A May 9 US intelligence estimate concluded that the Russians had gained only a few miles in the Donbas region since the offensive began; a Pentagon official described Russia’s efforts as “incremental and somewhat anemic.” The offensive’s aim — a sweeping advance cutting off Ukrainian forces in the Donbas from the rest of the country — is looking increasingly out of reach.
“They clearly lack the forces to be able to achieve this operational scheme,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the CNA think tank. “The offensive isn’t making dramatic gains, and there appears to be very little likelihood of a general breakthrough.”
While Russia has failed to make many gains, Ukraine has begun launching counteroffensives, attacking near Kharkiv and Izyum in the north and Kherson in the south. The Kharkiv attack is particularly threatening to Russia, with Ukrainian progress endangering the supply lines sustaining the Donbas offensive.
As a result of the Russian offensive’s problems, there’s already been a reorientation in Russian efforts toward the city of Severodonetsk, which, according to Kofman, reflects a strategic abandonment of the grand encirclement plan at the offensive’s outset.
“I think their goal is to essentially turn that into a pocket, and then to try — since they’re unable to complete any larger envelopment of Ukrainian forces operationally — to go for these smaller envelopments and try to press Ukrainian forces out of the Donbas one piece at a time,” he says.
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