U.S. says Russia’s progress in Donbas has been “minimal at best”

The Pentagon assesses that Russia’s progress in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has been “minimal at best,” with Russian forces continuing to suffer from “poor” command and control, low morale and recurring logistical problems, a senior US defense official told reporters Monday.

Why it matters: Russia launched a major offensive in the Donbas last month that both sides have characterized as a decisive “second phase” of the war. Two weeks in, the US believes Russian forces are “behind schedule” and experiencing many of the same problems that forced them to retreat from Kyiv.

Driving the news: The US official described the Russians’ operations in the Donbas as “very cautious, very tepid, very uneven,” attributing some of the failures to “a risk and casualty aversion” that has persisted in both the air and on the ground.

  • “They’ll move in [to an area]declare victory and then withdraw their troops, only to let the Ukrainians take it back,” the official said.
  • The official also said that the Russian army’s highest-ranking general, Valery Gerasimov, visited the Donbas for “several days” last week, but that the US could not confirm Ukrainian reports that he had been injured.

In addition to problems in the DonbasRussian forces have been pushed 25 miles east of Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second-largest city — over the last 24-48 hours, the official said.

  • Kharkiv lies just 25 miles south of Russia’s border and near the Donbas, but has remained firmly in Ukrainian control despite 68 days of heavy bombardment.
  • The official called Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kharkiv “an incredible effort” that has denied Russian forces the ability to push south and link up with other units attempting to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas.

Zoom out: 14 flights carrying US military aid for Ukraine have landed in the region over the past 24 hours, with 11 more expected in the next 24 hours, the official said.

  • By day’s end, about 200 Ukrainian troops will have been trained at sites in Europe on how to use the howitzer artillery systems authorized in recent US military aid packages.
  • 20 Ukrainian troops have also been trained on the Phoenix Ghost drones developed by the US Air Force specifically for Ukrainian requirements, the official said.

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