Moscow has also suffered the humiliation of shooting down its supposedly invulnerable hypersonic missiles.
Western officials have stated that Russia does not possess a “credible” reserve force to deal with any frontline advance in the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Ukraine has 12 brigades of 40,000 combat-ready soldiers, ready to launch an offensive against Russia’s extensive defenses of trenches, anti-tank obstacles and minefields up to 3 km deep.
Russia, which has suffered huge losses in the year-long fighting, has 200,000 troops spread over the 1,000 km front line.
If the Ukrainian tanks break through, the military expects Moscow’s generals to direct their reserves to counter the armored push and prevent their rear from being overwhelmed, along with a collapse in morale. But Western officials have indicated that the all-important reserve is minimal.
“A key question is whether Russia has its own credible reserves to deploy in a counteroffensive,” an official told a news conference. “Although it seems unlikely, I would say it is a surprising observation that Russia probably does not have a dedicated reserve force at the division level or higher.”
Asked by The National to explain the potential impact of a breakthrough, the official said a “key factor” would be Russia’s ability to mobilize a reserve.
“And more importantly, the ability of the Russians to cauterize that gap, to mobilize reserves to prevent that advance, that’s really important,” he replied.
He said that a significant battlefield loss in the coming weeks could also have a significant “cognitive effect” on the Kremlin, which could seriously weaken President Vladimir Putin’s authority.
Russia’s defense capabilities have also been undermined by the downing, by US-supplied Patriot missiles, of six of its supposedly invulnerable Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. The impact of images of Ukrainians “passing through the Russian lines towards the Russian border” could be significant.
“It will be the cognitive effects on those in the Kremlin and the chance to show President Putin that he can’t just win by default by waiting behind defensive lines.”
He added: “The cognitive effect on activity on the battlefield, I think in this case, is possibly more important than how many square meters of territory are taken.” Another problem for the Russians was that their soldiers stationed at the front were poorly trained and undersupplied.
In addition, the officer claimed that there had been “a real degradation in the quality of Russian junior officers and NCOs who have suffered significant attrition.”
On Tuesday, Ukraine is believed to have shot down all six Kinzhal hypersonic missiles targeting Kyiv’s air defense systems.
The weapons supposedly travel at 12,000 km/h and can carry nuclear warheads, an important contribution to Russia’s military modernization, but now they have shown their vulnerability.
“This is a weapon that President Putin appears to have destined to play an important role in Russia’s future national defense due to assumptions surrounding its invulnerability on his part,” the official stated.
“The Kinzhals are not having success and were thought to be impossible to shoot down by any weapon system.”
Key factors in the upcoming offensive will be Ukrainian air defenses holding off the Russian air force and Ukraine’s missile arsenal, including recent British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise weapons.
“The precision strike will be really critical in the counteroffensive when it finally launches,” the officer said.