Japan spots four Russian amphibious warships laden with military trucks sailing West ‘possibly to Europe’ past its islands as Putin continues to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine
- Four Russian warships carrying combat vehicles crossed strategic Tsugaru strait
- Japan’s defense ministry fears the westward vessels may be heading for Europe
- They may also have troops onboard to reinforce Russia’s flagging invasion
- Russia has lost around 7,000 soldiers and more than 1,000 tanks and aircraft
The Tsugaru Strait between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean separates Honshu and Hokkaido, the country’s two biggest islands.
Russia has suffered catastrophic losses, including up to one-fifth of its troops, fuelling speculation Putin could send reinforcements from further afield.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense released an image of a Russian warship carrying military trucks through the Tsugaru Strait between the country’s two largest islands on Wednesday morning
Thousands of missiles and hundreds of tanks and aircraft have also been lost, according to recent estimates.
Military loss loggers Oryx estimated on Wednesday that Russia had lost 1,292 vehicles in the first three weeks of the campaign, including 214 tanks.
Ukraine has lost 343, Oryx added.
Defence experts fear Russia could be sending extra supplies to the battlefields of Ukraine as its equipment supplies suffer and troop losses continue – this is the route the warships may take
A photo released by Japan’s Ministry of Defense via the Kyodo news agency showed an amphibious Russian warship carrying military trucks.
The ministry reported two sightings late on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday.
A spokesperson said: ‘We don’t know where they are heading, but their heading suggests [Ukraine] is possible.’
It is unusual for Russian ships to pass through the strait so close to Japanese territory, they added.
NATO allies have already supplied 20,000 anti-tank and other weapons to Ukraine.
Russia is estimated to have lost 7,000 soldiers and more than 1,250 vehicles in the first three weeks of the war in Ukraine – including 214 tanks, according to Oryx
The Pentagon estimates at least 7,000 Russian troops have now died in Ukraine, while another 14,000 to 21,000 have been wounded.
That is almost one-fifth of the estimated 150,000 men Putin amassed on the border before giving the order to attack 21 days ago.
That tallies with assessments by British intelligence, which said today that Russia’s invasion has stalled ‘on all fronts’ with ‘minimal progress on land, sea or air’ in the last 24 hours while continuing to ‘suffer heavy losses’.
Putin’s manpower problem: Russia ‘is drafting in troops from Siberia and the Pacific as well as Syrians and mercenaries’ in desperate attempt to get stalled Ukrainian invasion going after punishing losses
By Chris Pleasance for MailOnline
Putin has a problem. His invasion of Ukraine, intended as a days-long operation, is now grinding into its third week and becoming a bloodbath. Attacks across the country are stalled amid predictions that Russia will soon struggle to hold the territory it has – let alone capture more. In short: he needs more men for the meat grinder.
But where to find them? America estimates Russia has committed somewhere between half and three quarters of its total land forces to Ukraine, and all of those are already involved in the fighting. Some ‘spare’ units will be involved in active missions elsewhere, while others will be for territorial defence – leaving the country vulnerable to attack if they are sent abroad.
That conundrum has forced the Kremlin to reach far from the frontlines in search of men, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence, which says reinforcements are now being drawn from as far afield as eastern Siberia, the Pacific Fleet, and Armenia. That is in addition to Syrian fighters and paid mercenaries – hundreds of the from the shadowy Wagner Group – which have already been committed to the fight.
The UK believes such reinforcements would likely be used to hold Ukrainian territory already captured by Russia which would then free up regular units for fresh assaults – almost certainly targeting major cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and Chernihiv. Another goal would likely be to encircle a large number of Ukrainian forces in the Donbass, spread out along the old frontline with Russian-backed rebel groups.
But it is unclear whether those reinforcements will be effective. Some could take weeks to reach the front, while Syrian mercenaries are likely to be poorly trained and un-used to the terrain and climate of eastern Europe. In the meantime, Ukraine claims it is successfully counter-attacking Putin’s men and ‘radically changing’ the battlefield.
Russia is looking to reinforce its armies in Ukraine after suffering heavy losses, British intelligence believes, but is being forced to draw men from its Eastern Military District, the Pacific Fleet, Armenia and Syria because it has committed such a large number of troops to the conflict already
There are also fears that Russia could use mass conscription to turn the tide of battle in its favour. Such fears sparked rumours two weeks ago that Putin was about to declare martial law to stop men from leaving the country before press-ganging them into service in Ukraine.
The Russian strongman subsequently denied any such plans, saying no conscripts were being sent to the front – though shortly afterwards the military was forced to admit otherwise, with conscripted troops among those killed and captured. While mass conscription appears unlikely, regular conscripts could still be used.
Ben Hodges, a retired US general writing for the Center for European Policy Analysis, points out the next round of conscription is due on April 1 when around 130,000 young men will be inducted into the armed forces. Russia has also reportedly changed conscription rules to make the draft harder to refuse.
Accurate estimates of Russian casualties from the frontlines are almost impossible to come by. Ukraine says 13,800 men have been lost, while the US and Europe put the figure lower – at up to 6,000. Moscow itself has acknowledged just 500 casualties, a figure that it has not updated for weeks.
Assuming three times as many have been wounded, captured or deserted – based on historical trends – that could mean anywhere between 24,000 and 55,200 Russian troops are out of action. Or, to put it another way, between a fifth and a third of the total 150,000-strong army Putin amassed before he attacked.
That has led some to predict that Putin’s invasion could soon be a spent force. Yesterday, UK defence sources said that ‘culmination point’ for the Russian army is likely to come within the next 14 days – meaning the point at which the might of Ukrainian forces will outweigh the strength of the attackers.
Russia would then be at risk of losing territory to Ukrainian counter-attacks with signs of cracks already appearing. At the weekend, Ukraine said it had successfully attacked towards the city of Volnovakha, north of Mariupol, with fighting ongoing there Tuesday.
News of the attack came just before civilians began successfully evacuating the city, having been held up by Russian attacks for more than a week beforehand. Some 2,500 managed to flee in 160 vehicles on Monday, before another 25,000 fled in 2,000 vehicles yesterday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry TV channel shared clips of supposed Syrian combatants ready to ‘volunteer’ in Ukraine – as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed Vladimir Putin for hiring foreign ‘murderers’
While Ukraine has not linked its attack with the evacuations, the very fact they are now going ahead does suggest the city – though still surrounded by Russian forces – is no longer fully besieged.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, also tweeted Wednesday morning that Ukraine was counter-attacking in ‘several operational areas’ which he said ‘radically changes the parties’ dispositions’ – without giving any further details.
American intelligence paints a similar picture to the British, though has been more cautious. An update late Tuesday acknowledged that Russian advances are at a near-standstill and said the US has seen ‘indications’ that the Kremlin knows more men will be needed.
Russia may believe it needs more troops and supplies than it has on hand in the country and is considering ways to get resources brought in, said the official, but added that there has been no actual movement of reinforcement troops currently in Russia going into Ukraine.
According to the official, Russian ground forces are still about 9-12 miles northwest of Kyiv and 12-19 miles east of the city, which is being increasingly hit by long-range strikes. The official said Ukrainian troops continue to put up stiff resistance in Kharkiv and other areas.
At least some of the supplies Russia requires are likely to come from China, the US has warned, revealing this week that Moscow has reached out to Beijing for help and that Beijing has ‘already decided’ to provide help – though whether that will be limited to economic relief from sanctions or actual hardware remains to be seen.
The Pentagon said that Russia has requested ration packs to feed its troops, drones, armoured vehicles, logistics vehicles and intelligence equipment.
Russia is thought to have lost hundreds of tanks, thousands of vehicles, and up to 13,800 men in Ukraine in the last 21 days – more than the US lost fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in two decades (pictured, a destroyed Russian tank in Volnovakha)
Ukrainian troops from the Azov battalion stand next to destroyed Russian tanks in Mariupol, where Putin’s men have suffered heavy losses including the death of a general
Meanwhile estimates of Ukrainian losses are even harder to come by. President Zelensky has admitted that 1,300 soldiers have been killed, though the actual toll is likely far higher. Losses are likely to be highest in the south of Ukraine, where the Russian military has captured the most territory.
Without knowing the size of the Ukrainian force – which started around 250,000 troops – it is difficult to know how much longer the country can hold out, or what its ability to counter-attack is.
Certainly, Kyiv is also facing manpower issues. That much is clear from Zelensky’s appeal to overseas fighters to join the Ukrainian foreign legion, pleading for anyone with military experience to sign up and fight – with the promise of citizenship at the end.
Ukraine claims some 20,000 people have registered their interest, and foreign fighters are already known to be on the frontlines while others train for war at bases in the west of the country – one of which was hit by missile strikes at the weekend. Soldiers from the US, UK, Canada, Israel, Poland, and Croatia are known to be among them.
Zelensky has also called up the entirety of Ukraine’s reservists – estimated at around 220,000 men – and has put in place laws preventing any man aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country in case they need to be conscripted into the military.
Ukraine has also been pleading with the West to send more equipment – particularly fighter jets. A plan for Poland to donate its entire fleet of MiGs to Kyiv’s forces and have them replaced with F-16s fell flat amid fears it could prompt Russia to escalate, to the frustration of the Ukrainians.
Kyiv has also been asking for more armed drones, anti-ship missiles, electronic jamming equipment and surface-to-air missiles that can strike aircraft and rockets at high altitude to help shield against withering Russian bombardments that are increasingly targeting cities.
The Biden administration will discuss today what extra equipment it is willing to give Ukraine, including whether to include Switchblade ‘suicide drones’ in its next aid package.
Switchblades are cheap, remote-controlled aircraft that act as a kind of missile that can be pre-programmed to strike a target or else flown to targets by controllers. They are known as ‘loitering munitions’ because they can circle their targets for up to 40 minutes before striking.
Smaller versions of the drones are designed to take out infantry, while larger versions are designed to destroy tanks and armoured vehicles. The move comes after Turkish-made Bayraktar drones proved surprisingly effective at taking out Russian armour. The only country currently authorised to buy the drones is the UK.
Western nations have already supplied thousands of weapons to Ukraine including American Javelin anti-tank missiles, UK/Swedish NLAW anti-tank launchers, and Stinger anti-aircraft systems. But Zelensky has warned that supplies intended to last for months are being eaten up in a matter of hours.
As both sides grind each-other towards a military stalemate, so talk has grown of ‘significant progress’ in peace talks – with aides to Zelensky saying a deal to end the fighting could be in place within weeks.
Zelensky said on Wednesday peace talks with Russia were sounding ‘more realistic’ but more time was needed for any deal to be in the interests of Ukraine.
Zelensky made the early morning statement after his team said a peace deal that will end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be struck with Vladimir Putin within one or two weeks because Russian forces will run out of fresh troops and supplies by then.
Kyiv has closely guarded its total losses in the conflict, but has also been reaching out for reinforcements – asking overseas fighters to sign up via the foreign legion and calling up its reserves (picture, a Ukrainian soldier in Mariupol)
‘The meetings continue, and, I am informed, the positions during the negotiations already sound more realistic. But time is still needed for the decisions to be in the interests of Ukraine,’ Zelenskiy said in a video address on Wednesday, ahead of the next round of talks.
Meanwhile Oleksiy Arestovich, one of Zelensky’s top aides, said the war would end within weeks and a peace deal struck when Putin’s troops run out of resources, but warned that Russia could bring in new reinforcements to bolster their attack, which could prolong the conflict further.
‘We are at a fork in the road now,’ said Arestovich. ‘There will either be a peace deal struck very quickly, within a week or two, with troop withdrawal and everything, or there will be an attempt to scrape together some, say, Syrians for a round two and, when we grind them too, an agreement by mid-April or late April.
‘I think that no later than in May, early May, we should have a peace agreement. Maybe much earlier, we will see.’
The assessment echoes that of UK defence sources who say that Kyiv has Moscow ‘on the run’ and the Russian army could be just two weeks from ‘culmination point’ – after which ‘the strength of Ukraine’s resistance should become greater than Russia’s attacking force.’ Advances across Ukraine have already stopped as Moscow’s manpower runs short.
Earlier, Zelensky said that Ukraine must accept it will not become a member of NATO – a statement that will be music to the ears of Vladimir Putin and could pave the way for some kind of peace deal between the warring nations.
Zelensky, who has become a symbol of resistance to Russia’s onslaught over the last 20 days, said on Tuesday that ‘Ukraine is not a member of NATO’ and that ‘we have heard for years that the doors were open, but we also heard that we could not join. It’s a truth and it must be recognised.’
His statement, while making no firm commitments, will be seen as further opening the door to some kind of peace deal between Ukraine and Russia after negotiators hailed ‘substantial’ progress at the weekend – without giving any idea what such a deal would look like.
Ahead of the invasion, Putin had been demanding guarantees that Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO along with the removal of all the alliance’s troops and weapons from ex-Soviet countries. After being rebuffed by Kyiv, Washington and NATO he launched his ‘special military operation’ to ‘demilitarise’ and ‘de-Nazify’ the country.
Russian negotiators have softened their stance a little since then, saying they want Ukraine to declare neutrality, disarm, recognise Crimea as part of Russia and recognise the whole of the Donbass as independent. Ukraine has been demanding a ceasefire and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces. Talks have been ongoing this week and Moscow has made no mention of wider demands on NATO in recent days.
The Ukrainians said the talks have included a broader agreement that would lead to the withdrawal of Russian troops, reports the Times.