Friday, September 16, 2022

Russia’s Battered Army Has No Quick Fix in Ukraine (VIDEO)

 At the Wall Street Journal, "Kyiv’s counterattack tests Moscow’s forces and raises stakes for Kremlin at home":

Russian forces sent fleeing by Ukraine’s recent counterattack are attempting to establish defensive positions and regain their footing. It is a difficult pivot even under ideal conditions, and so far Moscow’s forces show signs of struggling to adapt.

Battlefield setbacks are just one challenge facing the Kremlin as it tries to secure its territorial gains in Ukraine and fend off nascent criticism at home. Kyiv’s forces this month have retaken dozens of settlements and more than 3,500 square miles of Russian-controlled ground in the northeastern Kharkiv region, according to government officials.

Ukraine continued attacking Russian-held territory on Friday, hitting the easternmost parts of the Kharkiv region and other parts of eastern Ukraine. They hope to capitalize on those gains to advance their offensive in the southern city of Kherson. Attacks on government buildings in Kherson and the eastern city of Luhansk killed two Moscow-installed officials, local Russia-backed authorities said.

On the battlefield over recent weeks, Russia has lost hundreds of heavy military vehicles, including over 100 tanks, according to open-source intelligence reports. It also lost several pieces of classified electronic-warfare equipment that are now in the hands of Western-allied forces. Many Russian soldiers—in the thousands, by some estimates—have either surrendered or will become prisoners of war.

Ukraine’s advance will also allow its rockets to hit targets deeper within Russian-controlled areas, potentially in occupied parts of Ukraine such as Crimea and in Russia itself.

Within Russia, criticisms of President Vladimir Putin and his regime remain limited but are growing. Spreading wariness about the war could limit Mr. Putin’s options for responding, such as a limited mobilization or a draft, which under Russian law likely would require an outright declaration of war.

“We gave up the strategic initiative,” said Vladimir Soloviev, a popular host on state-run television this week.

Russian TV pundits acknowledged Ukraine’s successes in its counteroffensive, which they credited to U.S. intelligence, Western weapons and even fighters from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization disguised as mercenaries. They showed clips alleging cruel punishment of Russian sympathizers by Ukrainian forces in retaken areas as supposed proof of Ukrainians’ Nazi-like nature.

Russia still retains significant forces deployed in and around Ukraine and vast stores of weaponry and ammunition, giving it the potential to react and hit back. While Kyiv has seized the initiative in routing some of Moscow’s front-line troops, it is far from uprooting all Russian forces occupying its territories.

Ukraine could also face more opposition in pushing further into Russian-controlled regions, military analysts say. Kyiv’s recent gains near Kharkiv, in the northeast, were achieved using surprise and by finding weak points in Russia’s long and thinly protected front line, according to soldiers involved in the fight. Achieving such surprise again may be difficult and Ukrainian forces are advancing into regions where Russian forces are more dug-in than near Kharkiv.

Eastern parts of Ukraine under pro-Russian occupation since 2014 have been bound more closely to Moscow, so Kyiv’s forces may receive less support from local populations there than they have so far.

“I think it does become somewhat harder for the Ukrainians going forward,” said Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian military expert at CNA, a defense-research organization in Arlington, Va. As the area Russia is defending shrinks, its ratio of forces to territory should rise, he said.

Working against Russia is low morale, an inflexible military command structure and equipment that has proved to be poorly maintained. Energized Ukrainian forces, who have shown themselves to be nimble in battle, are using new and well-kept equipment...