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News   Defense News

Russian Progress in Ukraine Is Only Incremental

May 26, 2022 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Despite an enormous advantage in numbers, Russian forces attacking the Donbas region of Ukraine have made only "incremental progress," a senior defense official said today.

Russia has deployed 110 operational battalion tactical groups in Ukraine, the official said. The majority are in the south, and the remaining groups are split and fighting in the Donbas region. Even with the preponderance of troop numbers, officials say Russian forces have made small gains. 

An airman secures pallets with rope in a warehouse.
Munitions on the Move
Air Force Senior Airman Jonathan Akuma secures a pallet with munitions bound for the U.S. European Command area of responsibility at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., April 28, 2022. The United States continues to reaffirm its unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Photo By: Hun Chustine Minoda, Air Force
VIRIN: 220428-F-FM924-1111M

These gains are offset by Ukrainian gains on other battlefields, most notably around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. 

The Russian war on Ukraine is in its 92nd day, and Russia's strategy is evolving, the official said. At first, Russian forces aimed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and replace the democratically elected government. Three wings of the Russia army expected to quickly overtake the Ukrainian military. One wing attacked from the north; the second attacked Crimea, and the third wing squeezed in from the east. "Well, that didn't work," the official said. "So, they started to try to carve off the whole Donbas region by coming south out of Kharkiv and north out of Mariupol."

Airmen unload supplies from an aircraft.
Unloading Supplies
Air Force aerial porters offload boxes of military field rations, known as meals ready to eat or MREs, onto a pallet for distribution in Poland. The 435th Contingency Response Group deploys to establish airfield operations in contingency environments, such as supporting the expedited delivery of aid to Ukraine.
Photo By: Air Force Capt. Kevyn Kaler
VIRIN: 220318-F-VX423-2068C

The Russians didn't make much progress on that, either, and have now switched to another objective. They're trying to pinch off the far eastern provinces on Ukraine, the official said. The fighting is hard and tough, and the switch in terrain and in the objective means a switch in battlefield tactics, leading to the increased importance of long-range fires. 

Nations are providing Ukraine with the capabilities it needs to fight the invaders. Of the 108 M-777 howitzers that nations pledged to Ukraine, 85 are now being used by the Ukrainian military the official said. These guns are firing some of the 190,000 155 mm shells that have already been transferred to Ukraine.  

Several service members lift a large wood box loaded with equipment.
Moving Equipment
Several M777 towed 155 mm howitzer cannons wait to be sent from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., April 21, 2022. to assist with European support operations. The U.S. has committed more than $3.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine .
Photo By: Wendy Day, Air Force
VIRIN: 220421-F-JY458-473

Nations have also delivered nine Mi-17 helicopters, and 73 percent of the Switchblade unmanned aerial vehicles. More equipment is arriving every day, and this covers everything from armored personnel carriers and rations to medical supplies and anti-artillery radars and much more. 

The Russians have a large force with a lot of capabilities, but the Ukrainian military is more than holding its own. The Ukrainians turned back the Russians from the gates of Kyiv, and they are pushing the Russians back over the border in and around Kharkiv. 

Russian tactics and doctrine are helping the Ukrainians, too. "[The Russians] are trying to overcome some of the challenges that they've had -- command and control, logistics sustainment, maneuver," the official said. "But, by and large, what we're seeing them do, it's a more localized effort. They're using smaller units to go after smaller objectives in more of a piecemeal approach." 

Marines prepare pallets of supplies.
Pallet Preps
Marines prepare pallets of body armor, individual first aid kits, and other non-lethal equipment essential to Ukraine’s front-line defenders at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 6, 2022.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Jackson Dukes
VIRIN: 220506-M-JD525-409A

But the Russian tactics haven't evolved during the 92 days of combat. "They're still doing it in a fairly doctrinal way -- using artillery fire in advance and then, and then moving units only after they feel like they softened up the target enough," he said. "But … they have the numbers on their side, so that's why I think we continue to see this incremental progress." 

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, military officials have said they expect both sides to learn from the experience and evolve. Although the Ukrainians have, "We're not really seeing a lot of innovative, creative ways of moving on targets [by the Russians]. It's pretty much the same doctrinal approach that they've taken in the past," the official said.