Russian President Vladimir Putin, facing military production delays and mounting battlefield losses, has urged his government to cut through bureaucracy to crank out enough weapons and supplies to feed his troops in Ukraine, where a Ukrainian counteroffensive has put Russia’s forces on the back foot.
The Russian military’s supply shortfalls in the eight-month war have been so pronounced that Putin had to create a structure to try to address them.
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On Tuesday, Putin chaired a new committee designed to accelerate the production and delivery of weapons and supplies for Russian troops, and stressed the need to “gain higher tempo in all areas”.
Russian news reports have acknowledged that many of those mobilised to fight in Ukraine – a figure the Russian president said was 222,000 out of an initial target of 300,000 – have not been provided with adequate basic equipment, such as medical kits and flak jackets, and have had to find their own supplies.
Last week, Putin tried to show all is well by visiting a training site in Russia where he was shown well-equipped soldiers.
Other reports have suggested that Russian troops are increasingly forced to use old and sometimes unreliable equipment, and that some of the newly-mobilised troops have been rushed to the front lines in the war with little training.
To substitute for increasingly scarce Russian-made long-range precision weapons, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence said Russia was likely to now resort to the use of a large number of drones to try to penetrate Ukrainian air defences.
Russia’s “artillery ammunition is running low,” the ministry said in a report on Tuesday.
The Washinton, DC-based Institute for the Study of War said that “the slower tempo of Russian air, missile, and drone strikes possibly reflects decreasing missile and drone stockpiles and the strikes’ limited effectiveness of accomplishing Russian strategic military goals.”
Despite the supply issues, Russia’s military has inflicted massive damage and heavy casualties in Ukraine, destroying homes, public buildings and Ukraine’s power grid. The World Bank estimates the damage to Ukraine so far at 350bn euros ($348bn).
According to the United Nations, from the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 to beginning of October there were 15,246 civilian casualties recorded in Ukraine. Of those, 6,114 people were killed and 9,132 injured. Around 7.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country and are now livings as refugees across Europe, according to the UN.
The UK’s new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that his country’s support for Ukraine would be steadfast and “as strong as ever under his premiership”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Sunak’s predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, had vocally promised full support to the war-torn country and the new prime minister said the UK’s military assistance would be as “strong as ever” under his leadership.
“The Prime Minister said … President Zelenskyy could count on his government to stand in continued solidarity,” the spokesperson said.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that he had invited Sunak to visit Ukraine.
A senior Ukrainian official predicted late on Tuesday that “the heaviest of battles” have yet to come for the partially Russian-occupied strategic southern province of Kherson, where he said Moscow’s military is digging in to face Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
The region’s capital city and river port Kherson, which had a pre-war population of about 280,000, is the largest urban centre Russia still holds since capturing it early in the invasion of Ukraine eight months ago.
Ukrainian forces do not appear to have gained much ground in their counteroffensive in the Kherson region since early October.
“With Kherson everything is clear. The Russians are replenishing, strengthening their grouping there,” Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in an online video on Tuesday evening.
“It means that nobody is preparing to withdraw. On the contrary, the heaviest of battles is going to take place for Kherson,” according to Arestovych, who did not say when the battle might happen.
One of Moscow’s allies on Tuesday urged Russia to step up the pace and scale of Ukraine’s destruction.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the regional leader of Chechnya who has sent troops to fight in Ukraine, urged Moscow to annihilate entire cities in retaliation for Ukrainian shelling of Russia’s territory.
“Our response has been too weak,” Kadyrov said on his messaging app channel.
“If a shell flies into our region, entire cities must be wiped off the face of the Earth so that they don’t ever think that they can fire in our direction,” he said.