Despite Western Arms, Ukraine Is Underarmed in the East – KLBK | KAMC

BAKHMUT, Ukraine (AP) — Locked in a bombed-out house in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian troops keep a careful count of their ammunition, using a door as a sort of ledger. Scribbled in chalk on the door are numbers of mortar shells, smoke shells, shell shells, flares.

Despite the massive influx of weapons from the West, Ukrainian forces are overtaken by the Russians in the battle for the eastern region of Donbass, where fighting is largely through artillery exchanges .

While the Russians can sustain heavy and continuous fire for hours at a time, the defenders cannot match the enemy in arms or ammo and must use their ammo more wisely.

At the outpost in eastern Ukraine, dozens and dozens of mortar shells are stacked. But troop commander Mykhailo Strebizh, who goes by the nom de guerre Gaiduk, lamented that if his fighters were to come under an intense artillery barrage, their cache would amount to, at best, only about four hours of response. .

Ukrainian authorities say the West’s high-profile support for the country is not enough and is not arriving on the battlefield quickly enough for this crushing and highly deadly phase of the war.

While Russia has kept silent about its war casualties, Ukrainian authorities say up to 200 of their soldiers die every day. Russian forces are slowly gaining ground in the east, but experts say they are suffering heavy casualties.

Last week, the United States upped the ante with its biggest pledge of aid to Ukrainian forces yet: an additional $1 billion in military assistance to help push back or reverse Russian advances.

But experts note that these aid deliveries have not kept pace with Ukraine’s needs, in part because defense industries are not producing weapons fast enough.

“We are moving from peacetime to wartime,” said Francois Heisbourg, senior adviser to the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research think tank. “Peacetime means low production rates, and increasing the production rate means you have to build industrial facilities first. … This is a defense industrial challenge that is of a very large scale .

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany reported last week that the United States had honored about half of its military support commitments to Ukraine, and Germany about a third. Poland and Britain have both delivered much of what they promised.

Many infantrymen say they cannot even begin to match the Russians shot for shot, or shell for shell.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s ambassador to Madrid, Serhii Phoreltsev, thanked Spain – which trumpeted a shipment of 200 tonnes of military aid in April – but said the munitions included were not sufficient only for about two hours of combat.

Ukrainian filmmaker-turned-fighter Volodymyr Demchenko tweeted a video expressing his gratitude for the guns sent by the Americans, saying, “These are nice guns, and 120 bullets each.” But he lamented: “It’s like 15 minutes of fighting.”

Part of the problem is also that Ukrainian forces, whose country was once a member of the Soviet Union, are more familiar with Soviet-era weaponry and must first be trained on NATO equipment than they receive.

Countless Ukrainians have traveled abroad to train on Western weapons.

Of the US$1 billion commitment, only slightly more than a third will be Pentagon-ready rapid deliveries, and the rest will be available in the longer term. The pledge, which includes 18 howitzers and 36,000 rounds for them, responds to Ukraine’s call for more longer-range weapons.

That’s still a far cry from what the Ukrainians want – 1,000 155mm howitzers, 300 multiple rocket launchers, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones – as Presidential adviser Volodymyr Zelenskyy Mikhail Podolyak tweeted last week, before the last big western promises.

“What the Ukrainians have to do is conduct what the military tends to call a counter-battery operation” to respond to Russian artillery fire, said Ben Barry, former director of the general staff of British Army and Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “To do that, you need accurate weapons with a high rate of fire and a range that allows them to stay clear of the artillery on the other side.”

“The Ukrainians say they don’t have enough long-range rockets to adequately suppress Russian artillery,” he said. “I think they’re probably right.”

As it stands, the Ukrainians must use “shoot and dash” tactics – shoot, then move before the Russians can focus on them.

Better NATO hardware, even in small quantities, is often welcome.

On a nearby front on Saturday, a Ukrainian unit granted the Associated Press rare access to fire US-supplied M777 howitzers – 155mm towable weapons – at Russian positions.

A lieutenant who uses the Wasp call sign praised the M777’s accuracy, firing speed, ease of use and ease of camouflage, saying the new hardware “lifts our spirits” and ” demoralizes the enemy because he sees the consequences”. are.”

The friends of Ukraine are committed for the long term.

Time may be on Ukraine’s side, experts say. Ukraine’s fighters are both motivated and mobilized – all men in the country of 40 million people have been called up to fight, while Russia has so far avoided a call for conscripts, which could significantly swing the war in favor of Russia but may not be popular domestically.

As for how long those fights could go on, the Heisbourg analyst said a years-long war of attrition is “very possible.”


Jamey Keaten reported from Geneva.


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Martin E. Berry