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Written by Adrian Hill

While the world’s media has focussed on Israel, the Ukraine war grinds on. Former paratrooper and diplomat Adrian Hill, continues to monitor the war and concludes that Ukraine is making progress while Russian claims of advances are overblown.

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The Ukrainian sappers and infantry continue to make slow but steady small advances to the south-east and south-west of their salient through the northern and middle lines of Russia’s defences near the settlement of Robotyne. There is a third line of defence further south intended for servicing the first two lines rather than holding up the Ukranian Army. Rains have begun making movement harder though not impossible. The Ukrainians lost tanks and armoured vehicles then eventually advanced with infantry screening the sappers while the latter cleared mines by hand at night.

Britain’s latest package of help included plenty of mine clearing equipment. Sixty years ago the Royal Engineersused a super sized firework called a Giant Viper, which consisted of a big rocket towing a 250 yards long hose stuffed of plastic explosive, as our instant way of clearing minefields for armoured vehicles. The rocket took off and towed its tube bag across the minefield, the tube exploded once on the ground – a bit like a giant jumping cracker – thereby detonating any mines and leaving a cleared path. Viper has been replaced by Python which saw service in Afghanistan and its rocket tows a 230 metre hose that blasts a path 7.5 metres wide. Standard operational procedure calls for an armoured vehicle, usually a tank, fitted with a mine plough to lead the way through. I hope the package included some British Pythons.

Further north on the Donetsk front the Russians mounted an offensive against the Ukrainian salient around Avdiivka but lost a lot of armour when the Ukrainians wiped out a Russian battle group. The Russians committed 6-8,000 troops and may have lost nearly half of them. Their counter offensive appears to be running out steam. Its aim was to push the Ukrainians back until Donetsk city was beyond range of Ukraine’s artillery. Russia’s guns have fired at such a rate they suffer barrel wear which leaves them less accurate. Putin describes this battle as active defence which may be his way of letting the people down bit by bit.

Ukraine may prefer slow, steady, small advances at present because in the near future their F16 pilots and ground crews will return fully trained with their fourth-generation fighters. There will be enough fighters to almost double Ukraine’s present fleet. Despite being vastly outnumbered, aircraft fitted with modern electronics and the flying agility of the F 16 will have an impact beyond their numbers.

British Storm Shadow missiles have hit strategic targets for some months. Now Ukraine has started attacking long range targets with American supplied ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) armed with cluster munitions. Previously the Russians could disperse aircraft forcing the Ukrainians to hit individual targets. The Americans delivered ATACMs secretly to give Ukraine an element of surprise. By using cluster munitions on two airfields in occupied Ukraine they were able to crater runways, destroyed several helicopters parked on the dispersal and blow up an ammunition store. ATACM’s range is 160 miles, speed Mach 3, and its ceiling is 160,000 feet or 50 kilometres. Not easy to shoot down, the Ukrainians have been asking for this weapon for several months. The Russians used their helicopters to attack Ukraine’s new armoured vehicles. Now they may have to move their aircraft beyond the range of ATACM.

Another shock for the Russian military blogger community came when Russian sources claimed that likely company-sized elements of two Ukrainian naval infantry brigades conducted an assault across the Dnipro River onto the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast on October 17-18. Geolocated footage published on October 18 indicates that Ukrainian forces advanced north of Pishchanivka (14km east of Kherson City and 3km from the Dnipro River) and into Poyma (11km east of Kherson City and 4km from the Dnipro River).

The Ukrainians may be taking advantage of the Russian Army’s habit of sending troops from the quiet Kherson front to reinforce those trying to stop Ukraine’s breach of the main defence lines. At present the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC ‘will not speculate on the scope and prospects of ongoing Ukrainian activity on the east bank of Kherson Oblast but does not assess that Ukrainian forces have created a bridgehead suitable for the further manoeuvre of sizeable mechanised forces at this time. However, it is noteworthy that prominent and generally reliable Russian sources are discussing Ukrainian activities on the east bank as occurring at a larger scale than previously documented tactical cross-river raids by Ukrainian forces. ISW say they will continue to monitor the area closely and assess control of terrain changes and Russian responses, in line with its standing policy of not forecasting Ukrainian actions.’

Perhaps the greatest danger to Ukraine’s freedom and future lies across the Atlantic Ocean in Washington DC where Congress appears to have lost its collective senses and deleted its institutional memory. When the Republican Party offered to pass a finance Bill they left off the aid package for Ukraine. This is going back to the 1930s and 1940s when Joe Kennedy was US Ambassador to London and opposed lend-lease with the argument that the Germans are going to invade Britain and win the war in Europe. Americans eventually would find they actually had armed the Third Reich.

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Adrian Hill