'Russia facing mutinies and poor morale' in Ukraine as fighting in the east intensifies

Donetsk People's Republic militia serviceman gets ready to fire with a man-portable air defence system. Credit: AP

Russia is facing localised mutinies, a lack of experienced commanders and poor morale as Moscow enters the third month of its war with Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

Russia has suffered "devastating losses amongst its mid and junior ranking officers," the MoD said, and the army lacked highly trained officers as a result.

These factors, the MoD said in a series of tweets, would lead to further low morale and "continued poor discipline" among Russian forces.

Russian forces invaded Ukraine on 24 February and were expected to take Kyiv within 72 hours.

But the invading forces met with strong Ukrainian resistance and were beset with problems.

Debris hangs from a residential building heavily damaged in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine. Credit: AP

"Russia has likely suffered devastating losses amongst its mid and junior ranking officers in the conflict. Brigade and battalion commanders likely deploy forwards into harm’s way because they are held to an uncompromising level of responsibility for their units’ performance," the MoD wrote.

The statement continued: "With multiple credible reports of localised mutinies amongst Russia’s forces in Ukraine, a lack of experienced and credible platoon and company commanders is likely to result to a further decrease in morale and continued poor discipline."

As the war grinds on, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has turned his attention to the eastern industrial Donbas region and is focused on capturing the areas not already controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.

Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, told French TF1 television on Sunday that Moscow’s “unconditional priority is the liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” adding that Russia sees them as “independent states.”

Regions across Ukraine were pummelled overnight on Sunday by renewed Russian airstrikes. On the ground in the eastern Donetsk region, fighters battled back and forth for control of villages and cities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects damaged buildings on as he visits the war-hit Kharkiv region. Credit: AP

“The enemy is reinforcing its units,” the Ukrainian armed forces’ General Staff said. “It is trying to gain a foothold in the area.”

In the east, Russian forces stormed Sievierodonetsk after trying unsuccessfully to encircle the strategic city, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation there as “indescribably difficult,” with a relentless Russian artillery barrage destroying critical infrastructure and damaging 90% of the buildings.

The deteriorating conditions raised fears that Sieverodonetsk could become the next Mariupol that spent nearly three months under Russian siege before the last Ukrainian fighters surrendered.

The mayor, Oleksandr Striuk, said that “we have no power and no communications. The city has been completely ruined.”

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Russia also stepped up its efforts to capture the nearby city of Lysychansk, where civilians rushed to escape persistent shelling.The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, questioned the Kremlin’s strategy of assembling a huge military effort to take Sieverodonetsk, saying it was proving costly for Russia and would bring few returns.

“When the battle of Sieverodonetsk ends, regardless of which side holds the city, the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will likely have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back,” the institute said.