Putin’s air force so ‘risk adverse’ it is leaving his ground troops ‘exhausted,’ say British defence chiefs

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Vladimir Putin’s air force is so “risk adverse” that it has underperformed during the Ukraine war leaving his ground troops to become “exhausted” as they are being asked to do so much, British defence chiefs said on Monday.

They said the shortcomings of the Russian air force was a key factor in the limited success being achieved by Moscow in the conflict which is set to enter its fifth month.

The Ministry of Defence in London said that the Russian president had developed a fleet of “modern and capable combat jets” but this was not being matched by the “skill-sets” or “institutional culture” as achieved by some air forces in the West.

Some of this failure was down to its air combat training focusing on impressing senior officers rather than encourging air crews to develop “dynamic initiative,” it argued.

Defence chiefs in the West are fighting an information war against Russia, which is a key part of the conflict in Ukraine, so their claims need to be treated in that context.

However, Russian claims need to be treated with huge caution given that the Kremlin does not even accept that there is a war going on in Ukraine and its denials of war crimes and killing thousands of civilians fly in the face of widespread reports from the conflict zone.

In its latest intelligence update, the MoD said: “Russian ground and tactical air operations have remained focussed on the central Donbas sector over the weekend.

“In the conflict to date, Russia’s air force has underperformed. Its failure to consistently deliver air power is likely one of the most important factors behind Russia’s very limited campaign success.

It cannot gain full air superiority and has operated in a risk-adverse style, rarely penetrating deep behind Ukrainian lines. Some of the underlying causes of its difficulties echo those of Russian Ground Forces.”

It added: “For years, much of Russia’s air combat training has highly likely been heavily scripted and designed to impress senior officials, rather than to develop dynamic initiative amongst air crews.

“While Russia has an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets, the air force has also almost certainly failed to develop the institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia’s aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign.

Watch: Who is Vladimir Putin?

“This has led to a greater than planned weight of effort falling to ground troops, who are becoming exhausted; and on advanced cruise missiles, stocks of which are likely running low.”

Mr Putin’s generals have been seeking for weeks to seize the industrial city of Severodonetsk in the eastern Luhansk province.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted Russia will escalate its attacks this week.

“Obviously, this week we should expect from Russia an intensification of its hostile activities,” he said in a Sunday nightly video address. “We are preparing. We are ready.”

Russia said on Sunday it had seized Metyolkine, a village on the outskirts of the city, and Russian state news agency TASS reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there. Ukraine’s military said Russia had “partial success” in the area.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian TV that a Russian attack on Toshkivka, 20 miles south of Severodonetsk, also “had a degree of success”.

In Severodonetsk itself, a city of 100,000 before the war, Mr Gaidai said Russia controlled “the main part” but not the entire town after intense fighting, with Ukrainian forces still holding out in the Azot chemical plant where hundreds of civilians, including dozens of children, are sheltering.

Both Russia and Ukraine have continued heavy bombardment around Severodonetsk “with little change to the front line”, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said on Sunday.

Across the river in Severodonetsk’s twin city of Lysychansk, residential buildings and private houses had been destroyed by Russian shelling, Mr Gaidai said.

“People are dying on the streets and in bomb shelters,” he warned.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a note that “Russian forces will likely be able to seize Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in this small area”.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Ukraine war could last for years and urged Western governments to continue sending state-of-the-art weaponry to Ukrainian troops, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported.

“We must prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not let up in supporting Ukraine,” he said.

In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the north east of the country, Russia’s defence ministry said its Iskander missiles had destroyed weaponry recently supplied by Western countries.

Russian forces were trying to approach Kharkiv, which experienced intense shelling earlier in the war, and turn it into a “front-line city”, a Ukrainian interior ministry official said.

Ukrainian troops succeeded in a counter-attack in the spring, with some soldiers reaching the Russian border near Kharkiv but since then they have lost territory.

The governor of Russia’s Bryansk region said the border village of Suzemka had been shelled from northern Ukraine, and one person was wounded and a power station was damaged.

Ukraine’s general staff said Russia had deployed an anti-aircraft missile division in Bryansk and had up to three battalion tactical groups covering the border in the Bryansk and neighbouring Kursk regions.

In southern Ukraine, Western weaponry had helped Ukrainian forces advance six miles towards Russian-occupied Melitopol, its mayor said in a video posted on Telegram from outside the city.

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