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Ukrainian Counterattacks Compound Russia’s Military Problem

Destroyed Russian tanks are seen amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Sumy region, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (Press Service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Destroyed Russian tanks are seen amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Sumy region, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (Press Service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via Reuters)

Russian warships bombarded targets near Odesa Wednesday morning, possibly as a part of a buildup to an attack on the Ukrainian port city. But some military strategists say Russian forces are struggling to hold territory they have seized and have suffered some serious reversals in fierce skirmishes elsewhere that will likely delay an assault on Odesa.

Britain’s Defense Ministry in its daily update on the state of battle assessed that Russian forces are struggling to overcome challenges posed by Ukraine's terrain and that Russian units have remained largely tied to Ukraine’s roads, demonstrating reluctance to go off-road to maneuver. It said Ukrainian forces have also managed to stall Russian advances by blowing up bridges.

“The tactics of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have adeptly exploited Russia’s lack of maneuver, frustrating the Russian advance and inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces,” the British Defense Ministry concluded.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Wednesday in a tweet that a series of counter offensives in “several operational areas” had altered the warring “parties' dispositions.” And Oleksiy Arestovych, another aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said small-scale Ukrainian counterattacks meant Russian forces have not managed to clear the “main hotspots” around Kyiv and there is little chance they will as “Russia has used up its resources.”

Two-thirds of Russian rockets are striking civilian buildings and infrastructure, Arestovych said in a video briefing.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces continued intense bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and surrounding towns. A high-rise apartment block was hit in the latest shelling attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Wednesday, smashing the top floor and igniting a blaze. There were reports of two victims, but there has been no confirmation on whether they were killed or injured. So far, Ukrainian authorities estimate Russia has destroyed 3,500 buildings in 21 days of war, including more than 200 schools.

Ukraine’s military claims 13,800 Russian soldiers have been killed or captured since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24. They also say they have destroyed or taken out of action 430 tanks and 1,375 armored vehicles. The Ukrainian claims have not been independently verified.

A fourth Russian general, Oleg Mityaev, the 47-year-old commander of Russia's 150th motorized rifle division, was reportedly killed. Kyiv said Mityaev, who fought in Syria, died near the city of Mariupol and released a photo purportedly of his body.

Moscow has not confirmed the death.

If the claim is accurate, he would be the fourth Russian general to have been killed and 13th officer since February 24, when the invasion of Ukraine began.

The other generals killed were: Major General Andrei Kolesnikov, commander of the 29th Combined Army; Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, a deputy commander of Russia's 41st army, another combat veteran who fought in Syria, and Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky, who was reportedly killed by a sniper. Four Russian colonels have also been killed and a Chechen general, Magomed Tushaev, has been reported by Kyiv as killed in an ambush near Hostomel, near the Ukrainian capital, which has seen some of the heaviest ground fighting since Russia invaded.

Military analysts suggest the high death tally of senior officers is because they have had to move closer to the front lines to sort out logistical supply problems and to coax ground troops forward. Moscow has only acknowledged that 498 of its soldiers have been killed and 1,597 wounded, and that was on March 2 with no updates since.

Western defense officials have lower estimates than Ukraine’s for the Russian death toll, with a consensus of a likely 6,000 Russian dead, around the number of U.S. service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during two decades of fighting.

Russian military spokesmen have a different view of the state of battle, saying its forces shot down in the past 24 hours two Ukrainian Su-25 warplanes and one MiG-29 fighter jet as well as four drones. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov also said Wednesday that Russian forces destroyed 128 Ukrainian military facilities the past day.

Independent military observers and strategists concur with the assessment of Britain’s Defense Ministry, saying that the outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian defense forces have managed to frustrate Russia’s invasion force, especially in northern and eastern Ukraine.

“Putin has check-mated himself: his armor-mechanized forces cannot enter Kiev [sic] without suffering huge casualties, and neither can they stay outside without being attacked by drones and AT [anti-tank] missiles,” tweeted Edward Luttwak, a renowned American military strategist.

Russian's army tanks move down a street on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 11, 2022.
Russian's army tanks move down a street on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 11, 2022.

In south Ukraine, Russian forces have made more progress but have not been able to subjugate the smaller port-town of Mariupol, which has been besieged and without water, food supplies and electricity for days. And a Russian advance on Odesa has also been stalled because of a dogged Ukrainian defense of the town of Mykolayiv, 120 kilometers east of Odesa, where Ukrainian defenders managed to recapture the local airport a few days ago.

Ukrainian and Western military officials say they still think Russia is planning an assault on Odesa, and Russian warships have been gathering off the coast nearby, they say. One option for the Russians would be to bypass Mykolayiv and conduct an amphibious landing.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, said last week that a seaborne assault on Odesa had been planned but was abandoned because of poor weather conditions. Odesa has been preparing for a Russian attack, fortifying streets for close fighting and mining beaches.