Russian losses in Ukraine have forced commanders to send 60-year-old tanks to the front line with the campaign now “deeply troubled at all levels”, western officials have disclosed.
The number of deaths among Russian troops is understood to have reached 20,000, they said, an increase of 5,000 since April.
Moscow is running low on its most sophisticated cruise missiles and advanced rockets, with international sanctions making it difficult to obtain parts.
“The Russian campaign continues to be deeply troubled at all levels,” one Western official told the media. “Tactically, morale at unit level and in some layers of command is dire and units are often fighting at a fraction of their manning.”
It was also taking “days or weeks to achieve even modest tactical goals”, such as seizing villages which should be taken in hours.
“Something to watch for is the point when the whole of Russia's armed forces might reach where they can no longer effectively generate offensive combat power,” the official said.
But Russia was still making steady if costly gains in eastern Ukraine, with its troops close to capturing the key Donbas city of Severodonetsk.
However, in recent days the advance “appears to have stalled”, the official said, although Russian was still “grinding away” at capturing the city using massed and indiscriminate artillery.
“There is a sense of strategic improvisation or muddling through, while Russia’s armed forces are increasingly facing strategically impactful shortages of key munitions and capabilities,” the official said.
These shortfalls had led to the Kremlin sending veteran T-62s, that were first manufactured in 1961, to the front line. More than 100 of the 37-tonne tanks are being dug in around Russian defensive positions rather than used in an offensive role.
Soviet-era ammunition, mainly for artillery, has also been taken from deep storage bunkers, even though its age is understood to make it unstable and unreliable.
Russia has depleted hundreds of its Kalibr cruise missiles stockpile, weapons that “take significant effort from the defence industrial complex to produce and are expensive”, the official said
He said Moscow would also want to retrain a “strategic reserve” of the missiles, that can be nuclear tipped, “in case of a hypothetical conflict with Nato”.
The official was “confident” that current Russian deaths numbered between 15,000 to 20,000 with potentially three times that number wounded. Ukraine has put the Russian military death toll at 31,000, while Kyiv has admitted it is currently suffering up to 100 of their soldiers being killed every day.
The official was questioned in the media briefing over whether advanced missile systems from the US and Britain, that have a range of 80 kilometres, would arrive in Ukraine in time to repel further Russian advances.
“I don't think it's too late to supply weaponry to help the Ukrainians maintain some kind of parity with the Russians,” he said. “The Russians aren't making the rapid rate of advance that they would wish. Even if they managed to secure Severodonetsk, there's plenty more points to come.”