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Russians bogged down in Ukraine

Written by Adrian Hill

The three day war passed six months old on the 24 August. Under normal circumstances Ukrainians would have the day off to celebrate independence. Instead they’re fighting to keep their freedom.

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Ukraine has  certainly been making shrewd use of its recently delivered long range rocket artillery. Having damaged key bridges over the River Dnipro near Kherson, the following day they hit the large bridge forty kilometres up river at Nova Kakhovka where the Dnipro is dammed. This bridge is important for Russia’s logistics traffic. A few days later they attacked the bridges near Kherson a second time and hit the Antonivsky Bridge as a Russian convoy was crossing. Since this last attack the Russians have assembled barges with which they will build a pontoon bridge – anchoring the barges in a line across the river and joining them with the road deck sections. No doubt a great amount of attention will be paid to air defence but pontoon bridges are also vulnerable to artillery, indeed mines drifting with the current or plain old sabotage. Nor can they carry the same volume of traffic as a large conventional bridge.

Another attack hit the main bridge from Russia to the Crimea at Kerch – resembling a roadway on stilts across the strait at its narrowest point though still several kilometres wide. This will disrupt the flow of men and supplies to reinforce the Russian forces, including those far to the west occupying the country between Dnipro and the Ukrainian front lines both to the west and north.  Indeed, under some circumstances, occupation forces in the Crimea could be cut off from Russia.

The Ukrainians are systematically attacking the Russian supply routes, but also regimental command posts and ammunition dumps of the 7 Airborne and 98 Guards Airborne divisions based north-west and south of Kherson city.  The Russians claimed a small gain of ground at Blahodatne about forty kilometres due north of Kherson city although the Ukrainians now claim to have pushed them back. Elsewhere, there is very little to show for another week of fighting and heavy Russian casualties.

The Institute for the Study of War in Washington DC ( ISW ) believe that Russian forces suffer fundamental problems. They do not appear to be able to exploit tactical breakthroughs and consistently fail to take advantage of them. This problem may explain the slow rate of advance in the east – ground taken is usually after an orderly withdrawal by the Ukrainians – and suggests that Russian forces will not take much more ground over the coming months and may be unable to commit enough forces to any one offensive operation to regain the momentum and make territorial gains.

Over the last six weeks Russia has gained territory roughly the size of Andorra while losing ground roughly the size of Denmark. Russia’s defence minister, Sergey Shoigu, in effect confirmed this failure in a statement on the 24 August, although I don’t think he meant it to come across that way.

On the 25 August an announcement declares that 137,000 new faces will be added to the cannon fodder that placates the weird egos of those privileged fat cats who run the criminal modern version of corrupt Soviet Union Russia. Why should these innocent sacrificial souls make any difference? The problem lies in the approach to command and was born in the attitude to ordinary people who provide the rank and file.

So far, Britain has provided or pledged arms, ammunition, training and other help worth about £2 billions. America has provided or pledged about ten times as much military aid and some $50 billions of support in total. As the war reached its sixth month, the Department of Defence announced a further $3 billions of military aid.

The most recent package will come from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the Department of Defence to contract with industry partners to procure equipment. Unlike some previous aid, which comes from the country’s existing stockpile, this aid can come over several years. The package includes six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems with munitions, up to 245,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition, up to 65,000 rounds of 120 mortar ammunition, up to 24 counter-artillery radars, Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems, support equipment for Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Systems announced in last week’s package, VAMPIRE Counter-Unmanned Aerial Systems and laser-guided rocket systems. The assistance also includes funds for training, maintenance and sustainment.

With this package, as well as the previous ones announced, the United States has sent or pledged a total of $13.5 billion in assistance to Ukraine since January 2021. This is the largest single package for Ukraine that the U.S. has announced, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said during a press briefing on Wednesday 24 August.

This may be our largest security assistance package to date,” Kahl said. “But let me be clear, it will not be our last. We will continue to closely consult with Ukraine on its near, mid and long term capability needs.”

Items included in the package will be delivered over several years, Kahl said, with some coming within months and others in three years. The delay provides enough time to train Ukrainians on the equipment.

Providing equipment over several years is not necessarily a sign that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will last that long, Kahl said. It instead is a sign to Putin that the United States will not stop assisting Ukraine, as it appears one of Putin’s tactics may be to wait Ukraine, the United States and allies out, he added.

The package is relevant whether the war extends or the war ends, Kahl said. Even if Russia leaves Ukraine, the country will need to be able to deter further aggression. “The package of capabilities here are really aimed at getting Ukraine what they’re going to need in the medium to long term so it’s not relevant to the fight today, tomorrow next week,” he said. “It is relevant to the ability of Ukraine to defend itself and deter further aggression a year from now, two years from now.”

 The announcement comes as Ukraine is celebrating its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Officials said it will include money for the small, hand-launched Puma drones, the longer-endurance Scan Eagle surveillance drones, which are launched by catapult, and, for the first time, the British Vampire drone system, which can be launched from ships.

As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, US security assistance is shifting to a longer-term campaign that also will likely keep more American troops in Europe into the future, US officials said. Earlier shipments, most of them done under presidential drawdown authority, have focused on Ukraine’s more immediate needs for weapons and ammunition and involved materiel that the Pentagon already has in stock that can be shipped in short order.

US defense leaders are also eyeing plans that will expand training for Ukrainian troops outside their country, and for militaries on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks that feel most threatened by Russia’s aggression. Already the Ukrainians have asked Britain to include attack as part of their training syllabus as well as defence.

Standing back a bit, Retired General Philip Breedlove USAF, the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO, told Forces News that in the next six months members of the military alliance must decide what they “are about” and accelerate defense support. “In a policy sense, the West has decided not to give Ukraine what it needs to win, rather just to give it what it needs to stay on the battlefield,” he said.

General Breedlove added that he is unsure “how you call a win” for either side, with a Russian military “embarrassed” by Ukraine and a defending nation reduced, in part, to rubble. This is very much in line with the observations by Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of RUSI that we must be prepared to grow our defence industries and supply Ukraine ( and ourselves ) with modern weapons for as long as it takes. I think the Royal Navy and the RAF should both be about three times larger and the Army and its reserves doubled.

Talking about the army, Lord Dannatt told Forces News that Russia had made so many mistakes that some were unexpected. Russia has carried out two military operations over the last thirty years – Afghanistan and a smallish operation in Syria. Compare that with America and Britain who fought two wars against Saddam Hussein and a war in Afghanistan. We are much more used to planning and executing large operations.

He thinks negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are inevitable and suggested that Russia will not give up the territory it has seized. “As a former diplomat I have no knowledge of Russia, as a former soldier I think we’re long past the moment when sufficient trust remained to haggle. Too many dirty tricks have been played, too many false promises made, hundreds of children abducted for ‘ adoption ‘ and fake-votes planned to be held at gunpoint. The latest is treating Ukrainians as stateless refugees in their own country”.

Russia has to suffer a big defeat and be seen to do so by its people and the mandarins at the Chinese Imperial Palace. Boris Johnson paid a last visit to Ukraine as British Prime Minister on Ukraine’s independence day. I hope they showed him the parade of rusty tanks, many knocked out by American and British missiles. Boris made the wise decision over Ukraine – their freedom and ours are the same. Boris said he believes Ukraine can win. I agree. There are far too many doom watchers running loose.

Adrian Hill is a former soldier and diplomat

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Adrian Hill