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Russia’s Nightmare: What If Putin Can’t Win in Eastern Ukraine?

Russian TOS-1 flamethrower weapon. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian TOS-1 flamethrower weapon. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine rages on as the Russian military is trying to break the Ukrainian defenses. However, three days into the offensive, the Russian forces failed to achieve anything significant, raising further questions about the Russian military capabilities.

No Territorial Gains, Not Enough Troops

The Pentagon assesses that the Russian forces haven’t achieved any major territorial gains with their new offensive in eastern Ukraine. Russian commanders are now more risk-averse and try to first probe the Ukrainian positions for weak spots before committing large numbers of troops.

But it is doubtful how effectively the Russian military can do that. The frontlines are roughly 310 miles (500 kilometers) long, and Russia has committed approximately 78 battalion tactical groups. These units are combined-arms task forces usually composed of tanks, mechanized infantry, air defense, and armored personnel carriers that can sport about 1,000 troops.

“Russian forces appear to be attempting to conduct a wide encirclement of Ukrainian troops. An encirclement on this scale would likely take considerable time to complete against Ukrainian resistance. Even if the Russians did complete such an encirclement and trapped a large concentration of Ukrainian forces inside one or more pockets, the Ukrainian defenders would likely be able to hold out for a considerable period and might well be able to break out,” the Institute for Study of War assessed.

Meanwhile, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims about victory in Mariupol, fighting in the Ukrainian port city continues. The Pentagon assesses that the Russian military hasn’t moved the approximately 12 battalion tactical groups it has dedicated to the siege.

Russian Victory in Ukraine By May 9?

In its daily estimate of the war on Thursday, the British Ministry of Defense assessed that the Russian military is likely to be on a timeline. May 9 is an important day for the Kremlin and the Russian military as it is the day on which Russia celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany.

“Russia likely desires to demonstrate significant successes ahead of their annual 9th May Victory Day celebrations. This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date. Russian forces are now advancing from staging areas in the Donbas towards Kramatorsk, which continues to suffer from persistent rocket attacks. High levels of Russian air activity endure as Russia seeks to provide close air support to its offensive in eastern Ukraine, to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defence capabilities,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

“Russian forces continue to receive personnel and equipment reinforcements as well as command-and-control and logistics capabilities even as they conduct air and artillery preparations and some mechanized advances,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, it seems that the Russian military has not had enough time to reposition and regroup its forces that fought in the north of Ukraine, around Kyiv and Chernihiv. As a result, the Russian offensive will be less effective. Such assessments support the view that the Kremlin is going after some tangible gains by May 9 to declare victory.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.