Ukrainian forces are finally seeing the impact of Western weapons on the frontlines of the war with Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Experts say that while Western equipment has been crucial in pushing back Russian forces, the West needs to stock up and even mobilize its own defense industries if it is to avoid a war of attrition that Ukraine could lose.
During his late-night televised address, Zelenskyy said that thanks to western supplies in the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions on Ukraine’s southern front, Ukrainian forces are advancing in two directions and inflicting blows on Russia, hitting some of its logistics warehouses.
“Finally, [Ukraine] believes that Western artillery is working very hard,” he said, adding that it “delivered very clear blows to camps and other important points [Russia’s] Logistics.” He said the Ukrainian strikes “significantly reduced the offensive potential of the Russian army.”
Vladimir Putin hit back, saying that if the West wants to defeat Russia on the battlefield, it’s welcome to try.
In a televised address to the heads of parliament, the Russian President said: “Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What can you say, let her try. We’ve often heard that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but it seems everything is heading towards it.”
Ukrainian forces released video of an allegedly successful attack on a Russian ammunition dump in occupied eastern Ukraine. They did not reveal the exact location.
“The first type of gear that the West shipped to Ukraine was the gear that didn’t have complex supply chain issues,” said Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, referring to gear that Ukrainians don’t have would need training or need spare parts for.
He said that since the first emergency supplies, Ukraine has asked its allies for any equipment they are willing to give. Western governments then provided equipment “in bits and pieces, what they have and what they think [they] be able to give without exposing their own strengths too much”.
The result is that Ukraine has a wide range of equipment that requires its own ammunition, spare parts and training processes, Watling said. This has created some short-term problems for the Ukrainian command and, combined with the logistics of getting the equipment to Ukraine’s front lines, has resulted in delays and low availability.
“What we’ve seen over the past few weeks is an acknowledgment from countries that there needs to be more systemic support, so we’ve seen countries deliver more systems that they’ve delivered before, as well as Himars,” Watling said, referring on US-supplied rocket launchers.
“And that makes a tactical difference, but Ukraine still has to manage multiple supply chains, relatively small fleets with many different systems, and the available ammunition is very limited.”
Watling said NATO’s limited stockpiles of ammunition mean the West must mobilize its own defense industry if it is to continue supporting Ukraine’s military and avoid a protracted war of attrition.
Serhiy Kuzan, head of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center in Kyiv, said Ukraine had noticed a difference on the front lines since the arrival of the Himars and the howitzers. “It allows us to participate in an artillery duel,” he said. “And with the long-range missiles, we destroyed over 20 Russian artillery caches and slowed Russia’s offensive. You must be more careful.”
Kuzan said that Ukraine’s western supplies have not brought a turning point in the war so far, as Russia still has more artillery pieces and ammunition than Ukraine. “But now we’re not just trying to survive their bombs and missiles, we’re hitting their warehouses. Russia uses so much artillery ammunition that it needs large supply bases, so this has become our main goal now.”
Ivan Sechin, a military expert and former Ukrainian and Soviet military intelligence official, said the strikes by Western weapons against Russian bases helped demoralize Russian forces as well as destroying their logistics.
Several videos released by Ukraine’s armed forces show Russian soldiers running from burning bases, which Sechin said would have shattered their idea of where they are safe.
“It’s clear that it’s having an effect because they’re continuing to attack, but not at the same rate as before,” Sechin said. “But with current supplies, Ukraine can only hold them and does not have the capability to launch significant counter-offensives. The West is still concerned about provoking Russia, but it must see that the Russian army is not as powerful as we once thought. They present their small victories [in the east] as a great victory.”
Russian forces have killed at least seven civilians and wounded others in battle-torn Donetsk in the past 24 hours, the region’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said. Kramatorsk, Ukraine’s de facto administrative center in Donetsk, was attacked by Russia on Thursday, Agence France-Presse said, killing at least one civilian and wounding several others.
Though shelling continues in eastern Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Moscow may be on an “operational pause.”
“Russian forces are likely to confine themselves to relatively small offensive actions as they try to create conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat capability needed to attempt these more ambitious ventures,” the institute said.
Russia’s defense ministry appeared to confirm that assessment in a statement on Thursday, saying its units would be given time to rest to “regain their combat capabilities.”