Russian troops are stuck in Ukraine. Why and what to expect next

Russian soldiers at training

Photo by AFP

Caption to the photo,

A successful offensive requires a significant advantage in manpower, which Russian troops have failed to create

According to the Ukrainian and Western military, Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered a “long-term” stage. According to them, the scale of Russia’s military targets has been reduced “to the operational and tactical level.”

Adviser to the Ukrainian president Oleksiy Arestovych wrote in his telegram channel that “almost along the entire front line, the Russian military has begun to dig in and prepare for defense.”

The BBC, with the help of military experts, is answering the most pressing questions about the current phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what conclusions can be drawn now.

The war, which began on February 24, can still be divided into two conditional stages. During the first, Russia tried to capture Kyiv, and also launched an offensive in four directions in the south and southeast of Ukraine. The Ukrainian capital could not be captured.

On April 22, Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s Central Military District, unexpectedly told many that the second phase of the war was beginning, aimed at “establishing full control over Donbass and southern Ukraine.”

Kyiv claims that this phase is over now, and the Russian offensive is stuck in the Ukrainian defense. However, daily news reports about the fighting and advance of Russian troops. This advance is slow, but it is too early to call a trench war.

However, observers – analysts of Western military structures and military experts – largely agree with the assessments of Ukrainians. According to them, the pace of Russia’s offensive has slowed down.

This was reported, in particular, on May 15 by British military intelligence:

“Russia’s offensive in Donbass has lost momentum and is well behind schedule. Despite small initial successes, Russia has not been able to make significant progress over the past month, with significant losses. -bridges and reconnaissance drones “.

Where is the direction of the main strike now?

According to Israeli military expert David Handelman, after the withdrawal of Russian forces from northern Ukraine – from Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions – all efforts of the Russian group are now concentrated in the east and south, mainly on the front in Luhansk region.

“Only in the area of Izyum, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, Avdiivka and in the Zaporizhia direction are they still trying to advance,” Oleksiy Arestovych describes the current situation at the front.

On the southern front, the offensive is carried out in Zaporizhia, in the direction of Huliaipil, as well as in the direction of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih. Russian troops are trying to advance in all these directions, but in general, according to Handelman, “in some areas the advance of Russian troops is small, slow, and in some areas there is no advance.”

Photo by Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine claims that it will be able to train and arm a million people

The expert explained the recent offensive of Ukrainian troops in the Kharkiv region, during which they reached the state border, in a conversation with the BBC tactical move of the Russian army.

According to Handelman, the withdrawal of Russian troops can be explained by the desire to reduce the front. At the same time, according to him, if the Russians move too far east of Kharkiv, it could jeopardize the right flank of the Izyum group.

Was the Russian army ready for war?

It is difficult to say how serious the failure of the Russian army was in the first and second stages, because the military objectives of this “special military operation” were not stated at all. Experts judge them by the nature of actions and directions of the Russian offensive.

Judging by the fact that the Russian invasion after the border battle was carried out as quickly as possible, with the advance of columns in the direction of Kiev and major cities in southern Ukraine, Russia intended to capture the capital of Ukraine and establish control over the south of Donetsk region. it is possible to surround the Armed Forces in Donbass.

However, this plan did not succeed in full – the landing at Kyiv’s Gostomel airport did not succeed, and columns of armored vehicles advancing on Kyiv from Belarus could not break through to the capital.

As a result, in late March, Russian troops retreated from Kyiv in the north and northeast, concentrating forces in southern Ukraine and Donbas. However, even there the offensive lasted until recently at a slow pace.

For many in Russia, this result of the invasion came as a surprise. For many years, the country has developed an image of an army capable of successfully conducting large-scale offensive operations. Now many consider it PR and ostentation.

However, according to David Handelman, the fact is that the Russian armed forces were preparing for a different war than the one they are currently waging.

“After the Chechen wars, the Russian army mostly set itself the task of preparing for short-term wars. Like the one in Georgia in 2008. When that didn’t work out and the campaign dragged on, we saw preparations in the Russian army and organizational staffing, all these units of constant readiness, 168 battalion-tactical groups, it was all suitable for a short-term campaign, “he explains.

“During the long-term campaign, all the traditional problems of the Russian army were revealed – both with logistics and with communication, intelligence and cooperation. “.

“Too big an opponent”?

The image of the Ukrainian army in the Russian press before the war was not very severe. In many ways, according to political observers, this attitude influenced the decision of the Russian leadership to launch an invasion of Ukraine.

But the resistance of Ukraine’s armed forces has forced many to change their attitude toward the Armed Forces. Many military experts note the flexible command system in the Ukrainian army, the ability to use modern means of warfare, as well as the availability of such means in its arsenal.

According to Handelman, the size of the Ukrainian armed forces was the main factor influencing the course of hostilities. Russian troops, he said, “collided with such a great enemy that they slipped purely physically.”

Caption to the photo,

According to David Handelman, the Russian army was preparing for war, but for another

“We see that size still matters. All of Ukraine’s armed forces – the Armed Forces, the Defense Forces and all others – are superior to the Russian army’s invading forces. That’s why all Russia’s problems in this war are happening.” , – the Israeli expert considers.

It is very difficult to estimate the number of Russian and Ukrainian forces at the front because both sides are hiding it. Before the invasion, according to various estimates, the total number of Russian forces and armed groups “DPR” and “LPR” ranged from 150 to 200 thousand.

The number of the armed forces of Ukraine today is 261 thousand people, but, according to the Minister of Defense, another 100 thousand are members of the territorial defense units.

According to Handelman, “both armies have a common Soviet past, but many years have passed and the paths have diverged.” He suggests that the positive qualities of the Ukrainian army, which are now widely talked about in the Western press and blogosphere, may be somewhat exaggerated – primarily due to the fact that the Russian army “stays long for operational plans that are outdated to the real situation on the ground.” .

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the US Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that in order to advance successfully, you need to have more than just strength, but a significant advantage in a particular place, and the Ukrainian command did not allow Russia to create such an advantage.

“When you talk about defense or offensive, usually the attacker wants to gain a numerical advantage. This is understandable, and traditionally the military considers a ratio of three to one. This is the ratio of the number of attacking to defensive. This is not a scientific axiom, and it should not be the military always wants to have an advantage, “he said.

According to Rob Lee, in the Donbass in some places Russia could and can achieve advantages, but on average, the ratio of advancing and defending forces in this region is unlikely to significantly exceed each other.

In addition to the size of the group, Ukraine has been able to prepare this region well for defense and is now maneuvering freely, transferring its units, which also complicates Russia’s actions.

Do we need mobilization?

There is much talk among pro-Russian bloggers and pro-war experts about the need to replenish troops at the front. They believe that in order to defeat Ukraine, Russia must impose martial law and declare general mobilization.

In Russia, covert mobilization has already begun. According to the BBC, military registration and enlistment offices are flooding men with summonses inviting them to enlist in the military, and advertising short-term contract service is becoming more and more intrusive.

Employers are looking for specialists to help prepare for “wartime work,” and some are trying to “book valuable workers” by protecting them from the trenches until the secret mobilization becomes apparent.

The self-proclaimed “LPR” and “DPR”, whose armed formations are fighting on the side of Russia, continue mass mobilization, which results in a real hunt for power in the streets. They are thrown into battle almost without preparation, without even arming themselves.

In addition, Russia uses private military companies to hire people through social networks.

According to David Handelman, mobilization in Russia is quite difficult for several reasons. First, it is a difficult step from a domestic political point of view. Secondly, in Russia in post-Soviet times, the mobilization system was destroyed because the country was not preparing for major wars:

This is a paradoxical situation. Historically, the main advantage of the Russian and Soviet armies was the ability to throw huge masses of people and equipment to the front. All other problems are always inherent in the Russian army, such as logistics, communications, intelligence, cooperation. There are, and most likely there will be, because they are in the nature of the military machine itself, but at least they had a plus. There are no pros – there are cons. The equation does not converge. ”

Ukraine, for its part, is mobilizing and preparing to further increase its armed forces. On May 13, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov wrote on Facebook that his office was “focused on the need to provide 1 million people.”

However, the laws of war are the same for everyone, and therefore, if Ukraine conducts offensive operations against Russian defensive troops, it also needs to create an advantage.

Is general mobilization possible in Russia?

Among those who support general mobilization in Russia are mostly supporters of the war, who call for it to end. However, the Kremlin is in no hurry to take such a step.

In early May, the world press widely discussed information disseminated by CNN, citing anonymous sources. According to these publications, on May 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to officially declare war on Ukraine. At the same time, they said that the main purpose of such an announcement was to be mass mobilization. But this did not happen.

This is most likely due to the fact that the mobilization mechanism has not been established in Russia.

This mechanism involves more than just sending summonses or text messages. It is necessary to organize the transportation of the mobilized, training – even those who have already served in the army, need to update their knowledge and skills.

For such training, it is necessary to prepare training grounds and shooting ranges, as a group of recruits must not only learn how to handle weapons, but also undergo combat coordination within the unit. This should be led by instructors with combat experience, ie those who are at the front.

Photo by AFP / Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

The image of the Russian army, capable of conducting large-scale offensive operations, was created over the years

In addition, the army must be ready not only to train the mobilized, but also to feed them, clothe them, and place them in barracks. This system, according to experts, is inoperable.

According to Grigory Golosov, a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, such complex logistics are the main obstacle to announcing a general mobilization.

“Last autumn, Russia tried to conduct a general census, but even failed to do so. And general mobilization is a much more complicated and expensive procedure than the census. And I think the difficulties along the way would be enormous,” he said. The Air Force.

According to foreign military analysts, a group of Russian troops in Ukraine has major problems with the logistics, supply, organization and coordination of various units and structures – despite the fact that Moscow had time to prepare for war.

In addition to the problems of logistics and organization, according to Golosov, mobilization is likely to be very negatively perceived in Russian society.

“It would be most painful for the economically vulnerable, because it is from these groups recruits are taken. Many categories of more educated and affluent audiences have different kinds of delays. And these – no, and they live so hard,” – said the expert.

Is it true that Ukraine will be able to put a million under the gun?

The words of the Minister of Defense of Ukraine that the country should mobilize and arm a million people were taken by the Russian press as literally plans to create a million-strong army.

However, it turned out that it was not about specific mobilization plans, but simply about the goal, what the Ukrainian state should be ready for.

“The state is focused on the needs of one million troops. It is focused, not mobilized – to postpone panic!” – this is how the speaker of the Odessa administration Serhiy Bratchuk commented on the announcement of the mobilization.

“It’s not about mobilization, it’s about strategic reserve,” Verkhovna Rada deputy Halyna Tretyakova explained on her Facebook page.

Photo by Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

According to experts, the Ukrainian army turned out to be not only combat-ready, but also simply large

In the text published by Minister Reznikov, it was really more about the defense industry, rather than staffing the Armed Forces.

“Processes have been launched to increase Ukraine’s defense capabilities. This applies to both procurement and military production. We are focusing on the need to provide one million people who will oppose the enemy,” he wrote.

Speaking on the national telethon on May 8, the minister explained that the total number of servicemen and law enforcement officers in Ukraine has already exceeded one million.

According to him, this figure includes 261,000 servicemen, 100,000 members of the Territorial Defense, 45,000 border guards, 45,000 National Guardsmen, 90,000 police officers, as well as forces of the Security Service of Ukraine and special units of the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate.

In Russia, more than twice as many law enforcement officers.

According to estimates by the Proekt publication, in February 2020, about 2.6 million people worked in law enforcement agencies in Russia. At the same time, the army itself is traditionally understaffed, and according to the publication of the Project, there were 794,000 servicemen at that time.

Does advanced weapons help?

In peacetime, society’s view of the war is largely influenced by press publications, TV reports and various social media materials that focus more on the characteristics of weapons and their appearance, which are quite easy to assess and see, for example, during demonstrations at landfills.

In a real war with an equal opponent, modern weapons are used infrequently – due to the rarity of such conflicts.

During the operation in Syria, the Russian military sent the latest military systems there, testing them in combat.

Photo by Getty Images

Caption to the photo,

Russian aircraft in Syria fought against semi-guerrilla units, and in Ukraine it had to deal with air defense

For example, they used the Pantsir anti-aircraft system and even the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter. However, in Syria, this technique had to fight with Syrian opposition forces and groups of Islamist militants.

In the war in Ukraine, where Russia is opposed by a regular army, it turned out that the role of modern weapons systems is more modest.

“All these hopes, which were placed on some modern high-precision weapons, remote destruction, [as if] everything will be solved by robots, star wars … But we see that in a really big conflict this is not the case yet. As before, we need mass, we still need operational density per kilometer of the front, number of personnel, etc., “said David Handelman.

According to Rob Lee, both armies now have modern weapons and military equipment, but each side has its advantages in different areas.

“Ukraine has almost no air force, their air defense is also quite outdated. And this is Russia’s advantage. As for personal equipment, it is better in Ukraine. It’s optics, night vision devices, personal ammunition. And artillery. This is another thing they are supplied with. If they have the right ammunition, they will have an even bigger advantage. ”

However, neither those nor other weapons in themselves give a decisive advantage over the enemy.

Is air superiority important?

One of the strengths of the Russian army that Rob Lee talks about was aviation. In addition, Russia has actively used cruise missiles.

Airspace control is a key factor in modern wars. But despite regular reports from the Russian Defense Ministry about numerous downed Ukrainian fighter jets and helicopters, the Russian Air Force has not been able to gain an advantage.

The Ukrainian air defense system, the suppression of which has also been much talked about in Russia since the beginning of the war, continues to impede the actions of Russian aviation. Russian planes and helicopters, according to comments in the press, blogosphere and videos that hit the Internet, are trying to either fly at very low altitudes to avoid detection by radar and MANPADS attacks, or to attack Ukrainian positions across the front line.

Ukrainian aircraft are also hesitant, but the losses they suffer from Russian air defenses and air forces are much more significant, as Ukraine has had fewer combat aircraft and helicopters from the beginning.

Kyiv has not yet been able to persuade Western countries to supply it with combat aircraft. Ukraine received only Mi-17 helicopters, although it expected to receive MiG-29 fighters from Poland.

Caption to the photo,

Ukraine’s air defenses consisted mainly of old Soviet systems, such as the Osa complex, but even they proved to be effective.

In mid-April, the Ukrainian Air Force, with the mediation of the United States, received aircraft spare parts, which allowed to lift a certain number of MiGs on the wing, the exact number is unknown. However, according to press reports, negotiations on the supply of aircraft are still ongoing, and Kyiv is still looking for fighter jets.

David Handelman attributes the indecisive actions of Russian aviation to the lack of professionalism of Russian pilots.

“The main combat experience of recent years, Russian aircraft had mainly in Syria. There were purely anti-guerrilla operations, there was no serious air defense, no aircraft. There were resort conditions. Some things could be worked out there, as at the test site. in a real combat situation, some skills are irrelevant, and sometimes the necessary skills are not available. ”

Of course, Russian aviation, if it could operate in Ukrainian airspace with impunity, would cause great damage to Ukrainian infrastructure.

Bombers, unlike cruise missiles, are able to hit moving targets, and the crew – even just visually distinguish false targets from the correct ones. But because of the Ukrainian air defense, Russia relies more on cruise missiles in strikes on infrastructure.

The intensity of such strikes has decreased over time, and videos and reports from Russia have begun to feature air and coastal missile systems, which are more expensive than traditional Caliber cruise missiles.

It is difficult to check how effective the missiles are – Ukraine is partially hiding the results of their hits. However, they often hit civilian targets instead of military ones, perhaps by mistake.

According to Handelman, although reports of rocket attacks are received almost daily, their intensity is not very high.

“Russia simply does not have such resources, and therefore we see quite limited missile strikes,” the expert concludes.

Is it possible to predict the further course of the war?

It is difficult to talk about how events may develop in such a situation, but any radical change in the situation, according to experts, is possible only if one of the parties can provide an advantage in manpower and equipment.

According to Rob Lee, time is generally playing into the hands of Ukrainians receiving military aid from abroad, and the flow of this aid is only growing.

On the other hand, according to the American expert, Ukraine has huge problems with the economy affected by the war, and such problems will only increase later.

The speed with which Russian troops are advancing where they can do so far does not pose a major problem for Ukrainians. They have time to prepare defensive positions, to draw up reserves to problematic areas.

However, experts do not give firm forecasts yet.

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