Blasts behind Russian lines had major psychological effect on Putin – officials

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Recent explosions deep behind Russia’s lines in Crimea have had a major psychological effect on Moscow’s leadership, with its invasion of Ukraine at “near operational standstill”, Western officials have said.

More than half of the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet combat jets were put out of action in blasts last week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea – an area Moscow previously considered secure, officials said on Friday.

The Kremlin is busy seeking to allocate blame for the debacle and President Vladimir Putin is struggling to hide Ukraine’s success from the Russian population, as thousands of Russians fleeing Crimea have streamed into the country, they said.

One official said: “Ukraine is now consistently achieving kinetic effects deep behind Russia’s lines…

“The incidents have been having a material effect on Russia’s logistics support, but as importantly, there’s a significant psychological effect on the Russian leadership.”

They added that the attacks had forced the Black Sea Fleet into a defensive posture and stymied Russia’s ability to launch a successful amphibious assault on Odesa on Ukraine’s coast.

It comes as the war has entered a phase of “near operational standstill”, with neither side’s ground forces having enough concentrated combat power to launch effective offensive actions.

Russia is facing an increasingly acute shortage of stocks, even of basic munition, as well as manpower issues as it struggles to reconstitute its forces, the Western official said.

“There was a point when there was constant shelling, there was a real high point, particularly around the battle for the Donbas,” they said.

“We aren’t at that high point anymore.

“The whole tempo of the campaign has slowed down, partly because both sides have become more conscious that this is a marathon not a sprint and that expenditure rates and conserving their munitions is important”.

Amid concerns that shelling of the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – could lead to nuclear catastrophe, the official said it was built to withstand most direct military fire.

They said the main concerns are around the nuclear reactors losing water cooling due to a loss of electricity supply.

At least a dozen civilians were killed by Russian strikes in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv this week, according to the Ministry of Defence.

“This civilian suffering provides an unusually stark example of Russian cynicism,” the official said, adding that Moscow was not planning to launch an offensive in the area or gain any major operational advantage from the bombardment.

Meanwhile, the head of the GCHQ intelligence service said Moscow had failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine.

“So far, President Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West,” Sir Jeremy Fleming wrote in an op-ed in The Economist.

“Just as with its land invasion, Russia’s initial online plans appear to have fallen short.”