Russian artillery fire down by nearly 75%, US officials say, in latest sign of struggles for Moscow

Russian artillery fire down by nearly 75%, US officials say, in latest sign of struggles for Moscow

Washington CNN –

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its 11th month, U.S. and Ukrainian officials tell CNN that Russian artillery fire has dropped dramatically from its wartime high, in some places as low as 75 per cent.

American and Ukrainian officials do not yet have a clear or single explanation. Russia could be rationalizing artillery rounds due to scarce supplies, or it could be part of a broader reassessment of tactics in the face of Ukraine’s successful offensives.

Either way, the surprising drop in artillery fire is further evidence of Russia’s increasingly weak position on the battlefield nearly a year after its invasion, U.S. and Ukrainian officials told CNN. It also comes as Ukraine is enjoying increased military support from its Western allies, with the US and Germany announcing last week that they will provide Ukrainian forces with armored fighting vehicles for the first time, as well as another battery Patriot Defense missiles that will help. protect its skies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, appears to be trying to shore up domestic political support, US intelligence officials believe, for a war he would initially describe only as a limited “special military operation”.

U.S. officials believe the 36-hour ceasefire ordered by Putin in Ukraine last week to allow Orthodox Christmas to be celebrated was an effort to prop up Russia’s large Christian population, two people familiar with the intelligence told CNN, as well as an opportunity for Putin to blame the Ukrainians for breaking it and make them heretical pagans.

Much of the domestic opposition that Putin and his generals have faced over the management of the war has come from one of the Russian leader’s closest allies: Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group mercenary organization. Prigozhin has complained that the Russian Defense Ministry has botched the war effort and that the Wagner Group should be given more equipment, authority and autonomy to conduct operations in Ukraine.

But the Wagner group has lost thousands of fighters in Ukraine in the past two months alone, a senior US official said.

Russia suffered another setback earlier this month when Ukrainian forces struck an arms depot in Makiivka in eastern Ukraine, destroying more Russian supplies and killing many Russian troops stationed nearby. The attack also raised questions among prominent Russian military bloggers about the basic competence of the Russian military, which had apparently decided to host hundreds of Russian troops near an apparent Ukrainian target.

“Maybe this strike is a drop in the bucket, but the bucket is getting smaller,” said a US defense official, referring to the Russians’ dwindling stockpiles.

To date, questions about Russia’s weapons stockpile have focused primarily on its precision-guided munitions, such as cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. But US officials said their dramatically reduced rate of artillery fire could indicate that the prolonged and brutal battle has also had a significant effect on Russia’s supply of conventional weapons.

Last month, a senior US military official said Russia had to use 40-year-old artillery shells as their supply of new ammunition dwindled. For the US, the use of degraded munitions, as well as the Kremlin’s outreach to countries like North Korea and Iran, was a sign of Russia’s shrinking stockpile of weapons.

The ammunition rationing and lower rate of fire appear to be a departure from Russian military doctrine, which traditionally calls for heavy bombardment of a target area with massive artillery and rocket fire. This strategy was implemented in cities such as Mariupol and Melitopol as Russian forces used punitive strikes to push for slow and brutal advances in Ukraine.

Officials said the change in strategy could be the work of the recently installed Russian theater commander, General Sergey Surovikin, who the US believes is more competent than his predecessors.

Ukraine has had no choice but to ration its ammunition since the beginning of the war. Ukrainian troops quickly burned through their supply of Soviet-era 152mm ammunition when the conflict broke out, and while the US and its allies have provided hundreds of thousands of rounds of Western 155mm ammunition, even this supply has had its limits.

As a result, Ukraine has been firing an average of 4,000-7,000 artillery rounds per day – far less than Russia.

The decline in the Russians’ rate of fire is not linear, a US defense official noted, and there are days when the Russians still fire many more artillery rounds — particularly around the eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Kreminna, as well as some near Kherson in south .

U.S. and Ukrainian officials have offered different estimates of Russian fire, with U.S. officials saying the rate has dropped from 20,000 rounds a day to about 5,000 a day on average. Ukraine estimates that the rate has dropped from 60,000 to 20,000 per day.

But both estimates point to a similar downward trend.

While Russia still has more artillery ammunition at its disposal than Ukraine, early US estimates greatly overestimated the amount Russia had, a US military official said, and underestimated how well the Ukrainians would do at striking Russian logistics sites.

It now appears that Russia is more focused on strengthening its defense fortifications, particularly in central Zaporizhzhia, the UK Ministry of Defense reported in its regular intelligence update on Sunday. The moves suggest Moscow is worried about a possible Ukrainian offensive either there or in Luhansk, the ministry said.

“A major Ukrainian advance in Zaporizhzhia would seriously challenge the stability of Russia’s ‘land bridge’ linking Russia’s Rostov region and Crimea,” the ministry said, while Ukraine’s success in Luhansk would “undermine the alleged war goal of Russia for the “liberation” of Donbass.

Ukraine’s counteroffensives last fall targeting Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the north resulted in humiliating defeats for Russia — and were greatly aided by sophisticated Western weaponry such as HIMARS missiles, howitzer artillery systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that the U.S. had previously been reluctant to provide.

“The fact of the matter is that we’ve been holding back for over a year now,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe and NATO Land Command and currently a senior adviser to human rights. First.

“There’s been so much anxiety about the possibility of Russian escalation — I mean ten months ago, there was concern about giving away the Stingers … obviously it’s ridiculous, and now it seems ridiculous.”

Tensions between Kremlin defense officials and Wagner Group leaders have also risen amid public complaints from mercenaries that they are running out of equipment and reports that their leader, Prigozhin, wants to take control of the lucrative salt mines near Bakhmut.

In a video aired on Russian state media, Wagner Group fighters complain that they are running out of combat vehicles, artillery shells and ammunition, which is limiting their ability to take Bakhmut – shortages that Prigozhin later blames on “internal bureaucracy and corruption”.

“This year we will win! But first we will conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption”, he says in the clip. “Once we conquer our internal bureaucracy and corruption, then we will conquer the Ukrainians and NATO and then the whole world. The problem now is that the bureaucrats and those who deal with corruption will not listen to us now, because they are all drinking champagne for the New Year.”

Prigozhin’s ambitions are not limited to greater political power, however, the US believes. There are also indications he wants to take control of the lucrative salt and gypsum mines near Bakhmut, a senior administration official told CNN.

“This is consistent with Wagner’s modus operandi in Africa, where the group’s military activities often run parallel to its control of mining assets,” the official said, adding that the U.S. believes these monetary incentives are fueling Prigozh and “the obsession ” of Russia to receive. Bakhmut.

The official also said the Wagner Group has suffered heavy casualties in its operations near Bakhmut since late November.

“Of its force of nearly 50,000 mercenaries (including 40,000 convicts), the company suffered over 4,100 killed and 10,000 wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut,” the official said. adding that about 90% of those killed were convicts.

The official said that Russia “cannot afford these kinds of losses”.

“If Russia finally captures Bakhmut, Russia will certainly characterize this, deceptively, as a ‘major victory,'” the official added. “But we know that’s not the case. If the cost for every 36 square kilometers of Ukraine [the approximate size of Bakhmut] it’s thousands of Russians over seven months, that’s the definition of Pyrrhic victory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *