The Pentagon estimates that Russian forces are several days behind where they wanted to be at this point in the eastAccording to a senior defense official.
The Russians expected to be further away in their goal of encircling Ukrainian forces in the east, and believed that this would now be achieved, according to Pentagon estimates. “They are not close to their goal of completely encircling Ukrainian forces,” the official said.
Russian forces have been making slow, erratic and increasing advances into eastern and southern Ukraine, according to the official, in part because they are wary of bypassing supply lines, as they did in northern Ukraine at the start of the invasion and also because of the effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance.
“They are not moving very quickly,” the official said. “A few kilometers a day is the most they can handle.”
The Russians have now sent 92 tactical battalions, generally made up of 800 to 1,000 soldiers, to fight in Ukraine. The official cautioned that although the Russians had a numerical advantage over the Ukrainians, fighting in the Donbass could be a lengthy effort, since both sides know the terrain and both sides use long-range artillery in the fighting.
In the east, the Russians focus on the exit from Izyum along three main axes – southwest towards Dopropylya, a little southeast towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, and southeast towards Lyman. The Russians are also trying to advance towards Lyman from an eastern town they control, Karmina.
There were about 12 Russian battalion tactical groups in and around, but this week some of them began to move north towards the Zaporizhia region. The Russians continue to strike Mariupol from the air, which indicates that they do not yet control the city.
The Russians were launching limited offensives in the east at the same time as they were conducting what the Pentagon calls “formation operations” to prepare for a larger offensive.
Russia initially invaded Ukraine on a number of axes and is now focusing on the smaller geographical area in Donbass where Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014. Turning east, the United States and NATO allies began giving Ukraine heavier weapons such as artillery before a protracted battle Expected.
To date, more than 60% of the 90 American howitzers have arrived in the hands of the Ukrainians, according to the Pentagon. Once weapons enter Ukraine, the United States does not track them, so it is not clear whether pieces of howitzer artillery have reached the front lines in the Donbass region yet.
Howitzers are new to the Ukrainian armed forces and require some training. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced Friday that some Ukrainians are receiving training in howitzers and other systems at US military facilities in Germany.
One hundred and sixty members of the Florida National Guard were training Ukrainian soldiers in Ukraine before they left in early February before the invasion, and now, they conduct most of the training on the systems, according to Kirby. All exercises take place outside Ukraine.
Kirby said there were emotional moments between the guards and some Ukrainian soldiers during their last reunion due to the bonds formed before the invasion.
Artillery pieces and other equipment announced in recent aid packages were intended for what the Ukrainians had requested, in anticipation of a fierce battle in the east.