Russia’s goal: erode Western support for Ukraine, US report says

Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine this fall and winter was designed to weaken Western support for Ukraine, according to a recently declassified U.S. intelligence assessment.

The initiative resulted in heavy losses but did not lead to strategic gains for Russia on the battlefield, said Adrienne Watson, a representative of the National Security Council.

Since the war began, Russia has suffered an incredibly high number of casualties, according to another recently declassified assessment. At the beginning of the war the Russian army numbered 360,000 men. Russia lost 315,000 of these soldiers, forcing it to recruit and mobilize new recruits and inmates from its prison system.

According to estimates, Moscow’s equipment was also destroyed. At the start of the war, Russia had 3,500 tanks but lost 2,200, forcing it to withdraw 50-year-old T-62 tanks from storage.

The assessment states that Russian losses have reduced the complexity of recent Russian military operations in Ukraine.

“The war in Ukraine has dramatically set back 15 years of Russian efforts to modernize its ground forces,” the declassified assessment says. “By the end of November, Russia had lost more than a quarter of its stockpile of pre-2022 ground forces equipment and suffered casualties among its trained professional army.”

In the most recent offensive, Russia suffered more than 13,000 killed and wounded and lost more than 220 combat vehicles while fighting near Avdiivka and other towns, Ms. Watson said.

Russian forces hoped for a quick breakthrough, but encountered stiff Ukrainian resistance. Ukraine has moved forces from the south to reinforce its troops in the east. While Ukraine also suffered casualties, its losses are not as significant as Russia’s, U.S. officials said. According to American officials, casualty figures on both sides of the conflict are estimates. Moscow is believed to regularly underreport war dead and wounded, and Kiev does not reveal official figures.

The information has been declassified as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits Washington to make the case that his country needs more American aid to defend itself from the continuing onslaught.

White House calls for $50 billion in additional security aid for Ukraine. But many conservative Republicans are skeptical of the country’s ability to win the war and want major changes in U.S. border security policy as part of a funding deal.

Ms. Watson said Russia’s push was tied to funding debates in Congress. The declassified intelligence assessed that Russia “appears to believe that a military stalemate over the winter will dry up Western support for Ukraine,” Ms. Watson said.

Russia, Watson said, continues to have shortages of soldiers and weapons but is pushing into eastern Ukraine despite losses with the hope of gaining an advantage.

Russia is closely following the debate in Congress, Ms. Watson said. Other U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence reports agreed and said Russian President Vladimir V. Putin believes he is starting to see success in his strategy of trying to wait out the West.