Ukraine: Vladimir Putin’s war now bogged down in ‘near operational standstill’, say Western officials

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Ukraine: Vladimir Putin’s war now bogged down in ‘near operational standstill’, say Western officials

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has become bogged down into “near operational standstill,” western officials said on Friday.

They stressed that the war had entered a new phase from earlier this year when Russian forces were heavily shelling areas across the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and gradually seizing territory.

One western official said: “We are clearly at a moment of near operational standstill.

“At the moment, neither sides ground forces have sufficient concentrated ground combat power to launch effective offensive actions which would in any way materially affect the course of the war.

“For Russia this is probably partially due to them recognising a looming issue...around an increasingly acute shortage of stocks, even of quite basic munition types.”

Neither the Russian or Ukrainian air forces are believed to be having a “decisive effect”.

The western official added: “Russian continues to launch poorly conceived, long-range missile strikes which routinely have little effect beyond killing and wounding civilians.”

He claimed Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was now struggling to function as much more than a “coast defence flotilla which conducts occasional cruise missile strikes”.

He added: “This limits Russia’s campaign options and has especially stymied its ability to convincingly threaten an amphibious assault on Odesa.”

Explaining the new phase in the war, the official said: “The conflict has entered a different stage.

“There was a point when constant shelling, there was a real high point, particularly around the battle for the Donbas.

“We aren’t at that high point anymore.

“The whole tempo of the campaign has slowed down, partly because both sides have become more conscious that this is a marathon not a sprint, and that expenditure rates and conserving their munitions is important.”

Russia was also having manpower challenges and is thought to have resorted to using freed prisoners in its military units.

Ukrainian forces were also now “consistently achieving kinetic effects” deep behind Russian lines, with a series of attacks on air bases in Crimea which was annexed by Mr Putin in 2014.

Ukrainian special forces are throught to have been involved in some of the operations.

Russia had considered Crimea to be a “secure base area” with a “major role in enabling the occupation,” said the official.

“The incidents have been having a material effect on Russia’s logistics support, but as importantly there’s a significant psychological effect on the Russian leadership,” he added.

In one attack, more than half of the Black Sea Fleet’s naval aviation combat jets are believed to have been put out of action.

“The Russian system is busy seeking to allocate blame for the debacle,” he emphasised.

Having lost territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk eastern provinces to Russia, Ukrainian military chiefs are now preparing to launch a major counter-offensive in the south of the country to seize back lost ground after their successful attacks in Crimea.

“The question for the autumn is will Kyiv generate a credible counter-attack force to build on these...effects and really open up the campaign,” said the official.

However, he added: “The incidents in Crimea and the welcome prospects for a major Ukrainian counter-attack are not without strategic risk.”

Both the West and Ukraine, and Russia were “entering unchartered territory” with this stage of the war.

The West and Ukraine are fighting an information war against Russia so their claims need to be treated with caution, though statements by the Kremlin are often far less believable.

The official also slammed Russia for recent attacks on Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, in the east of the country.

It had recently suffered “one of its most painful periods” of the war, with at least 17 civilians killed by Russian strikes.

He warned this north eastern area of the country, close to the Russian border, risked becoming the “forgotten front of the war”.

The frontline there had been “largely static since May”.

He added: “Kharkiv has been one of the most persistently shelled large cities since the start of the invasion, partially because it remains within artillery range of Russian lines.”

It meant the city was one of the most difficult humanitarian situations in government-controlled areas of the country.

The official stressed: “This civilian suffering provides an unusually stark example of Russian cynicism.

“There is almost certainly no Russian plan to launch an offensive in this area or major operational advantage likely to be gained by the bombardment of what is largely a Russian-speaking city.”

Instead, the shelling is believed to be aimed at forcing Ukraine to keep troops in the Kharkiv area, rather than redeploying them to other frontlines.

Explosions erupted overnight near military bases deep within Russian-held areas of Ukraine and in Russia itself, an apparent display of Kyiv's growing ability to wreak havoc on Moscow's logistics far from front lines.

Ukraine also issued a new warning about the frontline Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station where it said it believed Moscow was planning a "large-scale provocation" as a justification to decouple the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and connect it to Russia's.

In Crimea, explosions were reported near an air base in Belbek, on the southwest coast near Sevastopol, headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. On the opposite end of the peninsula, the sky was also lit up at Kerch near a huge bridge to Russia, with what Russia said was fire from its air defences.

Inside Russia, two villages were evacuated after explosions at an ammunition dump in Belgorod province, near the Ukrainian border but more than 100 km (60 miles) from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.

Closer to the front, Kyiv also announced a number of strikes overnight behind Russian lines in southern Kherson province, including at a bridge at the Kakhovska Dam, one of the last routes for Russia to supply thousands of troops on west bank of the Dnipro River.

Ukraine hopes its apparent new-found ability to hit Russian targets behind the front line can turn the tide in the conflict, disrupting supply lines Moscow needs to support its occupation.

In recent days, it has been issuing warnings to Russians, for whom Crimea has become a popular summer holiday destination, that nowhere on the peninsula is safe as long as it is occupied.

Ukraine has been making use since last month of advanced rockets supplied by the West to strike behind Russian lines. The overnight explosions in Crimea and Belgorod are beyond the range of ammunition Western countries have acknowledged sending so far.