Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invaders prove they still are not up to the task. What has to be the worst loss of Russian military men and equipment occurred recently as an army battalion tactical group attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River running between the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk at the town of Bilohorivka. While at a temporary pontoon bridge, the Russians came under fire from Ukrainian artillery catching the exposed troops and their motorized vehicles at the entrance to the bridge. From aerial photos, the carnage of blasted Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers looks extensive. Some reports put the number of destroyed vehicles at 100 and as many as 1,000 troops or more killed.
Once Russian forces found that capturing the capital city, Kyiv, would not happen, the Kremlin changed its strategy. Moscow’s forces regrouped, took time to reconstitute combat units significantly weakened by Ukrainian attacks, and turned east. The idea was to focus on the Donbas region and Mariupol with renewed vigor. The Russian ground forces would renew the assault on Kharkiv, encircle the city, and shell it into submission. Though the initial assault brought some early successes as Putin’s ground forces attempted to surround Kharkiv, Ukraine’s artillery, infantry, and fighting vehicles have proven an able match for the “Orcs,” as Ukrainian citizens refer to the Russian hordes. Kyiv’s combat units have counterattacked relentlessly. “Ukrainian forces are continuing to counterattack to the north of Kharkiv, recapturing several towns and villages towards the Russian Border,” the UK Ministry of Defence Intelligence Update tweeted on May 12. “Russia’s prioritization of operations in the Donbas has left elements deployed in the Kharkiv Oblast vulnerable to the mobile, and highly motivated, Ukraine counterattacking force.”
Moscow’s ground army withdrew again and attempted to replenish and reorganize its battalion tactical groups after sustaining significant combat losses in the Kharkiv area. Britain’s Defence Intelligence suspected the Russian forces, once combat-ready, would deploy “to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, forming a blocking force to protect the western flank of Russia’s main force concentration and main supply routes for operations in the vicinity of Izium.” The prediction proved accurate. At the Siverskyi Donets River’s edge is where Ukrainian long-range artillery found the Orcs.
In a report by David Axe writing for Forbes, the Ukrainian armed forces general staff explained:
“…[I]t was the brigade’s artillery battalion with its 2S1 122-millimeter howitzers that apparently got first crack at the Russian bridge and the vehicles and troops concentrated on and around it, out in the open. The 17th’s shelling destroyed more than 70 T-72 and T-80 tanks, BMPs, MT-LB armored tractors and much of the bridging unit itself, including a tugboat and the pontoon span…In one strike, the Ukrainians removed from the battlefield one or two of the roughly 99 Russian battalion tactical groups in Ukraine.”
What was thought to be Russia’s modern, sophisticated artillery and counter-battery fire-control systems simply have not been in evidence in Putin’s current invasion of Ukraine. Instead, “in the current phase of the war, it’s Ukraine’s own fire-control system that’s proved most effective. Radars, off-the-shelf drones, special operations forces, and even civilians calling in enemy positions on their cell phones have helped the Ukrainian army’s artillery relentlessly to pound Russian formations,” Axe explains in a companion Forbes article.
Putin’s military leadership is not acquitting itself with much distinction. To have a unit the size of the one caught with its pants down is evidence of grossly inadequate or incompetent leadership and battlefield intelligence. But, again, these types of losses by the Kremlin’s military demonstrate how a force superior in size and weaponry can be humiliated by an asymmetrically smaller, less well-equipped army has the home-field advantage. As a result, Russia has suffered an enormous loss of warfighting capability. The British Daily Mail newspaper reported, “Wrecked Kremlin equipment now amounts to 939 tanks, 185 planes, 155 helicopters, 421 artillery units, and eight ships, the Ukrainian army estimated this morning [April 27]. Kyiv estimates its forces have now killed 22,400 Russians.” Since the invasion began, the Russians have been losing soldiers at 350 per day.
Many are reporting that Moscow’s latest whupping is clear evidence Putin is losing in Ukraine. “The massive scale and protracted nature of the conflict have exposed the many shortcomings of the Russian military. At the core, the Russian military seems to be unable to conduct large-scale, joint combined arms operations,” says the defense online news outlet 1945. However, no one should hoist the victory flag. Putin’s war against Kyiv is not over by a long shot. Nonetheless, Moscow cannot sustain the current level of losses for much longer.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.