Kremlin prioritizes destruction of U.S. HIMARS systems as Russian shelling falls off

(Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A sequel to last week’s post about Russian milbloggers and other observers being rocked by the precision of Ukrainian artillery strikes now that the HIMARS system is in the field.


How precise is it? Well…

It’s accurate to a range of around three meters from 50 or so miles away — and, depending on what it’s armed with, can reach a lot further than that. The Ukrainians want to upgrade to missiles with a range of around 180 miles but Biden has said no thus far for fear that they’ll start firing into Crimea or Russia itself. Even the 50-mile missile, however, allows Ukrainian troops to pick off key Russian targets far behind enemy lines without fear of being targeted by a counterstrike from conventional Russian artillery.

Which is a problem for the invaders.

So the word has come down from Moscow to forces in the field: Seek and destroy the HIMARS units out there before they do any more damage to Russian manpower and munitions.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered generals to prioritise destroying Ukraine’s long-range missile and artillery weapons after Western-supplied weapons were used to strike Russian supply lines…

There are concerns in Moscow that Ukraine’s longer-range missiles could be used to target Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Crimea is of particular strategic importance to Russia as it includes the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. Another prized target would be the 18km (11-mile) bridge that links the Black Sea peninsula with mainland Russia…

In the event of an attack on Crimea, Medvedev was quoted by Tass news agency on Sunday as saying: “Judgment Day will come very fast and hard. It will be very difficult to hide”.


That’s what Biden’s afraid of, that the Ukrainians might widen the war to Crimea without White House approval and suddenly Russia will feel obliged to launch a counterstrike against NATO.

The brunt of HIMARS attacks so far has been borne by Russian ammunition depots, a reprise of Ukraine’s strategy earlier in the war of targeting Russian fuel trucks. Destroying the enemy’s ability to fight is more efficient than grinding it down by killing its troops one by one. Is that strategy working, though?

There’s circumstantial evidence that it is. This map, which tracks major fires on the ground, was posted six days ago:

This is from today:

There’s no way to prove that Russian artillery strikes have declined because their stockpiles of shells have been incinerated by HIMARS, particularly at a moment when some Russian forces are engaged in an “operational pause.” But it’s an interesting coincidence, no? Especially in light of today’s news that the Kremlin feels obliged to make neutralizing the HIMARS a top priority.


Retired Australian Gen. Mick Ryan warned his followers on social media that the HIMARS isn’t a wonder weapon that can reverse the course of the war on its own, but it can certainly change important dynamics. And already has:

Analyst Lawrence Freedman has been bullish about Ukraine’s chances against Russia from the start of the war and continues to believe that the Russian military’s problems are deepening. Too many casualties, too little top-grade equipment, too little capacity to quickly replenish what’s been lost. It’s going to catch up to them, Freedman insists. God willing. But there are reasons for the Ukrainians to worry too.

For one thing, no matter how many HIMARS they get from the U.S., the systems are obviously useless without missiles. And missiles may soon be hard to come by: “No matter how many batteries Ukraine receives of HIMARS, the issue of ammo production…will be, I think, an enduring choke point,” analyst Michael Kofman told Newsweek. Ukraine continues to beg for more weapons, with Zelensky’s wife set to address Congress this week to make the case in person, but even U.S. weapons stockpiles are finite. “Pentagon officials have expressed concerns about hurting U.S. combat readiness if the war continues for months or longer,” the Times reported last week. “After two decades of mostly supporting counterterrorism missions, America’s defense industry largely stopped making the kinds of weapons Ukraine will need to survive a long war of attrition.”


Meanwhile, if Russia is getting closer to having to throw in the towel due to exhaustion, they’re doing a good job of hiding it. Two days ago, Shoigu ordered forces in the Donbas to pick up the pace.

As the Ukrainian government disclosed modest new ground attacks by Russian forces, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement that Mr. Shoigu had instructed that combat be intensified to stop Ukraine from shelling civilian areas in Russian-occupied territory.

After deadly Russian missile strikes across Ukraine in recent days that killed civilians, the statement was a new signal from Moscow that its invasion may be entering a more aggressive phase

The latest analysis by the Institute for the Study of War said Russian forces were “likely emerging from their operational pause,” citing a series of limited ground assaults northwest of Sloviansk, southeast of Siversk, along the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway and southwest of the city of Donetsk. “These assaults may indicate that Russian forces are attempting to resume their offensive operations in Donbas,” the analysis said, while noting that “the assaults are still small-scale and were largely unsuccessful.”

Other news this weekend also suggests that Moscow is doubling down. Putin just signed a new law depriving Russian companies of the right to refuse government contracts and requiring their employees to work nights and holidays if necessary to fulfill them. “[T]he new measures effectively mean the country is reshaping its industry in support of the ongoing invasion,” reports CNN, starkly. It sounds like a “soft” nationalization aimed at keeping the war machine running at all costs.


Finally, it’s unclear how well Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south around Kherson is going. HIMARS is helping to soften up the Russians there too, but if the Ukrainians can’t gain meaningful ground, its western allies will draw a grim conclusion about its chances of pushing Russia out of the country entirely. A stalemate around Kherson might mean real pressure on Zelensky to come to terms with Putin.

I’ll leave you with this. Hmmmm.

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