Russia “threw its best troops into the meat grinder” in the early stages of its war on Ukraine, a military analyst has said. And Vladimir Putin’s insistence that the so-called “special operation” is going to plan is making things even worse, Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, has said.
Ukrainian forces have scored a string of successes in recent days, with Kyiv claiming to have retaken vast swathes of territory in the north-east of the country since the start of September.
The UK Ministry of Defence earlier this week reported that Russian soldiers, including those from 1st Guards Tank Army (1 GTA), have fled the Kharkiv region in the face of a fierce Ukrainian onslaught.
Nevertheless, the Russian President, apparently in denial, continues to insist things are on track, telling a Kremlin Parliament meeting: “Everybody should know that largely speaking, we haven’t even yet started anything in earnest.”
Prof Miles told the Business Insider website: “A lot of these units are not exhibiting what we would call military professionalism, including cutting and running.
“We saw the best Russian military performance in the first few weeks of the war when the Russian military took its best units and sent huge numbers on basically suicide missions.
“They took the cream of the crop and threw them into the meat grinder, and now they are left with the remains.”
In a clear indication of the Putin regime’s desperation, Prof Miles said his government was seeking to implement a “stopgap solution” offering professional soldiers a year’s average salary for three months’ service.
Initially, such an approach had worked, with Russia enjoying its best successes at the start of the war, Prof Miles said – but the longer the conflict wore on, the more the problems have become apparent.
He explained: “Lots of people signed on for one round. But as summer gives way to fall and fall gives way to winter, I would doubt that given how disastrously things have gone in the last few days especially, that many people will sign up for spending winter in a Ukrainian trench.
“Combat is the most physically and mentally taxing thing a human can subject themselves to. Units that have been in it for six months, it is just exhausting.”
One obvious solution would be to bring in conscription, although such a move would require Russia to declare a state of war, something Putin is reluctant to do, Prof Miles pointed out.
He said: “Continuing to refuse to mobilise is denying the Russian military the resource it needs most, which is personnel.
“To declare mass mobilisation, to declare formal war would be an explicit declaration that this isn’t working.”
With respect to Putin’s mindset, he added: “He’s insistent on maintaining this narrative that everything is going great, which no reasonable person would believe.”
Prof Miles’ remarks echo those of Brendan Kearney, the former Chief of Staff with the US Marine Corps Forces Europe in Germany, who last month told the BBC: “The Russians have quickly shown that their military is really quite honestly, borderline useless.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to lead Ukraine to victory in its war against Russia as he visited recaptured towns yesterday.
Mr Zelensky on Wednesday made his surprise trip to Izium – until four days ago Russia’s main bastion and logistics hub in the Kharkiv region – where he watched as the Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the charred city council building.
In a social media post, Mr Zelensky said: “Our blue-yellow flag is already flying in de-occupied Izium. And it will be so in every Ukrainian city and village.”
Earlier on Wednesday, he handed out medals to soldiers who freed the Balakliya area, another town retaken in recent days.
Citizens and local police told reporters civilians were killed during months of Russian occupation. Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.
The Ukrainian president says his army has liberated roughly 3,100 square miles) of territory so far this month, almost equivalent to the island of Cyprus.