Vladimir Putin is about to make shock gains

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With Russia back on the offensive after significant Ukrainian combat successes around Kharkiv and Kherson in the second half of 2022, the past few weeks have been the bloodiest so far of an already bloody war, with both sides taking extraordinarily heavy casualties. Expect it to get worse.

Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov says Russia has mobilized “much more” than 300,000 troops, perhaps up to half a million, and these are pouring into Ukraine in preparation for what is expected to be a major offensive in the coming days and weeks. Although Kyiv has also been building up its forces and supplying them with modern equipment donated by the West, Putin has a much greater advantage in troop numbers than he did when he invaded a year ago. Despite repeated optimistic reports of Russia running low on artillery shells – a battle winner in this conflict – Putin’s war stocks are vast, and his factories have been working around the clock to churn out even more.

Under pressure towards the end of last year, Russia withdrew its forces to positions of strength, trading ground for time as it massed resources for a planned hammer blow while grinding down the Ukrainians in the east, softening them up for the assault to come. Much of this has been done by infantry attack, throwing away “expendable” troops in time-honored Russian style. The Kremlin has at the same time been conserving artillery shells (though expending thousands each day around Bakhmut alone) and the armored vehicles that are so essential for the fast-moving blitzkrieg Putin is planning.

Until now, the narrative in the West has been that Ukraine is comfortably winning this war, albeit while facing heavy bombardments on its major cities. The reality is more complex. The latest estimates suggest that each side may have taken upwards of 120,000 casualties already – hardly indicative of a triumph for Ukraine. And there may be worse to come: the truth is that recent promises of new combat equipment for Ukraine – especially longer range missiles, tanks and other armored vehicles – are unlikely to be fulfilled in time to have an impact in this battle if Putin launches his offensive on the timetable Kyiv predicts.

By Richard Kemp

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