Yes, the Russian military is winning in Donbas. But how high will the cost be? On day 126 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military is getting closer to capturing the Donbas after recent successes in and around Severodonetsk.
The Push for the Donbas
In its daily estimate of the war, the British Ministry of Defense touched on the situation in and around Lysychansk but mainly focused on the Russian missile strike on a Ukrainian shopping mall on Monday and the continuous use of indiscriminate strikes by the Kremlin.
“Russian forces continue to make incremental advances in their efforts to encircle the town of Lysychansk. Since 25 June 2022, Russian forces have advanced a further 2km near the Lysychansk oil refinery, south of the town,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.
“There is a realistic possibility the missile strike on the Kremenchuk shopping centre on 27 June 2022 was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target. Russia’s inaccuracy in conducting long range strikes has previously resulted in mass civilian casualty incidents, including at Kramatorsk railway station on 9 April 2022,” the British Ministry of Defense stated.
“Russian planners highly likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive military necessity in striking a target. It is almost certain that Russia will continue to conduct strikes in an effort to interdict the resupplying of Ukrainian frontline forces,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.
“Russia’s shortage of more modern precision strike weapons and the professional shortcomings of their targeting planners will highly likely result in further civilian casualties,” the British Ministry of Defense stated.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Wednesday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 35,450 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 217 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 185 attack and transport helicopters, 1,572 tanks, 781 artillery pieces, 3,720 armored personnel carriers, 246 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 14 boats and cutters, 2,598 vehicles and fuel tanks, 103 anti-aircraft batteries, 640 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 61 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 142 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.
To be sure, the Russian change of strategy in Ukraine is paying off with the Russian military slowly and deliberately tightening the noose in the Donbas. But to achieve those recent successes in eastern Ukraine, the Russian military has had to pay a heavy price in men and weapon systems.
On a strategic level, the conventional near-peer warfighting capabilities of the Russian military have been degraded to such a level that a conflict with anyone else—for example, NATO—is most unlikely not just now but for years to come. The Russian military has lost vast amounts of its most advanced weapon systems in addition to experienced personnel. Coupled with Western sanctions on the Russian defense and aerospace industry, Moscow’s capability to generate and sustain combat power has greatly diminished since the first Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border in the early hours of February 24.
To replenish its losses in Ukraine, the Russian military has been trying different tricks, including offering vast amounts of money to those interested in signing a contract and even using sneaky mobilization techniques to call up reservists.
“Russian forces continue to look for additional reserves to replenish personnel losses in Ukraine, but these reserves are unlikely to initiate rotations or provide combat-ready manpower. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced that he will form four new battalions ‘with an impressive number of personnel’ on June 26,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest operational update of the conflict.
Force generation is a real concern for both sides. Ukraine and Russia are losing more men killed or wounded every day than they can sustainably replenish, with Russia suffering the heaviest casualties (an average of 200 killed a day) but Ukraine not far behind (and an average of 100 to 150 killed a day).
“Wives of servicemen of the Russian 5th Guards Separate Tank Brigade issued a video plea for the immediate rotation of their husbands back home, noting that their husbands had left their permanent bases of deployment in January 2022 for ‘exercises in Belarus.’ The video indicates that the Russian military command has expressed its intentions for unit rotations,” the Institute for the Study of War added.
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 Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.