Russia is paying a bloody price for small gains on the Eastern Front
KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia makes slow and bloody gains in a new push to seize more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring more conscripts and military supplies into the battle, according to Ukrainian officials. Yet it remains far from certain that Moscow can mobilize enough forces to sustain a prolonged offensive.
Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian forces were attacking from five different directions along the crescent-shaped eastern front line, relying on masses of troops to try to overrun Ukrainian positions. This tactic has allowed Russia to make additional gains in recent weeks and, according to US officials, to slowly tighten the noose around the key Ukrainian-held town of Bakhmut. But the strategy cost hundreds of dead and injured soldiers every day.
“The main threat is quantity,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the eastern Lugansk region, told Ukrainian television on Tuesday. “It’s a huge monster that’s at war with us, and it has immense resources – not endless, but still. There are too many of them.”
Mr Haida had earlier said a “full-scale offensive” could begin after February 15, as the Kremlin strives to show progress around the one-year mark of its invasion.
Amid reports that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel to Brussels on Thursday to meet European Union leaders for a long-planned summit, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency has repeated a warning that Moscow plans to mobilize up to half a million more soldiers to support his campaign. . That would be “in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in October 2022,” Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief, wrote in a lengthy statement Monday evening assessing the state of the war.
But Western intelligence officials have wondered if Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could quickly find hundreds of thousands more troops without triggering a bigger domestic reaction. The Kremlin is already struggling to train and arm the soldiers it has, military analysts said.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency said on Tuesday that Russia had been trying to launch “major offensive operations” since early last month, aiming to capture the rest of the Donetsk region, which includes Bakhmut. But he had “managed to gain only several hundred meters of territory per week”, partly due to a lack of ammunition, the agency said. in his latest daily war report.
But that hasn’t stopped Ukraine from sounding the alarm over a massive Russian buildup to come, as it agitates for stronger weapons from the West. He first predicted that Russia would mobilize 500,000 new troops in January, a move that failed to materialize.
As they have done in the past, Ukrainian forces could respond to a Russian offensive with a counter-offensive, but some military analysts have suggested that Ukraine would be better off taking a strong defensive position that would ultimately weaken Russian forces.
“Arguably UA is best served by absorbing the RU attack and exhausting the RU offensive potential, then seizing the initiative later this spring,” wrote Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the NAC, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia. an extension analytical thread on Twitter, referring to Ukraine and Russia.
The Kremlin continued to insist it was making progress in eastern Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu told reporters that combat operations near Bakhmut and the southern town of Vuhledar are “developing successfully”, the official Tass news agency reported. .
While Moscow’s willingness to sacrifice large numbers of soldiers for marginal gains has been demonstrated time and time again during the war, Mr Putin has been reluctant to publicly announce a second wave of mobilization. The announcement of a partial mobilization in Russia last September led hundreds of thousands of military-age men to flee the country.
Moscow’s latest push along the eastern front has relied on new, inexperienced recruits and old convicts to rush towards Ukrainian positions, straining Kyiv’s forces but also causing heavy casualties. A Russian opposition publication, Mediazona, said fewer Russian prisoners are ready to commit to combat due to reports of high casualties among convict colony recruits.
Haidai said on Tuesday that Ukrainian officials had observed Russian commanders keeping newly arrived units of freshly mobilized soldiers separated from each other. The reason, he said, was to prevent rumors of losses in the Russian ranks from spreading.
“They have a large number of dead and wounded, and the commanders are trying to prevent panic among the fighters in this way,” Haidai said.
Ukraine’s western allies have rushed to provide tanks, armored vehicles and long-range weapons to bolster Kyiv’s defenses. On Tuesday, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced their intention to send around 100 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, some of which could arrive “within a few months” – a much shorter timeframe than the larger tanks. advances promised by Ukraine’s Western allies.
Zelensky’s visit to Brussels on Thursday, if it happens, would likely be aimed at bolstering political support as the European Union grapples with the economic fallout from the war and the cost of hosting more than four million refugees Ukrainians. This would follow a visit by senior EU leaders to Kyiv last week.
As part of a visit to Brussels, Zelensky would likely address the European Parliament on Thursday, according to an email from the parliament’s secretary-general to EU lawmakers that was reviewed by The New York Times. The possible presence of Mr Zelensky, which depends on security arrangements, was reported earlier by the Financial Times.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council of Leaders of Member States, invited Mr. Zelensky to participate in person in “a future summit”. The invitation was announced in a Twitter post by a spokesperson for Mr. Michel and did not specify any details of the invitation or its timing.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during an official briefing Monday evening that his department was working on a number of possible visits by Mr. Zelensky, “but when and where they will take place, you know. will know from the president himself and from his office,” according to the Ukrinform news agency.
A visit this week, if it occurs, would be the Ukrainian leader’s second known trip outside his country since invading Russia nearly a year ago. In December, Mr. Zelensky traveled to Washington to meet with President Biden and deliver a moving appeal to Congress.
Last month, Ukraine received heavier military aid from the United States, as well as the promise of Abrams tanks.
European nations have largely closed ranks behind Ukraine, in some cases at great cost to their economies, including cutting energy ties with Russia. They have also faced the fallout of the war’s rising economic costs to the Kremlin through sanctions – while Mr Zelensky pushed for more and better enforced economic sanctions for Moscow.
Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in June, but the recent visit of European leaders to Kyiv underlined that the country was unlikely to be admitted to the club anytime soon. Mr. Zelensky’s request for an expedited process also fell flat.
Yet Mr Zelensky needs financial support from the European Union to keep his beleaguered country running and avoid defaulting on its debts. And his country will need huge amounts of funding to finally rebuild.
In Ukraine, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said that if the position of the country’s forces fighting around Bakhmut became untenable, a decision could be made to withdraw.
“The life and health of our defenders is one of the main priorities,” he said in an interview with Radio Liberty. “Therefore, no one will use them as cannon fodder. For now, Bakhmut is standing. We are doing everything in our power to liquidate as many Russians as possible in order to slow down their offensive.
Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Matina Stevis-Gridneff of Brussels and Bengali Shashank from London. Neil MacFarquhar And Erika Solomon contributed report.