Putin’s forces struggling to make gains in eastern Ukraine ‘because they don’t like to fight in the rain’

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Vladimir Putin’s troops “don’t like to fight in the rain” and this is slowing his attempts to seize more territory in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, Western officials said on Wednesday.

They stressed the Russian president’s forces were making “minor gains” as they seek to advance.

“But when they come up against genuine military objectives, they are finding it difficult to overcome the staunch Ukrainian resistance and they are suffering losses,” said one official.

“It’s not helped by the weather conditions at the moment in the Donbas with heavy rain. Russians don’t like to fight in the rain and that is slowing progress.

“What we are seeing...they are not advancing in heavy rain.”

Russian forces are believed to be suffering from low morale, partly as some of the troops were sent to war having reportedly been told they were just going on a military exercise.

They have also seen many of their comrades killed and injured, as well as equipment damaged and problems with supplies such as food, fuel and ammunition earlier in the invasion.

Mr Putin is thought to be trying to grab some form of victory in the Donbas before May 9.

The day is a key date in the Russian military calendar as it marks the Nazis’ surrender in the Second World War and an annual parade is held through Moscow’s Red Square.

However, defence experts say Mr Putin’s expected rush to get a victory risks sending thousands more Russian troops to their death.

He is focusing his military campaign on the Donbas, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk areas held by Moscow-backed separatists, after his original invasion plan, which included seizing Kyiv within days, failed and his troops were forced to retreat from around the capital and northern Ukraine.

But Russian troops are now said to be making “slow progress” in eastern Ukraine, hampered by problems with command and control, casualties, strong Ukrainian resistance and poor weather.

Britain has estimated that Mr Putin’s invasion, which started on February 24, has already led to the death of 15,000 Russian military personnel.

A Western official said this figure was “growing every day”.

He added: “Russia continues to suffer heavy attrition in the battle for Donbas. They continue to make slow progress.”

Russia has managed to capture small villages and towns, including south of Izyum.

However, the Western official added: “The renewed offensive continues to suffer from key issues that prevent Russia from fully employing its capablity overmatch against Urakine.

“Although Russia has taken steps to try to rectify some issues, command and control, equipment and personnel losses, poor weather and strong Ukrainian resistance continue to be key themes during the fight.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has argued that Nato members’ supply of weapons to Ukraine “in essence” meant that the military alliance was engaged in a proxy war with Russia.

However, the western official said: “There is a Russian narrative that this is a proxy war between Russia and Nato . It isn’t.

“We are supporting Ukraine in their self-defence. It is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine provoked by Russia’s illegal aggression.

“We are entitled to provide military support to any state exercising its right to self-defence, and that is lawful. The Russian statement threatening retaliatory strikes is unlawful.”

Britain, the US and other allies have given military support to Kyiv bilaterally, rather than as part of a Nato programme.

Earlier on Wednesday, British MPs were wearing sanctions as a “badge of honour” after Moscow banned nearly 300 from entering Russia in retaliatory action over the UK’s response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was taking action against 287 members of the House of Commons in response to sanctions against Russian politicians, though its list contained numerous former MPs.

A statement accused the Conservative and Labour members of “whipping up of Russophobic hysteria”.

It comes after the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday condemned Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as “blackmail”.

Russian energy giant Gazprom said it was halting supplies to the two eastern European countries after they refused to pay for the shipments in roubles.

Polish gas company PGNiG confirmed on Wednesday morning that Gazprom has already turned off the taps, adding that company clients are still getting the fuel in line with their needs. It was unclear whether supplies to Bulgaria had been stopped.

European gas prices rose by 20 per cent on Wednesday morning while the Euro fell to a five-year low against the dollar as markets reacted to the news.

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