Grisly urban warfare looms unless west beefs up Ukraine arms supply

Burning apartment blocks across Mariupol; shattered buildings in Kharkiv. Film and photographs circulating on Monday show the brutal consequences of Russia’s onslaught in eastern Ukraine, the result of a succession of air, missile and above all artillery strikes that frequently fall on civilian targets.

Russian forces are still struggling to capture more of Ukraine’s cities – but while the defending forces are stocked with shoulder-mounted anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, they do not appear to have a counter to the indiscriminate artillery shelling from which civilians are desperate to escape.

Part of the problem is that the endless bombing reflects the overall superiority in numbers of the Russian forces: the Kremlin began its campaign with, on the simplest measure, 多于 2.5 times the artillery that 乌克兰 possessed, according to figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

“Russian artillery and counter-battery fire still overmatches Ukrainian capability, so Ukraine will probably be on the losing side of any traditional artillery duels that it gets into,” said Nick Reynolds, a land warfare specialist with the Royal United Services Institute thinktank. 换句话说, Ukraine’s forces have little hope in winning long-range shootouts.

One option is for the west to upgrade its supplies of arms to give Ukraine a better chance, although it has to offer kit the defenders are familiar with. Franz-Stefan Gady, a research fellow with the IISS, said the US and others could supply Ukraine with more US-made AN/TPQ-36 anti-artillery radars.

Such systems are designed to detect and locate hostile mortars, artillery and rocket launchers on the battlefield – and the US supplied Ukraine with at least 13 经过 2019. But they are so vital to the country’s desperate defenders that the Netherlands said it would supply five more a week after the war began.

“There is some circumstantial evidence that these systems have been used quite effectively judging from videos of devastated Russian battery sites and they seem to be in very high demand and operational security is very tight with little publicly available info,” Gady added.

Beyond that – unless the west is willing to supply heavy guns that match Russia’s – Ukraine’s options are to either attempt high-risk raids on Russian artillery, should its forces be able to break out of the cities, or to “punch a hole in the Russian air-defence umbrella”, Gady said, by deploying more Turkish TB2 drones to attack Russian artillery in the rear.

After starting the war with up to a dozen such drones, a further delivery was made at the beginning of the month. Most still remain, according to the US, 但 despite the propaganda value that drone-strike videos generate online, it is unclear whether the numbers available to Ukraine can turn the tide.

Whatever impact western counter-artillery kit has had, it clearly has not yet been enough. A video produced by a 19-year-old from Kharkiv shows a series of shattered buildings in his local neighbourhood, including “the same five-floor building where my father grew up” and “the cinema where every week I went to see new movies with my friends and family”.

Ukraine estimates that 2,500 civilians were killed during the two-week siege of Mariupol. While its forces battle to prevent Russian armour from seizing the coastal city, the Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said that in retaliation the Russian were “wiping the city out” with their shelling.

It remains the case that Ukraine’s armed forces can, to a considerable extent, negate Russia’s numerical advantage by retreating into cities. But that only sets the stage for more grisly attritional urban warfare, unless Nato members are willing to dramatically step up the arms they supply, and halt the shelling.