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Russia continues to make only small gains in Ukraine with fighting over the summer likely to decide if the war settles into a long-term stalemate, according to western officials.
Russia is advancing a couple of kilometres a day and taking a few villages, while Ukrainian troops have limited ability to break out of their defensive positions in the east of the country.
The head of the US Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt Gen Scott Berrier, told senators this week that neither the Russians nor Ukrainians were winning and “we’re at a bit of a stalemate here”, two-and-a-half months after the start of the invasion.
Russia has greater numbers but continues to make tactical errors against the highly motivated but smaller Ukrainian forces.
Western officials cited heavy losses sustained by Russian forces after Ukrainian forces destroyed a pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets river, between separatist enclaves Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian news reports said troops thwarted the attempt by Russian forces to cross the Donets this week, leaving dozens of tanks and other military vehicles damaged or abandoned.
The command said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers”.
“If it continues like that this then we can see it ending up as a stalemate,” said a western official. “But I still think things are playing out over the summer months.
“If we’re still in this position come September, then I think that [stalemate] is a reasonable description.”
Small advances made by Russia fall short of the 40 kilometre gains they would be hoping to make every day, said western officials
Ukrainian defenders holed up in the Azovstal steelworks in southern city Mariupol remain an irritant to Russian troops, even though Moscow has now moved some of its forces out of the city, having captured most of the Sea of Azov port.
But with the steelworks next to the city’s dockside, it remains risky for Russians to use the port.