Ukraine destroyed a series of Russian ordnance depots in the 20th week of the war, demonstrating the efficiency of US-supplied HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) rocket systems and other Western systems, and worrying Russian military observers.
These Ukrainian attacks appear to be part of preparations for a summer counteroffensive in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhia districts, which border Crimea.
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Ukraine said it destroyed a key Russian command post in Kherson district along with a weapons arsenal, killing 12 Russian soldiers on July 10. Its armed forces posted drone footage of a depot in flames.
Two days later, Ukraine said it had struck another Russian ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka, also in Kherson oblast, this time killing 52 soldiers.
Russia’s official Tass news agency said only civilian infrastructure was hit the second time and seven people were killed but Russian military bloggers have been reporting with concern Ukraine’s recent success against Russian rear depots and have repeatedly posted videos of detonating munitions.
One, who goes by the name Military Informer on Telegram, speaks of “daily combined attacks on Russian bases and warehouses using GMLRS and Point-U missiles to a depth of 80-120km (50-75 miles).”
“The Russian army has not solved the existing problem with the enemy’s long-range weapons,” the blogger said.
The Kremlin has reportedly encouraged Russian military journalists to leave out operational details; Russian President Vladimir Putin met with a group of them on June 17 to try to defuse tensions.
Britain has supplied Ukraine with M270 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) and the US has sent HIMARS. Both are highly accurate multiple launch rocket systems.
Ukraine’s armed forces have reported other similar successes against Russian ordnance depots, including on the eastern front, where panic among Russian forces may have made assaults easier.
Ukrainian forces say they struck a hastily assembled Russian storage of fuel, lubricants and ammunition in the Azotny district of Donetsk oblast.
“Everything was done in a hurry,” a Ukrainian post on Telegram said, “and so senselessly, that it did not stray away from the ‘watchful eye’.”
On July 8, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed that Western-supplied weapons are key to such attacks.
“The weapons we received from our partners started working very powerfully,” he said. “Their accuracy is exactly as needed. Our defenders inflict very noticeable strikes on depots and other spots that are important for the logistics of the occupiers. And this significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian army.”
Ukraine has received eight HIMARS systems so far.
The US announced on July 8 it will send four more systems as part of a new, $400mn instalment of weapons to Ukraine. Russia has previously said it destroyed HIMARS launchers but a US defence official denied that.
Russia’s ability to concentrate its firepower has been key to its ability to claw away territory in the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk.
“Russia has achieved fires dominance through the sheer volume of tactical artillery and munitions that it can bring to bear,” wrote the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a leading military think-tank, in a recent special report researched on Ukraine’s front lines.
“Russia is firing approximately 20,000 152mm [5.98-inch] shells per day compared with Ukraine’s 6,000, with an even greater proportional disparity in multiple rocket launchers and missiles fired,” says the RUSI report. “The fastest way to level the playing field is to enable Ukraine to strike Russian artillery logistics.”
Russia unwittingly helped Ukraine do so in April, says RUSI, when civilian contractors were brought in to move ammunition from railheads to the divisional rear, “with military units then shifting ammunition to large ammunition depots behind the main artillery concentrations.”
This system, the report says, “makes key bottlenecks in Russian artillery highly predictable”.
These successes have fuelled Ukrainian rhetoric in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov was the latest official to rule out a negotiated end to the war on July 9, saying Russia will either collapse, give up, or be defeated.
In a related development, Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation started training private drone operators in flying and cloaking skills. Some operators have donated their own equipment to this “army of drones”. Both sides use drones to target enemy artillery.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Russia is also making preparations in this direction.
“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle], on an expedited timeline,” Sullivan said.
A summer counteroffensive
The destruction of Russian ammunition appears to be part of a larger plan for a southern counteroffensive.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told civilians on July 10 to evacuate the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia “by all means possible so that the armed forces can liberate these territories without endangering the civilian population.” It was her third such warning since June 20.
Ukrainian forces conducted a bombing of Kherson airport on July 5, crippling a likely Russian logistics lifeline.
Sabotage efforts in the occupied south have also stepped up.
The Ukrainian Resistance Centre says partisans in Kherson blew up a railway bridge between Bohdanivka and Troitske on July 7, hampering Russian logistical efforts. Partisans had also blown up a railway bridge on July 3 and derailed a Russian munitions train on July 2. Assassinations and attempted assassinations of occupation officials in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts have also ramped up in July.
Britain will train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers over the next few months, Ukraine reported – a high number suggesting that Ukraine may be keeping large forces in reserve for its counteroffensive.
Motivating manpower has been a Russian weakness. The administration of Russian-occupied Luhansk oblast said Russian forces are forcibly conscripting men by issuing them summonses after they are called in to work.
Ukrainian intelligence said Russia is now offering convicts, including murderers, amnesty after six months of army service in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Centre for Countering Misinformation said Russia is advertising 22,200 vacancies for contract servicemen.
An ongoing investigation by the BBC Russian service and MediaZona, a Russian independent media outlet that authorities there denounce as a “foreign agent”, revealed that 17 percent of Russian deaths are officers – a high proportion that could affect Russia’s command capability on the ground.
Despite these setbacks, Putin delivered a hawkish speech to the State Duma, the lower House of Parliament, on July 7, in which he said he is willing to fight Ukraine to the bitter end if necessary.
“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say? Let them try,” Putin said. “We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems that everything is heading towards this.”