Ukraine and Russia both “lack the reserves” for a major breakthrough on the battlefield after a bloody summer of fighting, western officials have disclosed, as the campaign reaches a winter turning point.
The Russians have suffered up to 400,000 casualties with about a third of them killed. They are registering up to 1,000 casualties a day during their current offensive around the strategically important eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka.
However, there is some hope of a breakthrough for the Ukrainians, with elements of three brigades getting across the Dnipro River in the southern part of the country to form a bridgehead 4km deep, the sources said.
There had been high hopes of a Ukraine breakthrough when their counter-offensive began in June, with Kyiv’s troops using western-supplied armour and artillery.
However there has been a brutal war of attrition the past five months, with the Ukrainians making incremental advances, their biggest only 17km deep.
“You can see breakthroughs but it's being able to exploit those breakthroughs, which both sides will struggle with because of a lack of reserves and the fact that their forces are stretched up and down the line,” a western official told a media briefing and added that “we are in for a long war”.
“There's no doubt that there is some weariness,” he said. “There's a lot of tired people out there, including the Ukrainians, but they have achieved a significant amount and are still going forwards in places.”
One of those places could potentially be across the wide waters of the Dnipro River which had initially been impassable in early June when the dam upriver was allegedly blown up by the Russians.
While the Ukrainians have made several forays across the river over the summer, in the past week, they have been able to get “elements of three brigades” across, along with some armoured vehicles.
“They are now four kilometres away from the river, which gives them a significant foothold,” the official told The National. “The fact that the Russians are unable to push them back from there is encouraging.”
As the area is close to the city of Kherson, the most direct route to occupied Crimea, the Ukrainians would take the opportunity to push their advantage, “but I can’t say more than that”, he added.
While Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief said earlier this month that the war was a “stalemate”, the western official considered it had “paused rather than stalemated”.
“On the Ukrainian offensive, we can see movement on the battlefield, but it's not necessarily as fast as we wanted to see.”
Both sides will continue offensives over the winter and into spring with a potential major summer offensive next year, he added.