February 15, 2023

Manpower and equipment losses will hamper a Russian large-scale offensive

Institute for the Study of War


Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC that the UK had not seen the Russian “massing of a single force to punch through in a big offensive” and noted that Russians are now trying to advance in Donbas at a “huge cost.” Wallace estimated that Russia could have committed up to 97 percent of its army to the fight in Ukraine and that its combat effectiveness has decreased by 40 percent due to an “almost First World War level of attrition” that measures Russian advances in meters in human wave attacks. ISW cannot independently confirm Wallace’s estimates, but his observation that Russia lacks sufficient mechanized combat power for a breakthrough aligns with previous ISW assessments that the conventional Russian military must undergo significant reconstitution before regaining the ability to conduct effective maneuver warfare. Wallace’s observations also suggest that Russia does not have untapped combat-ready reserves capable of executing a large-scale offensive, which is also ISW’s assessment.

Russia’s inability to regenerate expended mechanized vehicles in the short term further restricts Russian maneuver warfare capabilities. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported that Russia lost about 50 percent of its T-72B and T-72B3M tanks and many T-80 tanks, forcing Russian forces to rely on older equipment. Wallace noted that two-thirds of Russia’s tanks are destroyed or unusable. The UK Ministry of Defense assessed that the Kremlin likely recognizes that Russia’s low industrial output is a “critical weakness,” and that Russian production is not meeting the Kremlin’s long-term requirements. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, for example, called for increased production of weapons and modern tanks on February 9. The Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) noted that Russia is still capable of producing large quantities of small arms, missiles, and tanks but that its defense industry base (DIB) will continue to struggle to offset the effects of Western sanctions. The NIS added that Russia will also need to undergo an extensive effort to set up new production lines and will need time to recruit and train workers. Some Russian defense firms continue to complain that they do not have sufficient personnel to support the intensified industrial effort, while Russian pro-war milbloggers noted that Russia needs to immediately embark on modernization and personnel recruitment efforts to solve issues with tank production. Such measures are unlikely to increase the Russian defense industry’s capacity to produce tanks rapidly and at scale and would certainly not do so in time to affect the outcome of the current Russian offensive or of a Ukrainian counter-offensive launched in the coming months. The timely Western provisions of tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine would further offset Russia’s ability to conduct mechanized warfare as Russia struggles to restart its defense production in the immediate term. Ukraine likely continues to have a window of opportunity to initiate large-scale counteroffensives over the next few months, but its ability to do so likely rests heavily on the speed and scale at which the West provides it the necessary materiel, particularly tanks and armored vehicles.

Key Takeaways

  • Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine.
  • Russia’s inability to reconstruct spent mechanized material in the short term further restricts the Russian military’s mechanized maneuver warfare capabilities.
  •  Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to announce measures for further escalation of the war in Ukraine, major new Russian mobilization initiatives, or any other significant policy in his planned address to the Russian Federal Assembly on February 21.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations northwest of Svatove and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, along the western outskirts of Donetsk City, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian sources implied that Ukrainian forces may hold positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast, although ISW has not observed any confirmation of the claim.
  • The Kremlin continues to fund its war efforts in Ukraine from regional budgets.
  • The Russian government continues to further integrate occupied territories into Russian governance structures.
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