Ukrainian forces are outgunned 20 to one in artillery and 40 to one in ammunition by Russian counterparts, according to intelligence that paints a bleak picture of the situation on the front line.
A new report by western forces reveals concern for the first time about Ukrainian soldiers deserting, and says Ukraine forces are restricted to a range of 25km, while the enemy can strike from 12 times that distance.
The grinding battle in eastern Ukraine is having “a seriously demoralising effect on Ukrainian forces as well as a very real material effect; cases of desertion are growing every week”, the report says.
The desertion comes as Russian forces capture more territory in the east.
Meanwhile, the Kyiv government’s bargaining position is being weakened by a growing disparity in the number of prisoners being held by each side. The number of Russian soldiers held by Ukraine has fallen from 900 in April to 550 after a series of exchanges.
Moscow has more than 5,600 Ukrainian troops in captivity, enlarged by the surrender of 2,500 in Mariupol including members of the Azov battalion.
Both Kyiv and Moscow are holding highly publicised trials for prisoners of war. Ukrainian courts in Kyiv and near Kharkiv have convicted Russian soldiers on war crimes charges, handing out lengthy sentences.
Iryna Venediktova, the country’s prosecutor general, said yesterday she had filed eight more cases.
Two Britons, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were captured serving with Ukrainian forces in Mariupol are on trial in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, where prosecutors say they face the death penalty for “terrorism” and being “mercenaries”.
Russian state media announced yesterday that more than 1,000 Mariupol prisoners have been transferred to Russia for “investigation”.
Politicians in Moscow and the separatist republics have threatened to carry out “Nuremberg-type” trials of the Azov prisoners, whom they accuse of being neo-Nazis.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, making a visit to the frontline in Donbas on Monday, demanded the Kremlin hand over the Mariupol prisoners. Negotiations were ongoing, he said, but “they are unfortunately in the hands of the Russian Federation, which cannot be trusted”.
The intelligence report says: “Russians insist on a one-to-one prisoner exchange. This means that under the status quo, 4,500 Ukrainian prisoners may be in Russian jails until there is a peace deal.
"Moscow is likely to use this as a lever to internally destabilise Ukraine unless there is social protection for their families and clear communications.”
The assessment was compiled before the UK promise to supply a small number of M270 multiple-launch rocket systems.
The intelligence report states: “It is plain that a conventional war cannot be won if your side has several times fewer weapons, your weapons hit the enemy at a shorter distance and you have significantly less ammunition than the enemy.”
The report warns that the Russians are fully aware that a relatively small number of Western weapons have been sent and the delivery into combat positions is slow.
“The Russians are seeking to utilise their advantage in the time they have by using their artillery to try and break through Ukrainian defences in the Donbas,” it says.