Everything indicates that the Russian offensive started slowly. There are more shellings, more attempts to break through and also more deaths. “You don’t immediately see a huge parade of armored vehicles, but the intensity of the fighting is increasing,” says Peter Wijninga of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies.
Russia itself does not yet speak of an offensive, says Russia expert Bob Deen of the Clingendael Institute. Yet he also sees that Russia is increasing the pressure on Ukraine. “The units have recently been brought up to strength by mobilization and reservists. These new recruits often lack combat experience or proper military training, so it remains to be seen how effective they will be.”
Fight on foot
One thing that stands out according to both defense experts: the Russians are now mainly fighting the battle on foot. Despite intense shelling, the front moves meter by meter. Wijninga: “Not every offensive is a kind of blitzkrieg with huge formations of tanks and vehicles.”
The Russians lost a considerable part of their equipment in one year. According to various war analysts, more than five hundred Russian tanks are now in Ukrainian hands. In addition, Ukraine destroyed about a thousand Russian tanks.
The renowned Institute for the Study of War also reports that Russia is struggling to mount a major mechanized offensive in the short term. And so soldiers fight the battle on the frontline largely on foot. Experts say that a large-scale offensive from several sides, as happened last year, is most likely not possible.
Something that also plays a role: fields in Ukraine are littered with mines. As a result, tanks are forced to drive behind each other in columns in some places. If the first tank breaks or gets stuck in the mud, the rest behind it is stuck too.
In the video below, a Ukrainian colonel tells how a long line of Russian tanks in Vuhledar became an easy target.
Long line of Russian tanks ‘easy target’ for Ukraine
Despite the slow advance, the Russians seem to be in a hurry. Russian President Vladimir Putin previously ordered his commander-in-chief to take possession of the Donbas in March.
For this, Russia will have to force a breakthrough in Bachmut, a city where a bloody battle has been raging for months. In that urban area there are several strong defense lines of the Ukrainian army. “Then you progress very slowly, because you have to fight again and again,” says Wijninga.
According to Deen of the Clingendael Institute, the Russians mainly want to keep busy. “They want to make Ukraine suffer losses while buying time to scale up their production.”
As a result, the number of victims is also rising. According to Ukrainian figures, more than 800 people are killed on the Russian side every day. Four months ago, that figure was still around four hundred. “We have to make do with what we hear from the Ukrainians,” says Wijninga. “It may be that it has been exaggerated, but the Russians also leave many soldiers in the field.”
It is very simple for Putin: the end justifies the means.
Defense expert Peter Wijninga
Experts expect that the town of Bachmoet will eventually fall, but that it will happen more slowly than expected. Every time the front moves, there is a chance that it will come to a halt afterwards. “That’s because logistics stocks are further away from the front,” explains Wijninga.
Last year, Ukraine hit these supplies with missiles and drones. To prevent this, the Russians moved ammunition, food and other supplies to the background. “Storage sites are often more than eighty kilometers from the front,” says Deen. As a result, trucks are constantly driving back and forth, for example with ammunition, and that takes a lot of time.
Whether the Russians will manage to control the Donbas in March is difficult to predict, according to both experts. According to Deen, it is unlikely given the military balance of power and a long war of attrition is more likely. Wijninga: “But if the Russians start deploying their air force, it may also succeed. It is very simple for Putin: the end justifies the means.”
At the start of the war, we explained why the course of the war then went less quickly than the Russians had (probably) planned:
Leave a Reply