Speed Reads

Slow and unsteady loses the race?

Russia is making 'slow and uneven' gains in Ukraine, at 'significant cost' to its army, U.S., U.K. assess

Russia fired missiles at locations across Ukraine on Thursday, but "the Battle of Donbas remains Russia's main strategic focus," Britain's Ministry of Defense said early Friday. "Fighting has been particularly heavy" around Izium, but "due to strong Ukrainian resistance, Russian territorial gains have been limited and achieved at significant cost to Russian forces."

"We would assess that Russian forces are making slow and uneven and, frankly, we would describe it as incremental progress in the Donbas," a senior Pentagon official said Thursday. "Continued pushback by the Ukrainians" means there's a lot of "back-and-forth in the Donbas in terms of territory gained and/or lost by, frankly, both sides."

The U.S. has moved more than 60 percent of the 90 promised howitzers into Ukraine, and the first group of Ukrainian soldiers has been trained to use them, the Pentagon official said. Russia, meanwhile, has about 92 battle tactical groups (BTGs) in Ukraine, with another 20 still in Russia, in various states of combat readiness.

These "alleged 92" BTGs are almost certainly "undermanned, not well supplied, not well led, are on ground they're not familiar with, and they don't do maneuver all that well," said retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a former U.S. Army commander in Europe. Russia has been slamming Ukraine's Donbas forces with artillery, and while Ukraine's frontline troops wait for the U.S. howitzers to arrive, they have to temporarily "give up ground" to survive the shelling. 

"That's what we're seeing now in several locations in the east and south," Hertling said. "We're seeing Russian forces temporarily take ground, then being pushed back by the smart, better led, more adaptive active defense of the Ukrainian army."

As spring arrives, "the ground conditions — and I mean literally the ground conditions — are going to be an increasing factor," the Pentagon official added. The Russians will be "ever more reliant on paved roads and paved highways," and "we would expect that some of their progress will be slowed, frankly, by mud."