Russia is trying to rebound in Ukraine as the chances of victory fade

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The Russian military, embroiled in a war that has no end, is trying to revive its tumultuous offensive in Ukraine, firing on commanders, splitting combat units into smaller units and doubling its reliance on artillery and other long-range weapons.

The change comes about three months after Russian and Western officials similarly predicted a quick and decisive victory for Moscow. Following the snowfall of thousands of Russian troops and the failure since the offensive began on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin has narrowed his objectives in a campaign that has been seen as sustainable, unrealistic – and perhaps invincible.

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

“When we look at the battlefield, Russia’s conventional power has already expanded,” Marran said. “The loss of Russian manpower and equipment is not sustainable at the same operational tempo we have seen so far.”

Russia has offered that people over the age of 40 could sign up for war to help meet the crisis

Until Russia fully mobilizes its military, Marran said, “there is no cure.” And while Russian military leaders appear to have “some sense of reality”, Putin himself intends to control everything from the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to the western port city of Odessa and Transnistria, an isolated republic in neighboring Moldova.

“We are seeing an ongoing military operation that is somewhat detached from what is realistic, what could be called smart or long-term potential.”

According to the Pentagon’s latest assessment, as the war escalates and Russia’s battlefield gains remain “uneven” and “growing”, several of its top commanders have been fired. Among them, according to the British Ministry of Defense, was Lieutenant General Serhi Kissel, who presided over the 1st Guards Tank Army’s failed attempt to seize the northeastern city of Kharkiv, and Russia was in charge of Vice Admiral Iger Osipov. When Black Sea fleet sank its flagship, Moscow, by Ukrainian forces. Ukraine used Neptune anti-ship missiles to inflict humiliating blows on the Russian navy. Since then, Kiev officials have stepped up their requests for similar weapons from Western partners.

Citing the latest U.S. intelligence assessment of the war, a senior Defense Department official confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that “Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties under the Pentagon’s ground rules.” Pentagon officials, the man said, wanted to be cautious in predicting the next phase of the war, but encouraged that Ukrainian units did not face a morale crisis that would hit the Russians.

Russia maintains sufficient combat power in Ukraine, a U.S. defense official has warned, but “you must have the will to fight, you must have good leadership, you must have command and control.” He says Russia is “suffering” from these and other shortcomings.

Although Putin has deployed more than 100 battalion strategic teams in Ukraine, each with between 500 and 800 personnel, they have made little progress in the US intelligence agency Donbass. There is evidence that the Russian military has split into several units, sending small combat teams to villages and towns. In doing so, the Pentagon has assessed, it makes sense for Putin to pursue smaller local goals. But as Russia struggles to retain territory, its forces sometimes return control of Ukraine within days of occupying the territory.

The Pentagon says the Russians are attacking small units

In the south, Russia has achieved two significant victories, controlling a major port city Mariupol and a small town Kherson. Micholeiv, home to about 500,000 people before the war, had an unattainable purpose, though, despite weeks of heavy fighting nearby.

Scott Boston, a former U.S. military official who studied the Ukraine war for the RAND corporation, said it appeared there was a “massive morale problem” in Russia’s military, which was undermining Moscow’s goals. He noted the failure of some units to carry out orders, as well as Russia’s failure to adequately equip and feed its forces.

“Once it’s abundantly demonstrated that they don’t talk nonsense about their people, they get it,” Boston said of the Russian troops. “It’s hard not to notice.”

According to the Pentagon, in recent weeks Russia has occupied only a few kilometers per day on the Donbass. At that rate, Boston estimated that the invasion could last a year and that “there will still be plenty of Ukraine left,” and that Russian military casualties would continue to rise.

“It’s not just a serious proposal,” Boston said.

Russian leaders may realize that their military campaign is failing, but they are reluctant to admit that they are losing the war, he added.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian forces destroyed dozens of Russian warships as Russians tried to cross the Sivarsky Donets River in Donbass. The attack is believed to have killed hundreds of Russian soldiers and highlighted their continued failure to carry out basic warfare tactics.

Rob Lee, a Russian military expert and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says Russian troops have been distracted by both their own strategic mistakes and Ukraine’s powerful capabilities, which have contributed to a deadly crossing near Severodonetsk.

Favorable terrain for river crossing and construction of pontoon bridges by military engineers is required. They are inherently dangerous, Lee said, and the Ukrainian military probably anticipated potential crossing points and logged their coordinates for future attacks. Their surveillance drones allow artillery units to observe where rounds are being fired and then direct them to Russian personnel.

A serious mistake, Lee said, was the failure of Russian commanders to send a small number of troops across the river. Instead, they bunch them together. The 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade suffered a lot of damage due to this mistake, according to the analysis of the Institute of the Study of War, an estimated 485 casualties and 80 pieces of equipment were damaged.

“This is an indication that there is still a leadership problem,” Lee said of the failed attempt to encircle nearby Ukrainian forces.

Bond, an analyst at RAND Corporation, said it was difficult to say how long Russia could continue its offensive. Even after the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers, he said, Russia could continue the artillery round lobe from a distance for some time.

Yet, the course of the conflict confuses him. Russia defeated Georgian forces in a five-day war in 2008, but the conflict exposed the failures of the Russian military, including the inability to adapt quickly if something went wrong. Boston says Moscow has begun reforming its military since the conflict and has shown improvement in others.

“You get the feeling that they’ve given up everything they’ve tried to learn over the last 10 years and come back to an old style that makes them feel more comfortable,” Boston said. “Honestly, the 1944 Red Army was able to fire and maneuver much more than we saw from this Russian military force, and I don’t understand why.”

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