war in Ukraine
Modern weapon systems are hitting Putin hard – but it will take more than a handful of rocket launchers to stop him
US rocket launchers blow up Russian depots every day, but Putin’s troops keep advancing. Slowly, unspectacularly but incessantly. It takes more than a handful of rocket launchers to stop them.
Ukraine was able to fend off the first onslaught of the Russian invaders with clever tactics and the right weapons. And of course with the fighting spirit of the troops. Thousands of man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles prevented the Russian armed forces from developing their supremacy in the air and in armored vehicles in the first few weeks. On the contrary, they suffered heavy losses, especially along the overstretched supply routes, and had to give up trying to conquer Kyiv and Kharkov.
Today there is no question that the new rocket launchers and howitzers supplied by the West are having an impact on what is happening. The HIMARS system from the USA stands out because it combines – with the right ammunition – precision, high destructive power against point and area targets with a long range. The decisive difference compared to modern howitzers is the range, which makes it possible to hit targets far behind the front. The HIMARS are used primarily to hit munitions dumps so the Russian army will run out of supplies to fuel its offensive. The Ukrainian government’s declared goal is to get rockets with an even longer range – 300 kilometers instead of the current 80 kilometers.
Omissions at the beginning of the Donbass offensive
But will it be enough? All of these deliveries carry the stigma of being too late and too little. Months ago, the Kremlin had changed its tactics for everyone to see, and put the artillery in the foreground. If 40 HIMARS had been delivered at the time – instead of four later – the Donbass offensive would probably have gotten stuck in its infancy. Today, Putin loses an ammo dump every day, but will that make him give up? It should be remembered that Russian troops have been launching similar attacks on Ukrainian facilities across the country every day since the war began. Almost 3000 cruise missiles were deployed. In the west, mostly civilian victims of the impacts are reported. However, one must not forget that the majority of hits destroy infrastructure that can be used militarily.
The army is dying
The West’s waiting and hesitation have fatal consequences, which our politicians try not to mention. Every day the maps and the terrain gains are discussed extensively. There is silence about the losses of the Ukrainian troops. But while this is being waited out, Ukraine’s armed forces are continually being attrited – meaning the soldiers are dying. Kyiv will not be able to compensate for the loss of well-trained professional soldiers and dedicated volunteers from the first days with conscripted soldiers and lightning-fast training. And while Western leaders may eventually agree to more arms shipments, the dead will not come back to operate those arms.
What is happening at the front?
All hopes that the Russian advance will come to a halt because Putin’s troops can’t take it anymore have not been fulfilled. After the fall of Lysychansk there was a period of regrouping, but at the same time the pressure on the Ukrainian defenders was maintained. It is in the nature of this warfare that there are no decisive battles. So you can always dismiss the gains of the Russian troops as strategically unimportant, insignificant, etc., but that’s no use, they are constantly gnawing at the Ukrainian defense line.
After the fall of Lysychansk, the pressure on the front between Sloviansk and Bakhmut increased. Further north near Kharkov, Moscow’s armed forces are also making gains. Here the Ukrainians had already reached the border – whether the well-known picture with the border post was set up or not – from there they wanted to break into the Russian positions in order to cut off the attacks on Sieverodonetsk and Lysychansk in depth. Instead, the Russians have gotten so far that Kharkov is within range of their guns again.
For weeks, Kyiv has been conjuring up its own offensive in the south. The liberation of Cherson and an advance towards Crimea had been announced and would – if successful – shake the entire Russian position. Little has happened. The Ukrainian troops have worked their way up to Cherson. Since then, only the announcements from Kyiv have increased – to a degree that lacks any realism. There is no indication that the Dnieper was crossed and the city actually liberated. Rather, the fear is that Ukrainian troops are trapped in a dead zone from which they are politically restricted and too weak to make a decisive breakthrough.
Instead, Russia’s defense minister has announced intense combat operations on all fronts.
Putin wants to win
The London Times, which is usually well-informed, reports that the US secret services see no signs of a change in strategy on the part of Putin. Putin will continue the war until the West no longer wants to bear the cost. His calculus: Kyiv not only needs military equipment. The systematic destruction of the country will mean that ever larger sections of civil society will also have to be fed from abroad. Just one example: Kyiv will not be able to guarantee its own energy supply this winter, so someone will have to foot the gas bill for a population of 40 million. The only hope for Putin to change his mind is a series of spectacular actions against symbolic targets – such as the sinking of the “Moskva”. This would include Putin’s pet project, the Crimean Bridge. But even that would be an act of desperation. Because nobody can predict how the rethinking would turn out. Would Putin pause or would he massively escalate the warfare?
Also consider the unthinkable
“I’m a realist, I know the Russians won’t turn around tomorrow and drive back across the Russian border,” a senior Pentagon official told The Times. “From a military standpoint, the cost to Russia is far greater than it would be without such Western support.” In his opinion, the West needs to get away from thinking from week to week. He must analyze the possible developments of the war and develop strategies for it. “Until now, the ‘speculators’ have generally been wrong. No Russian blitzkrieg. No Russian collapse. No striking results from the unprecedented sanctions. It is best to acknowledge that there are a number of possibilities and consider how we can deal with of each individual, rather than trying to predict what will happen next.” Tacitly, that means also considering what options remain if Putin continues to win on the ground, and the hope that Russian troops will be decisively thrown back, does not occur.