Reports from Ukrainian and Western officials, Ukrainian soldiers, captured Russian soldiers, and Russian military bloggers largely paint a picture of a stalled Russian campaign. Observers agree on one thing: the losses are likely to be very high – on both sides. Of course, Ukrainian and Russian information about this cannot always be verified.
A recent serious setback at the Battle of Wuhledar was seen as a symbol of the shortcomings of the Russian attackers: for a good three weeks, Russian units tried to move the front from the site in Donetsk Oblast into Ukrainian territory – but in vain. And not only that, because in addition, significant losses on the Russian side became known. The attackers claim to have achieved this using a combination of anti-tank mines and artillery.
Kyiv confirms Russian defeats at Wuhledar
According to Ukrainian sources, two of Russia’s elite brigades – the 155th and 40th Marine Brigades – were decimated and the rest routed. According to estimates by the Ukrainian General Staff, Russia lost at least 130 armored vehicles, including 36 tanks, in the fighting at Wuhledar in just one week. The UK said Moscow “lost over 1,000 people in two days”.
AP/Libkos A look at Wuhledar and the surrounding area shows just how severe the destruction is as a result of the intense fighting
British intelligence reported “casualties likely to be particularly heavy in the Wuhledar area”. All of these assessments are supported by drone footage analyzed by independent military analysts and reports by Russian military bloggers, who, while fully pro-war, have sharply criticized Russian commanders’ conduct in the war.
Ukraine fired large amounts of ammunition
The ongoing fighting on this section of the front also brought heavy losses to the Ukrainian units: in addition to the dead soldiers, there are also large amounts of ammunition to fend off the growing number of Russian ground troops. More recently, Moscow sent tens of thousands of new troops to the front – including to Bakhmut.
Portal/72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade Via Facebook Wuhledar in Donetsk Oblast was badly damaged – the town was seen as a base for operations to disrupt Russian supply lines
Neither Kiev nor Moscow say how many soldiers they lost there, but both sides describe the months-long battle for Bakhmut as the costliest of the war. About 6,500 of the original 70,000 inhabitants still hold out in the largely destroyed city in Donetsk Oblast, once known for its sparkling wine and salt mines. Photos and videos from the city show rows of houses completely destroyed, and the whole area around the city is scarred by the fighting.
“Very big battle of attrition” for Bachmut
So far, the Russian attackers haven’t made any progress here either, although experts agree that such a move would be completely irrelevant from a military point of view. Rather, Bakhmut should be considered a symbol, which, from the point of view of Russian attackers, should be a symbol of military success. Such successes are considered important for the Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin, especially on the anniversary of the Russian invasion on February 24th.
US Chief of Staff Mark Milley recently described the battle for the Bakhmut region as “a big battle of attrition with very high losses, especially on the Russian side”. There is a lot of violence and fighting, but the front line is pretty stable, the senior US official said. After many setbacks Moscow wants to win its first significant victory, Kiev is determined to hold the fort.
Portal The battle for Bakhmut lasted all winter, for Russians it is loaded with symbolic meaning
“Classic problem like in World War I”
Although the battle for Bakhmut is only symbolically held by the Russian side, the Ukrainians have recently strengthened their troops there. Mark Cancian of the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently provided an explanation: “This is a classic World War I problem. If the Russians attack there, the Ukrainians will have no choice but to defend the city.” This despite the fact that victory “would mean nothing in military and strategic terms”.
Prigozchin, Wagner’s boss: “military bureaucracy” to blame
The head of the Wagner mercenary paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigoschin, currently provides an explanation as to why the Russian attackers in Bakhmut fail to make any significant progress: The reason for the slow progress is bureaucratic obstacles. “I think we would have taken Bakhmut if it weren’t for this monstrous military bureaucracy and if there weren’t obstacles thrown in our way every day,” Prigozhin said in a video. Bachmut will probably only be conquered in “March or April”.
Graphics: APA/ORF; Source: ISW/Le Monde
The heavy losses at Wuhledar were also heavily criticized by Wagner: the Russian army’s actions at Wuhledar were heavily criticized in a telegram channel linked to the mercenary group. The demand was also made that the Russian commanders responsible for the losses be held accountable in public trials. “Impunity always leads to obedience,” said one post.
Predominant number of Russian associations in Ukraine
Although the reason for Prigozhin’s statements is probably the rivalry with the Russian military (Wagner considers himself much more powerful than the army), the deployment of personnel by the Russian attackers is, in any case, great: the West is of the opinion that a much of the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine, which in turn raises further questions about Russia’s offensive capabilities. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace recently claimed that “97 percent of the Russian army” is in Ukraine, but has not elaborated or provided any evidence to support this assessment.
According to US military estimates, around 80 percent of Russian ground forces are involved in the war effort, and the US think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) was also unable to confirm the British information, he said. However, ISW recently wrote of “considerably depleted bookings”. In any case, it seems certain that the Kremlin has sent tens of thousands of troops to the front in recent weeks – many of them inexperienced workers.
“Human Waves” in Luhansk?
The army and Wagner’s group also wanted to increasingly use the prisoners as “cannon fodder” and integrate them into the troops of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LNR”) in eastern Ukraine. The recruitment of convicts is a sign that the Kremlin may be planning “human waves”, ISW recently said. This refers to those tactics where large numbers of soldiers – often with little training – are used for an attack.
Both the Ukrainian secret service and US broadcaster CNN had previously reported that the Russian Defense Ministry was recruiting prisoners. According to American analysts, this procedure also shows that the Russian military does not want to restructure its conventional units for convicts. It may be possible to avoid further weakening the morale of the units by the prisoners, he said.
Kyiv: New Russian Troops for Lugansk
According to Ukrainian sources, Russia is strengthening its armed forces in the Luhansk region. The leadership in Moscow is moving heavy equipment and new troops there, said the region’s Ukrainian governor, Serhiy Hajdaj. There is a lot of bombing, including from the air. “Attacks come in waves from different directions.”
Earlier, Russia announced that its troops had breached two fortified Ukrainian defense lines at Luhansk and Ukrainian forces had withdrawn – Ukraine has denied this.
GB: Russia is aware of military weakness
And while Russia is increasingly pulling forces to the front, British intelligence believes that the Russian leadership is presumably aware of the growing armament problems. This is well aware that the production of the Russian armaments industry is developing into a decisive weakness, according to the brief daily report of the British Ministry of Defense on Wednesday.
(4/5) Senior Russian leaders are likely aware that the state’s military industrial production is becoming a critical weakness, exacerbated by the strategic and operational miscalculation of the invasion of Ukraine.
— Ministry of Defense 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) February 15, 2023
Furthermore, this Achilles’ heel is weighed down by errors in strategic judgment during the invasion. Russian production will likely fall short of leadership expectations in terms of supplies needed for aggressive warfare and long-term goals. Despite this, Russia continues to fire rockets and cruise missiles at Ukraine – dozens of them on Thursday night.