Russian forces could be 'combat ineffective' within a fortnight

Morale depleted footsoldiers abandoning a 'phenomenal' amount of vehicles

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Russia’s military can only sustain its army in Ukraine for another two weeks before it is forced to pause its onslaught, a leading military analyst has said.

Moscow’s generals might also be holding back some of their advanced equipment, fearing it will be needed to protect against potential Nato involvement, said Dr Michael Kofman.

Russian military specialists also highlighted a large number of shortcomings in the fighting with a “phenomenal” number of vehicles abandoned.

After 12 days of hard fighting, in which they have suffered heavy losses with potentially more than 5,000 dead, it was getting to the point where Moscow’s offensive would need new troops and kit.

A column of Russian military vehicles are seen abandoned in the snow, in a forest not far from Kharkiv, in the east of Ukraine. AFP

“They're probably going to need an operational pause within a couple of weeks as their military is going to get exhausted pretty soon,” said Dr Kofman of the US-based CNA, a think tank. “They've committed a large part of their force and at the current rate of attrition, they're likely going to be facing combat ineffectiveness in a couple of weeks. They will have to have a pause to reorganise and replenish.”

He added that even the battle-hardened veterans of Russia’s wars in eastern Ukraine and Syria were becoming disheartened. “If people feel they were lied to and they were thrown into a war without support, soldiers get disgruntled pretty fast.”

But he added that there was no way of telling how long the Ukrainian forces could similarly hold out.

The Russian Air Force, which has been notable by its absence, was potentially being held back for fear of losses with a view to the Nato threat, Dr Kofman told a webinar hosted by the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.

“They are concerned that the possibility of Nato intervention is escalating so they're not using them, so there must be a reason why they're doing that.”

He added that the military had fired more than 600 cruise missiles and other rockets, using up a “pretty sizeable” amount of their stockpile. “They're conserving them because they've likely grossly out-run what they expected to be the allocated number of expensive munitions,” he said.

The Russian plan was entirely focused on a lightning strike into Kyiv and other cities that would be lightly opposed, which had led infantry and airborne troops to push far ahead without the support of tanks and artillery. “They were operating as though they were still in their own country for the first 48 hours.”

The strong Ukrainian resistance ended President Vladimir Putin’s plan to decapitate the government and put his own puppet regime in place. “I do not believe they can any longer achieve their political objectives,” he said.

The site of many functioning vehicles being left on the side of roads was the result of Russian troops running away either from ambushes or breakdowns.

“You see them dump gear and run into the woods,” the expert in Russian armed forces said. “The ratio of destroyed vehicles to abandoned vehicles in this war is phenomenal.”

Part of the problem was that Russian forces were not trained for a “strategic ground offensive” but instead had a defensive mentality against the Nato threat.

Although the war was far from over, it is now clear that dissembling within Russia's government and military had created severe problems.

“They really didn't prepare the military for war,” Dr Kaufman said. “They've attempted to conduct a full-scale invasion of Ukraine without the military operation to do it.

"They didn't tell the troops as it's very clear that junior officers found out, at best, the night before, and they sent many of their soldiers into war under false pretences. Thi,s in some ways, explains the real issue they've had of morale-sporadic cases of desertion.”

Updated: March 08, 2022, 7:19 AM