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Russia is stepping up its war effort in eastern Ukraine, and a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday that Moscow may seek to recruit up to 60,000 troops to join the fight.
The official said the Pentagon has seen “indications” that Russia is seeking to launch a “mobilization phase” as it rehabilitates soldiers in Russia and Belarus.
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Moscow said last week that, in a show of good faith, it would withdraw troops from areas around the capital Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv.
The US and NATO have warned this was not a withdrawal, but a tactic to allow Russia to resupply its depleted troops and focus a ‘major offensive’ in the eastern region of Donbass.
But the senior US defense official also noted that there was “no indication that there are new reinforcements”.
The official said the United States did not see strong evidence that soldiers who might be recruited to replenish Russian troops would be “fully trained, fully armed” or even “fully ready” to go to war.
It’s unclear how many Russian soldiers have been killed since the onslaught of the war more than six weeks ago, but Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with Sky News on Thursday that Moscow had recorded “losses important to [its] troops.”
Peskov did not provide a figure on the number of Russian casualties, but the Kremlin put the number at nearly 1,350 dead in late March.
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A NATO official said the figure was likely closer to 7,000 to 15,000 dead. Ukraine’s armed forces said this week that the casualties of Russian troops were more than 18,000, although these figures have not been verified.
Despite apparent heavy casualties over a few weeks, the senior US official said Russia would have maintained 80-85% of its combat strength since the start of the war.
“We believe they haven’t resolved all of their logistical and support issues,” the official told reporters, noting that such logistical issues exist both within and beyond Israel’s borders. Ukraine. “So our feeling is that they probably won’t be able to reinforce the eastern part of the country at high speed.”
But the senior defense official also noted that US officials expected the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine to be a brutal fight.
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“It will be a knife fight. It could be very bloody and very ugly,” the official warned. “The Russians are limiting their geographic targets, and they still have a lot of combat power at their disposal.”
US and NATO security officials have warned that the war in Ukraine could continue for months or even years.