For Russia, the numbers are catastrophic.
From Wednesday to Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s military saw at least 338 pieces of critical military equipment — from combat aircraft to tanks to trucks — destroyed, damaged or seized, according to figures from the open-source intelligence website Oryx, as Ukrainian forces withdrew. From which. The Russian-controlled lands in an offensive that astounded the Russians with its speed and breadth.
The top commander of the Ukrainian army announced on Sunday that his country’s forces have retaken more than 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of territory since the beginning of September. For more perspective, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said only on Monday that “since Wednesday, Ukraine has reclaimed territory at least twice the size of Greater London”.
Ukrainian reports say Putin’s forces are fleeing east to the Russian border by whatever means of transport they find, even taking cars from the civilian population in areas they have captured since the start of the war in February.
They left in their wake hundreds of pieces of the Russian war machine, which, since the start of Putin’s so-called “special military operation”, has not come close to fulfilling its pre-war status as one of the world’s superpowers.
These Russian losses are an accumulation of many current problems that are now clashing head-on with a Ukrainian military that was patient, methodical, and filled with billions of dollars in Western military hardware that Russia could not match.
Without radical, and possibly unorthodox, intervention from Putin, analysts say, Ukraine’s victories are likely to accelerate.
Many of Russia’s problems–weak and inflexible leadership, deteriorating troop morale, inadequate logistics and hardware plaguing maintenance problems–were apparent from the early stages of the war more than seven months ago.
The hollow core of the Russian army – including tanks that were easy prey for Ukraine’s ground forces and trucks that didn’t have the proper tires to traverse Ukraine’s landscapes – was soon exposed by the ill-fitting tactics of Putin’s blitzkrieg.
Remember that 64-kilometre (40-mile) convoy stopped on its way to the capital, Kyiv, and was torn apart by Ukrainian defenders?
With that convoy halted, reports leaked out that Russian forces were experiencing major morale problems – some didn’t even know they were in Ukraine, or if they did, why they were there. As the fighting intensified, Ukrainian forces targeted the Russian command and killed the generals and colonels who were expected to mobilize the Russian forces.
To be sure, the Russians needed stronger leadership if the accounts of the troops’ hardships were to be believed.
Pavel Filatev, a Russian paratrooper who fought his army’s capture of the Ukrainian city of Kherson earlier in the war, told CNN last month that his unit lacked even the basics during that operation.
“After several days of besieging Kherson, many of us had no food, water, or sleeping bags,” he said. “Because it was so cold at night, we couldn’t even sleep. We would find some trash, and some rags, just to wrap ourselves up to keep warm.”
He said their weapons were substandard.
“All our weapons are from Afghanistan,” he said, where Russian forces fought from 1979 to 1989.
Meanwhile, Western weapons poured into Ukraine, among them powerful advanced artillery systems such as HIMARS, or High Mobility Missile Systems.
Wheeled HIMARS offers what US manufacturer Lockheed Martion calls “shoot-and-go capability” – it can fire high-precision missiles at targets about 70 to 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) away and then move quickly to avoid a counter strike.
Ukraine has used it to devastating effect on Russian supply lines, ammunition dumps and command posts.
“Ukrainian armed forces used HIMARS and other Western systems to attack Russian land lines of communication in Kharkiv and Kherson Oblast, setting conditions for the success of this operation,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a blog on Sunday. .
Western analysts said the strikes carried out by the Ukrainian company HIMARS on Russian supply lines were harsh.
“It is possible that Ukrainian long-range artillery will now strike the Dnipro River crossings so frequently that Russia cannot carry out repairs to damaged road bridges,” Britain’s MoD said on Monday.
Trent Tlinko, a former quality control auditor for the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency who has studied Russian logistics, said Ukrainian forces used precision missiles fired from HIMARS batteries to pulverize major Russian arms depots near the railroads in the back of the front lines. .
This means Russia has had to use trucks to disperse artillery pieces and ammunition into smaller depots, Tlinko said, making their distribution more difficult. He said that when Ukraine began its blitzkrieg, Russia could not use adequate firepower to impede the Ukrainian advance because its artillery was too distracted.
But ISW said HIMARS and other powerful Western artillery systems should not get all the credit. They were paired with deception and Ukrainian ingenuity.
Last week, Russia redeployed its forces to the south to reinforce its ranks ahead of a measured Ukrainian counterattack in the Kherson region, according to Ukrainian officials and footage of equipment moving through Crimea.
This opened the door for Ukrainian forces in the far north.
“The prolonged Kyiv discussions and then the announcement of a counter-attack operation targeting Kherson Oblast drew large Russian forces away from sectors where Ukrainian forces had launched decisive attacks in the past several days,” ISW said.
Once those Russian forces moved in, the Ukrainian military looked for weaknesses in Russian lines, Mark Hertling, a CNN analyst and former US Army general, said.
“What they were able to do was do reconnaissance with a small force to find a place for a much larger penetration, push tanks and artillery through the openings in the Russian front and then go into the Russian rear,” Hertling said.
Tlenko said the rapid Russian withdrawal enabled Ukraine to seize Russian arms, ammunition, fuel and supplies in those back areas, adding that adding trucks and trains to Ukraine’s stockpile would allow Kiev to “surge” its advances.
Analysts also noted the lack of Russian air support.
Richard Hooker Jr., a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said last month that Ukraine had amassed a force of old anti-aircraft systems already in its stockpile with supplies of American and German equipment and “largely marginalized Russian air power.”
“Ukraine has notably succeeded in denying Russia’s air superiority through a highly effective air defense and ‘air denial’ strategy,” Huber wrote in the Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert blog.
Russian setbacks are only fuel for more problems to come, a downward spiral of defeats that may be beyond Moscow’s ability to stop.
Mick Ryan, an associate fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former general in the Australian Army, called it a “cascade failure” in a Twitter post. “Every loss and withdrawal on the battlefield leads to more failures,” he said.
And as the options dwindle, Russian morale will dwindle, too.
As the retreating forces return, you will bring with them the stories of their withdrawal. It would be impossible for the Kremlin to prevent these stories from spreading within its forces and even to their relatives back home.
The territories occupied by Russia in Ukraine over a period of seven months, at the cost of tens of thousands of Russian casualties, were lost in a week.
Russia’s generals seem to have no immediate answer.
Even as Putin’s forces were advancing, this progress was slow and difficult. Earlier in the war, the defenders of Ukraine had not fled as Russian troops had last week.
“The already limited confidence of the forces deployed in the Russian military high command is likely to deteriorate further,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Monday.
The ministry report said the Ukrainian attacks made it difficult for Russia to move alternative forces to the front lines.
The big question is whether Russia has new trained forces going forward.
In July, CNN reported that an invitation had been issued across Russia to more than 30,000 volunteers to join the war effort in Ukraine. The lure was big cash rewards and experience wasn’t necessary.
But Katerina Stepanenko, a Russian researcher at ISW, said these new recruits would likely have little help on the battlefield where there would not be enough time to train them.
For example, training a tank crew can take a minimum of several months and sometimes more than a year, experts say.
“Short-term training is unlikely to turn volunteers without prior experience into effective soldiers in any unit,” Stepanenko said.
And those more than 300 Russian devices destroyed, damaged or left on the battlefield over the past several days will not be easy to replace either.
Western sanctions have crippled Russian industry. Russian arms depots have already been raided to make up for previous losses. While large numbers of weapons may remain in those depots, they are likely old and in need of repair or refurbishment, said Jakub Janowski, a military analyst who contributes to the Oryx blog.
“In practice, replacement cars are often much older – and likely to have reliability issues and lower combat effectiveness,” he said.
Janowski said Moscow retains manufacturing capacity, but lacks the best ingredients for what it might make.
“Because of the sanctions, they may have to replace sensors and electronics with lower quality alternatives – and the amount they can produce in the near term is a fraction of what they lose. Those material losses … are unsustainable,” he said.
So take advantage of Ukraine, at least in the short term.
But Ryan, a former Australian general, remains cautious.
“It is too early to speak in very victorious terms. The Russians still have the power to strike back. The Russians are still occupying the south and the east. The Ukrainians have won a great victory, but there is still a war to be won.”