In less than a month, precise long-range rockets from the United States have given Ukraine stunning battlefield victories against the Russian army, far behind the front line.
Last week Kyiv forces used the long-awaited Himars – high-mobility artillery rocket systems – in a strike described by one official as “a gem” on the Antonivsky Bridge over the Dnipro River in the occupied territory. by Russia east of Kherson. The attack rendered the 1.4 km long link unusable for heavy military trucks, disconnecting supply routes to the occupied city in southern Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Another Himar strike over the weekend hit a train carrying supplies and soldiers from Crimea to the Kherson region. It killed 80 Russian soldiers and wounded 200, according to Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. The railway line could take weeks to repair, a British official has said.
These strikes are just a few examples of the pain that truck-mounted rocket launchers, with a range of around 80 km, inflicted on the Russian military on the battlefield. With them, Ukraine eliminated more than 100 high-value targets, including command posts, ammunition depots, air defense sites, nodes for radars and communications and long-range artillery positions , according to a senior US defense official.
“The word Himars has become almost synonymous with the word justice for our country, and the Ukrainian Defense Forces will do everything to ensure that the occupiers suffer more and more painful losses every week thanks to these very effective systems,” said the Ukrainian president. Volodymyr Zelenskiy. in his daily evening address on Tuesday.
Four additional US units arrived this week, bringing the total number of Himars in Ukrainian hands to 20. On Monday, the United States approved the delivery of more Himars ammunition and Germany provided three similar rocket systems with a range of around 70 km.
But Kyiv says it needs more advanced weapons faster – it requested at least 50 in March, according to a person familiar with the matter – as well as more ammunition to use them at the rate it needs. wish. The limited supply has led Ukraine to focus on regaining control of Kherson, which fell to the Russians in early March, rather than trying to regain ground in the eastern region of Donbass, where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned, according to three briefed officials. on the talks.
The Ukrainians used Himars to clear arms caches and make it difficult to resupply Russian forces in Kherson and deny them the superior firepower that helped them advance into eastern Ukraine.
“Without supply lines, [the Russians] will not be able to maintain the level of shelling – their consumption is huge,” said a Ukrainian official. “They will be forced to use infantry, Manpads [shoulder-mounted missiles] – relatively light weapons.
Samuel Cranny-Evans, a military analyst at the Royal United Services think tank, said: “If and when that happens, Kherson will be a significant offensive that could give Ukraine momentum and a chance to reclaim the narrative.”
Kherson is the only major city outside the east to be held by the Russians, and its location on the western side of the Dnipro and its distance from supply routes make it a tempting target for the Ukrainian army.
The region’s porous front lines left Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro, vulnerable to encirclement, the British Ministry of Defense said on July 28. Kherson, “the most politically important population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from other occupied territories,” he said.
A local official said just under 50 villages near Kherson had already been recaptured.
But Ukrainian officials fear that the battle to regain control of the city will be the only substantial counter-offensive they will be able to execute before winter. In addition to lamenting the slow arrival of the Himars, Ukraine complains of being limited to launching them only on its own territory. This prevents them from neutralizing critical Russian infrastructure such as the 19 km bridge over the Kerch Strait linking Crimea to the Russian mainland, an official said in Kyiv.
Washington rejected Kyiv’s request for longer-range rockets capable of striking inside Russia over fears of escalation.
Ukrainian officials say they have been forced to ration ammunition to a few strikes a day. “We know all the coordinates, all the locations of Russian depots and command and control stations – [the lack of ammunition] limits Ukraine’s ability to really change the situation on the ground,” an official said.
Another said: “We can make a fuss with every delivery to Ukraine, but if we are reasonable we have to calculate them and compare them to our strategic needs – at this rate we don’t even have 30% what we need. We don’t expect to have enough capability to plan a decisive counter-offensive this year. Our big plans will have to be next year now. [when stocks of weapons will have built up].” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022