Russia changes weapons and tactics as assaults on Kharkiv and Kiev escalate
Military analysts said Russia’s initial battle plan seemed absurd and haphazard, with Russian soldiers launching a ground invasion after a brief bombardment that mainly hit military targets but failed to knock out all Ukrainian air defenses . The invading forces, operating with little logistical support and air cover, seemed to expect little resistance, but instead clashed with the Ukrainians in bloody fighting.
Russian commanders seem to be reconsidering their approach, analysts and US government officials said.
“I see a reorganization,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a Virginia-based think tank. “They’re regrouping into bigger units, they’re strengthening logistics, and they’re starting to use more artillery and air power.”
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s current assessments, said on Tuesday it appears Russia is “regrouping”. Russian forces began frequent use of a multiple rocket launch system capable of using unguided cluster munitions and thermobaric shells, flew at least one Su-34 bomber, and built a 40-mile-long column including hundreds of tanks and other armored vehicles north of the capital, Kiev, Russia’s main objective.
When Russia launched its invasion on Thursday, it fired more than 100 missiles at Ukraine, mostly at airfields and other military targets. The initial salvo included a mix of cruise missiles fired from ships and Iskander ballistic missiles that are reasonably accurate, said Rob Lee, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
By Tuesday, the Russians had launched a total of around 400 missiles – which have guidance systems and are relatively accurate, experts say. But as they faced heavy resistance from Ukrainian forces, Russia began using rocket systems and other methods in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, around which some of the heaviest fighting took place. occurred. On Tuesday, an explosion appeared on a rock at a nearby government center and intersection as cars sat in traffic, video of the attack showed. What caused it was unclear.
The rocket launcher fires rapid volleys of unguided munitions and can carry cluster munitions, which indiscriminately scatter small “bombs” upon detonation to inflict maximum casualties. Amnesty International on Monday accused the Russian army of killing civilians, including children, with these bullets, condemned by the majority of the international community.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters on Tuesday that Russia had also used a “vacuum bomb,” a colloquial name given to thermobaric weapons because of the way they suck oxygen out of the air. ambient air upon detonation to produce a larger explosion. .
The Pentagon has refrained from confirming reports of the specific types of munitions used by Russian forces in Ukraine, while acknowledging that it is assessing the situation.
Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute said Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers will face difficult days ahead if they cause major destruction. While Russia has razed residential areas in Syria and Chechnya in previous conflicts, it’s not clear that Putin is comfortable doing so in a country whose history is intertwined with Russia’s. when it could have political fallout for him, he said.
“If you go to cities, you have to be prepared to destroy them, and that means a lot of Russians die and a lot of civilians die,” Lee said. “I don’t know if they will really be ready to slaughter all these civilians.”
It has been difficult for the Pentagon and independent observers to thoroughly assess the weapons and tactics used by Russian commanders, even as images of battle damage and explosions circulate widely online. In one example, a video of a missile hitting an apartment building attracted international attention, but now it appears the damage may not have been caused by Russia.
Jeffrey Lewis, who studies missile warfare in California at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, said his team believed it was most likely an errant surface-to-air missile. “We can’t tell if it’s Ukrainian or Russian, but the former would be more likely,” Lewis said, given the location of the strike.
Lewis said Russia’s initial strikes “looked pretty accurate,” as Iskander missiles tend to be. He predicted that Russia will then switch to using more rocket artillery.
Kofman, with CNA, said the Russian plan so far “makes no sense,” putting rank-and-file soldiers into combat with few resources, as the Russian air force is largely “reached.” disappeared”. The top U.S. defense official at the Pentagon said on Tuesday that the United States believed basic Russian soldiers were now facing fuel and food shortages.
Lee said he wondered if the Russians were experiencing any specific weapons shortages. He cited Krasnopol’s laser-guided artillery shells, which have been used in Syria in conjunction with drones to spot targets, improve accuracy and assess battle damage, he said.
The haphazard planning also raises questions about whether Putin held back his invasion plan from staff officers for too long to coordinate effectively, Lee said. He doubted the rank and file Russian soldiers were ready for a more aggressive fight, citing videos in which civilians taunted them and stopped their vehicles without being killed.
Malcolm Chalmers, deputy chief executive of RUSI, a London-based think tank, said many observers believe Russia would have been better off dominating the skies, and the fact that Ukraine continues to fly jets and drones of Turkish manufacture reveals a weakness of Russia. military.
Chalmers said Russia had an advantage with its rockets and artillery, but he predicted plans to capture major cities would prove particularly difficult.
“It takes a lot of staff. You can bomb a city to pieces, but there are plenty of places to hide, to hide,” he said. “They will have to fight block by block if the resistance continues.”
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.