Russia tries to triple force numbers for new offensive in eastern Ukraine

Commanders in Moscow desperately need veterans to boost depleted troops

Russian mine clearers search for explosives in a building the authorities say was damaged by Ukrainian shelling in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. AFP
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Russia commanders are seeking to triple their force numbers in eastern Ukraine before they launch a major offensive, security officials have said.

But the effort is being delayed because the number of battalion tactical groups that have become “combat ineffective” has risen considerably from 29 to 38.

With just 90 BTGs available to fight, Moscow’s generals are desperately searching for replacements, with former soldiers who have left since 2012 being urged to return.

After its failure to take the capital, Kyiv, which led to considerable losses from the estimated total of 15,000 Russian dead, President Vladimir Putin is now seeking to seize a large chunk of eastern Ukraine.

Russian troops, including airborne forces, are gathering on the eastern border as well as to the north around Kharkiv and in the south to launch a pincer movement to entrap the estimated 30,000 Ukrainian troops in Donbas.

But the need to amalgamate battered BTGs and draw up reinforcements has delayed the operation.

“The Russians are looking to double or perhaps even triple the amount that they bring into that Donbas area,” a western official said. “But I would note that that’s going to take some considerable time, to bring them up to that sort of number. And even when they bring themselves to that number there’s a question over how effectively they can bring those forces into the battle.”

Even if they do assemble the requisite number – which could total three times the Ukrainian force – the Russians have yet to “use the numerical advantage effective to actually bring about a decisive engagement”.

Ukrainian soldiers walk in a trench on the front line with Russian troops in Luhansk region awaiting the Russian offensive in eastern Urkaine. (Photo by Anatolii STEPANOV  /  AFP)

They were also still using the tactics seen at the start of the war, with vehicle “columns on the road” that meant they were “unable to respond to the nature of attack” from Ukraine ambushes.

The Russian military is also scouring its record books to bring in more soldiers after suffering heavy casualties.

“They’re looking to generate forces from those that have recently served in the military or those that have got military service over the last decade, to see whether they can bring those individuals back in,” a security official said.

Western officials also suggested that Putin might not now be seeking some form of conquest before Russia’s important Victory Day holiday, on May 9, marking Second World War success, instead delaying the operation until it may prove triumphant.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 6:17 AM