Vladimir Putin is about to make shock gains

Russia has stopped the bleeding and learned from its mistakes. We must be prepared for a nasty blow

Richard Kemp

7 February 2023 • 7:00pm

With Russia back on the offensive after significant Ukrainian combat successes around Kharkiv and Kherson in the second half of 2022, the past few weeks have been the bloodiest so far of an already bloody war, with both sides taking extraordinarily heavy casualties. Expect it to get worse.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov says Russia has mobilised “much more” than 300,000 troops, perhaps up to half a million, and these are pouring into Ukraine in preparation for what is expected to be a major offensive in the coming days and weeks. Although Kyiv has also been building up its forces and supplying them with modern equipment donated by the West, Putin has a much greater advantage in troop numbers than he did when he invaded a year ago. Despite repeated optimistic reports of Russia running low on artillery shells – a battle winner in this conflict – Putin’s war stocks are vast, and his factories have been working around the clock to churn out even more.

Under pressure towards the end of last year, Russia withdrew its forces to positions of strength, trading ground for time as it massed resources for a planned hammer blow while grinding down the Ukrainians in the east, softening them up for the assault to come. Much of this has been done by infantry attack, throwing away “expendable” troops in time-honoured Russian style. The Kremlin has at the same time been conserving artillery shells (though expending thousands each day around Bakhmut alone) and the armoured vehicles that are so essential for the fast-moving blitzkrieg Putin is planning.

Until now, the narrative in the West has been that Ukraine is comfortably winning this war, albeit while facing heavy bombardments on its major cities. The reality is more complex. The latest estimates suggest that each side may have taken upwards of 120,000 casualties already – hardly indicative of a triumph for Ukraine. And there may be worse to come: the truth is that recent promises of new combat equipment for Ukraine – especially longer range missiles, tanks and other armoured vehicles – are unlikely to be fulfilled in time to have an impact in this battle if Putin launches his offensive on the timetable Kyiv predicts.

With so many more men and resources at its disposal, Moscow will be able to sustain higher casualty rates. This is why Russia tends to do better in wars the longer they go on – it can bring more to bear over time. Even today, Putin does not fear high casualties: disproportionate numbers of his troops are recruited from distant provinces rather than cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg, where a stream of body bags could have some effect on what still remains rock solid support for him and his war.

Another concern is that, while Russian forces have performed abysmally – thwarted by low troop morale, inadequate numbers, badly maintained equipment, clumsy tactics, substandard battle discipline, poor logistics, the stiffest Ukrainian resistance and an unexpectedly united effort from the West – some Ukrainian reports from the front indicate the Russians have been learning hard lessons and making much needed improvements, at least at the level of battle tactics and discipline. The Russian army was bleeding before, but it appointed new commanders and – as in the Second World War – may be recovering from its earlier disasters.

We must therefore be prepared for significant Russian gains in the coming weeks. We need to be realistic about how bad things could be – otherwise the shock risks dislodging Western resolve. The opposite occurred last summer and autumn, as flagging support in parts of Europe and the US was galvanised by Ukrainian success.

It is essential that we not only maintain our combat supplies to Ukraine, but step it up even further and even faster. If Putin gains more ground, then Kyiv will need to counterattack more strongly, and will need more armoured vehicles, better air defences, longer-range missiles and vast quantities of artillery shells and ammunition. The only alternative is that President Zelensky is forced to come to terms, handing victory to Russia and defeat to Ukraine and Nato.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former infantry commander


  1. Urgent : Hordes of dirty nazi orcs are on the move and we haven’t given Ukraine nearly enough help.
    The only quick fix, given that an onslaught is only weeks away, is ATACMS. What are you waiting for Joe?

  2. Selected comments from DT readers :

    Robert Lloyd:
    “This is a really frightening prospect, but Colonel Kemp’s analysis seems sound and we should be prepared for the worst. It is hard to see how Ukraine can sustain this essential fight against Russian aggression given the vast imbalance in resources and one wonders how long Nato can stave off some form of military involvement. Russia must be stopped, but leaving Ukraine to face Putin’s monstrous aggression alone, albeit equipped with much decent western armoury, does not sound sustainable. Putin’s Russia (and some of the even nastier ideologues around him, possibly to displace him) is not going to let go.”

    Brian Wolfe:

    “Nato is the only imperial entity I can think of that countries queue up to join. It doesn’t ‘expand’ – that’s Russia’s thing – it just accepts applications from countries seeking to avoid genuine expansion from the primitive eastern aggressor that only dictators like.”

    Steve Maxdavid:

    “There will be 300,000 Russians attacking from East, North and South. Taking place end of February. They will transit into killing zones which have been prepared by Ukraine and some serious planning and execution of the NATO and US high command. It will show that a defending force can hold, destroy and advance against the attacking enemy. The Russians have just a 3 to 1 ratio attacking force. The stockpile of Iran drones will cause havoc in the cities intially as well as airborne and seaborne delivered ballistic missiles. If Ukraine can absorbe this offensive for 5 days. Draw the Russians into 25 or 30 Kms of designated routes. Remember the ground is still wet and only certain roads and tracks can be used by hundreds of tracked and wheeled vehicles. The logistics of the attacking force will faulter without doubt. And humiliation of defeat again for Putin and corrupted military leadership. And victory to Ukrainian people will be assured.”

    A. Troll:

    Rajeev Shah:
    “This war should never have happened. It is people like Kemp and arrogant NATO commanders who thought they could keep expanding NATO with no consequences who are as much to blame. Whatever happened to the “buffer state?”

    Reply to troll Shah from Brian Wolfe:
    “What Ukraine does with its foreign policy is none of Russia’s business, but then you are of an imperialist mindset that sees the countries around Russia as somehow fair game for Russian influence. You must also think that Mexico and Canada should bow to Washington simce they are neighbours. And you will also agree that Cuba ‘s foreign policy should take American interests into account.”

    Reply to troll Shah from Paul Morton:
    “Even if your comments are accurate, one country does not need to invade and brutalise another because it doesn’t like the idea that the second country might join an alliance it doesn’t like.
    As for the so called coup against Zelensky’s predecessor, the fact that he had been elected in free and fair elections when his predecessor cling on through force and corruption tells the world everything.”

    Martin Mitchell:

    “Yesterday, when commenting on record high losses of the orcs in men and equipment I said that I didn’t know what they were trying but it didn’t seem to have worked.
    It turns out that it was an assult on Ugledar (I seem to remember that the orcs had claimed to have taken it).
    “Yesterday, February 6, four columns of occupants with five tanks in each drove from Pavlivka towards Ugledar early in the morning. The enemy infantry was also actively supported by BMPs. Thus, the enemy attempted again to break through the defenses of the Ukrainian defenders.
    Yesterday, only one Ukrainian defender destroyed two enemy tanks at once. Two Ukrainian machine gunners also destroyed two enemy BMPs. Our mortar men and AGS men destroyed a lot of enemy infantry. The enemy left about 30 pieces of military equipment on the battlefield.”

  3. “This is why Russia tends to do better in wars the longer they go on – it can bring more to bear over time.”

    The USSR which had vastly more resources than the mafia state, were in Afghanistan for 10 years, and were defeated, so I take this statement with a pinch of salt.

    • He has plenty of form in writing alarmist articles. Not because he is anti-Ukraine; very much the opposite in fact. What he is trying to do is warn the allies against complacency; which seems to be a problem at the moment.
      However, as we now know, Zel is in London and I expect only good to come out of it. Especially the decision for the RAF to train Ukrainian fighter pilots on NATO planes.

  4. Putin is going to try Stalin’s tactic of piling bodies on the problem. Putin ca not afford the sort of blood that will be required to take Ukraine. If he were to succeed in advancing that far, he won’t have what he needs to hold it. Russia is already on the ropes economically, and I don’t see Putin getting far, if he’s able to advance at all.

    Everything combined. Putin has lost over 180K troops killed. That includes the army and PMCs.

  5. Mafia land didn’t have a chance to win last year, when it still had 100,000+ half-way decent and good troops, and lots more tanks and everything else, while Ukraine’s military was a fraction of what it is today.
    Mafia land now has lots more meat puppets. But, having more meat puppets was important in the 18th century. Now, it only means having more dog food scattered across the Ukrainian landscape.

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