Security & defence

The Tide flowing against Russia

Written by Adrian Hill

The tide of events in Ukraine no longer flows one way. After inflicting a significant defeat on the Russian army to the east of Kharkiv, the Ukrainians gained more ground along the west bank of the Dnipro River and drew closer to the city of Kherson. In recent days they have attacked a bridge over the river with the aim of trapping the Russians on the western bank.

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Gas bubbles in the Baltic at the end of September aroused suspicions of Russian sabotage. On the 11 October someone – the Ukrainian defence ministry has not claimed responsibility but they never do as a policy – severely damaged the twelve miles long Kersh Bridge from Russia to the Crimea, thereby greatly hindering the Russian army’s logistics. Supplies, ammunition, reinforcements for the southern occupation forces all have been sent via the Crimea as the quickest secure route. This interdiction was rather more personal than others – the bridge was opened by Putin driving a truck along its twelve miles length.

Since the attack the Russian army has been forced to send convoys via the much longer routes around the Sea of Azov before continuing westwards through Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Moreover, the Ukrainians are regaining ground along this southern front line and may advance far enough towards the Black Sea coast to cut the main Russian supply route to Kherson.

Retribution soon followed.

Over the 10 and 11 October Kiev and other civilian targets were bombarded by cruise missiles launched by Tu 160 bombers flying well clear of harm’s way over the Caspian Sea. Of 84 missiles and 24 drone attacks on the 10 October, the Ukrainians shot down 43 missiles and 13 drones. Of the latter 10 were drones supplied by Iran. Indeed, instructors from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been spotted on the ground in Ukraine. The following day TU 160 and TU 95 strategic bombers fired another thirty cruise missiles. No less than 21 were shot down as were 11 drones attacking civil infrastructure. Russia fired 114 expensive cruise missiles and launched about 30 drones at civilian targets. Not one made any impact on Ukraine’s ability to fight on any front. Russia chose terror over tactical gain.

That gives an idea of the effectiveness of the Ukrainians’ ground to air defences. Although media reports suggested this was an opening gambit by the new general, Sergey Surovikin, former commander in Syria, this is doubtful. The team at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington DC ( ISW ) maintain that planning for these airstrikes would have begun long before the new commander took over.

The USA and UK reacted quickly. Ben Wallace, British Defence Secretary, announced on the 13 October that we will supply Ukraine with the RAF’s latest medium range air-to-air missiles though converted so they can be fired from a ground vehicle.  The latter is the same type of launcher used for defending the White House. Such a combination will provide Ukraine’s cities and vital infrastructure with much stronger defence against attacks by cruise missiles. AMRAAMS – the American missile system bought by the RAF – has a hefty warhead, thirty-one miles range and costs almost US $ 400,000 each.

I fear we must expect more such attacks on civilians as the Kremlin pushes the boundaries of violence to delay defeat – short of going nuclear or biological or nerve gas – Russia has all three, so don’t let’s become blind sided. Already the Institute for the Study of War in Washington DC ( ISW ) reports newly mobilised Russian troops finding themselves issued with clothing and equipment dating from the Cold War. The first reports reached the milblogger community of heavy casualties among newly mobilised troops from Moscow, killed by artillery fire as they tried to reach the front line. Other reports complain that troops are being moved without proper paperwork – their families may never know what happened to them or where they are if wounded. The administration of the Russian army seems in a muddle already. All the problems listed previously in these round ups appear to have worsened according to the ISW’s latest report. This is not going down well with the next of kin of those called up.

Panic in Kherson?

The worsening situation for Moscow was also shown when the Moscow-appointed governor of Ukraine’s Kherson region asked Russia on Thursday to help with the evacuation of civilians to safer regions. Kherson is the western-most of four Ukrainian regions where Moscow-backed referendums were recently held to annex parts of eastern Ukraine in violation of international law.

“Every day, the cities of the Kherson region are subjected to missile attacks,” Vladimir Saldo said in a Telegram post, adding that’s why “the leadership of the Kherson administration has decided to provide Kherson families with the option to travel to other regions of the Russian Federation to rest and study.”

“We suggested that all residents of the Kherson region, if they desire to protect themselves from the consequences of missile strikes…go to other regions,” Saldo said, pointing to Crimea, the Rostov region, Krasnodar Territory and Stavropol Territory as possible destinations.

“Take your children and leave,” he urged but this could have sinister implications for those who take up the offer. Many Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia.

The UK role downplayed in Germany

At least the attacks over the last few days provoked a sense of urgency even in Herr Scholtz’s mind. Germany, finally, will send Ukraine equipment promised months ago. British audiences rarely see Continental TV news channels. Presently I am a guest in a country that has four official languages and more than a dozen dialects of the main one. We see all the neighbours’ TV news. On our local Swiss German service, probably for cost cutting, nearly all the foreign correspondents are employed by German TV channels. A Swiss foreign correspondent is becoming a rarity which is a shame. The ones I knew were very good indeed. The regular nightly message is that every crisis is the fault of the Brits. We ditched the EU. We don’t pay for Europe. By backing Ukraine with the Americans, we have made the war last longer, interrupted Europe’s gas supply and caused a recession across the EU. And don’t mention the Brits help for Ukraine and thereby Europe) because the same lexicon insists France is second only to the USA as a provider of military support to Ukraine.

Not everyone falls for this fairytale. And that includes Germany. I don’t know her but Katerina Buchholz of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Statista put the Brits second only to the Americans and France tenth, behind Estonia with a tiny population. Actually, Katerina’s numbers show that British aid is almost as the same as the EU put together and the smaller counties are more generous than the big ones.


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About the author

Adrian Hill