San Francisco Chronicle

U.S.: Russia’s slow, small gains costing hundreds of lives

- By Marc Santora

KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia makes slow, bloody gains in a renewed push to capture more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring ever more conscripts and military supplies into the battle, Ukrainian officials say, although it remains far from clear that Moscow could mobilize enough forces to sustain a prolonged offensive.

The Ukrainian military said Tuesday that Russian forces were attacking in five different directions along the crescent-shaped front line in the east, relying on masses of troops to try to overrun Ukrainian positions. The tactic has allowed Russia to make incrementa­l gains in recent weeks and to slowly tighten a noose around the key Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, but at a cost of hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers each day, according to U.S. officials.

“The major threat is the quantity,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the eastern region of Luhansk, told Ukrainian television Tuesday. “It is a huge monster that is at war with us, and it owns immense resources — not endless, but still. There are too many of them.”

He said the day before that a “full-scale offensive” could begin after Feb. 15, as the Kremlin strains to show progress around the one-year mark of its invasion.

Ukraine's military intelligen­ce agency has been warning that Moscow plans to mobilize as many as half a million more soldiers to sustain its campaign. That would be “in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in October 2022,” Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine's deputy intelligen­ce chief, wrote in a lengthy statement released Monday night assessing the state of the war.

But Western intelligen­ce officials have questioned whether President Vladimir Putin of Russia could quickly find hundreds of thousands more soldiers without triggering a greater domestic backlash. The Kremlin is already struggling to train and arm the soldiers it does have, military analysts have said.

Britain's defense intelligen­ce agency said Tuesday that Russia had been trying to launch “major offensive operations” since early last month. But it had “only managed to gain several hundred meters of territory per week,” because of a lack of munitions and maneuver units, the agency said.

Still, that hasn't stopped Ukraine from sounding the alarm about a massive Russian buildup to come, as it agitates for more powerful weapons from the West.

While Moscow's willingnes­s to sacrifice large numbers of soldiers for only marginal gains has been demonstrat­ed over the course of the war, Putin has been reticent to publicly announce a second wave of mobilizati­on. The announceme­nt of a partial mobilizati­on in Russia in September led hundreds of thousands of fighting-age men to flee the country.

Moscow's latest push along the eastern front has relied upon inexperien­ced new recruits and former convicts to rush toward Ukrainian positions, straining Ukraine's forces but also producing heavy casualties.

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