As Russia steps up its attack on eastern Ukraine, its leaders are repeating some of the strategic mistakes that hampered its initial invasion of the country, Western officials have said.
After being driven out of northern Ukraine, the Russian army has refocused on capturing territories in the Donbass. Under a new, more centralized command structure, the Russian military has become better at targeting artillery fire, through more effective use of drones, and has made small territorial gains, officials said. .
But Western officials say old problems persist: Just as in the failed assault on the north of the country, Russian forces are attacking in long columns along the roads, leaving them exposed to possible ambushes along their flanks. In addition, officials said the rush to take territory sees Russia introducing forces piecemeal rather than waiting to build reinforcements and attack en masse.
“It’s not yet a transformed force,” an official said. However, the odds are still against the Ukrainian defenders. Western officials estimate that the Russians, if they can mobilize their full force, outnumber the Ukrainians three times. Officials expect the Ukrainians to abandon some open ground to refocus defenses in more built-up areas of Donbass, to try to improve the chances of a successful attack against Russian forces.
But it is far from certain that Ukraine’s first victories in the north of the country can be repeated. An official warned that Russia could still encircle Ukrainian forces in the east of the country and then launch an attack on kyiv again.
The ongoing battle could take months and Western countries should prepare to equip Ukraine for the rest of the year, officials said.