Russo-Ukrainian War: As Russia amass troops in the East, questions remain about its ability to sustain an offensive

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Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — As Russia makes slow and bloody gains in a new push to seize more of eastern Ukraine, it is pouring more conscripts and military supplies into the battle, according to Ukrainian officials, although it remains far from clear that Moscow could muster sufficient forces to support a prolonged offensive.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday that Russian forces were attacking from five different directions along the crescent-shaped eastern front line, relying on masses of troops to try to overrun Ukrainian positions. This tactic has allowed Russia to make additional gains in recent weeks and slowly tighten the noose around the key Ukrainian-held town of Bakhmut, but at the cost of hundreds of dead and wounded soldiers every day, according to reports. American officials.

“We are seeing more and more reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more and more material arriving,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Ukraine’s eastern Lugansk region, told Ukrainian television on Monday. He said a “full-scale offensive” could begin after Feb. 15, as the Kremlin strives to show progress around the one-year mark of its invasion.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency has warned that Moscow plans to mobilize up to half a million additional troops to support its campaign. That would be “in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in October 2022,” Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief, wrote in a lengthy statement Monday evening assessing the state of the war.

But Western intelligence officials have wondered if Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could quickly find hundreds of thousands more troops without triggering a bigger domestic reaction. The Kremlin is already struggling to train and arm the soldiers it has, military analysts said.

Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency said on Tuesday that Russia had been trying to launch “major offensive operations” since early last month, aiming to capture the rest of the Donetsk region, which includes Bakhmut. But he had “succeeded in gaining only several hundred meters of territory per week”, due to a lack of ammunition and maneuver units, according to the agency. in his latest daily war report.

“It remains unlikely that Russia will be able to build up the forces necessary to substantially influence the outcome of the war in the coming weeks,” the agency concluded.

Yet that hasn’t stopped Ukraine from sounding the alarm over a massive Russian buildup to come, as it agitates for stronger weapons from the West. It’s first predicted that Russia would mobilize 500,000 new troops in January, a decision that did not materialize.

The Kremlin continued to insist it was making progress in eastern Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu told reporters that combat operations near Bakhmut and the town of Vuhledar, 60 miles to the south, are “developing successfully”, according to the news agency. official Tass. reported.

While Moscow’s willingness to sacrifice large numbers of soldiers for marginal gains has been demonstrated time and time again during the war, Mr Putin has been reluctant to publicly announce a second wave of mobilization. The announcement of a partial mobilization in Russia last September led hundreds of thousands of military-age men to flee the country.

Mr. Putin, according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of Warfare, a research group, has repeatedly chosen options for his war effort that he considers less risky domestically, not announcing that a partial mobilization after a series of setbacks in Ukraine.

Moscow’s latest push along the eastern front has relied on new, inexperienced recruits and old convicts to rush towards Ukrainian positions, straining Kyiv’s forces but also causing heavy casualties. A Russian opposition publication, Mediazona, said fewer Russian prisoners are ready to commit to combat due to reports of high casualties among convict colony recruits.

Haidai said on Tuesday that Ukrainian officials had observed Russian commanders keeping newly arrived units of freshly mobilized soldiers separated from each other. The reason, he said, was to prevent rumors of losses in the Russian ranks from spreading.

“They have a large number of dead and wounded, and the commanders are trying to prevent panic among the fighters in this way,” Haidai said.