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ISW: Further delay in US aid could render Ukrainian forces vulnerable to Russian offensives

ISW says the Russian military is leveraging delays in US military support to Ukraine to strengthen its operations, gaining ground through distinct, focused offensive efforts across multiple fronts.
Ukrainian mobile fire group on the lookout for Russia’s Shahed drones. Photo: Anatolii Shtefan.
ISW: Further delay in US aid could render Ukrainian forces vulnerable to Russian offensives

The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says the Russian military command “likely assesses that Ukrainian forces will be unable to defend against current and future Russian offensive operations due to delays in or the permanent end of US military assistance.”

Russian forces are engaged in three distinct operational-level efforts that, while not mutually reinforcing, allow them to focus on achieving gradual, tactical advances in selected sectors. The longer Ukraine goes without additional US military support, the more its forces will struggle to counter these Russian efforts, as per ISW.

Russian forces have periodically redirected their offensive efforts among the Lyman, Chasiv Yar, and Pokrovsk directions in Donetsk Oblast. In early 2024, they initially focused on capturing Avdiivka with less intense operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line. Then, they shifted emphasis to the Lyman direction, slightly reducing activity near Avdiivka. Most recently, in March-April 2024, they intensified efforts to seize Chasiv Yar, according to ISW’s earlier reports.

Although Russian forces likely lack the capacity for multiple simultaneous large-scale operations, as seen throughout the war, they are now employing alternating offensive efforts. This strategy stretches Ukrainian defensive capabilities, exploiting shortages in Ukrainian artillery and air defenses.

ISW says the current pattern of Russian offensive operations permits unit elements engaged in less intense efforts to rest and reconstitute. Meanwhile, other units, likely those more rested or recently reinforced, intensify operations in different directions. This strategy forces Ukrainian forces to spread their defensive resources thinly across the theater, creating exploitable vulnerabilities. Additionally, Russian forces are reportedly building operational and strategic reserves to sustain ongoing offenses in Ukraine, potentially in preparation for an expected spring-summer offensive.

ISW continues to assess that “these reserves are unlikely to be ready to act as a first-echelon penetration force or second-echelon exploitation force capable of conducting large-scale mechanized assaults in 2024 as long as Ukrainian forces have the wherewithal to resist them.”

Russian forces are likely to use these reserves to restaff or reinforce existing formations and continue their strategy of grinding, infantry-led assaults, occasionally bolstered by limited mechanized advances in chosen directions at critical times.

If the United States does not resume providing aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian forces continue to lack essential artillery and air defense munitions in particular, however, even badly-trained and poorly-equipped Russian troops might be able to conduct successful offensive operations,” ISW concludes.

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