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Russia’s spring offensive in Ukraine has ‘stalled’, say western officials

Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut (AP)
Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer towards Russian positions near Bakhmut (AP)

Russia’s spring offensive in Ukraine seems to have stalled before it “got off the ground”, western officials said on Tuesday.

Vladimir Putin installed Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, as its overall commander for the war in Ukraine in January in a major military shake up aimed at turning round his stumbling invasion of Ukraine.

As winter gives way to warmer temperatures on the vast eastern frontline, Ukraine’s forces have been braced for a renewed push from Russia’s military.

Instead much of the focus has been on the protracted battle for the city of Bakhmut where the Kremlin’s forces have been suffering heavy losses as they try and deliver a much needed victory for President Putin.

However western officials said that even if Russia’s forces do manage to take control of Bakhmut, which has been largely ruined after more than six months of intense fighting, it will be a “hollow victory” for General Gerasimov.

“Gerasimov has taken full charge of the operation and has made little progress,” the western officials said. “He will be under pressure. Even if they were to take Bakhmut it will be a hollow victory.”

They added that since the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion on February 24 there had not been evidence of a huge amount of progress on the battlefield.

“Gerasimov’s offensive seems to have stalled before it’s got off the ground.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered more Ukrainian forces to be deployed to “help the guys” defending Bakhmut even though it is not considered by military analysts to have great military significance.

While Ukraine’s forces are suffering losses in defending the town in the Donbas industrial region, Russsia are being hit by far higher rates of deaths and casualties as they push for a decisive victory.

Western officials estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Russian troops have been wounded and killed in the area since the offesive started over six months ago. While the officials said the number of Ukrainian casualties was “unclear”, they said the number was in the “thousands”. Other military analysts estimate the Russian to Ukrainian casualty ratio to be around 3 to 1 or even higher.

“Bakhmut has not been successful for the Russians,” the western officials added.

Asked why the broader Russian offensive from General Gerasimov had not yet materialised, the officials blamed a shortage of manpower and a shortage of trained manpower.

“The Russians have been unable to put any punch into their offensive,” the western officials said. “They are stretched across a 1200km frontline. It’s huge to defend against, never mind to launch an offensive.”

Ukrainian troops have been reinforcing positions west of the city in apparent preparation for a possible withdrawal but appear not to have decided to pull out.

The fierce fighting has depleted artillery reserves on both sides, with thousands of shells fired daily along the eastern and southern fronts.

The head of Russian’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been leading the fight for Bakhmut, said on Monday he needed the regular army to supply him with more ammunition if he was to win the battle.

The public appeal underlines his deepening rift with the Russian defence ministry, which he has accused of deliberately starving his men of ammunition, an accusation the ministry has rejected.

“I’m knocking on all doors and sounding the alarm about ammunition and reinforcements, as well as the need to cover our flanks,” he said.

“If everyone is coordinated, without ambition, screw-ups and tantrums, and carries out this work, then we will block the armed forces of Ukraine. If not, then everyone will be screwed.”

There was no response from the Russian Ministry of Defence, though it has previously denied failing to supply Wagner troops with ammunition.