Russia’s improved weaponry and tactics provoke Ukraine’s offensive

Ukrainian troops are probing Russian defenses as spring gives way to a second summer of fighting and Kiev’s forces face an enemy that has made mistakes and suffered setbacks in the 15-month war. But analysts say Moscow has also learned from those blunders and improved its weapons and skills.

Russia has built heavily fortified defenses along its 1,000-kilometer front line, improved its electronic weapons to reduce Ukraine’s advantage in combat drones, and converted heavy bombs from its vast Cold War-era arsenal into munitions. precision sliding. capable of hitting targets without endangering its warplanes.

The change in Russian tactics along with increased troop numbers and improved weaponry could pose a challenge to Ukraine to score any kind of quick decisive victory, threatening to turn it into a long battle of attrition.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that while Ukraine’s military is well prepared, as time goes on, “this is going to be a back-and-forth fight for a long time. “

Most of the attention has been focused last week on the devastating floods in southern Ukraine caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam which both sides blame on the other.

At the same time, however, Ukrainian troops have launched a series of offensives across several fronts that have so far made only marginal gains against layered Russian defenses.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Saturday that counter-attacks and defensive actions against Russian forces are underway, claiming that his commanders have a “positive” mindset for its success. Ukrainian authorities have not announced the launch of a full-scale counter-offensive.

A day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it had begun, but that Ukraine had failed to make progress and had suffered “significant” casualties.

Sir Richard Barons, a retired general who led the UK’s Joint Forces Command, said the Russian military had built up defensive lines and adjusted its tactics after its hasty retreat from large swathes of Kharkiv and Kherson regions last year under the weight of a quick campaign in Ukraine.

He pointed to Russia’s improved ability to both counter and use drones and also noted that Moscow has learned to keep key assets such as command headquarters and ammunition depots out of artillery range.

“And they’ve sharpened the way they can fire at Ukrainian artillery and tanks when they spot them,” he told the AP. “So if you add all that together, everyone knows that this will be a more difficult match than for Kherson or Kharkiv in the autumn of last year.

“People still use those two hits, and they were hits, as benchmarks, which I think is unfair, unreasonable in the circumstances,” he said.

Russia has deployed more troops to protect the long front line, even though many of them could be poorly trained, he said.

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At the start of the war, Russian military convoys stretched for miles to become easy prey for Ukrainian artillery and drones during a failed attempt to capture Kiev, which was seen as a major blunder.

Ukrainian missiles then sank the Russian cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, in a major blow to Moscow’s pride. Kiev’s missiles hit Russian ammunition depots and command headquarters. and Kremlin forces were hastily withdrawn from large areas in the east and south in the fall.

Despite these setbacks, Russia dug in to defend large swaths of Ukrainian territory it seized early in the invasion. Last month, it claimed control of the eastern city of Bahamut after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Fundamental Russian weaknesses remain.

Russian troops continue to suffer from low morale, ammunition shortages and inter-unit coordination remain poor. Fugitive infighting has erupted between the military brass and private military contractor Wagner, who has fielded tens of thousands of mercenaries to spearhead the battle for Bakhmut.

A major factor that continues to limit Russia’s ability has been its decision to prevent its air force from hammering deep into Ukraine after suffering heavy losses in the early stages of the war. Its attempts to hit Ukraine’s air defenses failed. Thanks to Western arms supplies, Ukraine now poses an even more formidable challenge to Russian aircraft.

Barons stressed that it is essential for military leaders in Kiev to continue to keep their adversary’s warplanes at bay so that “the counterattack is not the moment when the Russian air force suddenly finds its capabilities and its courage and deploys throughout Ukraine”.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov notes that Moscow has maintained a numerical advantage in troops and weapons, despite any weaknesses.

While Russia is increasingly drawing on its Cold War arsenals, deploying tanks dating back to the 1950s to make up for its massive, early losses, such old weapons can still perform well, Zhdanov said.

“It doesn’t matter what tanks they have. they have thousands of them,” Zhdanov told the AP, noting that Russia used many of them as fixed weapons on their defensive lines, including in the Zaporizhzhia region where they proved effective.

He acknowledged Russia’s success in striking Ukrainian military depots. relying on Moscow agents and collaborators, but said such losses were “tolerable”. He also said the Russians are increasingly using drones and improved electronic warfare to block those from Ukraine.

Russia has stopped using battalion-sized tactical groups it developed early in the war and has switched to smaller units, Zhdanov said.

While the Russian air force has operated in relatively small numbers, it has modernized its stockpile of bombs to convert them into glide weapons that have proven effective, he said. The 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs fitted with a GPS unit can cause massive damage.

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“The Soviet Union produced these bombs in countless numbers,” Zhdanov said, adding that the Russians drop up to 50 a day for “great psychological effect.”

One such bomb accidentally released over the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukrainian border in April blew up a huge crater and slightly injured one person.

Russian military bloggers hailed the glide bombs’ punch and their ability to hit targets up to 70 kilometers (over 43 miles) away. A former military pilot said on his blog that work is underway to convert 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) bombs into glider munitions.

These conversions allow the Russian air force to intensify strikes on Ukrainian forces without endangering its warplanes.

The Royal United Service Institute, a London-based think tank that focuses on defense and security issues, listed these glide bombs along with other improvements in Russian weapons and tactics.

“Although they have limited accuracy, the size of these munitions poses a serious threat,” RUSI said in a recent report, adding that Russia is working to improve their accuracy.

Russian engineers have shown prowess in building fortifications and complex obstacles along the front line, including concrete-reinforced trenches and command bunkers, wire entanglements, trenches, anti-tank hedgehogs or “dragon’s teeth” and complex minefields, the report said.

The widespread emplacement of sophisticated mines for use against tanks and infantry poses “a significant tactical challenge for Ukrainian offensive operations,” the RUSI editors said.

Other Russian improvements noted in the report include better thermal camouflage for tanks. more agile artillery deployment to multiple locations, including integration with drones to avoid casualties; and attacking Ukrainian artillery with roving munitions — drones that hover until they acquire a target.

Such retaliatory Russian fire represents “the biggest challenge to Ukrainian offensive operations,” the RUSI report said.

Russia’s improved electronic warfare systems have destroyed about 10,000 Ukrainian drones a month, and have also been able to intercept and decrypt Ukrainian tactical communications in real time, he added.

They also learned to intercept GPS-guided missiles launched by Western-supplied launchers, such as the US-made HIMARS, which confused the Russians and caused heavy damage, the report said.

Russia’s military “is able to improve and evolve its use of key systems,” RUSI said, but noted that it may struggle to respond to similar rapid adjustments by Kiev that could make Moscow’s units “likely to quickly lose their coordination.”

Associated Press writers Danica Kirka in London, Tara Copp in Normandy, France and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia contributed.

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