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Ukrainian Update number 3

Ukrainian Update number 3
Written by Adrian Hill

Ex-paratrooper Adrian Hill reviews the armaments, tactics and performance of both sides in the Ukraine war. He says that the Russians have made little progress in their second-phase operations in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainians are about to receive more sophisticated western weaponry.

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‘Reinforce success’ (Clausewitz)


The 24 April Sunday night visit to President Zelensky by Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, most likely piled more pressure on Biden’s timid White House. The great offices of state and their secretaries in Washington DC are like medieval barons and the President presides over a constantly shifting coalition. Their joint message to the media was therefore all the more significant because it must have been cleared with the White House.

Biden, after more than a single gaffe, including making life easy for Putin by declaring that a small incursion was preferable to a full scale invasion, before adding that NATO won’t become involved in the ground war, made a visit by the two Secretaries more than welcome.

On Monday morning both Secretaries were back in Poland after three hours of talks with Zelensky and his Cabinet. As did Boris, they came and went by train.

At their press briefing they made clear that America’s aim is to make sure Ukraine pushes the Russian’s back where they came from but so doing, damage the Russian armed forces sufficiently to ensure they can’t do the same thing to Ukraine or any other neighbour for a very long time. Antony Blinken emphasised that meant long after Putin had departed politics or possibly this earth. Both Americans stressed that the battle is changing all the time and they want to anticipate these changes, not simply react, and that America is in it until the Russians get out of Ukraine. This is a bold message soon after Afghanistan and I suspect driven by Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin.

Most likely it reflects a change of approach in Washington DC after the poor performance and heavy losses of armour, aircraft, helicopters, missiles, ships and troops suffered by the Russian forces. Put this alongside the magnificent resistance of the Ukrainian people and with suitable equipment a counter offensive has every chance of success. Though we must expect further war crimes in the occupied zones as the Russians try to hang on to the territory they invaded by terror and threats combined with political and economic manipulation. Putin looks as though he is trying to absorb all the ground stolen by his army along the Black Sea coast. I have the impression that Putin and his generals are much more at home with the dirty work of the FSB and GRU than they are at fighting a determined and capable foe.

More reports of war crimes have come from soldiers taken prisoner who escaped, after being interrogated by masked Russians. Their crimes include crude savagery such as cutting off prisoners’ fingers, near drowning them and shouting questions before they were fully conscious. I’m sure the investigation experts will identify those responsible but some form of retribution is required, one that works.

Ukrainian reports suggest that prisoners of war will be paraded through Moscow – another breach of the Geneva Convention.

The democracies’ message will only get through if the Russian armed forces are well and truly beaten, driven out of Ukraine.

President Biden has asked Congress to support a modern version of Lend Lease worth US $ 33 billions to support Ukraine. Half this money is for rebuilding stocks weapons and ammunition used to defend Ukraine.

Ukraine is after medium artillery for longer range and heavier rounds and the Americans are providing 72 towed howitzers with tractors and 144,000 rounds. Various types of armoured vehicles and missiles are also being delivered as fast as possible.

Last month Ben Wallace told the House of Commons that AS90 self-propelled 155mm guns were unsuitable because of their age and weight. The Ukrainians would need training how to keep them running – they are complex but can withstand a direct hit from a tank. Drones are essential to make them highly effective. Supplying counter battery radar is another idea, radar that sees enemy shots and finds the firing position. Problem – according to The Times the British Army has only five sets but at least one has been supplied. Heavy lift drones are being supplied for use in forward areas. Another possibility is to supply the  L118 Light Gun, first used in the 1970s as a replacement for the old 25 pounder, firing a 105mm round and towed.

Lizz Truss set out HMG’s long view approach with a speech at the Mansion House. All I would add is we need a major increase in the size of our armed forces and start now. But we don’t need another Rhine Army. We’d do far better to construct a rapid reaction force with small air portable tanks and lots of helicopters and drones.

Japan is worried enough about China to double their defence budget. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese are serious about defending the democracies. We should do likewise. I don’t buy the Treasury’s glib line that they’ve increased defence spending. How much do these child mandarins expect the voters to take?

Finland and Sweden intend to apply for membership of NATO. There is a comfortable majority for this move in Finland. Opinion is more evenly divided in Sweden and the majority lower, none-the-less the Swedes may vote to join NATO. The Royal Navy needs many more aircraft, ships and submarines if we’re going to support the Nordic and Baltic states against an aggressive, probably defeated and resentful Russia..

There is a blame game with the Swiss who have declined to export ammunition for Marder APCs ( German ) to a combat zone ( Ukraine ) but what on earth were the Germans going to do if they ran out of ammunition defending Germany as part of NATO?



The visits to Moscow and Kiev by the UN Secretary General appear to have helped bring about real ceasefire corridors monitored by the UN and the ICRC. Two batches of civilians ( 46 and roughly 100 ) have been evacuated. They described 24 hours a day bombardment by artillery and aircraft, including attacks on the underground field hospital with bunker busting bombs. Experts believe that 600 people were killed while sheltering in the theatre when victims of a deliberate air strike to kill them. Another war crime.

Two ways to relieve the defence of Mariupol are an attack that catches the Russians from behind, off guard, by driving through their vulnerable rear areas – alternatively, come in from the sea because the steel works is beside the beach. To pull off the latter requires some fast boats or drones armed with anti-ship missiles to take out the rest of the Black Sea fleet and another batch of fast boats to deliver reinforcements and supplies. The Ukrainians have sunk a pair of Russian Navy patrol ships – with drone attacks. Perhaps their drones can be fitted to carry and fire Brimstone. A ship is required to fire Harpoon which can sink a large warship.

With enough tanks and artillery Zelensky could roll up the Russian Army from east to west, starting at Mariupol.

The Ukrainians believe that Putin will announce some form of general mobilisation on the 9 May claiming that Russia is at war with NATO as an attempt to justify Russia’s huge losses and meagre success. Russia denies this plan but let’s see what happens on 9 May. Meanwhile the Ukrainians have commenced a large counter attack near Kharkiv with the aim of driving back the Russian Army by as much as 40 kilometres eastward. That would put Kharkiv beyond range of Russian artillery.


Deliberate design decisions appear a main cause of Russian heavy losses. Perhaps the most striking example was the cruiser Moskva wearing a necklace of explosive loaded silos.

Russian tank turrets use an autoloader, ready use ammunition is stored with the gunners. This allows certain design advantages; thicker armour, lower profile, higher rate of fire, and lower vehicle weight. Easier to conceal a tank with a low profile than the opposite. What about the downsides… a hit penetrating the crew compartment generally means the tank brews. How would the crew in an American tank or a British Chieftain fare should a penetrating round strike the crew compartment? Ammunition  (probably) won’t detonate and vent into the crew compartment, but the crew isn’t going to be happy …they just won’t be vaporized. A US or British tank is probably not going to survive a hit to the crew compartment either…the results just wouldn’t be as spectacular or messy. Splinters flying around the crew compartment are steel scabs from the inside and lethal. But an American or British tank crew stand a chance of surviving a hit anywhere else on their tank, nor would their turret explode. The Ukrainians have just brewed up one of Russia’s T 90 tanks, modern, so the fault remains. This design error was first observed during the Iraq War when Saddam’s Russian supplied tanks brewed up the same way.

No sign of the latest tank, the T-14, possibly not yet in production. Probably it’s not as good as claimed, but better than Russia’s current fleet once the faults are ironed out. The unmanned turret is a major advantage and crew survival should become possible. None-the-less, the best tank in the world is not going to make up for incompetence in tactics, leaderships, or training. You could equip the Russians with US armour, and they wouldn’t do any better.

If the Ukrainians can link modern guns with drones their accuracy will greatly improve. Artillery was an area weapon then along came GPS and today the latest rounds are accurate to within a few yards, sometimes closer. Judging from the widespread damage to residential areas the Russians do not have the ability to field smart artillery. Ukraine’s gunners have the advantage of being able to plug into American real time sigint resources.

Russia’s offensive began with a push from Izyum using the local road network. By advancing along roads that were fairly close to each other the Russian columns were able to give each other artillery support. Since the 27 April the attacks have lost momentum. Very little ground has been gained for considerable losses. Russia’s reliance on troops defeated around Kiev always looked risky and there are reports of low morale.

Further command change may not help. According to the excellent daily news email from the Institute for the Study of War – based in Washington DC –  theUkrainian news outlet Defense Express reported on April 27 that Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov will take personal command of the Russian offensive in the Izyum direction. Citing unspecified Ukrainian military sources, Defense Express stated that Gerasimov is already in-theatre and will command the offensive “at the operational and tactical level” and claimed the Russian military failed to create a single command structure under Southern Military District Commander Alexander Dvornikov. ISW cannot independently confirm this report. However, ISW previously assessed that Dvornikov’s appointment as overall commander in Ukraine would not solve Russia’s command and control challenges and likely strain his span of control. If confirmed, the appointment of Russia’s senior general officer to command tactical operations indicates both the importance of the Izyum drive to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the breakdown in the Russian military’s normal chain of command.

Gerasimov has since been reported wounded after an artillery salvo bracketed his tactical HQ. Someone told the Ukrainians he was there?

There was no offensive action by the Russian Army on that front next day.

Swiss TV programme Rundshau – reported where the Russian dead came from and where they did not. Most killed were from a region of Central Asia near Iran and another near China where the people are Buddhists. They join the army because its pay is four times local wages. No dead have been reported from Moscow and Saint Petersburg and few from west of the Urals.

Russia’s air force has not achieved air superiority, let alone air supremacy, despite 200 – 300 sorties on the 3 May.

Estimates vary but Russia may have expended 70% of its smart cruise missiles. That might account for using submarine launched missiles – from a safe distance out in the Black Sea – and launching naval missiles against ground targets. Destroying the rest of the Black Sea Fleet ought to be a Ukrainian priority. That would open up the whole southern coast to landings and offensives including the Crimea. One region already has partisan action over quite a large stretch of country since the invasion.

Ukrainians in occupied zones are being forced into the Russian economy, made to use rubles. Hostages are being taken and moved to Crimea as a pool of people for prisoner swaps. Rigged votes will be held in occupied zones including the strip of territory along the eastern side of Moldava. All the same, Russia does not appear to have the capacity to increase its hold on Ukraine and once facing modern medium artillery – as revealed by Kharkiv – may well lose ground seized since late February.

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About the author

Adrian Hill