It has been 132 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Tuesday, the Russian forces are consolidating their gains in the Donbas.
An operational pause?
Over the last week, the Russian military captured Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. In both instances, the Ukrainian military orderly withdrew its forces in order to protect them from an encirclement. The capturing of the last two major urban centers of the Luhansk province came after more than 70 days of fighting. The Russian military lost thousands of men and hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles in the process. And now it seems that Moscow will be conducting an operational pause to consolidate its recent gains and prepare for the assault on next-door Donetsk.
“Russian leadership may be setting conditions for an operational pause following the seizure of Lysychansk and the Luhansk Oblast boundary. Russian forces are consolidating territorial and administrative control over Severodonetsk and Lysychansk,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest operational update.
On the one hand, such a strategy would give time to the Ukrainians to better prepare their defenses. But on the other hand, the Kremlin has seen that its recent change of tactics on the ground is bearing fruits: Volley after volley of artillery against Ukrainian positions followed by mechanized infantry and tanks are slowly gaining ground for Russia.
Nothing major has happened in the south (Kherson) and north (Kharkiv) parts of the battlefield.
Every day, the Ukrainian military is providing an update on their claimed Russian casualties. These numbers are official figures and haven’t been separately verified.
However, Western intelligence assessments and independent reporting corroborate, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian casualty claims. For example, the Oryx open-source intelligence research page has visually verified the destruction or capture of almost 800 Russian tanks (which amounts to more tanks than the combined armor capabilities of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and more than 4,500 military vehicles of all types; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.
The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. Only recently the Pentagon acknowledged that the Russian military has lost thousands of combat vehicles of all types, including over 1,000 tanks, and dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.
Furthermore, more recent reports that are citing Western intelligence officials indicate that the Russian military has suffered up to 20,000 fatalities in the war so far.
It is very hard to verify the actual numbers unless one is on the ground. However, after adjusting for the fog of war and other factors the Western official numbers are fairly close to the Ukrainian claims.
As of Tuesday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 36,350 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,772 armored personnel carriers destroyed
- 2,634 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,594 tanks
- 806 artillery pieces
- 660 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 217 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 247 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 187 attack and transport helicopters
- 143 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
- 105 anti-aircraft batteries
- 65 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
- 15 boats and cutters
- four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems
Over the past weeks, the rate of Russian casualties has slowed down significantly despite continuous pressure and offensive operations in the Donbas. This suggests two things: First, the Russian commanders are taking a more cautious approach to their offensive operations, fully utilizing combined arms warfare to achieve their goals; and second, the Ukrainian forces are running out of combat power or ammunition — and this is expected after over three months of war against the Russian military. Recent reports from the ground suggest that both of these factors are true, and that the fatigue of warfare is catching up on both sides.
For most of the last month, the Russian military suffered the greatest casualties around the Slovyansk, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhzhia areas, reflecting the heavy fighting that was going on there. As the days went on, most of the heavy fighting shifted toward the direction of Bakhmut, southeast of Slovyansk, around Severodonetsk, a key Ukrainian town, and Lyman.
Then the location of the heaviest casualties shifted again westwards toward the area of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — where one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants is located — as a result of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in and around the area.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian forces inflicted the heaviest casualties in the vicinity of Sloviansk and Donetsk.
The stated goal of the Russian military for the renewed offensive in the east is to establish full control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and create and maintain a land corridor between these territories and the occupied Crimea.
Featured Image: Russian drone shot over Donetsk Oblast on 5 April 2022 while conducting reconnaissance. (State Border Guard Service of Ukraine)