February 11, 2023

Russia short of resources needed to launch a major offensive

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian military officials and Russian pro-war nationalist voices are downplaying Russia’s ability to launch a sweeping large-scale offensive in Donetsk Oblast in the current circumstances of the Russian Armed Forces. Representative of the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), Andriy Chernyak, stated that Russia does not have the resources necessary to launch a large-scale offensive operation on February 24 to coincide with the anniversary of Russia’s 2022 invasion.[1] Chernyak noted that Russians are preparing to intensify their attacks in eastern Ukraine in the next few weeks and are currently searching for weak spots in Ukrainian defenses. ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces have regained the initiative on the Svatove-Kreminna line but that the offensive has not yet reached its full tempo.[2] Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson, Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty, also noted that the Russian leadership had ordered the capture of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts’ administrative borders and said that the grinding Russian operations in Bakhmut are a “symbol” of Russia’s inability to conduct rapid and powerful offensive operations.”[3]

Russian milbloggers continue to appear demoralized at the Kremlin’s prospects for executing a major offensive. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) commander Alexander Khodakovsky questioned why Russian forces are wasting their limited resources on small-scale grinding advances rather than accumulating combat force to launch larger-scale offensives.[4] Another milblogger amplified Khodakovsky’s concern, accusing Russian presidential administration officials of creating unattainable expectations for Russian offensives.[5]

Russian forces’ reported culmination and tactical failures around Vuhledar, Donetsk Oblast, have likely further weakened the Russian ultranationalist community’s belief that Russian forces are able to launch a decisive offensive operation. A prominent Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed that Russian forces failed to quickly advance in the first days of their offensive to capture Vuhledar and that Russian forces had lost the initiative by the end of January due to Ukrainian forces’ rapid transfer of reserves to the area.[6] The milblogger made his assessment that the Russian offensive to capture Vuhledar has likely culminated in response to viral footage showing Ukrainian forces destroying a disorderly column of Russian mechanized forces in the Vuhledar area.[7] Russian milbloggers seized on the footage to criticize the Russian military command for repeating the same failures that have plagued the Russian military throughout the war in Ukraine, with one prominent milblogger arguing that such incidents illustrate that the Russian army is unable to conduct an offensive along the entire Donetsk front.[8]

The disparity between the limited but significant Russian advances in the Bakhmut area and the lack of meaningful advances elsewhere in Ukraine may support milblogger and Ukrainian observations that Russian forces are unable to secure rapid advances through traditional mechanized maneuver warfare. The Russian military command is deploying its most elite units to the Bakhmut area in smaller formations using urban infiltration tactics, according to the limited footage of Russian tactics in the area that ISW has observed.[9] These tactics seem to be resulting in significant tactical Russian advances in the Bakhmut area that could lead to operational gains if Ukrainian forces choose to withdraw from Bakhmut. Russian offensive operations elsewhere in Donetsk Oblast and along the Svatove-Kreminna line have resulted in marginal advances without operational significance thus far. ISW has observed limited footage of Russian tactics in areas separate from the Bakhmut effort that suggests that Russian forces are engaging in more traditional mechanized maneuver warfare tactics with regular, not elite, motorized rifle, naval infantry, and tank elements.[10] All the formations so far observed were rendered combat-ineffective in earlier phases of the war and have very likely been reconstituted with mobilized personnel. The Russian military appears to have been unable to prepare its mobilized personnel to conduct effective mechanized offensive operations in the short period of time since their call-ups, as ISW forecasted.[11] The lack of adequate vehicles, ammunition, and other materiel is likely contributing to the ineffectiveness of Russian mechanized maneuver tactics thus far. The Russian military is unlikely to be able to scale its approach from the Bakhmut area to the wider theater because the tactics it is using in Bakhmut are more suited to dense urban environments and because Russian forces lack the number of elite formations needed to conduct a larger offensive in eastern Ukraine in the same fashion. ISW‘s assessment regarding the prospects for future Russian mechanized offensive operations is offered with low confidence due to the limited available footage depicting Russian military tactics across the entire front line.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian military officials and Russian pro-war nationalist voices are downplaying Russia’s ability to launch a sweeping large-scale offensive in Donetsk Oblast in the current circumstances of the Russian Armed Forces.
  • Russian forces’ reported culmination and tactical failures around Vuhledar, Donetsk Oblast, have likely further weakened the Russian ultranationalist community’s belief that Russian forces are able to launch a decisive military effort.
  •  The disparity between the limited but significant Russian advances in the Bakhmut area and the lack of meaningful advances elsewhere in Ukraine may support milblogger and Ukrainian observations that Russian forces are unable to secure rapid advances through traditional mechanized maneuver warfare.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is trying to salvage his declining influence in Russia as the Kremlin continues to sideline him and his mercenaries.
  • Russian forces targeted southern Ukraine with air, missile, and aerial and maritime drone strikes overnight on February 10-11.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations near Svatove and Kreminna.
  • Russian forces continue to prioritize offensive operations in Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian occupation authorities are likely draining the Kakhovka Reservoir north of occupied Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed that the Wagner Group stopped recruiting inside Russian prisons due to the expiration of an agreement between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD).
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