Sat. May 28th, 2022

The high-speed destruction wrought by Russian rockets and artillery in their brutal bombardment of the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv this week has contrasted with the slow progress of a 60km-long convoy grinding towards the capital, Kyiv.

The stalled convoy, which western intelligence officials said had made no discernible progress in the past two days, illustrated what analysts said was Russia’s belief that it could achieve a lightning-fast victory in Ukraine without the need for reinforcements and significant supply lines.

Western intelligence officials said it was unclear whether Russia had not planned properly for the invasion in terms of logistical support, or whether it had difficulty executing its plan, partly because of stronger-than-expected resistance from Ukrainian forces.

“It’s one thing to do [large-scale] military exercises, it’s another to co-ordinate 150,000 troops when the enemy is shooting back, ”said Ben Hodges, former commander of US armed forces in Europe. “Russia also brought together forces from all over the country who have never operated together before.

“Ammo and fuel consumption rates are always higher than you plan for, and the further Russians go, the more ammo and fuel they will use,” he added. “Military vehicles are not designed for fuel economy.”

On Thursday night, in a video address to an online meeting of his security council broadcast on state television, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted the “special military operation” in Ukraine was “proceeding strictly in line with the timetable.” According to plan. ”

“All the tasks that have been set are being successfully resolved,” he said, in terminology that the Kremlin has used to deny that the war is an invasion.

The static convoy – the front of which has reached an airport 25km from the center of Kyiv while its rear is 60km back down the road – has delayed the kind of large-scale assault on the capital that Russia inflicted on Mariupol. In the encircled southern port civilians under constant shelling are living without power, water, internet access or heat in sub-zero winter temperatures.

Ukraine’s military said Russian troops were attempting to “weaken resistance” of cities under siege.

Russian troops have been seen raiding petrol stations and supermarkets across Ukraine, eyewitnesses told the Financial Times, while unverified videos on social media show what appear to be dozens of abandoned Russian military vehicles, many with ruptured tires or other mechanical faults.

“Morale is low, equipment is poor and in bad condition, they lack food,” said a senior western defense official citing reports of Russian troops looting shops.

A US defense official said the Pentagon had seen images of Russian vehicles stuck in mud, but added it was difficult to assess the scope of the problem. The official said Russian forces in the south appeared to have fewer logistical constraints, partly because they could rely on infrastructure in nearby Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

“In the south, the soldiers are more professional: fewer conscripts, better run, better stocked,” said the senior western defense official.

On Thursday, talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives reached an agreement on setting up humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians trapped by the conflict, and “a possible temporary ceasefire in areas where evacuation is happening”, Moscow said.

Emma Beals, senior adviser at the European Institute of Peace, noted that Russia had “strategically” used ceasefires during the war in Syria, with resupply [and] regrouping ”.

“If they’re bogged down and struggling with supplies it may explain willingness,” she added. “Use the window, but watch supply lines and movements.”

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