Can Russia still impose itself militarily in Ukraine?

“The Special Military Operation in Ukraine is proceeding according to plan”. This is how General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, presented his daily briefing yesterday, Thursday March 10, after 15 days of war. However, many information radically contradict this statement, and it seems, on the contrary, that this military operation which was to be only a formality for the super-powerful Russian army, is turning into a veritable quagmire for Vladimir Putin. Faced with appalling losses in man and material, a difficult progression, distended lines, a much more efficient and determined Ukrainian resistance than envisaged, as well as a response and a Western mobilization which surprised the Europeans themselves, the Kremlin is now forced to call on its last reserves but also on Chechen and Syrian auxiliaries to try to win a more and more distant military decision, and to mobilize again its powerful propaganda to pose the threat of the use of strikes of mass destruction. Under these conditions, can Russia still hope to impose itself militarily in Ukraine?

The figures put forward concerning the Russian losses are fluctuating according to the sources, the Ukrainians announcing more than 12.000 dead on the basis of the analyzes of videos taken by drones, where the American Department of Defense is more cautious announcing 5.000 to 6.000 dead in combat within the Russian armies. Other indirect sources coming from European intelligence services estimate these losses beyond 7000 men. Even based on a low assumption of 4.000 killed, this implies that nearly 20.000 Russian soldiers were put out of action during the first two weeks of combat, taking into account the wounded, prisoners, and desertions. However, such a level of loss is equivalent to 10% of all the forces gathered around Ukraine prior to the invasion, and more than 15% loss for the combat units engaged in Ukraine. At the same time, OSINT observers have documented the loss of more than 1000 pieces of Russian equipment over the same period, with more than 150 battle tanks and 400 armored infantry fighting vehicles and transport of Russian troops destroyed, abandoned or captured, again an attrition rate of more than 15% compared to the initial deployment observed.

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Russian forces have already lost nearly 200 heavy tanks in this conflict (documented), 1/6th of the forces deployed around the country before the offensive

Such a level of loss could possibly be acceptable to Moscow, even if it represents an attrition greater than that recorded during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan for more than a year, if the military decision were close. But such is not the case, on the contrary. Due to the strategy implemented by the Russian General Staff for this offensive, but also to its timetable, the Russian forces are indeed very dispersed on Ukrainian territory, and are unable to gather sufficient forces to carry out decisive operations against the fixation points organized around the many Ukrainian cities. From then on, the progress of the Russian forces was much slower and more difficult than the General Staff had imagined, even on the main offensive axes such as in the north towards Kyiv, or in the northeast around Kharkiv. The Donbass front is also frozen, while the maneuver in the south now faces critical mass and logistical problems to carry out its simultaneous offensives against Mariupol, Zaporizhia and towards Odessa, each offensive needing the forces of the other two to be decisive.

This problem of critical mass is accentuated by the difficulties encountered by the Russian forces in holding the conquered ground, due to the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians, including, and this is probably a great surprise for Moscow, in the areas of high density Russian-speaking. In fact, the Russian armies are forced to mobilize forces to control the population in these areas supposed to have been captured, failing which the Ukrainian resistance could once again be reconstituted at the first signs of weakness of the Russian system. Thus, the inhabitants of Kherson repeatedly expressed their hostility vis-à-vis the Russian forces present, certainly in a peaceful manner, but leaving little doubt as to the evolution of the situation if they were to leave the city to support the offensive on Odessa for example.

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Ukrainian demonstration in Kherson under Russian occupation

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