March 8, 2024

Institue for the Study of War: at least 46,670 Russian troops killed in two years, 1,555 in past two weeks,  opposition outlet reports

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated that a ceasefire in Ukraine would allow Russia to rebuild its forces and means for future offensive operations, as Russia previously did following the start of Russia’s 2014 invasion. Zelensky stated on March 8 that a pause in fighting in Ukraine would pose a serious challenge and problem both to Ukraine and all of Europe. Zelensky noted that Russia would benefit from a pause or ceasefire as Russian forces would use the pause to optimize Russia’s military and overall war effort, including by training its soldiers, many of whom deploy to the front line with very little training. Zelensky also stated that Russian forces are suffering from missile, artillery, and drone shortages, so Russia is sourcing these weapons from North Korea and Iran and needs to rebuild its stockpiles. Zelensky stated that Russia similarly benefited from previously freezing the war in 2014 and was able to build up its weapons, accumulate forces, and invade Ukraine again in 2022. ISW continues to assess that any ceasefire in Ukraine would benefit Russia, giving it time to reconstitute and regroup for future offensive operations, optimize command and control, implement lessons learned from experience in Ukraine, and resupply Russian forces in a manner that is exceedingly difficult to do while high-intensity combat is underway. Zelensky also stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is not just to occupy all of Ukraine, but to deprive Ukraine of its independence and integrate Ukraine into Russia using either force or political means. Kremlin officials, including Putin, have repeatedly indicated that Russia hopes to occupy most, if not all, of Ukraine and eliminate Ukrainian statehood and independence. Putin has also geographically defined historical ”Russian” lands – a characterization which the Kremlin has used to justify its full-scale invasion of Ukraine – as encompassing the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

Some Russian forces may have improved their tactical capabilities and leveraged limited tactical surprise during the final weeks of the Russian effort to seize Avdiivka, suggesting that select elements of the Russian military may have internalized tactical adaptations from conducting offensive operations in Ukraine. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets published a retrospective on March 8 about the Russian effort to seize Avdiivka in which he stated that Russian forces were able to tactically regroup and shift the tactical focus of their offensive operations from north of the Avdiivka Coke Plant in northwestern Avdiivka to areas near northeastern Avdiivka. Mashovets stated that Russian forces achieved this regrouping and tactical shift without Ukrainian forces fully realizing that the regrouping had shifted Russia’s tactical focus. Russian forces initially began their turning movement through Avdiivka after making tactical gains in northeastern Avdiivka, and Mashovets’ reporting suggests that Russian forces may have advanced in the area due to some tactical surprise. Even limited tactical surprise, in which attacking forces engage defenders at a time, place, or manner for which the defender is unprepared, is a notable development given that both Russian and Ukrainian forces have widespread visibility throughout the frontline. The Russian force’s ability to achieve elements of tactical surprise in such an operating environment with little-to-no concealment is therefore noteworthy. ISW has not observed other recent notable incidents of Russian forces achieving or leveraging tactical surprise. The reported Russian ability to do so near Avdiivka is not necessarily indicative of a wider Russian capability. Russian forces have shown limited tactical-level adaptations on certain sectors of the front, but continued widespread Russian tactical failures throughout Ukraine suggest that the Russian military command has not internalized and disseminated all possible tactical adaptations among all the various Russian force groupings operating in Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated that a ceasefire in Ukraine would allow Russia to rebuild its forces and means for future offensive operations, as Russia previously did following the start of Russia’s 2014 invasion.
  • Some Russian forces may have improved their tactical capabilities and leveraged limited tactical surprise during the final weeks of the Russian effort to seize Avdiivka, suggesting that select elements of the Russian military may have internalized tactical adaptations from conducting offensive operations in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk stated on March 8 that Ukrainian forces are regularly targeting Russian fighter aircraft.
  • Ukraine’s European partners continue efforts to send additional aid and materiel to Ukraine.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors approved a resolution calling for Russia’s withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), undermining Russian efforts to use the IAEA and other international organizations to legitimize its occupation of the plant.
  • Ukrainian efforts to encourage women to serve in the Ukrainian armed forces continues allowing Ukraine to tap into a wider mobilization base for its war effort.
  • Russian information space actors are intensifying their focus on covering recent events surrounding the governor of the pro-Russian Moldovan autonomous region Gagauzia, Yevgenia Gutsul, and are amplifying Kremlin narratives aimed at destabilizing Moldova to a wider audience.
  • A recent Russian state-run poll suggests that the Kremlin aims for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s predetermined “support level” to be around 80 percent in the upcoming March 17 presidential election in an effort to portray Putin as legitimately popular and use the March election to legitimize Putin’s next term.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on March 8.
  • BBC Russian Service and Russian opposition outlet Mediazona published a joint report on March 8 that at least 46,678 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, including at least 1,555 confirmed killed in the past two weeks.
  • Unspecified actors, likely Ukrainian partisans, assassinated a Russian occupation official in occupied Berdyansk, Kherson Oblast on March 6.

Full report: https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-8-2024 

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