The Pentagon estimates that the Russian forces are several days behind what they wanted to be at this point in the eastaccording to a senior defense official.
The Russians expected to be further along in their objective of trapping Ukrainian troops to the east and believed that would already be accomplished, according to Pentagon assessments. They are “far from being close” to their goal of fully encircling Ukrainian forces, the official said.
Russian forces have made slow, uneven and gradual progress in eastern and southern Ukraine, the official said, in part because they fear overrunning supply lines, as they have in northern Ukraine at the start of the invasion and also because of the effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance.
“They’re not moving very fast,” the official said. “A few miles a day is about the maximum they can handle.”
The Russians have now committed 92 tactical battalion groups, usually 800 to 1,000 strong, to fight in Ukraine. The official warned that although the Russians have a numerical advantage over the Ukrainians, the fighting in the Donbass could be a long chore, as both sides know the terrain and both sides use long-range artillery in the fight .
In the east, the Russians are concentrating on moving Izyum along three main axes – southwest towards Dobropillya, slightly southeast towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, and further southeast towards Lyman. The Russians are also trying to push towards Lyman from an eastern city they control, Kremmina.
A dozen tactical groups of Russian battalions have been in and around, but some of them this week began to move north towards Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The Russians continue to strike Mariupol from the air, indicating that they do not yet control the city.
The Russians have been conducting limited offensives in the east at the same time they are conducting what the Pentagon calls “workout operations” to prepare for a larger offensive.
Russia first invaded Ukraine on a number of axes and has now focused on the smaller geographic area of Donbass where Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014. With the move to the East, US and NATO allies have started giving Ukraine heavier weapons like artillery ahead of an expected protracted battle.
So far, more than 60 percent of the 90 howitzers supplied by the United States have reached Ukrainian hands, according to the Pentagon. Once the weapons enter Ukraine, the United States does not follow them, so it is not clear whether the howitzer artillery pieces have already reached the front lines in the Donbass region.
Howitzers are new to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and require training. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced on Friday that some Ukrainians were receiving training on howitzers and other systems at US military installations in Germany.
One hundred and sixty members of the Florida National Guard had trained Ukrainian soldiers in Ukraine before leaving in early February before the invasion, and now they do most of the systems training, according to Kirby. All training takes place outside Ukraine.
There were emotional moments between the guards and some of the Ukrainian soldiers during their recent reunion due to bonds formed before the invasion, Kirby said.
Artillery pieces and other equipment announced in recent assistance packages are what the Ukrainians have requested, in anticipation of an intense battle in the east.