First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Russian forces appear to shift to siege warfare in Ukra...

Newsdeck

Russian forces shift gears

Russian forces appear to shift to siege warfare in Ukraine- U.S. official

This photograph taken on February 27, 2022 shows a Russian Armoured personnel carrier (APC) burning next to unidentified soldier's body during fight with the Ukrainian armed forces in Kharkiv. - Ukrainian forces secured full control of Kharkiv on February 27, 2022 following street fighting with Russian troops in the country's second biggest city, the local governor said. (Photo by Sergey BOBOK / AFP) / ìThe mention [next to unidentified soldier's body] has been added to the caption and the erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by Sergey BOBOK has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [February 27] instead of [February 26]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require.î
By Reuters
28 Feb 2022 1

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Russia, frustrated by early battlefield setbacks in Ukraine, could be shifting its strategy to siege warfare just as President Vladimir Putin raises the risk of a catastrophic miscalculation by putting nuclear forces on heightened alert, a senior U.S. defense official said on Sunday.

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

Putin gave the order to his nuclear forces as Washington assesses that Russian troops have made limited progress in their four-day-old invasion due to stiff Ukrainian resistance and planning failures that have left some units without fuel or other supplies, U.S. officials said.

As missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, hundreds of thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, were fleeing the Russian assault into neighboring countries.

The United States assesses that Russia has fired more than 350 missiles at Ukrainian targets so far, some hitting civilian infrastructure, the senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Still, it had so far mainly focused on military targets.

Citing a Russian offensive on the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, the official cited early indications that Russia might be adopting siege tactics.

“It appears that they are adopting a siege mentality, which any student of military tactics and strategy will tell you, when you adopt siege tactics, it increases the likelihood of collateral damage,” the official said.

So far, the Russian offensive cannot claim any major victories. Russian has not taken any Ukrainian city, does not control Ukraine’s airspace, and its troops remained roughly 30 km (19 miles) from Kyiv’s city center for a second day, the official said.

Siege tactics typically involve encircling enemy positions, cutting off supply and escape routes, then attacking with a combined force of armor, ground troops and engineers.

The senior U.S. defense official said it remained to be seen what Russian forces would do next, but the early signs were worrying.

“The indications are enough in terms of how they’re positioning their forces around the city (of Chernihiv), how they’re beginning this barrage using rockets, that gives us concern,” the official said.

“In order for a siege … to be successful, you basically, by design, are going to be targeting civilian infrastructure and causing civilian harm.”

Images on social media showed some Russian military vehicles in Ukraine, including battle tanks, that had apparently been abandoned after running out of fuel, raising questions about logistical failures.

“They simply don’t have a lot of experience moving on another nation state at this level of complexity and size,” the official said.

The official said it was unclear whether it was a failure in planning or execution, but added that Russian forces were likely to adapt and overcome the challenges.

Russia has still not moved into Ukraine about a third of the troops that Putin had arrayed around its borders, the official said. But it has rapidly increased the number of forces Moscow has sent into Ukraine in recent days.

 

NUCLEAR RISK

The Pentagon learned of the heightened Russian alert for its nuclear forces from Putin’s televised announcement, the senior U.S. defense official said, instead of from American intelligence sources.

Just after Putin spoke, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the top U.S. commander for Europe, General Tod Wolters, held a pre-scheduled meeting at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) at which they discussed the Russian president’s decision.

Although Washington was still gathering information, Putin’s move was troubling, the official said.

“It’s clearly, essentially, putting in play forces that, if there’s a miscalculation, could make things much, much more dangerous,” the official said.

Asked whether the United States would continue to provide military assistance to Ukraine following Putin’s announcement, the official said: “That support is going to go forward.”

Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired CIA paramilitary officer, said he believed Putin’s decision to elevate the alert of his nuclear forces was a reaction to battlefield losses.

“Russia placing its nuclear forces on alert is incredibly reckless and a clear indication that Putin realizes his military is not performing as expected in Ukraine,” Murloy said.

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted