The Russian military forces are grinding down Ukrainian ground forces by extensive use of heavy artillery. The Ukrainian artillery has been destroyed or lacks ammunition.The Ukrainian forces have orders to stay in their position and to hold the line. That only makes sure that Russian artillery strikes will destroy them.
The order was given because the 'west' has pushed the Ukrainian president to not make peace with Russia. The consequence will be the assured destruction of the Ukrainian military.
There are claims that the Russian progress in Ukraine has been slow or has even come to a halt:
The United States assessed last week that Russian troops were making “slow and uneven” progress in the Donbas, often of no more than “several kilometers ... on any given day, just because they don’t want to run out too far ahead of their logistics and sustainment lines,” one senior U.S. official told journalists.
But in its daily reports, the Institute for the Study of War noted that Russian forces made no confirmed ground attacks on Monday or Tuesday. It said a Ukrainian artillery strike April 30 on a Russian command headquarters near Izium has slowed the Russian push, and noted that, farther north, a Ukrainian counterattack Monday pushed Russian forces back 25 miles east of Kharkiv.
Those claims do not hold up to reality. As Clausewitz wrote about the Schwerpunkt in 'On War’:
[N]o matter what the central feature of the enemy’s power may be—the point on which your efforts must converge—the defeat and destruction of his fighting force remains the best way to begin, and in every case will be a very significant feature of the campaign.
Basing our comments on general experience, the acts we consider most important for the defeat of the enemy are the following:
- Destruction of his army, if it is at all significant.
- Seizure of his capital if it is not only the center of administration but also that of social, professional, and political activity.
- Delivery of an effective blow against his principal ally if that ally is more powerful than he.
Accordingly the Russian military is tasked with demilitarizing the Ukraine, Clausewitz’ task one, and that is what it is doing.
Russia is using the best available means to destroy the Ukrainian military. On the ground that means ruthless systematic mass use of artillery.
Reports about the high morale of the Ukrainian soldiers who halt Russian advances are copium when compared with the reality of the battlefield.
Artillery dominated the battlefields of World War I. That was seen in various ways, from wounding patterns and doctors’ clinical data, to memoirs, diaries, and letters, through to changed military doctrine after the war. No nation that had experienced significant ground combat would blithely assume morale could replace firepower. Artillery even holds the dubious distinction of causing a new diagnosis, shellshock.
Morale can not replace firepower. Morale gets destroyed when soldiers come under concentrated artillery fire. Russia has plenty of the later.
As I wrote a week ago after reading the Russian military report for that day:
The nearly 1,000 artillery missions in the last 24 hours and on the days before speak of intense preparations for upcoming attacks by Russian mechanized forces. Over all artillery will do the most damage to the Ukrainian troops. In World War II and other modern mechanized wars some 65% of all casualties were caused by artillery strikes. The recent rate on the Ukrainian side will likely be higher.
There were at that time few reports about the artillery situation at the frontline. I have now found three which have since come out. They convey what the power of artillery does to an army and confirm my previous take.
First a Politico piece that was published on the same day I wrote the above and was added to its update. The starkest quotes:
“The situation is very bad, [Russian forces] are using scorched- earth tactics,” the 31-year-old married father of two said via text. “They simply destroy everything with artillery, shelling day and night,” [First Lt. Ivan Skuratovsky] said via text.
The day before, he told POLITICO his soldiers were being bombarded with Russian howitzers, mortars and multiple-launch rocket systems “at the same time.” Just hours earlier, he said, they had been attacked by two Su-25 warplanes, “and our day became hell.”
From an AFP piece, published on April 30, we have this:
Russian troops in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region have shifted from a steamroller strategy to one of relentlessly chipping away at their opponents in the hope of grinding them down.
Ukraine’s army has little option but to try to stall their larger and better-equipped enemy in the sprawling plains of Donbas, where artillery is king.
Pessimism about the chances of pushing back the Russians appears to be spreading.
Although they are holding their ground on the battlefield, many of Ukraine’s infantry soldiers admit to feeling overwhelmed.
“Viking”, a 27-year-old staff sergeant who fought in Kreminna said his comrades are exhausted and waiting for the order to pull back.
“If it was a war between infantry forces, we would have a chance. But in this area, it’s first and foremost an artillery war and we don’t have enough artillery,” he says.
“For every 300 shells they fire, we fire three.”
And from yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor this:
The Ukrainian artillery team was moving into position in the northern Donbas region, along the front line near Izium. The soldiers did not even have time to orient their guns before they were found by a Russian drone.
The first Russian 152 mm shells – fired by howitzers more than 10 miles away – landed near the Ukrainian guns. As the artillery team ran for safety, its vehicle was hit and set on fire.
The driver, badly wounded, veered straight into bushes as shells rained down. The survivors escaped on foot, across open fields.
Roman, a young artilleryman with a short patchy beard, recalled the events from a darkened military hospital room in Kramatorsk, his eyes glazed and an intravenous drip in his left arm, as he recovered from blast concussion. He gave only his first name, in keeping with Ukrainian military rules for wounded soldiers.
The biggest surprise for him? “That I am still alive here, after that shelling,” he says listlessly, closing his eyes and lying back on his bed.
Russia has escalated its shelling in an apparent bid to advance on the eastern region both from the Izium axis in the north and up from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. The pincers movement seeks to cut off some of Ukraine’s most battle-hardened forces ..
In Roman’s unit the driver is dead, the commander is in intensive care, another artilleryman has shrapnel wounds, and the rest are concussed, like Roman.
“Their artillery never, never stops,” says the deputy commander of Ukraine’s Donbas Battalion, a major who only gave the nickname Kot (Cat). He spoke in Sloviansk with a balaclava covering his face, as an air raid siren wailed across the city.
“They are changing their strategy, but it is still what we would expect from Russia,” says Major Kot. There are no more long, vulnerable columns: “They are sending recon units, then shell with artillery, and then send tanks,” he says. “If those tanks are destroyed, they send more tanks.”
“We really have a lack of heavy artillery,” says Ukrainian Sgt. Viktor Davydov, still wired and speaking quickly of Ukraine’s needs, after returning to the town of Druzhkivka from the front, where he says Russian artillery strikes continue “24/7.”
“When Russia sends incoming 200 shells, we send back 10 shells,” says Sergeant Davydov, who wears sunglasses, a pistol on his thigh, and a skull shoulder patch in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.
His job is to take freshly mobilized men to the front “to show them not to be afraid,” and to teach them “how to dig in and make very effective defensive positions” to compensate for the firepower imbalance with Russia.
“I tell them that all they have to do is hold our line, and not retreat,” says Sergeant Davydov. The cost can be high. The sergeant recalls 10 recruits in late April being sent to him one night at 11 p.m. By 6 a.m. two were dead and three wounded by Russian artillery.
The Ukrainian parliament recently change the law so that the Ukrainian territorial defense forces, comparable to the German Volkssturm, can now be used throughout the country. The locals in west Ukraine who volunteered for these units hoping to avoid being drafted into the army will now be send to the Donbas frontline where Russian artillery will eat them up.
The U.S. has send about 100 howitzer to Ukraine and a similar number of various artillery pieces will come from other NATO countries. There are several problems with these.
The first issue is training. Howitzer can not be used by newbies. How many Ukrainians with artillery experience are still alive?
Delivered to the west-Ukrainian border the guns will need to be transported 1,000 kilometer (600 miles) to the east. Their heavy ammunition, and artillery needs a lot, will have to come the same way.
Russia has now destroyed a total of 16 electric substations along the railway lines. Yesterday Russia damaged a major railway bridge over the Dnieper. Another railway bridge on the line from Romania to Odessa was completely destroyed.
The Ukraine can therefore only use its few diesel locomotives to transport the guns and ammunition. Whatever will come through to the eastern front will be too little too late.
For some time Russia had made it a priority to destroy Ukrainian artillery. Yesterday’s evening briefing by the Russian Defense Ministry noted:
High-precision air-based missiles of the Russian Aerospace Forces during the day destroyed: 4 artillery batteries at firing positions, 3 ammunition depots near Mirnaya Dolina, Bakhmutskaya and Tashkovka, 20 areas of manpower and military equipment concentration, and 1 US-made counter-battery radar station near Popasnaya.
Missile troops and artillery have hit 1 Ukrainian battery of BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers at firing positions, as well as 83 areas of manpower and military equipment concentration.
A battery is a company sized (~100 men) artillery unit with usually 6 guns. The battery is used as a firing unit which means that all its guns fire at the same time and onto the same target.
Today’s morning briefing claimed more Ukrainian artillery losses:
Missile troops have hit 2 AFU command posts, 1 artillery battery at a firing position, as well as 2 launchers and 1 transport and loading vehicle of Tochka-U tactical missile system during the night.
Artillery units have hit 32 command posts, 5 ammunition depots, 403 strongholds, areas of manpower and military equipment concentration, and 51 Ukrainian artillery positions.
Those are six Ukrainian batteries, each most likely with 6 guns or multiple rocket launchers, destroyed in just 24 hours. Those U.S. guns that reach the frontline will have a similar fate.
In total the Russian military claims to have destroyed "325 multiple launch rocket systems, 1,306 field artillery and mortars" during the war.
A new participant in artillery fights are drones which are used on both sides to direct artillery fire onto enemy positions. The Russian military claims that it took down 20 of the Ukrainian ones during the last 24 hours for a total of 726.
The briefings claim that Russian forces 'eliminated' up to 900 'nationalists' over the last 24 hours. That number may be too high but with all the mass use of artillery it is entirely plausible.
Without artillery support in good quantity the Ukrainian military has no chance to hold the line and to stop Russian moves. Any unit which attempts is hold the line will simply be mauled by Russian artillery until it is no longer able to fight. That is happening now. As the Ukrainians have orders not to leave or move their defense lines they either have to give up or die defending them.
By giving 'hold the line’ orders the Ukrainian leadership is contributing to the Russian demilitarization of the Ukraine.
Why is it doing that? The situation for the Ukraine is hopeless and has been for some time. Why has its President Zelensky not given up? Why does he not agree to Russia’s peace conditions?
We can find the answer in a piece published today in Ukraine’s Pravda (machine translation):
After the arrival of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Kyiv, a possible meeting between Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin has become less likely.
According to UP sources close to Zelensky, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who appeared in the capital almost without warning, brought two simple messages.
The first is that Putin is a war criminal, he needs to be squeezed, and not negotiated with him.
And secondly, if Ukraine is ready to sign any agreements on guarantees with him, then they are not.
This position of Johnson testified: the collective West, which back in February offered Zelensky to surrender and run away, now felt that Putin was actually not at all as omnipotent as he was imagined, and that right now there was a chance to squeeze him.
Three days after Johnson left for the UK, Putin went public and said talks with Ukraine "have reached an impasse."
It is the 'west' that is preventing Zelensky from suing for peace.
The 'west' has fallen for its own propaganda. It believes that the Russian troops near Kiev were defeated by Ukrainian forces. In reality they retreated in good order after the diversion they constituted was no longer needed. The 'western' fairytale that they were 'defeated' gave hope that Russia could be 'weakened', as the U.S. Secretary of State said.
The war will hardly 'weaken' Russia. But the war will destroy the Ukrainian military and many, many of its men.