Russia's spring Ukraine offensive may be winding down amid heavy troop losses, munitions shortages
U.S. officials are quietly warning Ukraine to conserve its dwindling supplies of artillery shells and other ammunition, air defenses, and experienced soldiers for a major spring counteroffensive to regain territory from Russian invaders, expected to start in May, once Western armor and weapons are in place. Ukraine is especially running through artillery shells and suffering heavy losses holding on to Bakhmut, a razed town U.S. officials see of limited strategic value.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainians say Russia is using more ammunition and suffering much heavier losses in Bakhmut and elsewhere along the front lines for only incremental, halting gains. "And Ukrainian commanders on the front lines say that they sense that Russian units are hollowed out and could collapse in the face of a strong Ukrainian counteroffensive" in the spring, The New York Times reports. After Russian forces came dangerously close to encircling Bakhmut in February, Ukraine pushed back and has kept open its western supply routes.
Statements from Ukrainian military officials and warnings from Russian pro-war military bloggers "suggest that the overall Russian spring offensive may be nearing culmination," with few "operationally significant gains" to show for it, the Institute for the Study of War think tank assessed Sunday. If 300,000 conscripts "have been unable to give Russia a decisive offensive edge in Ukraine, it is highly unlikely that the commitment of additional forces in future mobilization waves will produce a dramatically different outcome this year. Ukraine is therefore well positioned to regain the initiative and launch counteroffensives in critical sectors of the current front line."
What Russian war bloggers call Moscow's mass-casualty "meat assaults" on Bakhmut, Vuhledar, and other contested cities have also prompted a new flurry of videos from Russian troops begging Russian President Vladimir Putin to change tactics, The Washington Post reports. "People die for nothing," a balaclava-covered recruit from the 5th Motorized Brigade said in one video. "We are not meat. We are ready to fight with dignity, not as meat, in frontal attacks."
The close combat in Bakhmut is "hell" for Ukrainian forces, but it's worse for Russia, Ukrainian war veteran Yevhen Dykyi recently told Ukraine's First Western TV channel. "This amount of Russian losses hasn't caused an explosion in Russian society yet, but it resonates a lot inside the Russian Army," he said. "And the longer these crazy losses — unjustified in the opinion of lower- and middle-rank soldiers — go on, the lower the morale of the Russian Army will be at the time of our counteroffensive."