- Russian front-line units are taking heavy casualties, a senior US military official said.
- To fill gaps in the lines, Moscow is rushing tens of thousands of poorly trained and equipped troops to the front.
Russia is sticking with an unsuccessful strategy of throwing poorly trained troops at the front lines to replace those killed or wounded by Ukrainian forces, a US official said this week.
The move is one that Moscow has favored repeatedly in this war where the Russian military faces a largely static battlefield and a mounting death toll and has yet to achieve any of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives.
A senior US military official told reporters on Monday that Russia has been sending replacements for units that have suffered substantial casualties in an attempt to strengthen defensive positions and support operations. But even with the increase in personnel, the reinforcement troops are not bringing “a significant enhancement in terms of the training of those forces,” they said.
“So again, ill-equipped, ill-trained, rushed to the battlefield,” the official said of the Russian replacement troops, adding that they are heading to positions along the front number in the tens of thousands. Notably, they said, these troops are not arriving as organized units but are just filling in gaps wherever needed.
The official said this approach is being used all along the front lines but singled out the war-torn eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut as one location where Russian forces have suffered heavy losses. Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of over 73,000, has seen intense fighting in recent months even though it does not appear to hold much strategic value.
In addition to using poorly trained and equipped troops to fill the gaps, prisoners recruited by the notorious Wagner Group paramilitary organization and newly mobilized troops have been used as sponges, absorbing heavy Ukrainian fire before better trained forces move in behind them, a US official said previously.
This tactic of “trading individuals for bullets” is one that Moscow has used throughout history. Russia, for instance, did this with conscripts during the First Chechen War of the mid-1990s.
The senior US military official’s comments this week came just days after Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the front line has become relatively “static,” with the exception of the area around Bakhmut. He added that Russian casualties amount to “significantly well over 100,000 now,” providing his first updated figure on the matter in months.
“The Russians have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties in their military, and — and that includes their regular military and also their mercenaries in the Wagner Group and — and other type forces that are fighting with the Russians. They have really suffered a lot,” Milley said alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Germany on Friday.
Meanwhile, with little battlefield progress from either side, Ukraine has continued to press NATO and European countries for more heavy armor and weaponry — including tanks like the German-made Leopard 2. Western security assistance has ramped up during the first few weeks of 2023, but allies have spent much of the past week debating the transfer of main battle tanks to Ukraine.