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Russian Military Suffers ‘Eroding Professionalism’ as Ukraine Fighting Continues

Ukrainian servicemen rest in a shelter near the small city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Saturday. Photo by EPA-EFE
Ukrainian servicemen rest in a shelter near the small city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Saturday. Photo by EPA-EFE

The Russian military is suffering "eroding military professionalism" as ground fighting continues in Ukraine, according to experts.

"Evidence of eroding military professionalism in the Russian officer corps is mounting," the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., said in an analysis late Saturday.

"Waning professionalism among Russia's officers could present Ukrainian forces with opportunities. Russian morale, already low, may drop further if such behavior is widespread and continues."

The analysis came as the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in an operational update that its forces had repelled seven Russian attacks in the Donbas region in the past 24 hours.

The Ukrainian military also said in a statement reported by The New York Times that its army had started a counterattack in Kherson and broke through Russia's defense line. United Press International was not able to independently verify Ukraine's claim.

Russia has been concentrating its efforts in recent days on seizing the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region.

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine that aimed to seize and occupy the entire country has become a desperate and bloody offensive to capture a single city in the east while defending important but limited gains in the south and east," according to the Institute for the Study of War.

The think tank said that Russian forces are assaulting Sievierodonetsk "even though they have not yet encircled it" but are "making territorial gains and may succeed in taking the city," describing it as the "most serious challenge" Ukraine has encountered since the siege on Mariupol.

A loss for Ukraine in Sievierodonetsk would mark a "significant tactical defeat," the think tank said while adding that "such an outcome is by no means certain."

Sievierodonetsk is in the Luhansk oblast, one of the two Ukrainian ones that make up the Donbas region, which has largely been held by Russian-backed separatists since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Before the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two oblasts as independent republics. Experts have said that Putin will try to annex the Donbas region into Russia in coming months.

If successful in seizing Sievierodonetsk, Russia will be closer to occupying all of the Luhansk region.

"Seizing it will let Moscow declare that it has secured Luhansk Oblast fully but will give Russia no other significant military or economic benefit," according to the Institute for the Study of War.

"This is especially true because Russian forces are destroying the city as they assault it and will control its rubble if they capture it."

The British Defense Ministry stated in an intelligence update Sunday that Andrei Rudenko, Russia's deputy foreign minister, has said Russia "is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food through the Black Sea in return for the lifting of sanctions" amid the global food crisis.

Rudenko also requested that Ukraine de-mine the area around the port of Odesa to allow the passage of such ships, the British Defense Ministry said.

"Rudenko's request for Ukraine to de-mine follows a core tenet of modern Russian messaging strategy: introducing alternative narratives, however unconvincing, to complicate audiences' understanding," the British Defense Ministry said.

"In this instance, Ukraine has only deployed maritime mines because of the continued credible threat of Russian amphibious assaults from the Black Sea. Russia has demonstrated it is prepared to leverage global food security for its own political aim and then present itself as the reasonable actor."

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Saturday that foreign equipment sent to the country has been "working successfully" on the front lines.

His statement came weeks after Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, the commander of the Ukrainian military, said that the country planned to move to using modern weapons that meet NATO standards.

"Ukraine has already received M109 SPHs in one of its modifications. This equipment is of very high quality. Its supply was the result of cooperation between several countries," Reznikov said.

Reznikov said that Ukraine has also received Harpoon missiles from Denmark with the help of Britain that will help in defending the country's coast along the Black Sea, as well as more than 100 drones from the United States.

"Like any minister in my position, I wish I had many more weapons and as soon as possible. Because the lives of our people are at stake," Reznikov said.

"At the same time, we must understand that in the last month and a half, for instance, we have received more NATO-standard artillery shells than there are Soviet shells available!"

Reznikov said that the strategic decision to switch to NATO-type heavy weaponry "already has a concrete dimension."

In its operational update Sunday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that Russian forces fired mortars at troops in the Sumy region and shelled civilian infrastructure in many of the cities in eastern Ukraine.

"In the area of the settlement of Bobrove, the enemy suffered losses and retreated to previously occupied positions. Assault aircraft launched air strikes in the Ustynivka area," the Ukraine Defense Ministry said.

"Russian occupiers are trying to improve the tactical situation in the Bakhmut direction. With the support of mortar and artillery fire, the enemy conducted offensive and assault operations in the areas of the settlements of Volodymyrivka, Vasylivka, Komyshuvakha and Myronivka."

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry added that Russia "was unsuccessful, suffered losses and left."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday revealed that 2,229 homes have been destroyed in Kharkiv alone as he visited the front lines in the region.

"I feel infinitely proud of our defenders," Zelensky said. "Every day, risking their lives, they choose freedom for Ukraine. Thank each and every one of you for your service!"

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