Russia 'might not be able to take Kyiv' amid mounting death toll

Russia ‘might not be able to take Kyiv’: Western officials say desperate Putin is trying to recruit mercenaries from Syria and Chechnya to replace up to 7,000 dead soldiers, with Kremlin’s senior generals killed as they are forced to the front

  • Two videos show Ukrainian soldiers ambushing Russian troops with strikes
  • The first, in Mariupol, shows a Russian tank coming under aerial bombardment
  • Multiple missiles make direct-hits on the tank as Russian soldiers tried to escape
  • One Russian soldier was able to narrowly escape death between the strikes
  • In a second video, a Russian personnel carrier is broadsided by rocket in Kharkiv
  • The rocket was fired by a Ukrainian soldier just yards from the vehicle

Russia may not be able to mount an all-out attack on Kyiv as its demoralised troops suffer increasing casualties and become bogged down outside the Ukrainian capital, Western officials suggested today.  

Intelligence suggests Vladimir Putin’s troops are only making small advances without a major strategic breakthrough in the face of ‘fierce and mobile’ Ukrainian resistance.

The Pentagon estimates at least 7,000 Russian troops have now died in the fighting while another 14,000 to 21,000 have been wounded.

That accounts for nearly a fifth of the estimated 150,000 men that Putin amassed on the border before giving the order to attack 21 days ago. 

There are questions over whether the occupying force could absorb the additional losses they would suffer if they tried to storm the well-prepared capital. 

Officials cautioned against ruling out Putin ordering a bloody direct attack in an attempt to end Ukrainian resistance.

But they cited the deaths of four senior generals as a sign things are not going well – because top-ranking officers would not usually have to get in harms way to provide ‘close-up supervision’ of troops. 

‘They are getting pretty bogged-down around Kyiv. No doubt small gains are being made incrementally, but Ukrainian resistance is fierce and mobile,’ they said. 

Intelligence suggests Vladimir Putin’s troops are only making small advances without a major strategic breakthrough in the face of ‘fierce and mobile’ Ukrainian resistance.

This is the moment Ukrainian forces ambushed a Russian tank with multiple missile strikes on the streets of the besieged city Mariupol. The tank’s operators were forced to scramble out of the vehicle and make a desperate bid to escape as missiles rained from above

Russian troops hunt for local ammo to give themselves a ‘Blighty’ 

Vladimir Putin’s forces are looking for Ukrainian ammunition so they can shoot themselves in the leg and get sent home, according to an intercepted Russian phone call.  

Audio reveals a Russian soldier telling his mother that his unit ‘want to find some 7.62 bullets, the Ukrainian ones’ instead of 5.62mm ammunition being used in Russian AK-74’s, to wound themselves with, adding that others ‘already did this’.

He explained ‘in secret’ that his fellow troops are hoping ‘to shoots each other’s legs so they would put some bandages on and sent us to the hospital in Budennovsk’, a town in southern Russia. 

Shooting yourself to inflict a minor injury was carried out by British soldiers in the First World War in the hope of getting ‘a Blightly’ – a wound serious enough to warrant repatriation to the UK without risking your life.

The audio, which was published by the Ukrainian Security Service, also claims that ‘120 people’ have already been ‘sent back to the hospital with wounds’ and that ‘350’ have been sent back to Russia in coffins. 

The unidentified serviceman tells his mother that his crew is no longer ‘combat equipped’ because ‘Ukrainians blew all of it up’ and that ‘if they attack us now, we are dead’. 

‘The sort of tactics the Ukrainians have used have been remarkably effective. An ill-judged ground assault on a city as well-prepared as Kyiv would be a very costly business. 

‘There comes a point where even Russia has to count the cost of casualties.’

Sources also confirmed that Russia is seeking to recruit ‘additional forces’ in the form of mercenaries from Syria and Chechnya – also seen as a sign that its battleplans are failing. 

Explosive drone footage today captured the moment a Russian soldier leapt from his tank as it came under aerial bombardment from Ukrainian anti-tank missiles, as videos show how Kyiv continues to resist Putin’s forces. 

Two separate clips recorded in recent days in the besieged cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv have shown Russian military vehicles being ambushed.

In the first video, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion launched artillery strikes on a Russian tank in Mariupol, killing at least one soldier and destroying the vehicle.

The second video showed a Ukrainian soldier lying in wait for a Russian personnel carrier driving through Kharkiv, broadsiding the truck with a rocket from close range.

In the Mariupol attack, one Russian soldier was able to cheat death by fleeing the vehicle between strikes, one of which narrowly missed him by a matter of yards.

The tank was struck directly at least five times, with missiles also hitting close to the Z-branded Russian hardware – throwing the desperate operator to the floor as he ran for his life.

Captured by a drone used to guide missiles to targets, the footage showed the Russian tank progressing down a four-lane road in a residential area of the city.

Seconds after the vehicle turned a corner on a junction, an explosion is seen at the rear of the tank – narrowly missing it.

Ukraine and Russia are taking peace talks seriously but a very big gap remains between the two sides, Western officials said on Thursday, adding Russian President Vladimir Putin did not seem in the mood to compromise.

Although both sides have pointed to limited progress in peace talks this week, Putin showed little sign of relenting during a televised speech in which he inveighed against ‘traitors and scum’ at home who helped the West, and said the Russian people would spit them out like gnats.

‘Both sides are taking (the talks) seriously but there is a very, very big gap between the positions in question,’ one Western official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

‘Those … who saw President Putin addressing the nation yesterday would be forgiven for thinking that Russia was not in compromising mood,’ another official said.

A Ukrainian negotiator has said that a ‘model’ of legally binding security guarantees that would offer Ukraine protection from a group of allies in the event of a future attack is ‘on the negotiating table’ at talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

A Western official said the details of who would be a security guarantor was the subject of conversations with international partners but it was important to establish the terms.

 

The tank, with a large white ‘Z’ emblazoned on the front signifying that it is a Russian military vehicle, was quickly brought to a halt.

But this only made it a sitting duck for Ukraine’s forces. A second strike is shown making a direct hit on top of the tank shortly after it stopped moving, with flames from the explosion erupting from the combat vehicle.

In a desperate attempt to escape the attack, the Russian troops attempted to reverse the tank back down the street, only for a third strike to hit its mark.

At this point, Russian troops inside the vehicle attempted to flee their vehicle. The footage shows the hatch opening and smoke pouring from the hole.

But the onslaught continued, with a fourth missile landing right on top of the tank, killing at least one Russian soldier as they attempted to make a run for it.

A second soldier is seen scrambling out of the vehicle and jumping down to the street, past the body of his comrade, and narrowly avoiding yet another strike.

Ukraine’s forces, using anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), appeared to target the fleeing soldier, rather than the tank. The Russian was thrown to the ground.

While prone on the ground, the surviving soldier was able to drag himself further away from the tank, as other explosions landed. His fate remains unknown.

As the smoke cleared, the drone footage showed at least one body strewn across the road amongst the debris, and the smouldering wreckage of the tank. 

The video of the unrelenting attack was captured by the Azov battalion, a special operations unit within the Ukrainian army fighting against Russia’s occupation.

The footage was shared on Thursday by Ukraine’s army on Facebook, along with a second video showing a second ambush.

Like the first video, it shows a Russian military troop carrier driving down a main road – this time in Kharkiv. The video is also cut with footage captured by a helmet camera of the Ukrainian soldier who ambushes the vehicle.

The Ukrainian soldier was riding in their own vehicle when the squad saw their target turn into the road ahead. The Ukrainian vehicle quickly pulled off the road and down a side street, and the soldier with the helmet camera jumped off the truck.

Seconds after the vehicle turned a corner while driving down a main road, aerial footage captured by a drone shows that an initial strike narrowly missed at the rear of the tank

The vehicle was brought to a halt, only making a sitting duck for Ukraine’s missile strikes

As the tank attempted to reverse to escape the onslaught, Ukrainian troops landed several direct hits on the vehicle, killing at least one Russian soldier and destroying the tank

One soldier, pictured bottom left, is shown running under his tank’s turret and past his fallen comrade before making a break for the side of the road. Moments later, another missile lands a matter of yards away

After another explosion hit close to the soldier, he was thrown to the ground. Presumably injured, he is shown dragging himself through the dirt on the side of the road (bottom right)

Soon after the personnel carrier turned a corner, it was broadsided by a missile – this time fired from a rocket-launcher operated by the Ukrainian soldier (pictured)

A Russian personnel vehicle is hit by a rocket fired by a Ukrainian soldier from a side street

Shocked by the attack, the troops ducked down into the truck which started to veer off the road, before crashing into a telephone pole

The soldier took position near where the Russian truck would pass, ready to strike.

Again, soon after the vehicle turned a corner, it was broadsided by a missile – this time fired from a rocket-launcher operated by the Ukrainian soldier. 

The attack was also filmed by a drone, which showed several soldiers in the back of the troop carrier as it was hit by the rocket. 

Shocked by the attack, the troops ducked down into the truck which started to veer off the road, before crashing into a telephone pole.

It was not clear how many were injured in the attack, and the footage of the attack cut off before the Russian troops exited the personnel carrier.

It was unclear when the two attacks occurred, but the videos were shared as Western countries said Russian forces are no longer making progress on the ground in their invasion of Ukraine.

The war Moscow was thought to have hoped to win within days has entered its fourth week, and while Russian forces continue strikes on civilian targets, Ukraine’s military has been putting up a strong resistance.

Russia has taken heavy losses, with figures based just on visual confirmation alone suggesting 1,380 Russian military vehicles have been either destroyed (598), damaged (20), abandoned (211) or captured by Ukrainian forces (551).

Ukraine estimates that the Kremlin’s armies have lost far more, with Ukraine’s Armed Forces saying on Wednesday that over 13,800 Russian troops have been killed.

Other estimates have put this figure even higher, with the US on Thursday saying Russia has lost up to 28,000 soldiers – killed and wounded – during the three weeks of fighting in Ukraine.

Pictured: A woman walks past a destroyed tank in a street damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine March 15, 2022

Meanwhile, Ukraine said Russian forces had destroyed a theatre where women and children had been sheltering in Mariupol. 

An official in the Mariupol mayor’s office said a bomb shelter at the theatre had ‘withstood’ and there were survivors, but details of casualties were still not known.

Russia denied striking the theatre, which commercial satellite pictures showed had the word ‘children’ marked out on the ground in front before it was blown up.

Russia has assaulted Ukraine from four directions, sending two massive columns towards Kyiv from the northwest and northeast, pushing in from the east near the second biggest city Kharkiv, and spreading in from the south near Crimea.

But British military intelligence said in an update on Thursday that the invasion had ‘largely stalled on all fronts’, and Russian forces were suffering heavy losses from a staunch and well-coordinated Ukrainian resistance.

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The five most-likely scenarios for what happens next in Ukraine – including peace deal, Putin military success and Russian elite revolt

Russian forces in Ukraine continue to blast cities and kill civilians, but are no longer making progress on the ground, Western countries said on Thursday, as Moscow’s invasion Ukraine entered its fourth week.

With each passing day, it is beginning to look more likely that Vladimir Putin’s war could drag on for months, while peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow stalling.

Meanwhile, the UN has said more than 3 million refugees have fled across Ukraine’s borders, not knowing when they will be able to see their homes again.

Despite the Kremlin insisting it is not targeting civilians, local officials said rescuers in the besieged southern port of Mariupol were combing the rubble of a theatre where women and children had been sheltering, bombed the previous day.

The Governor of the northern Chernihiv region said 53 civilians had been killed there in bombardment over the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Kyiv has resisted the Russian advance, but is also sustaining heavy bombardment in the outer-regions of the capital.

Here are five possible scenarios for the weeks and months ahead, according to Western government sources and think-tank experts.

1. Military quagmire: Russian forces get bogged down and Ukraine soldiers continue their fierce resistance

A view of burned tank is seen amid Russian-Ukrainian conflict in the city of Volnovakha, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on March 12, 2022

Ukrainian forces are still resisting Russia’s invasion, inflicting serious equipment and human losses.

Crucially they repelled an attempt by paratroopers to seize the capital in the opening days and have since withdrawn to defensive positions that have enabled them to keep control over all strategic cities.

Although Russia has long claimed it has air superiority, Ukraine’s air defences appear to be still working, while Western countries are pouring in portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

‘The Russian invasion has largely stalled on all fronts,’ an update from the UK defence ministry said on Thursday.

US intelligence estimates that 7,000 Russian troops have died, The New York Times reported, while Ukraine’s military claims that figure to be much higher – although experts say that all such claims should be treated with caution.

US President Joe Biden announced a massive new package of military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, including S-300 missile defence systems, 100 Switchblade ‘kamikaze’ drones and thousands more missiles.

Ukrainian military resistance comes at a high civilian cost, however, with thousands dead and towns devastated such as Mariupol and Kherson.

2) Peace deal: Ukraine and Russia reach an agreement with Putin withdrawing his forces when his demands are met

Pictured: The second round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations at the Belovezhskaya Pushcha on the Belarus-Poland border on March 3

Negotiators from both sides began talking just days after the war started, first on the Belarus-Ukraine border, then in Turkey and latterly in the capital Kyiv.

Mounting battlefield losses and crippling Western sanctions on the Russian economy could be pushing Putin to seek a face-saving way to end the conflict.

‘Ukraine may be able to compel the Russians to make a choice: to persist and suffer irreparable losses, or desist and achieve some compensatory peace,’ wrote Rob Johnson, a warfare expert at the University of Oxford, this week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the two sides were ‘close to agreeing’ a deal that would see Ukraine accept neutrality modelled on the status of Sweden and Austria.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already publicly acknowledged that his country will not join the Western NATO military alliance – a key demand from the Kremlin.

But though the chances of a deal have grown significantly in recent days, there is no sign of a ceasefire and Ukraine wants a full Russian withdrawal and security guarantees about its future.

Some Putin critics suspect that the diplomacy is a smokescreen.

‘Reminder that to Putin ‘ceasefire’ just means ‘reload’,’ dissident politician and former chess champion Garry Kasparov wrote on Twitter.

3) Domestic Russian change: Anti-war movement grows in Russia and oligarchs turn on their leader

Police officers detain a man during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Manezhnaya square in central Moscow on March 13, 2022

Putin is tightening his grip over Russian society.

A crackdown on independent media and foreign news providers has cemented the dominance of the ultra-loyal Russian state media.

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators have been arrested, while a new law threatens up to 15 years in jail for spreading ‘fake news’ about the army.

There are signs of cracks in the ruling elite, with some oligarchs, MPs, and even private oil group Lukoil calling openly for a ceasefire or an end to fighting.

A Russian editor held up a sign saying ‘No War’ during a prime-time news broadcast on state TV this week.

Though not seen as likely at this stage, the possibility of Putin being brought down in a popular backlash or even a palace coup cannot be ruled out.

‘His personal security is very good and it will be very good until the moment it isn’t,’ said Eliot A. Cohen from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank.

‘That’s happened numerous times in Soviet and Russian history.’ 

Huge sanctions have been placed on Russia and also its oligarchs – Russia’s elite who are also hugely influential, and close allies of Vladimir Putin.

However, it is often the case that an oligarch is powerful because Putin allows them to be, not the other way around.

4) Russian military success: Putin’s generals crush resistance with superior weapons and devastating artillery

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Shokhin in Moscow, Russia March 2

Given Russian troops’ superior weapons, air power and indiscriminate use of artillery, Western defence analysts say they are capable of grinding forward.

A senior European military official cautioned Wednesday against underestimating their ability to replenish and adapt their tactics.

They appear to have logistical and morale problems, with diesel and even engine lubricants in short supply, the official said.

‘But you need to keep it in perspective. All of that does not change the superiority of the Russian military,’ he said.

Moscow is openly recruiting mercenaries from Syria to supplement its forces, while also using the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian private security company.

But even if they captured strategic cities such as Kyiv or the southern port of Odessa, Putin would then face the challenge of occupying them.

5) Conflict spreads: Russia attacks NATO country bringing the alliance into the war

Members of Pro-Russian separatists walk near a tank in front of a heavily damaged apartment in the pro-Russian separatists-controlled Donetsk, Ukraine on March 11, 2022

Ukraine has a border with four former Soviet states that are now members of the US-led NATO military alliance, which considers an attack on one member to be an attack against all.

Putin’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union and his pledge to protect Russian minorities – which are found in the Baltic States – has left an open question about his territorial ambitions.

Few expect Putin to openly attack a NATO member, which would run the risk of a nuclear attack, but analysts have warned about provocations that stop short of sparking a war.

Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces onto high alert and Foreign Minister Lavrov has also warned that ‘World War Three can only be a nuclear war’.

Western analysts say such warnings should be taken as posturing to deter the United States and Europe from considering ideas such as a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine.

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