Nearly Russia's entire army is in Ukraine, suffering '1st World War levels of attrition,' U.K. says
Russia has stepped up its offensive in eastern Ukraine in the past few weeks, but U.S. and European officials say it has insufficient ground forces or equipment to get very far. Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely pushing Russia's military to secure tangible gains he can celebrate on the first anniversary of his invasion on Feb. 24, Western analysts say, but the poorly trained conscripts Moscow is throwing into battle are making only minor gains and taking heavy losses.
Russia's forces are too spread out along the frontline "to punch through in a big offensive," and "we've just seen an effort to advance, and that has come at a huge cost to the Russian army," British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC News on Wednesday. Russia is incurring "almost First World War levels of attrition, and with success rates of a matter of meters rather than kilometers."
"We now estimate 97 percent of the Russian army, the whole Russian army, is in Ukraine," Wallace added. The U.S. military estimated last week that Russia has dedicated about 80 percent of its ground force to the Ukraine invasion.
London's International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated Wednesday that Russia has lost between 100,000 and 150,000 troops to death or injury in Ukraine, along with more than 2,000 tanks, including half the country's modern tanks. Wallace cited reports that "a whole Russian brigade was effectively annihilated" in Moscow's assault on Vuhledar, where Russia "lost over 1,000 people in two days."
The battle for Vuhledar, a Ukrainian stronghold in Donetsk province at the crossroads of the war's eastern and southern fronts, "has been viewed as an opening move in an expected Russian spring offensive," The New York Times reports. But "as they have done throughout the war, the Russian commanders made some basic mistakes, in this case failing to take into account the terrain — open fields littered with antitank mines — or the strength of the Ukrainian forces."
Col. Oleksii Dmytrashkivskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian military forces in the area, told the Times that Russia's 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades, two of the country's most elite units, were decimated in Vuhledar.
Ukraine is suffering heavy losses, too, and it is running through ammunition so fast Western allies are warning they can't keep up with Ukraine's demand. Still, Russia's new offensive is "likely more aspirational than realistic," a senior Pentagon official told CNN. This offensive probably won't succeed any better than past attempts, a senior British military official added, "though they do seem willing to send more troops into the meat grinder."