In the past two weeks, Russia has used a combination of rockets, artillery and rocket launchers to fire at major Ukrainian cities, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate’s intelligence committee on Thursday. On Friday, Russia launched missile strikes at a wide range of targets in central and western Ukraine, causing significant damage and using what the Russian Defense Ministry said “high-precision long-range weapons.”
But the amount of “precision ammunition dropped from airplanes … is small,” said Berrier.
US and Western officials say they do not know why Russia has not used more of the more sophisticated weapons that its Su-34 fighter-bomber fleet has regularly used, along with other unguided bombs in Syria. This approach, according to some US military and intelligence officials, could signal another surprising weakness in the Russian military campaign – or simply a terrifying urge to use brutal tactics that lead to countless civilian deaths in a war that many officials say could last weeks or even months.
“It’s hard to say at this point whether it’s due to cost, lack of supplies, or simply a desire for a more brutal use of force,” a senior NATO official said on Thursday, urging the “big question.”
Production of precision ammunition (PGM) is more expensive, time consuming and complicated to manufacture than unguided ammunition, and it has long been speculated that Russian stocks are relatively limited. It is possible, say some external analysts, that Russia is simply keeping its PGM in reserve for later conflicts – or as a precautionary measure in case Russia does find itself in conflict with NATO. One source familiar with the intelligence said that Russia burned down part of its PGM arsenal that it had dedicated to the operation in the early days of the conflict, when Moscow introduced stricter rules of engagement that avoided widespread civilian casualties.
But whatever the cause, officials say the effects are now being felt by Ukrainian hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings devastated by Russia’s massive bombing campaign – even as a high-ranking defense officer warned on Wednesday that the US could not prove whether or not any ammunition was used against him guided or unguided. given purpose after the fact.
According to one senior military official familiar with the latest intelligence information, the strategy could also have direct costs for Russia. The person said that the use of some Russian “stupid” bombs requires pilots to fly lower, making them more susceptible to Ukraine’s surprisingly effective anti-aircraft defense. In the past few days, officials have seen a sharp decline in overall Russian aviation activity over Ukraine.
As the war enters its third week, Russian forces have become bogged down not only with stiff Ukrainian resistance, but also with countless logistical and supply errors that Western officials increasingly say show fundamental weaknesses in Russian planning and preparedness. CIA director Bill Burns said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion partly on the assumption that his military could win a quick and decisive victory at minimal cost – one of several assumptions Burns said “turned out to be wrong” .
“We may know more about the true state of the fight and Russia’s readiness and capabilities at this point than Putin himself,” said a senior NATO official.
Officials say there is still no doubt that the Russian army is far superior to Ukraine’s combat forces and that Ukraine’s prospects remain bleak. Even in the face of Ukrainian resistance, Russia has made steady progress across the country. However, intelligence officials stopped anticipating Kiev’s imminent collapse as the conflict turned into a crushing war of exhaustion. A senior NATO official said he now believes war can be measured in “months to years” rather than in days or weeks as Western officials initially judged.
National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said on Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community was surprised by Putin’s clumsy execution of military strategy.
“We did well,” predicting that Putin underestimated the resistance he would face in Ukraine, she said. “We didn’t do that well at anticipating the military challenges it would encounter in its own military.”
US and Western officials say they find it difficult to pin down Russian losses, both in terms of battlefield losses and damaged equipment. Ukraine reported that some 12,000 Russian soldiers were captured or killed, and more than 100 aircraft and helicopters, 317 tanks, and more than 1,000 armored personnel carriers had been decommissioned.
But even if these figures cannot be confirmed, officials say, it is clear that Russia has suffered significant losses in military and equipment.
“When you just look at the garbage now coming from Russia in these train cars, in terms of trucks and these small cars – they have civilian trucks and cars now on trains trying to replace some of the heavier trucks that have lost Ukrainian counterattacks – this is amazing, ”said a senior NATO official.
The Russian defense ministry also admitted on Wednesday that some conscripts participated in the war, and US officials said Moscow is also trying to recruit foreign fighters from Syria. Other Chechnya’s foreign fighters are already in Ukraine, as is the Liga mercenary group, formerly known as the Wagner Group.
Western officials see these additional forces as a potential sign that Russia is struggling to muster enough combat strength to continue the attack.
“We think it’s noteworthy that [Putin] believes it must rely on foreign fighters to supplement what is a very significant involvement of a combat force inside Ukraine, a high-ranking defense official told reporters on Thursday.
Russia also fought to effectively supply the forward combat formations with fuel, food and weapons. The forward Russian units were often ahead of their logistic train, exposing the support units to a Ukrainian counterattack.
Meanwhile, a 40-kilometer convoy of Russian combat and logistics vehicles was stopped for a few days north of Kiev, partly due to mechanical failures and congestion, and partly due to Ukrainian efforts to stem its progress. By Thursday, however, the convoy had “largely dispersed and displaced,” according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.
However, despite Russian mistakes, despite what officials have described as heroic Ukrainian resistance, Western intelligence services do not judge that Ukraine has turned the tide of the invasion. The Russian military remains qualitatively and quantitatively better. Putin continues to bombard Ukrainian cities with massive ‘stupid’ bombs – including against civilian infrastructure – even in the face of international condemnation. Officials now believe that it is preparing to try to cut off food, water and potentially electricity supplies to Kiev, as it has done in other major cities in Ukraine.
“We see no signs that Putin has deviated from his strategic political goals, nor do we see any signs that the military end states have changed,” said a senior NATO official. “The only major difference, apart from the pathetic challenges they face, is that they’ve just become more aggressive – not only towards the military, but also towards civilians.”