ussian forces have suffered “extremely high” losses in Ukraine and are becoming increasingly desensitised by the war revealed by the “degrading, revolting and barbaric” atrocities committed, western officials said on Monday.
They did not put a figure on the death toll among Russian troops, but Ukrainian military chiefs claim it is nearly 20,000, though this may well be an exaggeration.
The number of injured and incapacitated Russian soldiers is estimated to be three or four times as high as the death toll.
Western officials stressed that so far the execution of Vladimir Putin’s invasion plan had failed and his generals were having to readjust and scale back their ambitions as the Russian campaign is refocused in the eastern Donbas region.
They added that these series of setbacks inflicted on the Russian president’s forces, who have now retreated from Kyiv and northern Ukraine, were an “enormous achievement” by Ukrainian fighters and Volodymyr Zelenksy’s government.
“It’s also symptomatic of a poorly-led, ill-disciplined and frustrated set of Russian forces who have sustained extremely high casualties and are becoming increasingly difficult to lead and ineffective,” one western official explained.
“Unfortunately, they are also becoming increasingly desensitised in the course of this conflict.
“The Russian way of urban warfare was never pretty and we are seeing that in degrading, and revolting and barbaric detail at the moment.
“These indiscriminate attacks targeting of civilians, alleged war crimes, have all shocked and horrified us all.
Russian forces are having to re-equip and bring in new soldiers into units before launching an expected new onslaught to try to encircle Ukrainian troops in the Donbas which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk areas held by Moscow-backed separatists.
This new offensive is expected to take at least a week, if not longer, to be fully launched so the West has an “incredibly important” window to increase economic and military support to Ukraine.
Some Russian units which pulled back from around Kyiv into Belarus, and from around Chernihiv in the north into Russia were now starting to be deployed to reinforce Mr Putin’s forces in and around the Donbas.
More Russian attacks were being launched in the eastern region but had been repelled by Ukrainian fighters.
“We are still witnessing Russian forces commit some of the tactical and doctrinal errors that we saw previously, advancing in single line formations which is leading to forces being attrited and then challenges for them in terms of being able to manoeuvre,” said one western official.
He also stressed: “The (Russian) losses that we have seen, the scale of losses, regardless of the reinforcing of their forces in the Donbas, it’s still unclear how they are going to overcome some of the morale issues that they will have with their troops.
“We have seen a number of troops being unwilling to fight and refusing to engage in operations.”
He emphasised Mr Putin’s army was being hampered by problems with its “command and control” which military chiefs were trying to address by installing some unity of command.
Concerns are growing Mr Putin may resort to using even more barbaric weapons in Ukraine after reportedly appointing General Alexander Dvornikov for his Donbas campaign.
Dvornikov, 60, has a record for brutality as head of Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to back President Bashar Assad’s government during the country’s devastating civil war which saw the city of Aleppo obliterated by bombing and fierce fighting.
The Russian invasion has been dogged by logistical problems – with units running low on fuel, food and ammunition at times.
“When they do start, the scale of operations we anticipate in the Donbas, they will also have large logistical lines open up which will be vulnerable potentially to attack by Ukrainian forces,” the official added.
He highlighted the attack on Kramatorsk railway station, eastern Ukraine, on Friday, which left at least 50 people dead according to local officials, as yet another example of “reckless use of missiles and artillery” and dismissed the Kremlin’s denial of responsibility as a “lie”.
The world has watched in horror as details of war crimes have emerged in recent days as Russian forces were forced to retreat from Kyiv and northern Ukraine.
More than 1,200 bodies have been recovered from this part of the country, according to local officials, including more than 300 in Bucha, near the capital, where mass graves were discovered, civilians found with their hands tied behind their back and shot in the head, a sign of execution, and a growing number of reports of women being raped.
Mr Putin’s generals are expected to try to double or treble the size of their force engaged in the Donbas but may struggle to effectively use these units in particular battles.
Around 37 of some 125 battalion tactical groups mobilised for the invasion are also believed to having to be refurbished or amalgamated after suffering heavy equipment or manpower losses.
Russian defence chiefs are thought to be trying to bring back thousands of former soldiers, who have been in the military over the last decade, as 130,000 new conscripts coming into the armed forces will need to be trained to be effective fighters.
“The fact that Russia is looking at doing this gives an indication as to the impact of the massive casualties that they face and the struggles that they are having with the nature of this operation,” said one western official.
However, Ukrainian forces in the Donbas would face the threat of a “pincer movement” – with Russian units attacking from the Izyum area from the north and up from the south if they succeed in seizing Mariupol.
A growing number of reports also show Russian forces in convoys on roads coming under attack and then struggling to respond.
Videos have shown Russian units “firing wildly”, not able to identify from where they were being targeted by often relatively small group of Ukrainian troops.
These failures are believed to be partly down to the Russian forces having not properly trained for this type of operation, with some commanders also deceiving their soldiers that they were going on a military exercise.
Mr Putin is also thought to have expected his army to have been welcomed as liberators in Ukraine.
Russia’s military has also failed to gain control of the skies over Ukraine, with many planes and helicopters shot down.
Tens of thousands of civilians are also believed to have been killed since the invasion was launched 47 days ago, as well as many Ukrainian soldiers.