Men, morale, war material: Russia’s Ukraine war faces long slogans

Bakhmut, Ukraine (AP) — From a base in a bombed-out house in eastern Ukraine, Army Commander Mykhailo Strebyz fired a mortar shell the size of a bowling pin, calling it “aid from Europe and the United States.”

He then turns to a makeshift blackboard – a door with the words written in chalk – showing a list of weapons. A line says “NATO” in Cyrillic letters, then a number: 11.

These days Ukraine’s troubled but steadfast military is doing a lot about the aid it is getting from abroad.

As Russia’s initially unsuccessful and widespread invasion turned its attention to the eastern Donbass region, the war entered a new and seemingly more permanent phase. While Russia has kept quiet about its war casualties, Ukrainian officials say 200 of their soldiers are dying every day. Experts say that both the sides are facing heavy losses.

The United States stepped up last week with its biggest ever pledge of aid to Ukrainian forces – an additional $1 billion in military aid intended to help repel or reverse Russian advances.

But experts note that such aid delivery has not kept pace with needs, raising questions about how sustainable the war effort will be – and how defense industries on both sides can continue to feed it.

“We are moving from peacetime to wartime,” said Francois Hesberg, a senior adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research think tank. “Peacetime means lower production rates, and faster production rates mean you have to build industrial facilities first … It’s a defence-industrial challenge of enormous magnitude.”

This, in part, explains why Western deliveries of much-anticipated support to Ukraine have often been short and slow to arrive.

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany released a “Ukraine Support Tracker” last week showing that the US had met nearly half of its commitments in military support for Ukraine and Germany. The report shows that both Poland and Britain have delivered on what they promised.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s ambassador to Madrid, Serhi Foreltsev, thanked Spain – which trumpeted 200 tons of military aid in April – but said the ammunition that was involved would only last “about two hours of fighting”. was sufficient.

Ukrainian filmmaker-turned-fighter Volodymyr Demchenko tweeted a video of himself expressing gratitude about American firearms: “American guns are what they send us. These are good guns, and 120 bullets each,” he said, before lamenting: “It’s like 15 minutes of fighting.”

Over the weekend, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the war could go on for years, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised more training of Ukrainian troops abroad, the latest sign that allies of Ukraine’s government are for the long haul. are digging in, even as he warned of increasing “Ukraine fatigue” in the public’s mind abroad.

Part of the issue is that Ukrainian forces, whose country was once a strong member of the Soviet Union, are more familiar with Soviet-era weapons than NATO equipment. Take artillery: the Western standard is 155mm artillery, while Russian and Ukrainian armies have traditionally used 152mm stock.

Countless numbers of Ukrainians have traveled abroad to receive training on Western-standard kits.

Of the $1 billion pledged from the US, only a little over a third will be rapid, off-the-shelf delivery by the Pentagon, and the rest will be available over the long term. The pledge, which includes 18 howitzers and 36,000 rounds of ammunition for them, addresses Ukraine’s plea for more long-range weapons.

Ukrainians have little more than what they want – 1,000 155-mm caliber howitzers, 300 multiple-launch rocket systems, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones – as Mikhail Podolik, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted last week, the latest Before the big western pledges .

Responding to Russian artillery fire is “what the Ukrainians have to do with what military people call a counter-battery operation”, said Ben Barry, a former director of the British Army who is senior fellow for land warfare. International Institute for Strategic Studies. “To do that, you need precision weapons with a high rate of fire and a range that allows them to be kept out of the way of the other side’s artillery.”

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

Analysts say the Russian military’s major advantage is its artillery stockpile and expertise in using it, which dates back centuries. Their concentration in the east, and not over wider areas of Ukraine, has allowed them to shorten the supply lines that were in place long ago in this war.

On the other hand, time is on Ukraine’s side, experts say: Ukrainian fighters are both motivated and mobilized – all men in the country of 40 million have been called to fight, while Russia has so far avoided call-ups. . , which may widely tilt the war in Russia’s favor, but may not be popular with all Russians.

Experts noted a drop in morale on both sides, particularly in and around the city of Svyarodonetsk in recent weeks, reduced fighting spirit and forced front-line fighters to question and disobey orders from above. inspired to.

Russian military chiefs say Russia is targeting and killing stockpiles and supply lines. Ukrainian authorities have either denied such claims, or said nothing about them: neither side wants to tell the other too much about the damages and deaths.

At least how long such a fight could last, analyst Hesberg admits “it’s a tough one” but sees similarities between Ukraine and France when Germany invaded in World War I – about 40 in Ukraine today. Million population and France before that war; The invaders quickly approached the capital before being pushed back slightly; France lacked ammunition, as Ukraine does with artillery today.

He said a war that would last for years is “quite possible”.

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Jamie Keaton reported from Geneva.

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