Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is meeting “greater than expected” resistance from the Ukrainian military, as well as unexpected difficulties in resupplying its forces, two senior US officials with direct knowledge tell CNN.
On the battlefield, Russia suffers greater than expected losses in personnel, armaments, and aircraft. This is partly because Ukraine’s air defenses performed better than expected in pre-invasion US intelligence assessments. In addition, Russia has yet to establish air sovereignty over Ukraine, a senior defense official said, while Ukraine’s air force and air defense systems battle for control of the airspace.
Ukrainian air defenses, including aircraft, remain operational and continue to attack and deny Russian planes access at locations across the country,” the official said.
Without undisputed control of the skies, it becomes more difficult for an army on the move to see and hit targets from the air.
Officials warn that this image of the battlefield represents only a moment and the situation on the ground could change very quickly if Russian forces continue their assault.
The Ukrainian military has a variety of anti-aircraft weapons, including radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles, and anti-aircraft guns, according to IHS Janes. The United States, like other NATO allies, has provided Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in recent weeks.
As of Saturday night, the US had seen no indication that the Russian military had taken control of Ukrainian cities, the official said, although Russian forces had moved to encircle some population centers, including the capital Kiev.
Supplying fuel and ammunition to Russia’s large invasion force has also proved difficult. As a senior US official explained, Russia expected a quick victory and may have failed to plan for adequate supplies. Utility lines, this official explained, are a “clear weak point.”
What we are judging now is this [Russia] had to put in a little more logistics and sustainability, especially with fuel, than we think they planned at the start of the operation,” one of the officials said.
Taken together, these challenges have so far prevented the rapid overthrow of major Ukrainian cities, including Kiev, which US officials say could happen within days. The city of Kharkiv near Ukraine’s border with Russia has also not fallen to the invading forces, which officials say could happen on the first night of the invasion.
However, these officials warn that Russian forces still vastly outnumber Ukrainian forces and that Russia continues to position these forces near major urban centers. It’s also unclear how much of the slower movement is due to the logistical challenge of moving such a large force.
Russia has presented its slow advance in Ukraine as a stopover to buy time for negotiations, not to suffer a military setback.
On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops had been ordered to resume their offensive “in all directions” after a suspension of negotiations with the Ukrainian government was ordered. The ministry said the offensive was ordered after Ukraine broke off consultations.
An aide to the Ukrainian president denied early on Saturday that Ukraine had refused to negotiate.
“They have problems,” said a NATO official, pointing to the latest intelligence information from the alliance. “They don’t have diesel, they drive far too slowly and morale is obviously an issue.”
When asked if the Russians would step up their efforts, the official said they had no choice.
“They are way behind schedule,” he said. “It’s getting out of hand, every additional day is very painful.”