February 23, 2024
A Ukrainian service member is seen in a trench at a position on a front line near the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 10.
A Ukrainian service member is seen in a trench at a position on a front line near the city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on April 10. (Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters)

There are several significant takeaways from the leaked US documents about the course of the conflict in Ukraine.

Russian ground forces in the country are approaching exhaustion and there are few reinforcements available. Ukrainian air defenses are depleted, making any counteroffensive vulnerable to Russian air superiority.

And the United States does not expect the war to end this year.

The 53 documents reviewed by CNN provide a snapshot of capabilities and vulnerabilities as perceived by the US Defense Department in the first quarter of this year.

Snapshots are inherently risky: Circumstances change, as do resources and intentions. But the documents tend to confirm that Ukrainian forces are preparing for an offensive and that Russia is putting extensive effort into holding what it already has, while looking to aviation to blunt any Ukrainian attacks.

And if the Russians were unaware of the way the Ukrainian military would design its counteroffensive, the documents may have given them some useful indicators.

Russian brigades mauled: Several of the documents, which appear to date largely from February and March, tend to confirm that Russia has committed the vast majority of its army battalions to its war on in Ukraine. Despite the mobilization last autumn, which potentially added 300,000 soldiers to the Russian ranks, a significant minority of these battalions are described as “combat ineffective” — short of men and equipment.

One document says that 527 out of 544 available Russian battalions are committed to the operation, and 474 are already inside Ukraine. A substantial number are deployed in the south of the country — with an estimated 23,000 personnel in Zaporizhzhia and another 15,000 in Kherson. That suggests the Russians expect any Ukrainian offensive to target that region.

But in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, for example, 19 out of 91 battalions were adjudged as “combat ineffective.”

Russia still has vast inventories of hardware, but the documents suggest that some of the best has already been lost, and older, less reliable armor is being dusted off. One says that Russia continued to fall behind stated goals for replenishing equipment and personnel, and was incorporating “older, less accurate munitions systems.”

Open skies: While Ukraine’s ground forces may be in better shape than the enemy’s, especially once 12 new brigades mentioned in one leak are fully trained and equipped, its reliance on Soviet-era air defenses points to a growing vulnerability, according to the documents obtained by CNN. This in turn may give the Russian air force freedom of the skies to blunt any Ukrainian ground offensive.

One of the leaked documents detailed how Ukrainian stocks of Soviet-era medium-range air defense missiles were severely depleted. Ominously, it suggested that Ukraine had run out of munitions for the highly capable German-made Iris-T air defense system by February.

Ukrainian officials are constantly asking Western partners for more air defense weaponry and one document talks of a three- to six-month window in which to solicit further Western contributions.

Read more of the analysis.

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