Ukraine’s military and Western analysts say Russian forces are making fruitless attacks in eastern Ukraine and taking heavy losses after a hastily arranged draft added over 300,000 troops.

Nov. 4, 2022

Richard Pérez-Peña, Neil MacFarquhar, Eric Schmitt and Edward Wong

The New York Times


KYIV, Ukraine — Russia is funneling newly drafted conscripts with little training to the front line in Ukraine’s east, while mounting intensified but ineffective attacks and suffering heavy casualties, according to the Ukrainian military and Western analysts.

Grisly videos of Russian infantry in poorly prepared positions being struck by artillery have partly supported those assertions, as has reporting in Russian news media of mobilized soldiers telling relatives about high casualty rates. The videos, filmed by Ukrainian drones, have not been independently verified, and their exact locations could not be determined.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced on Friday that the draft he ordered on Sept. 21, a chaotic effort that swept up some men who should have been exempt, had added 318,000 troops to Russia’s military, with 49,000 of them already in combat. But he did not acknowledge the widespread complaints of inadequate training and equipment, with some soldiers being killed within days of deployment.

Attention has shifted recently to the southern front, where Ukrainian forces are slowly closing in on the Russian-held city of Kherson, but the Kremlin is also pouring more troops into the eastern Donbas region, trying to halt recent Ukrainian advances while rebuilding ground forces that have been decimated by more than eight months of war.

Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander of the Ukrainian military, said in a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday that Russian forces had tripled the intensity of their attacks along some parts of the front and were staging up to 80 assaults per day. He did not specify a time frame or where the attacks were coming from, nor did he say how large they were; some may be small, probing attacks, looking for points of weakness in the Ukrainian lines.

General Zaluzhnyi said that in a phone call he had told Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli of the United States, the supreme allied commander in Europe, that “thanks to the courage and skills of our warriors,” Ukrainians were beating back the assaults.

An assessment released on Thursday by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based analysis group, agreed that Russia had not gained ground in the Donbas. Instead, it said, Moscow’s forces were “wasting the fresh supply of mobilized personnel on marginal gains” by attacking before they had massed sufficient soldiers to ensure success.

“Russian forces would likely have had more success in such offensive operations if they had waited until enough mobilized personnel had arrived to amass a force large enough to overcome Ukrainian defenses,” the institute said.

The Russian attacks have been directed at several towns and villages, including Bakhmut and Avdiivka. The Ukrainian National Police said that all civilians had been evacuated from one frontline town, Marinka, a suburb of the city of Donetsk. At the same time, the Ukrainian military said it had been able to cut off Russia’s use of a key road supplying its forces in the town of Kreminna, threatening Russia’s ability to hold it.

The scale of Russian losses on the ground is uncertain — as is the number of Ukrainian casualties. The Institute for the Study of War said Russia “impaled” its ill-prepared units on well dug-in Ukrainian defensive positions. The Ukrainian military’s estimates of Russian casualties, which are seen as inflated, have increased sharply; on Friday, the military said more than 800 Russian soldiers had been wounded or killed over the previous 24 hours.

In Kherson, the Russian occupation administration that has controlled the city since February has largely withdrawn from it after pillaging municipal resources, and some military units have also pulled back, regrouping on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnipro River. But Ukrainian military intelligence says that Russia has deployed about 40,000 soldiers to the western bank to stop the Ukrainian military from reclaiming the city.

Russian officials have ordered civilians out of Kherson, but an unknown number remain, and Kirill Stremousov, a top Russian proxy official in the region, labeled those who stayed behind Ukrainian sympathizers who would face prosecution. Analysts say Russian authorities fear that, in a battle for control of the city, local residents could provide vital intelligence to Ukrainian forces.

Speaking in Moscow on Friday, Mr. Putin said that the city must be evacuated, couching his comments as concern for the residents’ safety, though his forces have killed numerous civilians in attacks across Ukraine.

“Those who live in Kherson must now be removed from the zone of the most dangerous hostilities,” he said in remarks broadcast on state television. “The civilian population should not suffer from shellings, from the offensive, counteroffensive and other measures related to military operations.”

He was marking Unity Day, a national holiday that commemorates an uprising that expelled Polish-Lithuanian occupiers from Moscow in 1612. The holiday was celebrated before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and resurrected in 2005 by Mr. Putin, who recognizes it each year by laying flowers at a statue in Red Square that was erected to glorify the leaders of the uprising.

The symbolism meshes neatly with the justification he offers for invading Ukraine — that Russia is fighting for its survival against aggressors from the West.

The Pentagon announced on Friday that the United States was sending another $400 million worth of military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total since Russia invaded on Feb. 24 to $18.9 billion. The latest package includes half the cost of overhauling 90 T-72B tanks supplied by the Czech Republic, with the Netherlands covering the other half.

It also includes 1,100 Phoenix Ghost explosive drones, 40 armored patrol boats and funding to upgrade more lightly armored vehicles and air defense systems.

The Defense Department said it was also setting up a new, 300-person command based in Germany specifically to oversee how the United States and its allies train and equip the Ukrainian military, signaling a long-term commitment. It replaces a system improvised during the war under a previously existing command.

Some Republican lawmakers have questioned the continued heavy spending on Ukraine’s defense. But President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, offered assurances to Ukrainians nervously watching the U.S. midterm elections that American support would not wane, no matter the outcome of the vote.

“I’m confident U.S. support for Ukraine will be unwavering and unflinching,” Mr. Sullivan said at a news conference in Kyiv, where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials.

“Under any scenario,” Mr. Sullivan said, “the president is committed to working on a bipartisan basis” to ensure that Ukraine’s military will not run short of weaponry.

After the news conference, he and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget A. Brink, along with other officials, waited for several minutes in a darkened corridor of the presidential office because an air raid alert had sounded. Security services later gave the clear for the American officials to leave through the open courtyard.

Foreign ministers of the Group of 7 wealthy democracies said after a two-day meeting in Münster, Germany, that they had agreed to work together to help Kyiv rebuild vital civilian infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed, and that they had discussed supplying Ukraine with more air defense systems.


Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Neil MacFarquhar from Paris, Eric Schmitt from Washington and Edward Wong from Münster, Germany.