Intelligence intercepts have caught Russian officers arguing among themselves and complaining to friends and relatives back home about decision-making from Moscow, one of the sources told CNN.
And there are significant differences over strategy, with military leaders struggling to agree on where to focus their efforts to advance the defense lines, multiple sources familiar with U.S. intelligence said.
The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed it is redeploying forces to the northeast toward Kharkiv — where Ukraine has made the most dramatic gains — but U.S. and Western sources say the bulk of Russian troops Part still exists in the south, where Ukraine has also launched offensives around Kherson.
According to Russian military analysts, it is unclear whether the mobilization will make any operational difference on the battlefield, or simply prolong the length of the war without changing the outcome.
The blame game
While Russia is failing on the battlefield, officials in Moscow have blamed the sudden change in Russia’s fortunes, a senior NATO official said.
“Kremlin officials and state media pundits are hotly debating the reasons for the failure in Kharkiv and, in general, it appears that the Kremlin is trying to shift the blame away from Putin and onto the Russian military,” the person said. ” said the man.
Already, military leadership has been reshuffled in response to battlefield setbacks — making Russia’s command structure more messed up than ever, sources say. The commander, who oversaw the majority of units around the Kharkiv area, had only been in the post for 15 days and has now been relieved of duty, the NATO official said.
Russia has sent a “small number” of troops into eastern Ukraine — some of whom defected during last week’s advance on the Ukrainian battlefield, according to two U.S. defense officials — to shore up its vulnerable defense lines. Attempt to
But even if Russia manages to unite around a plan, U.S. and Western officials believe Russia is limited in its ability to mount a strategically significant response to Ukraine’s retaliation, the sources said. That, in recent days, has shifted the momentum in Kyiv’s favor. Even after the partial demobilization was announced, officials doubted Russia’s ability to quickly deploy large numbers of troops to Ukraine given ongoing problems with supply lines, communications and morale.
A senior defense official told CNN that the “small scale” of the Russian redeployment is indicative of its failure to pursue any serious action.
So far, Russia has responded to Ukraine’s advances by launching attacks against critical infrastructure such as dams and power plants — attacks that the U.S. has described as large-scale “retaliation” rather than operationally important salvos, the person said. ” sees as attacks.
Sources say Russia has other options for punishing or withdrawing Ukrainian forces that it does not currently have. In an appearance on CNN on Wednesday, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said Putin was “struggling.” Kirby said Russia’s military had “poor unit cohesion, disintegration in the ranks, soldiers not wanting to fight”.
Kirby said, “His morale is terrible, unity coordination, command and control on the battlefield is still not resolved. He has problems with abandonment and he is forcing the wounded back into the fight. So clearly But, manpower is an issue for him,” Kirby said. “He feels like he’s on the back foot, especially in the northeastern region of Donbass.”
The mobilization order is a sign that Putin’s plan is not working.
Military analysts say Putin’s mobilization order is significant because it is a direct acknowledgment that Moscow’s “special military operation” was not working and needed to be adjusted.
But for now, there are more questions than answers about its precise operational implications. It is the first such decree in Russia since World War II, offering military analysts limited modern data on which to base their forecasts.
Even if Moscow could increase its troop numbers — both by keeping current contract service members from leaving the service and by mobilizing reservists — it would have to train, equip, and integrate those troops into existing units. will struggle for, said Michael Coffman, the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analysis. And even if it solves some of the near-term workforce problems, it likely won’t be high-quality hires, Coffman and others note.
Even in the best-case scenario, it will take some time for Moscow to send in fresh troops.
“I think it’s fair to say that partial mobilization probably won’t be reflected on the battlefield for several months initially, and could increase Russia’s ability to sustain this war,” Koffman said. , but can’t change the outcome,” Coffman said.
Longstanding Russian failures in planning, communications and logistics have been compounded by punishing losses in the retreat from around Kharkiv, the sources said. According to the NATO official, Russia left behind “a lot of baggage” in its retreat. And at least one storied unit, from the First Guards Tank Army, had been “destroyed,” the person said.
“Once its northern axis is completely destroyed, it will make it difficult for Russian forces to slow Ukraine’s advance as well as protect retreating Russian troops,” the official said. “We believe it will also adversely affect Russia’s plans to take over the entire Donbass.”
The wild card, as always, is the Russian president. Putin again threatened to use nuclear weapons on Wednesday, a threat US officials said he was taking “seriously” but there was no immediate indication he planned to follow through. are closing.
Pro-Russian authorities in some occupied eastern regions of Ukraine have also announced their intention to hold a political referendum on joining Russia, which some analysts say Russia could use as a pretext for military action.
But, the senior NATO official said, “Overall, Russia now finds itself on the defensive. Ukraine has the initiative, forcing Russia to take stopgap measures to avoid further losses.” gone.”
“If Ukraine manages to launch sustained defensive operations, it could further undermine the sustainability of Russian defenses,” the person said.
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Tim Lister contributed to this report.