous symbolic importance even though analysts say it has little strategic value.

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group spearheaded the attack and claimed on Monday it had captured Bakhmut’s town hall – but Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said his forces were still under attack. losses.

“Even if Bakhmut falls, the Russian invasion will be a long way from taking control of Donetsk Oblast, one of its main territorial objectives,” the Washington-based Hudson Institute said in its latest military report. .

Offensive stalled

Russia captured just 70 square kilometers across Ukraine in March, said Leo Peria-Peigne of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).

The Russian army “lacks trained men” and has “problems with the supply of artillery ammunition”, he explained to AFP.

US analyst Michael Kofman said “the Russian offensive is going as badly as expected”.

“The question is how exhausted will the Russian forces be and be forced to ration ammunition?”

Kofman warned that Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov “is draining the force with a series of ill-timed and ill-considered offensive operations, the gains of which will not change Russia’s strategic image, but could make Russian forces more vulnerable”.

attraction war

The war decimated forces and drained resources from both sides for over a year.

“Ukraine has spent a large part of its forces guarding towns of no great strategic importance,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, an independent military analyst in Moscow.

But Ukraine’s former defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said he had “serious doubts that [Russian forces] can improve their functioning”, arguing that this would not be sustainable.

Kofman said he believed the “Russian army probably has the manpower and reserves to mount a stubborn defense” against a Ukrainian counteroffensive, with “minefields and trenches” at its disposal.

Western support

Ukraine has access to Western intelligence, training and weapons, with heavy tanks and long-range artillery arriving on the battlefield.

The outcome will depend “on the speed and scale of Western deliveries and the ability of Russian air defenses to intercept this type of weaponry,” said Igor Korochenko, editor of the Moscow-based National Defense newspaper.

Korochenko, who is under Western sanctions, said such deliveries to Ukraine “prolong the conflict”.

no retreat

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be committed to the long term and will have to wage a “resource war”, Zagorodnyuk said, adding that Ukraine’s struggling economy “is not recovering”.

“The rage and desperation are privately perceptible” among officials in Moscow, said Tatiana Stanovaya, senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

“Russian elites are united in their belief that since Putin started this war, he has to win it,” she continued.

But she said as he stands on the battlefield, “no one understands how Putin could secure a victory.”

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