President Zelensky says Russian weaponry outnumbers his own by 20 to one in the region. Little of the promised NATO artillery and ammunition has arrived to redress the balance and most of what they have is out-ranged. The Russian army has reportedly improved its tactics for countering hand-held anti-armour weapons that accounted for so many tank losses earlier in the conflict, and the particularly effective UK-supplied NLAW missiles are now unfortunately in very short supply.
Even “incremental” and “slow” progress by the Russians, as a Pentagon spokesman recently described it, translates over time into significant gains. This reality is made more ominous by the fact that Ukrainian forces have generally struggled to mount large scale counter-offensives despite their NATO weaponry and intelligence. Their strength has been defending ground, while major advances have usually only been made in the face of Russian withdrawal.
Earlier hopes of the Ukrainian army driving the Russians back to their borders represented optimism over hard reality.
These truths have been heeded by ministers in Kyiv, from whom we hear increasingly desperate warnings about Russian control.
For, while the territory of Luhansk is relatively small, capturing it would only be the start of Putin’s fight-back.
In the south, Moscow made major gains early on and, with the fall of Mariupol, secured its land bridge from Crimea to Russian territory. The next stage may be a renewed offensive towards Odesa with the objective of taking the whole of Ukraine’s coastline, linking up with Transnistria and threatening Moldova, an EU membership candidate.
The timing of such a move depends on the state of Russia’s forces at the conclusion of the campaign in Donbas. Some advisers in the Kremlin might encourage Putin to declare victory and negotiate a ceasefire – which, as we have learnt from 2014, would only be a holding position – but the far greater temptation will be to push westwards with renewed vigour.
After all, the Russian president can see that his opponents on the battlefield are tired, and that the West is facing a reckoning with inflation, an energy shock and food shortages. He will no doubt want to press that advantage to the detriment of the Ukrainian people.