According to British Defense Minister Ben Wallace, Russia is currently struggling in many areas in the war against Ukraine. “Putin’s Plans A, B and C have failed and he may be looking at Plan D,” he told Sky News. But what are the current problems of the Russian armed forces?
The British Ministry of Defense gave one reason for the “Russian failure” in its situation report on Thursday: After sustained Ukrainian rocket attacks on the only three bridges that connect the area around the Russian-occupied city of Cherson with other occupied parts of Ukraine, the Antonovsky Car bridge “unusable”.
Troops from the Crimean Peninsula, which is adjacent to the south and annexed by Russia in 2014, have occupied the Cherson region since the first days of the war. The bridges form important supply routes for the Russian occupiers in the area north of the Dnieper River, which also includes the regional capital of Kherson.
The supply routes are now in danger because the Ukrainian army is shelling the transport infrastructure in the occupied territory with the US-supplied Himars rocket launchers. The western arms deliveries unfold their desired effect. Pictures and videos on Twitter show holes in the road.
“All three Russian-controlled bridges leading to the city of Cherson were damaged in the attacks,” wrote the US military experts from the think tank “Institute for the Study of War” (ISW) in their situation report last Sunday. The Russian troops are “practically cut off from the other occupied areas” and “look very vulnerable,” the British state.
The Ukrainian counter-offensive in Cherson puts pressure on Putin. “Losing the South would force Putin and his military commanders to make difficult strategic decisions,” Australian military expert and ex-General Mick Ryan told the Tagesspiegel. If the counterattack is successful, the Russian naval base in Sevastopol will be within range of long-range Ukrainian weapons, Ryan notes.
Sevastopol is located on the southwestern tip of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The naval port there is the main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. A Russian withdrawal from Crimea would have “significant political implications for Putin at home,” says Ryan. “However, if Russia stays in Crimea, it will have to further reduce its forces in the east in order to send more defenders to Crimea.”
According to a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has already begun a “massive deployment” of troops towards southern Ukraine.
But it is unclear whether Russia can afford to reduce its troops in the Donbass. In May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the conquest of the region as an “unconditional priority”. However, maps of the course of the war do not show any significant territorial gains by the Russian troops – since they completely occupied the Luhansk Oblast in early July.
“It appears that the Russians’ ability to move forward is diminishing,” the Washington Post quoted war researcher Phillips O’Brien as saying. “I don’t think they can advance much further in the Donbass.” The reason could be the lack of soldiers.
According to US estimates, around 75,000 Russians have been killed or injured in the Ukraine war so far, Elissa Slotkin, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives, told CNN after a secret briefing.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the numbers “fake”. There is no current information from the Russian authorities on the number of deaths. The last figures are from the end of March. At that time, the Ministry of Defense spoke of 1,351 soldiers killed. Since then: silence.
US intelligence services originally estimated the number of Russian soldiers in the Ukraine war at between 150,000 and 190,000. There are several indications that the Russian army is desperately looking for new soldiers for the war in Ukraine.
As early as May, the Russian parliament decided to expand recruitment measures. At that time, the Duma abolished the age limit for professional soldiers. All citizens up to the age of 65 can now serve in the army. However, there is still no general mobilization.
As a further indication of the personnel shortage, the ISW cites a message from the Ukrainian defense intelligence service, according to which volunteer battalions from many Russian regions are being sent to the front – some without “appropriate training”. The ISW has now identified 20 regions in which this recruitment practice is used.
In addition, the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Service reported on “the mass award of the officer rank of sub-lieutenant to non-commissioned officers without relevant experience and training”. An indication that the Russian army is not only lacking in simple soldiers.
As early as mid-July, the British Ministry of Defense wrote in its intelligence update: “Personnel shortages in the Russian armed forces could force the Russian Ministry of Defense to resort to unconventional recruitment methods.” This includes recruitment in prisons for the Wagner mercenary group.