Russia will begin a new tactic of “intense” mass bombardment against Ukraine’s city’s and strongholds that could last for weeks, western military officials have predicted.
Hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds are being stockpiled by Russian troops before a major barrage that Moscow’s commanders hope will bomb Ukraine into submission.
Officials also raised fears over the potential encirclement of up to 40,000 of Ukraine’s best trained troops who are fighting the separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
Following a severe mauling as they attempted to swiftly overpower Ukraine, the Russians are now expected to revert to a more methodical and deadly war of attrition, said Lt Gen Sir Jim Hockenhull
“Russian operations have changed. Russia is now pursuing a strategy of attrition,” the chief of Defence Intelligence told a media briefing.
“This will involve the reckless and indiscriminate use of firepower. This will result in increased civilian casualties, destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and intensify the humanitarian crisis.”
The Russian air force is also now using less accurate “dumb munitions” that have a far higher risk of causing significant civilian casualties.
But it is the howitzers of its artillery — what the Russian military calls the “God of War” — that has been brought up to break Ukraine’s forces and will to fight.
“There is an enormous amount of artillery ammunition which the Russian forces hold and it may be a logistical challenge for them to get all of it in place but if they're able to bring those supplies, then they could mount an artillery bombardment for a very, very considerable period of time,” a western security official said.
The ferocity of Ukraine’s resistance over three weeks of war and the high casualties — with perhaps more than 7,000 Russian dead — has forced the invaders to change their approach and regroup. Moscow’s approach would be slow but would now be “uniformly slow”.
Asked how long the artillery bombardment could last, the western official said it could “go into weeks”.
“Depending on the intensity, if they wish to use the ammunition supplies, it could be stretched out for a longer period of time,” he said. “But those bombardments could be very intense.
“The scale of the artillery assets that have been made available to the forces are really, really considerable. There's an awful lot of artillery in reserve across Russia.”
The source also confirmed that not only had four Russian generals now been killed in the conflict — 20 per cent of officers of that rank in Ukraine — but that other senior commanders had also died on the front line.
“This scale of officers being killed, not just generals but commanders of regiments, is highly unusual,” the official said. “This is something which demonstrates the way in which the Russian assault has stalled in so many areas.”
Referring to the potential encirclement of Ukraine’s troops in the area known as the JFO — Joint Forces Operation — the official said this was a major worry for commanders, with Russian forces from Kharkiv in the north and those in the south potentially moving to surround them.
“That's probably the area that battlefield where we've got the greatest concern that Russian forces may be able to move towards achieving some of their initial objectives,” the official added.
“There's a vulnerability for those forces to encirclement but it's clear that Ukrainian forces have fought pretty smartly across the battle space and we expect them to anticipate those manoeuvres by Russian forces.”