Those familiar with the complexities of war understand the tangled nature of relationships between opposing sides and the potential for international ramifications, such as supply chain disruptions and economic impacts, which can result from military conflict. Moreover, the turmoils caused by war have been inflicting a good deal of misery, particularly on the directly affected Ukrainians—as Russia continues its aggressive subjugation against Ukraine, which is now moving toward its second year.
Both sides are certainly taking a toll, but in terms of armed forces, the Russian military may take the longest to recover.
What the Recent US Intel Tells Us
A recent statement from US intelligence officials highlighted this challenge, estimating that Russia may need at least a decade or more to recover fully from its special military operation.
Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Thursday, May 4, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier underscored the unfavorable status of the Russian military, which the latter had worked on bolstering since the early 2000s.
Berrier explained that the strength that the Kremlin mustered and reorganized since the downfall of the Soviet era is now “largely gone.” Consequently, Russia reportedly relies on its reserve troops and older Soviet-built equipment to sustain its aggressive operations in Ukraine, which the former initially anticipated to be a quick, short skirmish.
With this, officials believe that the Russian military may need at least five to ten years to recover fully, which may vary according to the effectiveness of sanctions and Moscow’s ability to scour for resources to support the reproduction of technology, ammunition, weaponry, and other military equipment it lost, not to mention its forces.
The US Intelligence statement came after the report released by the White House earlier that week, which estimated the total Russian casualties since the onset of the conflict.
Within the last four months of fighting alone, Russian casualties had reportedly reached approximately 100,000 of its forces, either killed or wounded, bringing the total of losses on its side to around 200,000 since the war broke out last year.
That is roughly the same number of armed forces Russian President Vladimir Putin initially deployed to Ukraine—enough men he thinks would be enough to take over Kyiv and overthrow its sovereignty and democratic government.
In a separate statement, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the committee that this massive number of casualties makes it unlikely that Russia will be able to mount a significant offensive operation this year.
She indicated that Russia might even go as far as facing a tantamount of challenges in supporting even its modest operations if Moscow will not “initiate a mandatory mobilization [of troops] and secure substantial [future] third-party ammunition supplies” like procuring from Iran and others.
A Crack in the Russian Might or A Tactic for Deception?
As they failed to consider the fervor of Ukrainians to defend their motherland against any aggressors, Russia is now reportedly suffering a rapid depletion of weaponry – both conventional and modern tech – and men at the front lines. Consequently, it hampered Moscow’s attempt to launch major campaigns in significant cities and steered its military focus eastward, namely, in the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. Which experts say has limited strategic value.
Despite being recognized as a bustling transportation hub, the small town’s limited strategic value lacks significant natural resources or noteworthy industrial and economic centers that Russia might find useful in the long run.
Aerial reconnaissance unit Sons of Thunder shared an aerial video of the city destroyed by Russia: #Bakhmut
ℹ️ Video by: Ostapenko_91 via Twitter pic.twitter.com/yvc1WDM7uE
— Ukraine War Now ✙ (@uarealitynow) May 9, 2023
Even so, Moscow’s shifting focus from major cities to small towns doesn’t mean reduced brutal offensives against Ukrainian troops. Additionally, the Russian military may see this as an opportunity to gain some short-term advantages, such as staging ground for future offensives or disrupting Ukrainian military mobilization in significant areas, among many others.
During the Senate hearing, Haines also pointed out the unsuccessful attempts of the Russian forces to gain new Ukrainian territories as they were in the last three months. This change in pace could mean a possible slowdown or weakening of the Russian military’s operation in the conflict, not to mention its stalled progress—that, or Moscow is just transitioning its approach from offensive to defensive.
“Both sides are focusing on preparations for [a] potential Ukrainian counter offensive this spring or summer, designed to push Russia out of illegally annexed territory,” Haines said, cited via The NY Post.
She further noted that while Ukraine is going through its final stage in offensive planning, Russia appears to be considering stopping the fighting – at least for a little while as it reassesses the entire special military operation.
Going way beyond his expected timeline, Putin may have scaled back his ambitions in Ukraine to some extent, US Intelligence officials suggested. That, or Putin’s immediate ambition may not be to control all of Ukraine or make it a part of Russia, but rather “to consolidate control of the occupied territor[ies] in eastern and southern Ukraine,” which will ensure that the latter does not become a member of NATO. After all, this is one of the driving forces of the Kremlin to launch the invasion in the first place.
‼️ Over the past day, 16 cities and villages of the 🇺🇦 Zaporizhzhia region survived 104 attacks: one missile attack, two air attacks, two attacks from UAVs, three from RSV and 96 artillery shells, – ZOVA
Front-line Gulyaipole, Zaliznychne, Stepnohirsk, Kamianske are again under… pic.twitter.com/cZY5cvRRMl
— Ukraine War Now ✙ (@uarealitynow) May 6, 2023
But then again, consolidating these illegally claimed territories remains unlikely as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy firmly expresses that he wants to reinstate these regions back to his country, including Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Meanwhile, US intelligence officials also noted that while Russia’s nuclear arsenal remains formidable, its losses in Ukraine will leave it less capable of posing a conventional military threat—subsequently, Putin’s potential reliance on using more asymmetric options, such as nuclear, cyber, and space capabilities. Therefore, despite Russia’s current focus on conventional military capabilities, such threats must not be left out of the discussion.
⚡️Russian attacks hit 10 Ukrainian regions, kill 3 civilians over past day.
Russia struck 127 settlements over the past 24 hours, killing three civilians and injuring 28, Ukraine's Defense Ministry media center said on May 8.
📷 from Donetsk Oblast: Pavlo Kyrylenko/Telegram pic.twitter.com/cKktlKk19j
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) May 8, 2023
While it is difficult to certainly determine the current status of the Russian military and its active ground servicemen, it appears that Moscow still will suffer significant losses in Ukraine and may face challenges in rebuilding its forces one way or another. Nonetheless, it remains a formidable force with significant resources and capabilities that other superpower countries should not be taken lightly.
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive . . .” —Sun Tzu, The Art of War