Military, economic and diplomatic own goals marked the 12th week of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia’s retreat from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has now pushed Moscow’s forces back to their border 40km away and taken their artillery beyond the city’s range.
Russia seems to be contracting plans for a grand pincer movement around Ukrainian forces in the country’s east, partly because of a lack of manpower.
A particularly humiliating defeat occurred on May 11 when Ukrainian forces inflicted heavy losses on the Russian 74th Motorised Rifle Brigade as it attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in an effort to encircle Ukrainian defenders in Rubizhne.
Satellite images show a destroyed pontoon bridge with clusters of destroyed Russian vehicles on both banks of the river, where Russian forces were caught in transit. Of the 550 Russian troops sent into action, 485 were reportedly wounded or killed, and 80 pieces of equipment were destroyed.
Russian forces also failed to branch out from a bridgehead in Izyum and perform an encirclement.
Ukraine says Russia has lost almost 28,000 troops – 20 percent of the force that launched Moscow’s so-called “special military operation” and as much as 60 percent of the equipment involved in the invasion.
The Ukrainian general staff say some Russian units in the Donbas are at 20 percent of their strength and are being forced to team up with private military companies.
The head of Ukraine’s main intelligence directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, says Russia has begun a covert mobilisation, which includes reservists. The Ukrainian general staff says 2,500 Russian reservists are training near the border between both countries.
After the twin failures at Izyum and Rubizhne, it is likely that Russian forces are abandoning a broader encirclement plan in order to focus on Luhansk oblast, says Serhiy Haidai, head of the Luhansk Oblast administration.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War agreed: “Russian forces may be abandoning efforts at a wide encirclement of Ukrainian troops along the Izyum-Slovyansk-Debaltseve line in favor of shallower encirclements of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.”
“It is unclear if Russian forces can encircle, let alone capture, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk even if they focus their efforts on that much-reduced objective. Russian offensives have bogged down every time they hit a built-up area throughout this war,” the institute said.
Russia has also removed a number of top commanders from their posts for poor performance.
“Russia’s strategic defeat is already obvious to everyone in the world,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared.
“It’s just that Russia doesn’t have the courage to admit it yet … Therefore, our task is to fight until we achieve our goals in this war. Free our land, our people and establish our security,” he said.
There also seems to be a looming shortage of military hardware.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Congress that Russia is using chips from refrigerators and dishwashers in its tanks because of a shortage of semiconductors. That information came from Ukrainian sources.
Although the two sides are negotiating to exchange prisoners, there can be no substantive peace talks, says Thanos Veremis, professor emeritus of history at Athens University.