In the 82 days since Russia expanded its war against Ukraine, the Russian military has lost a third of its forces, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.
This represents tens of thousands of dead soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as thousands of destroyed armored vehicles, a dozen ships and boats sunk or damaged and more than a hundred planes shot down.
The heavy casualties contribute to a spiral of declining combat effectiveness. As Russia increasingly abandons its best weapons and buries more of its best-trained troops, it increasingly relies on old weapons and under-trained troops to sustain its war effort.
But obsolete weapons and second-tier troops are destroyed and killed even faster than the modern, front-line weapons and troops they replaced. It is not for nothing that, week after week, the Kremlin lowers its war targets.
At the end of February, the Russians attacked simultaneously on four fronts: in the north of Ukraine around the capital kyiv, in the northeast around Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, in the east from the separatist-controlled Donbass and to the south along an axis aimed at Odessa, the largest city in Ukraine. Port.
Facing heavy Ukrainian resistance, the kyiv offensive stalled after a month, then reversed. Russian formations in mid-April retreated to Belarus and southern Russia.
Some of the more intact battalions then moved east and south. But offensives on these fronts have also failed. After stopping the Russians on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian brigades counter-attacked and are now pushing the last Russian battalions out of the northeast.
Simultaneously, Ukrainian counter-offensives are slowly rolling back Russian gains in the south around Kherson and in some areas around Izium, the location of Russian efforts in Donbass.
Just a few weeks ago, many analysts were giving the Russian military an equal chance to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbass and achieve its goal of “demilitarizing” Ukraine.
A Russian victory no longer seems likely, or even plausible. “The Russian offensive in Donbass has lost momentum and has fallen far behind,” the British Ministry of Defense concluded on Sunday. “Despite initial small-scale advances, Russia has failed to make substantial territorial gains over the past month while maintaining consistently high levels of attrition.”
It is not difficult to explain Russia’s military failures. The army has deployed about 125 battalion tactical groups with more than 100,000 troops – the majority of its active ground forces – for the Ukraine campaign. But these BTGs never had enough trained infantry to support tanks and artillery.
The tanks rolled unprotected along the highways, almost inviting Ukrainian missile teams and artillery gunners to ambush them. Oryx blog analysts confirmed the destruction of 361 Russian tanks. The Ukrainians captured another 239 Russian tanks, which Oryx can confirm.
It is a fifth of the tanks that the Russian army had in service before the war. As more and more of the best T-90 and T-72B3 tanks explode, often launching their turrets straight into the air, the Kremlin sends more and more 1979 T-72As into the fight, and loses them in a big way too. number.
The Russian Air Force never achieved lasting air superiority over Ukraine, due in equal parts to the rigid doctrine, lack of ammunition, and heroic resistance of Ukrainian air defense troops.
Three months into the war, Ukrainian missiles are still shooting down Russian fighters and drones. Ukrainian pilots are still flying attack sorties. Ukrainian TB-2 drones cross the war zone and go deep into the Black Sea, firing at Russian command posts and warships with their laser-guided missiles.
“The Russian occupiers have suffered significant losses in manpower and material,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff reported on Sunday. “In some areas, unit staffing … is below 20 percent.”
Russia does not have a large reserve of professional infantry. To compensate for its losses, it increasingly relies on conscripts from the separatist “republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass. But these separatists are old or very young, poorly trained and, in part because of the effects of foreign sanctions on Russian industry, outfitted in museum-worthy cast-offs.
A notorious video which has been circulating on social media depicts separatist conscripts wearing steel helmets and carrying Mosin bolt-action rifles. The helmets and rifles date from the 1950s. Needless to say, these conscripts are dying at a high rate in clashes with well-equipped Ukrainian troops.
Russia supports large mercenary firms, in particular the shadowy Wagner group with its thousands of former Russian soldiers. Moscow reportedly arranged for a thousand or more Wagner mercenaries to reinforce battalions battered in the Donbass. “Units of the Airborne Troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are teaming up with representatives of Russian private military companies for new actions,” the Ukrainian General Staff reported.
Not everyone with ties to Wagner thinks it’s a winning proposition. Marat Gabidullin, a former Wagner employee who fought in Donbass and Syria before leaving the company in 2019 and moving to France, told Reuters he had rejected an offer to join Wagner for the campaign. current in Ukraine.
When recruiters assured him that Ukrainians were unprepared to defend their country, Gabidullin fired back. “I told them, ‘Guys, this is a mistake.'”
Ukraine also suffered losses. Thousands of soldiers. Hundreds of tanks and other armored vehicles. Dozens of planes. All his major warships. But Ukraine enjoys several advantages over their striker that mitigate their losses.
Ukraine’s supply lines are short and strong where Russia’s are long and fragile. kyiv has strong allies who are spending tens of billions of dollars to equip Ukrainian troops with the latest and greatest weapons. More importantly, Ukraine is a large country with millions of men and women of military age, many of whom are highly motivated to enlist. kyiv does not need to recruit separatists or pay mercenaries to support its war effort.
The fundamentals of the conflict were not in Russia’s favor in mid-February, before the first Russian battalion crossed the border, doomed to defeat in the suburbs of kyiv. That hasn’t changed.
With Ukrainian forces counterattacking on the three remaining fronts of the broader war and Russian forces struggling to advance more than a few miles a week along a fragile axis, it is clear who has the momentum.