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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Seven Battlefield Signs Russia's Army Has Hit A Wall In Ukraine

Russian troops have so far been unable to mount a decisive offensive in the east, as Ukraine records small but meaningful successes near the southern city of Kherson. This is not how Vladimir Putin had it planned.

Seven Battlefield Signs Russia's Army Has Hit A Wall In Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers conducting a patrol on the outskirt of the separatist region of Donetsk

Alfred Hackensberger


Late last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the overthrow of the government in Kyiv as a new war goal. A few days later, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, published a new map of Ukraine, which is shown as largely dissolved into the Russian Federation.

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It is well known that Moscow understands propaganda and has increased its rhetoric since the beginning of the war. But Lavrov's regime change and Medvedev's geography class show how far the Kremlin leadership has deviated from reality.

Because the battlefield in Ukraine does not show an omnipotent Russia that can do whatever it sees fit.

On the contrary, after more than five months of war, the image of the powerful Russian Federation is becoming increasingly cracked.

Before the war, the Russian army was still considered the second strongest force in the world. But the invasion of Ukraine reveals frightening inadequacies that hardly anyone would have thought possible.

Stalled offensive

Moreover, the Kremlin is far from achieving its stated war aims. A few days ago, President Vladimir Putin repeatedly threatened new attacks on "new targets" and with "new weapons." Of course, he would rather turn the tide in Russia's favor sooner rather than later.

But Moscow's big army has not been capable of a truly successful offensive in five months. And all indications are that it will not be able to do so in the near future either. There are already increasing numbers of voices that see Russia on the losing road.

There are seven reasons for this.

1. Army without leadership

The losses of the Russian army in Ukraine are immense.

Washington estimates a total of 15,000 Russian soldiers killed and 45,000 wounded. By comparison, the U.S. has lost 2,300 troops in Afghanistan in over two decades, with 21,000 wounded.

It is almost impossible for the Russian army to find adequate replacements. Those who died were usually professional soldiers with many years of experience.

In poor regions of Russia, new soldiers now must be lured with bonuses – if they are not forcibly recruited straight away, as reports suggest. Among those killed in the first months of the war were thousands of officers that every army needs to run smoothly. Nobody can close this gap in a short time.

Whether armored divisions, infantry, or artillery – the Russian troops lack experienced commanders in Ukraine. It's no secret: if unit losses are replaced too hastily and with inexperienced personnel, then combat capability and morale suffer even more.

2. Lack of air sovereignty

The Russian Air Force has not managed to gain air sovereignty. This is a basic prerequisite for a successful war of aggression. For this to happen, Ukrainian air defenses would have had to be significantly weakened. But that did not happen.

Moreover, Russian air defenses themselves are proving to be patchy. In particular, the effectiveness of the much-vaunted S-400 defense system, which India and Turkey, among others, have bought, seems to have been overestimated.

The Russian army's poor hit rate is evident throughout Ukraine

This was recently demonstrated by a Ukrainian missile attack on the Russian military base in Kherson. The command post with 12 officers was destroyed, along with the S-400 system that should have protected them.

There is also a big question mark over the long-range TU-160 bombers. Why hasn't Russia deployed the "White Swan," as the largest and fastest supersonic fighter currently available is called? President Putin could actually use it to initiate the new escalation stage he is threatening.

3. Lack of accuracy

For minutes, a Russian warplane circled over Bakhmut, a small town in the Donbas. Then three rockets hit a residential building, a shopping center and a street. But the military base in the immediate vicinity was not damaged. Either the pilot lacked experience, or the weapon system that could have guided the missiles to the target with accuracy was not on board.

The Russian army's poor hit rate is evident throughout Ukraine.

Often, the targets seem randomly picked out — literally without any purpose. For example, Russian bombs recently left huge craters in roads and fields in many towns and villages in the Donbas. But far and wide, not even the smallest checkpoint could be spotted.

Can this costly waste of resources be due to a lack of reconnaissance? Actually, no. Russia has reconnaissance aircraft and military satellites in space. It can monitor what is happening in Ukraine from high above, not unlike the United States. Yes, military efficiency looks different.

The Russian army is said to have lost about 1,000 tanks already

Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/Planet Pix/ZUMA

4. Imprecise missiles

According to Ukrainian data, Russia has now launched over 3,000 guided missiles.

This is said to mean that about 60% of the precise, "smart" missiles have been used up. The Russian army is therefore resorting to imprecise, so-called "dumb" projectiles. In many cases, they date back to the Soviet era. The artillery is also "stupid", making an effect only because of its mass and not because of its precision.

The Russian guns are said to fire up to 60,000 shells every day.

“Stupid” projectiles are only of limited use for a cleverly executed offensive. They can flatten everything, as the Russian troops have been doing in Donbas for the past two months. City after city is destroyed. But without pinpoint accuracy, it can take weeks to see success.

5. Too many tanks lost

In March, several tank columns rolled towards Kyiv from different directions. They were quickly stopped thanks to the anti-tank weapons from the West.

"Fire and forget", one can say about the U.S. model Javeline. This anti-tank missile follows the heat of the engine, has sensors that predict where the tank will be in a few seconds and strikes where the armor is thinnest.

Since the beginning of the invasion, logistics has been the Russian army's major problem.

The Russian army is said to have lost about 1,000 tanks already – and more are being added every day. This has eliminated a key component of Russian warfare.

The conventional role of the tank as the driving element of an offensive has become obsolete. Nevertheless, the Russian army leadership has yet to come up with an alternative.

6. Poor logistics

Since the beginning of the invasion, logistics has been the Russian army's major problem.

Provisions for the soldiers often failed and many had to beg. Gas and spare tires were missing. Broken down trucks and armored vehicles that were supposed to guard them were simply forgotten. Today the structures seem to have been improved. But supplies continue to be centralized according to static army norms.

It is an inflexible system that knows change only when there is no other way. This is demonstrated by the more than 50 Russian ammunition depots and command posts that the Ukrainians set ablaze with the U.S. Himars multiple rocket system. Russian troops store their ammunition in a central depot at a frontline section. Only when it blows up do they move it 50 kilometers further behind the front line — which in turn means that the artillery can no longer be supplied quickly enough.

Decentralized, smaller depots along the front, as the ones the Ukrainians use, do not seem to be possible for the sluggish apparatus of the Russian army.

In addition, Russian trains and truck convoys always travel the same routes – until they are shot at. In Kherson, Russian soldiers built a new pontoon bridge right next to a destroyed highway bridge. Of course, this can also be bombed at any time. But orders are orders — whether they make sense or not.

7. Insufficient coordination

Nowadays, a modern army is characterized by the seamless interaction of different units. Reconnaissance works hand-in-hand with artillery, infantry, and air force.

The NATO system is a good example of this. Vehicles, guns and planes all communicate with each other in real time.

Turkey has applied this system to its army. In the wars in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara demonstrated how to fight today. It is an intelligent interaction of drones, helicopters, fighter jets and infantry.

Russia is neither technically nor organizationally capable of this.

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