In one of their biggest warnings since the start of the conflict nearly two months ago, they admitted Vladimir Putin’s forces were gaining territory and now outnumber their Ukrainian counterparts by three soldiers to once. Russian troops have failed in their initial invasion objectives, with a spirited Ukraine fightback inflicting a host of humiliating defeats on them. But the recent turnaround has come after a Russian general known as “The Butcher”, a veteran of the Syrian campaign, overhauled the performance of his country’s advance.
General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was made overall commander two weeks ago, has been credited with reversal in Russian fortunes by Western officials.
He had been promoted after Russia’s disastrous failure to seize any major Ukrainian cities, its humiliating retreat from the capital Kyiv and the loss of some 30,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft and tanks in battle.
But the transformation in the use of drones, rocket systems and electronic transformation has coincided with the general’s appointment, giving Putin renewed hope he can be victorious.
One Western official said: “This is a new chapter of the campaign and, despite his previous failures, Putin is still in a position to win.
“Russia has concentrated sufficient force that if they use it intelligently they should be able to destroy a large part of Ukraine’s forces.”
Officials fear that with such a significant numerical advantage and stronger leadership of troops from the likes of “The Butcher”, the Russians could be difficult to dislodge from the territory they have won.
But they also claimed many of the Russian units now targeting the east of Ukraine and the Donbas region had not had enough time to properly regroup after being battered in the failed earlier advance of Kyiv.
This has led troops to enter a new phase of the war in a “piecemeal” fashion with little impact, meaning they are taking “relatively small amounts of terrain”.
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But despite the “renewed focus” from Russia as heavy shelling and fighting in eastern Donbas continues, Moscow is still suffering from losses sustained earlier in the war.
The MoD update said: “Putin’s decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.
“A full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness.
“In the eastern Donbas, heavy shelling and fighting continues as Russia seeks to advance further towards settlements including Krasnyy Lyman, Buhayikva, Barvinkove, Lyman and Popasna as part of their plans for the region.
“Despite Russia’s renewed focus they are still suffering from losses sustained earlier in the conflict.
“In order to try and reconstitute their depleted forces, they have resorted to transiting inoperable equipment back to Russia for repair.”