Vladimir Putin has been forced to “significantly reduce” air combat missions due to the “continued high threat from Ukrainian air defences”, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) has reported, in what is yet another blow for the Russian autocrat and his forces.
Struggling with poor supply routes into Ukraine from Crimea and to the southeast and a force stretched too thinly across the front line, the latest setback for Russia comes at an inopportune time ahead of planned attacks from Ukraine.
The Ministry of Defence reported that Russia has now “lost over 386 fixed-wing aircraft” since invading Ukraine on February 24, including two Su-34 fight bombers last week.
According to the open-source intelligence Oryx blog, Ukraine’s anti-aircraft brigade also took down 40 Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters and more than 100 transport helicopters using American-made Stinger missiles.
Ukraine shot down twin-seat aircraft such as Su-34 fixed-wing aircraft, single-seat fighter aircraft, twin-seat Ka-52 helicopters and Tupolev transport aircraft, killing more pilots in a short period than any nations that lost their pilots in the second world war.
The Russian air force also crashed at least 20 aircraft since the war began in February 2022.
According to the report by the MoD, a Russian Su-24M FENCER fighter-bomber, Su-34 bombers and a Su-25 FROGFOOT ground attack aircraft were destroyed last week.
As a result of the further losses, Russia has been forced to reduce the number of aerial missions it undertakes, known as sorties, dramatically.
In March, Putin’s forces were carrying out up to 300 sorties per day; nine months into the war effort, that number is down to “tens of missions per day”.
The sorties, which are used to provide information to on-the-ground Russian troops operating “unguided munitions”, have been decreased as a result of “continued high threat from Ukrainian air defences, limitations on the flying hours available to Russian aircraft, and worsening weather”.
The setback comes as Ukrainian officials refuted claims from US intelligence officers that the winter conditions would halt fighting on the frontlines.
Ukrainian forces have used considerable momentum over the summer to continue pushing deeper into Russian-occupied territory, liberating hundreds of settlements in the east and, most recently, pushing into Kherson in the south and further towards Crimea.
Temperatures in the south of Ukraine often plummet well before freezing in the winter. Russian forces, who are fortifying positions in the interstice between northern Crimea and the Dnipro river south of Kherson, will be hoping the cold climate slows down the advancing troops.
On Saturday, US Director for National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines suggested that Russian hopes would come true and that the pace of the war in Ukraine would slow over the winter.
But on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces Eastern Group said the frozen ground would benefit their forces, while the Russian low-quality mobilized recruits and the Wagner Group mercenaries made up of former prisoners would be ill-prepared.
Serhii Cherevatyi said the frozen ground would enable heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles to advance and that Ukrainian forces are preparing such vehicles for winter operations.
His comments echoed those by the nation’s Ministry of Defense at the end of last month, who joked that those who suggest the winter would pause hostilities “likely never sunbathed in January on the southern coast of Crimea”.
And Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov stated on November 18 that Ukrainian forces would continue to fight in the winter because any pause would allow Russian forces to reinforce their units and positions.
Meanwhile, in the latest updates on frontline fighting, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said Russian forces shelled a kindergarten, a four-storey high-rise building and seven private homes in Kurakhove and Gostre, located in the southeast near Donetsk.
He said: “In the direction of Volnova, the Russians shelled Vugledar during the day – they damaged at least eight houses, without casualties.
“In the Donetsk direction, Kurakhove and Gostre came under fire – a kindergarten, four high-rise buildings and seven private houses were damaged. Avdiivka has single flights throughout the night over the old and central parts of the city. There was no information about the victims.”
He added that on Sunday, Russian attacks on Bakhmut, a city still under Ukrainian control but sitting right on the frontline, had destroyed the administration building, a dormitory, a residential building and farm buildings.
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