(Paris) Is the Russian army on pause or broken down and with no choice but to lower its ambitions? After six weeks of war started in difficulty, the question remains, according to Western experts.
Posted at 8:54 a.m.
If the latter are unanimous in describing a failed start to the conflict for Russia, which dreamed of taking Kyiv in a few days, the redeployment towards the east and the Donbass arouses contrasting interpretations.
“After the failure in Kyiv, the Russians no longer managed to break through, except in the southern part where they left Crimea towards Kherson and the pro-Russian territories,” a state source told AFP. – French major. They mainly adopt “defensive positions”.
This observation posed, remains to be interpreted: “It is difficult to measure if they are on a strategic break to go back on the attack or if they are down”, admits this source.
“Russian forces can prepare for a wider offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk districts […] but will struggle to produce the necessary combat force,” predicts the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Former French army colonel Michel Goya cites as an example: “The 1D Armored Guards Army was transferred to the Donbass-North sector in preparation for the decisive battle in April”.
But “when this mass of attack will be worn out in combat at the end of April-beginning of May, the Russian maneuvering capacity will be reduced to very little”, according to him.
While the eyes of Western chancelleries turn to the atrocities committed in areas under Russian control, the military monitors the balance of power.
The information disseminated and widely relayed by the Ukrainians evoke heavy human and material losses on the Russian side.
Figures are even rarer on the Ukrainian side, which complicates the analysis of the balance of power. But it is a fact that a defending army suffers less than an attacking one.
A unit that has lost 30% of its combat capability is ineffective, recalls Raphael Cohen, military expert for the Rand Corporation, agreeing with the (unverified) estimates of Russian losses at between 7,000 and 15,000 men.
The conscripts supposed to replace them are unevenly trained and the mercenaries are few in number. “If Russia cannot make up for its losses, it risks being exhausted,” says the analyst.
Michel Goya also observes that the Russian mercenary company Wagner accepts all candidates who present themselves.
“These individual commitments intended to fill in the gaps and not to constitute new forces give an indication of the very high level of losses”, writes the retired officer.
According to him, Russia seems “to have lost the equivalent of about thirty combined arms tactical groups (GTIA) out of 120 committed and a maximum potential of about 140”.
“We have not seen a massive redeployment of these Russian forces” from the north of the country, notes a Western official on condition of anonymity, who expects Moscow to “rewrite its narrative” on its military objectives and on what she “defines as success or failure”.
On May 9, Moscow will celebrate the all-important anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. The Kremlin will want victories to claim in Ukraine.
However, “Russia has completely lost the initiative,” says the Western official. “Just yesterday, we saw lines of Russian tanks trying to advance on the road and struggling against Ukrainian resistance,” he notes.
The complete fall of Mariupol, a strategic port in the south-east of the country, on the Sea of Azov, heavily bombarded, would have constituted an important strategic gain for Moscow.
But on Thursday, the pro-Russian separatists said they were still fighting thousands of Ukrainians there, admitting that taking control “would take time”, in particular because of a network of underground roads.
The Ukrainian forces “have prepared themselves, they know the terrain better than us, it makes no sense to mention a date or a timetable” to complete the conquest of Mariupol, declared Edouard Basurin, representative of the separatist forces of Donetsk.
Beyond that, the difficulties recorded for six weeks, the Ukrainian bravery, the cold and the losses – which also concern the general officers – weigh on the psychology of the Russian troops.
The general staff “apparently gives instructions to severely restrict the Internet access of Russian troops in an attempt to combat their low morale”, adds the ISW in this regard.