Russia’s strategy in its war on Ukraine is shifting toward a “slow annihilation” of the Ukrainian military, US and other Western officials tell CNN, warning that Russia could focus on a bloody and deadly bombardment of cities and civilian targets as the conflict becomes a grinding war of attrition.
Ukrainian forces have so far been able to stave off Russia’s initial push, maintaining control of Kyiv and other major cities. But they remain massively outgunned and outmanned. And Russia is now bringing in heavier, more destructive weaponry and increasingly striking civilian infrastructure, after an initial focus on military targets, the officials said.
The shift in strategy likely reflects a recognition by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his initial plan to quickly topple Kyiv has failed, said one senior Western intelligence official – in part because the Ukrainians have put up a stiffer than anticipated fight and in part because logistics and supply missteps have slowed the Russian advance.
But Western officials now expect that Russia will ramp up heavy weapons bombardment of Ukraine’s cities and potentially march in “tens of thousands” of troops, one US official said. Eventually, officials caution, Ukraine’s military will likely run short of supplies needed to keep up the fight.
The US has delivered hundreds of Stinger missiles to Ukraine over the last few days, including more than 200 on Monday, according to a US official and a congressional source briefed on the matter. But the US and NATO have made it clear they will not commit troops to defending Ukraine.
‘Cruel military math’
Ukraine’s will to fight “is extending this,” said the senior Western intelligence official. “But the cruel military math of this will eventually come to bear, absent some intervention, absent some fundamental change in the dynamic.”
For Ukraine, whose military forces and civilian population have shown no signs of capitulating, the war appears poised to become a grim struggle for survival over a protracted, uncertain future.
The numbers are already bleak: Russia has lost roughly 3% to 5% of its tanks, aircraft, artillery and other military assets inside Ukraine — compared with Ukrainian losses of roughly 10% of its capabilities, according to two US officials familiar with the latest intelligence.
Moscow has leaned heavily on its more modern precision cruise missiles, according to a source familiar with the intelligence, heavily degrading Ukraine’s military infrastructure. Meanwhile, Ukraine has continued to burn through its supply of shoulder-fired Javelin missiles.