Russia’s military has learned from past battlefield mistakes and is now a more challenging opponent, according to a report released Friday by the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
As a result, the report’s authors, Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, wrote that Ukraine will now “face major tactical challenges” in its upcoming counteroffensive against Russian forces.
Throughout much of the military campaign that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched nearly 15 months ago, Russia’s forces have not lived up to the expectations placed on it by the media and military analysts. Not only was Russia not able to secure the quick victory over Ukraine that observers had predicted, but its military has suffered numerous battlefield losses without securing many decisive victories.
Recently, however, the Russian military has identified its shortcomings and improved its strategies to become more coordinated and “reactive,” according to RUSI.
“Although Russia has persistently struggled to respond to emerging threats, over time it has adapted,” Watling and Reynolds wrote.
The researchers noted improvements across the various branches of Russia’s forces, including its engineering units, as well as the tank and artillery brigades. Their report also highlighted the strength of the country’s air defenses and its “potent” electronic warfare (EW) systems.
The report said that while Putin’s infantry has also adapted to become more effective after returning disappointing results throughout much of the war, these units still face a major obstacle that has resulted from high rates of casualties.
“The foremost weakness across Russian infantry units is low morale, which leads to poor unit cohesion and inter-unit cooperation,” Watling and Reynolds wrote.
The RUSI report noted that Russia’s aviation units have not been much of a factor in the war due to an inability “to penetrate Ukrainian air defenses.” As military analysts have stated, Russia has not been able to accomplish what many commanders prioritize first in war: Establishing air superiority.
Watling told Newsweek that the “Russian Aerospace Forces tried to achieve air superiority and failed.”
“They determined that the loss rate for aircraft was unacceptable and have since been husbanding their planes and pilots,” Watling said. “They could decide in the future to accept more losses to do damage to the Ukrainians. It remains a serious threat that shapes planning.”
As for what an improved Russian military could mean for Ukraine’s highly-anticipated counteroffensive, the RUSI authors said in their report that the “depth of [Russian] defenses mean that Ukraine must generate serious combat power in order to penetrate the Russian lines, with the extent of Russian defensive fortifications across the front making bypassing them near-impossible.”
Even still, Watling told Newsweek that Ukraine could still accomplish the objectives of its counteroffensive.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine are well motivated and creative in using the tools they have been provided. It is possible that they will achieve significant results,” Watling said.
He added, “But observers should understand that this will come at great cost. The challenge is surmountable but significant. Nor is success guaranteed. It requires sustained support.”