Russian forces have made some progress in Moscow’s renewed offensive into eastern Ukraine, according to US and NATO officials, as their military attempts to fix the myriad problems that plagued the first weeks of the invasion.
Officials said the United States has seen “some evidence” of an improvement in Russia’s ability to combine air and ground operations, as well as its ability to resupply forces in the field.
A senior US defense official said progress was “slow and erratic,” allowing Russian forces to advance “for several kilometers or so” each day.
But the United States appreciates that Russia is trying to learn from its mistakes early on, as tanks and armored columns ran out of food and fuel, leaving it easy prey for Ukrainian hit-and-run tactics.
Russia has placed command and control elements near its border with eastern Ukraine, according to a senior NATO official, indicating that they are trying to repair the communications and coordination failures observed in the attack on Kyiv.
Before the invasion began on February 24, Russia massed 125 to 130 battalion tactical groups, known as BTGs, around Ukraine and near Kyiv in particular, but when the fighting began, Russian military leaders showed little ability to get them to fight as one.
There are 92 BTGS in the country now, with another 20 across the border in Russia, according to a senior defense official.
“The attacks are somewhat better coordinated, but with smaller formations. Company-sized units backed by helicopters,” a European defense official said. “The lowest level of mutual support. In NATO, this would be key.”
However, Western officials familiar with the latest intelligence say that even if Russia learns key lessons from its systemic failures in the first phase of the conflict, it is not clear whether Moscow will be able to implement the necessary changes to control the Donbass region.
Its army suffered heavy losses in both manpower and equipment and officials believe that other equipment transferred from different parts of Ukraine has likely not been fully repaired yet. Many combat units gathered soldiers who did not fight or train together.
“I don’t know how many lessons they can actually implement,” said the senior NATO official. “It’s not a simple thing.” “You’re not just moving tanks and people and saying, ‘Now get back to the fight! ”
Alex Marquardt and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting for this post.