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Ukrainian defense minister: The HIMARS system America sent us is a gamechanger

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

“Gamechanger” may be overselling it but it’s an effective weapon.

Ukraine was keen to show Americans their gratitude on Independence Day, knowing that the incoming Congress won’t be as generous with aid as the current one is. The battle for public opinion here in the U.S. is coming:

Yeah, I don’t know that Ruben is correct. Certainly, there’ll be a meaningful amount of resistance to further funding in the next Congress from the anti-anti-Russia wing of the GOP caucus. Or should I say pro-Russia?

I’d rather she admit that she’s rooting for the fascists in this conflict than concern-troll about how we’re hurting Ukraine by giving them the means to conduct a war they clearly want to wage. In no other circumstance would Greene criticize self-defense on grounds that it meets violence with violence.

But if you understand that she and the anti-anti-Russia caucus want Putin to win, it adds up. They’re a minority within the Republican caucus — it’s still a hawkish party on balance — but Kevin McCarthy will have to appease them somehow next year when the next Ukrainian funding bill hits the House floor. Maybe he’ll negotiate with Biden to fund some “Let’s Go, Brandon” t-shirts for Gaetz and Greene as part of the package.

The Ukrainians really do like the HIMARS, and no wonder. It’s a long-range precision artillery weapon that can roll out within two minutes of firing, making it exceptionally hard for the Russians to target. Previously Ukraine was using Soviet-made artillery with a margin of error of half a mile, placing Ukrainian civilians at high risk of becoming collateral damage in strikes on Russian positions in populated areas. The short range of those weapons also left Ukrainian troops well within range of Russian counterstrikes. Now Ukraine’s forces can sit back, 50 miles from the front, and count on HIMARS’s satellite-guided targeting system to deliver the payload within a yard of where it’s aimed.

Care to guess what their top target is so far? That’s a trick question — you already know.

It’s not just weapons, of course.

Ukraine’s strategy is simply to deplete Russia’s stockpile of men and materiel until they’re ready to mount a counteroffensive this fall. The Russian military has been shelling Ukraine’s army at such a ferocious rate that they’re destined to run out of ammo before too long. The HIMARS strikes are an attempt to accelerate the ammo shortage.

Zelensky’s army has four systems in the field right now and four more to come this month. The Ukrainians say they need, uh, 300 to tip the balance in the artillery war. One former Pentagon official estimated that 60 or maybe 100 would do the trick. Either way, they’re well short of truly gamechanging firepower, although by they’re getting extra bang for their buck with smart target prioritizing. One specialist in the Russian military described HIMARS to the Times as a “useful addition” but with a caveat: “They will help hinder further Russian advances, but they won’t necessarily mean Ukraine will be able to take back territory.”

Russia has had better success at taking territory lately but amid the headlines about Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk falling, an occasional perspective check is useful:

O’Brien published a piece a few days ago acknowledging the war’s dirty little not-so-secret, that Russia’s status as a great military power is now in doubt. They can break tremendous amounts of stuff through sheer firepower but that brute force is compensating for major deficiencies:

Russian strength has shown itself to be so overrated that it gives us an opportunity to rethink what makes a power “great.” Going into the war, Russia’s military capabilities—including a large nuclear stockpile and what was thought to be one of the biggest and most-advanced armed forces in the world—were pointed to as the reason for its strength. What this war might be showing us, however, is that a military is only as strong as the society, economy, and political structure that assembled it. In this case, Russia was nowhere near a great power, but in fact a deeply flawed, in many ways weakening, state…

Moreover, the Russian leadership, and most obviously its president—hailed in many quarters as a canny operator—has shown itself to be the head of a disastrously constructed state that fed misperceptions, stifled real debate, and allowed one man to launch this disaster. It’s odd that this is a lesson that we need to learn again and again: Dictatorial regimes tend to decompose the longer they stay in power, because appealing to the source of power becomes a higher priority to officials in all echelons of the state than simply doing a good job. Putin’s state fed his delusions and created an inefficient military, hobbled by corruption and inefficiency.

Hey, it’s not like Russia hasn’t gained anything from their invasion. There are many scenic piles of rubble in eastern Ukraine which they now control.

I’ll leave you with an up-close look at the HIMARS. It even loads quickly, with its own special “magazine” of rockets.