Top US general in Europe says Russia has in many ways 'grown back' its military strength to what it was before it invaded Ukraine

  • Russia is rebuilding its pre-Ukraine invasion military capabilities, according to Gen. Chris Cavoli.

  • Despite heavy equipment and personnel losses in Ukraine, Russia's military capacity remains significant.

  • Russia has grown its army and is set to command the largest military on the continent.

Russia's military has suffered severe losses in Ukraine, but it appears to be bouncing back to what it was before it invaded, says Gen. Chris Cavoli, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander and the head of US European Command.

"They've grown back to what they were before," Cavoli said in a House Armed Services Committee Hearing on Thursday. "They've got some gaps that have been produced by this war, but their overall capacity is very significant still, and they intend to make it go higher."

The commander's comments lent support to Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell's April 3 statement that Russia "almost completely reconstituted militarily."

The war has cost Russia thousands of tanks and seen the military suffer at least 300,000 casualties, by some estimates, yet Russia, the general explained, has been particularly successful in building back its ground forces, most notably by refurbishing, repairing, and producing tanks.

"They still have as many tanks functioning inside Ukraine as they introduced at the beginning of the war," Cavoli said.

In addition to tanks, Russia's army has also grown in size by 15 percent, and the country is currently on the path to "command the largest military on the continent," he said. The size of Russia's army has exceeded the size it was when it had first invaded Ukraine in 2022. There are questions of capability and quality though.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Christopher Cavoli addresses a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Christopher Cavoli addresses a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Cavoli noted in separate testimony Wednesday that the Russian air force remains largely intact as well, explaining that "we do not see significant losses in the air domain, especially their long-range and strategic aviation fleets." He put aviation losses at maybe 10 percent.

"Russia's strategic forces, long-range aviation, cyber capabilities, space capabilities, and capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum have lost no capacity at all," he said.

The war in Ukraine has left certain elements of the Russian military untouched, and the Russians maintain certain key advantages in industrial, war materiel, and manpower.

As Russia builds back, Ukraine is struggling to maintain its strength. Russia's artillery advantage over Ukraine, for instance, is expected to grow from a 5:1 advantage in fires to 10:1 in coming weeks as Kyiv's forces wait for support from the US.

Ukraine has been rationing its shells as billions of dollars have been stalled in Congress for months. To stave off Russian forces while waiting for much-needed ammunition and aid, Ukraine has resorted to primarily using drones in combat, but these are no substitute for what Ukraine really needs.

"UAVs may redistribute the balance of missions assigned to different systems, but they do not eliminate the requirement for traditional artillery," experts at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London wrote Thursday.

Ukraine also needs more air defenses as Russia is currently focused on targeting cities, like Kharkiv, with attack drones, glide bombs, and missiles.

Russia, meanwhile, is building up its military strength. "Russia has been working extremely hard on reconstituting its forces, and they're being quite successful," Cavoli said. "They're a little bit behind from where they started but not by too much."

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