Behind Russia’s ‘Pause’ in Ukraine, Signs of a Troubled Effort to Regroup

With Russian forces in the middle of a purported “operational pause,” some Ukrainians in the country’s battered eastern frontline regions are questioning what that means at a time when their towns are still coming under continued shelling.

Military analysts say they have indeed observed a Russian pause — an effort to regroup and prepare reinforcements for a renewed assault on cities in Donetsk Province.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia warned this month that his forces had yet to unleash their fiercest efforts on Ukraine. But according to some assessments, as well as information trickling out about Russia’s scramble to send more troops into the offensive, some analysts are questioning the effectiveness of the units that Russia is moving up.

“Despite President Putin’s claim on 7 July 2022 that the Russian military has ‘not even started’ its efforts in Ukraine, many of its reinforcements are ad hoc groupings, deploying with obsolete or inappropriate equipment,” an assessment from Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.

One sign the defense ministry pointed to was its expectation that fresh Russian troops would be deployed with MT-LB armored vehicles. The MT-LB, first designed in the 1950s to pull artillery, is not heavily armored and can mount only a machine gun to protect its forces.

“Russia has long considered them unsuitable for most frontline infantry transport roles,” the British ministry said in its analysis.

Previous deployments, it said, were transported with the well armored BMP-2 fighting vehicles, which can also fire anti-tank missiles.

Then there are the reports from Russian channels on the Telegram app of a strained effort to round up more troops to fight. Russia has resorted to creating volunteer battalions to deploy to Ukraine, a move that avoids a national draft that Moscow may fear is too politically risky.

The locations from which many of these reports are coming indicate that many of these volunteers are being drawn from regions home to Russia’s impoverished ethnic minorities, as well as Ukrainians from the separatist-held territories of Ukraine’s east. Some analysts at a discussion of the war at the University of Cambridge on Friday said this suggested that the government was trying to avoid having too many losses from Moscow or other regions of mostly ethnic Russians or wealthier classes.

But whatever challenges Russia’s plans may be facing, local officials in Ukraine said the “pause” had done little for embattled regions on the eastern front lines, with some towns still being subjected to heavy strikes.

“The enemy does not stop the terror of our cities and villages,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said on Telegram, citing several attacks overnight on the town of Kryvyi Rih.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War noted in its daily assessment that a successful military operational pause usually includes continued assaults on some enemy targets. In this way, it said, Russia would seek to prevent Ukraine from carrying out a successful counterattack as Moscow’s forces regroup.

The aim of such tactics, the assessment said, is “to persuade the enemy that no pause is contemplated or underway, or that it will be too short to be of benefit to the enemy, and thereby convince the enemy that it does not have the opportunity to seize the initiative.”

“Russian campaign design,” it added, “inadequate as it has generally been, is nevertheless good enough to manifest this basic principle of operational art.”

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