Can Russia reboot its war in Ukraine in time for Putin to claim a victory?

The Ukrainians appear to be taking that threat at face value. In the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, local officials have urged many communities to evacuate, opening humanitarian corridors for civilians to go to safer parts of Ukraine.

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, authorities are evacuating the towns of Barvinkove and Lozova. In Dnipro, a regional capital in east-central Ukraine, the mayor, Borys Filatov, has called for women, children and the elderly to leave.

“The situation is gradually heating up in Donbas and we understand that April will be quite hot,” Filatov said recently. “Therefore, a big request: everyone who has the opportunity (as I have repeatedly said) to leave – first of all, this applies to women, children and the elderly who are not involved in infrastructure work criticism”.

Can Russia mount a terrifying new offensive in the east? The latest satellite images collected and analyzed by Maxar Technologies show an 8-mile-long Russian military convoy heading south through the eastern Ukrainian town of Velkyi Burluk, east of the city of Kharkiv.

In comments on national television on Saturday, Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said that Kharkiv was “being shelled practically around the clock” and that a Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region was expected, from the direction of Izium. .

Military experts and Western officials have also speculated that Putin’s generals are feeling pressure to deliver some kind of results before May 9, when Russia marks Victory Day, the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. But a new Analysis by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank, casts some doubt on Russia’s ability to mass the forces needed to achieve a breakthrough in Donbas.

“We assess that the Russian military will have difficulty amassing a large force of combat-capable mechanized units to operate in Donbas in the coming months,” the analysis states. “Russia is likely to continue to drop heavily damaged and partially reconstituted units piecemeal in offensive operations that reap limited gains at great cost.”

Military analysts and observers say Russia may find it difficult to reorganize forces that have been hit by the Ukrainian military, particularly in the defense of kyiv and northern Ukraine.

Burnt trucks and Russian military equipment are seen on the streets of Bucha on April 3 after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city.

Prior to the invasion, Russia had deployed approximately 120 battalion tactical groups around Ukraine. According to a European official, about a quarter of those forces are “effectively inoperable” after heavy casualties and the destruction of hardware. On April 8, a US defense official gave a slightly different estimate, saying Russian forces were now “below 85 percent of their assessed available combat power” assembled before the April 24 invasion. february.

Those US defense estimates, ISW said, “unintentionally overstate the current combat capabilities of the Russian military.”

According to ISW, “the dozens of Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) that withdrew from the environs of kyiv probably possess a combat power that is a fraction of what the number of units or the total number of personnel with those units would suggest.” Russian units that have fought in the Ukraine have suffered terrible damage.”

The appointment of a new commanding general to lead Russia’s war in Ukraine appears to be an effort to remedy another problem that has hampered Russian forces: a lack of coordination.

“The Russians are apparently trying to solve one of the problems their initial invasion suffered by making the commanding general of the Southern Military District, Alexander Dvornikov, the only commanding general of operations in Ukraine,” ISW stated.

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“This simplification of the Russian command structure may not solve all of Russia’s command problems, however… Russian forces are likely to continue to struggle to establish coherent and efficient command and control arrangements for the foreseeable future.” .

That doesn’t mean the next few weeks will be easy for Ukrainian forces fighting in the east. ISW said Russia’s military “will likely make gains anyway and may ensnare or wear down Ukrainian forces enough to secure much of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but it is at least as likely that these Russian offensives will culminate.” before reaching their objectives, as similar Russian operations have done”.

Speaking on Sunday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine was prepared for heavy fighting.

“Ukraine is ready for big battles,” Podolyak said. “Ukraine must win them, particularly in Donbas. And after that, Ukraine will get a more powerful negotiating position, from which it can dictate certain conditions. After that, the presidents [of Ukraine and Russia] we’ll meet. That can take two or three weeks.”

The next few weeks may test whether that is too optimistic a scenario. But he presents what appears to be a negotiating position, as well as a military assessment: Putin can speak now or risk being significantly weaker later.

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