It has been 120 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Thursday, the fighting in the Donbas continues as the Russian forces edge closer to fully capturing Severodonetsk.
Moscow on a timetable
Last week, the Ukrainian military suggested that the Russian commanders in the Donbas have been given a deadline by Moscow to capture Severodonetsk by the end of this week. Although that claim hasn’t been verified — at least publicly — by Western intelligence services, the renewed push against Severodonetsk suggests that it is credible.
The Russians have failed in their frontal attacks against Severodonetsk and are now trying to cut off the city from the flanks, particularly from the southern one.
But regardless of this new sense of urgency and tactical gains, the Russian forces have still to prove that they can achieve any fast gains, mainly because they lack the necessary combined arms and maneuver warfare capabilities.
“Russian forces continued to make gains to the south of Lysychansk and will likely reach the city in the coming days, although they are unlikely to quickly capture the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area. Russian forces intensified efforts to interdict Ukrainian lines of communication along the T1302 Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway in order to support Russian operations towards Lysychansk,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed.
Meanwhile, the situation in southern Ukraine remains largely the same. The Ukrainians are trying to push through the Russian defenses but lack the necessary firepower to achieve any fast gains. Indeed, the situation in and around Kherson and Zaporizhzhia resembles that in and around Severodonetsk but the tables turned.
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; 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 Thursday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 34,430 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,632 armored personnel carriers destroyed
- 2,548 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,504 tanks
- 756 artillery pieces
- 620 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 216 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 240 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 183 attack and transport helicopters
- 137 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
- 99 anti-aircraft batteries
- 60 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
- 14 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 Thursday, Ukrainian forces inflicted the heaviest casualties in the vicinity of Bakhmut, where the Russian forces are trying to advance and cut off Severodonetsk from the rear.
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.
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