Russian-Western arms race on Ukraine battlefield. Explained

Russia increased long-range raids and sent troops to attack Bakhmut, forcing the West to race to supply more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

Ukraine is facing a tense situation in the Donbas, where the Russian army has recently sent well-trained reserves into hot spots occupied by Wagner mercenaries. This additional force is more elite and more numerous, helping Russia launch more attacks and fight to gain the advantage.

The tensest is in the city of Bakhmut, where the commander of the Ukrainian unit Denys Yarolavskyi said Russian regular forces had been deployed this week. There are skilled paratrooper units in the Russian reinforcements, which helped Russia progress in many areas around Bakhmut on January 29-30.

Serhiy Cherevaty, the eastern Ukrainian military district spokesman, said on January 31 that in just 24 hours, Russian forces had staged 42 battles within 15 kilometers of Bakhmut. 

They are besieging the city of Ugledar, taking control of the village of Mykilske on the outskirts, and breaking through the Ukrainian lines near the village of Ternova.

Ukrainian soldiers on a tank near the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk province, January 20. Photo: Reuters

Further north, the Russian military reinforces its long-range shelling from within its territory across the Ukrainian border. The Ukrainian border service said that 120 mm cannon fired from Russian territory repeatedly hit the Sumy and Chernihiv regions on January 26.

Russia also continued its lightning strikes, launching 55 air and sea cruise missiles and 24 drones into Ukraine on January 26. Ukraine’s air defense system claims to have shot down 47 missiles and all 24 Russian drones.

The next day, Russia used an S-300 missile to hit a ground target in the town of Kostyantynivka in the Donetsk region, killing three people and injuring 14.

After this attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continued to call on the West to support Kyiv with long-range weapons. “Ukraine needs long-range missiles to eliminate the possibility of the enemy placing missile launchers far from the front lines and destroying our cities,” Zelensky said.

The reality of the battlefield and Ukraine’s urgent calls are said to be the driving force for the US and its Western allies to change their views and race to provide more powerful weapons with longer ranges for the country. Ukraine in response to the new Russian offensive campaign.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder announced on February 3 that the new US military aid package of $ 2 billion for Ukraine includes a long-range rocket called the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) with a range of $2 billion. Up to 150 km, almost twice that of the M142 High Mobility Rocket System (HIMARS).

This is the first time the US has provided such a long-range weapon to Ukraine. “This gives them the ability to strike at a longer range,” Mr. Rider said.

The GLSDB combines the M26 rocket and the GBU-39 small-diameter bomb, which can be launched from ground platforms such as the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MRLS) and HIMARS.

With a range of 150 km, the GLSDB can hit Russian positions far behind the front lines in the Donbas region, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson provinces, as well as northern Crimea. This type of rocket can make the power of the HIMARS cannon even more effective.

This is very important because Russia has learned from previous mistakes and positioned ammunition depots about 80-120 km from the front lines in the Rostov region, beyond the range of HIMARS, according to the deputy director of Ukraine’s military intelligence Vadym Skibitskyi.

“The most important thing for Russia right now is the ammunition depots, and they must be destroyed,” Skibitskyi said. Without these ammunition depots, Russia’s artillery fire advantage on the battlefield was almost nullified. The long-range weapons also allow Ukraine to weaken Russia’s defenses before starting a new counter-offensive, according to Skibitskyi.

In addition to the US GLSDB rocket, Western countries are also racing to provide more modern, longer-range weapons to Ukraine. Ukraine’s air force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said Kyiv would receive Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles manufactured by France and Italy. With a range of 150 km, they can be a perfect combination weapon with the GLSDB rocket.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on January 27 that Poland would provide Ukraine with 60 modern tanks, including the German-made Leopard 2.  The United States has also famous for providing Ukraine with 31 Abrams tanks, bringing the total number of battle tanks that the West has given Ukraine to 119. Ukraine says it needs at least 300 tanks to regain all territories.

Ukraine’s president said on February 3 that Russia’s spring offensive operation may have begun, and its scale will be more clearly shown in the next few weeks. This announcement by Mr. Zelensky is seen as a reminder to the West of the urgency of the transfer of weapons.

German Leopard 2 and British Challenger 2 tanks are expected to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of March. Pentagon spokesman Sabrina Singh said the Abrams “need several months” to deliver.

John Psaropoulos, an analyst at Al Jazeera, said the delay left Ukraine’s military without the necessary strength to deal with the new Russian offensive, sparking harsh criticism for its lack of support for Western assertiveness.

Jack Watling, a war expert at the UK’s Royal Research Institute for Defense and Security (RUSI) in London, said Germany’s insistence on asking the US to commit to shipping Abrams tanks before agreeing to send the Leopard 2 wasted valuable time and complicated Ukraine’s defenses.

“Instead of being delivered one type of tank in bulk, Ukraine received three different types of NATO, all in limited numbers, and each with unique, complex maintenance requirements will delay the time to bring tanks to the front lines and make it difficult for Ukraine itself,” Watling wrote.

According to Watling, the offensive operation in Russia’s Donbas region is a calculation aimed at drawing Ukraine into a fierce war of attrition, weakening Kyiv’s ability to launch a counterattack in the spring.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), based in the US, said that Ukraine’s counterattack capability highly depends on the flow of Western weapons. Since the end of last year, Ukraine has been urging NATO members to transfer tanks and long-range rockets, but all have refused, citing fears of an escalation of the conflict.

However, their reluctance did not prevent the fighting from continuing with increasing intensity, as Russia fought back the initiative, shifting from defending against Ukraine’s counter-offensive to a large-scale offensive.

As Russia successively captured cities and towns near Bakhmut, the West seemed to have realized the situation’s urgency and put all its efforts into correcting its mistakes. The US Transportation Command said 60 Bradley armored vehicles had been delivered to Ukraine last month.

Ukraine’s General Staff said that France and Australia have cooperated to produce 155 mm artillery shells for this country’s artillery. German defense group Rheinmetall is also preparing to increase the production of tanks and artillery to meet Ukraine’s needs.

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