Fighting has escalated sharply in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Both sides are bringing more and more heavy artillery, adding to the carnage.
But it is the Russians who have the biggest guns and mortars and who are the most willing to fire indiscriminately. “In the coming weeks, Russia is likely to continue to rely heavily on massive artillery strikes as it attempts to regain momentum in its advance into Donbass,” the UK Ministry of Defense said. . warned tuesday.
The Russian military has been trying for weeks to position forces for an operation it can realistically carry out. Earlier in the war, the Kremlin’s goals were maximalist: capture kyiv, cross the Donbass and cut Ukraine off from the Black Sea. But after the Russian army suffered heavy casualties in the abortive assault on kyiv, the Russian leadership pivoted.
Withdrawing its forces from Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, the Russian leadership has focused its efforts on Donbass. And not all of Donbass, but more of a small town: Severodonetsk, which anchors a pocket of Ukrainian forces south of Russian-occupied Izium and north of the town of Popasna.
Two or three Ukrainian brigades with several thousand soldiers defend Severodonetsk. If the Russians can surround Severodonetsk, they might be able to starve and then defeat the garrison.
After trying and failing to cross the Seversky Donets River northwest of Severodonetsk—and losing around 70 vehicles and up to 400 troops in the process—the Russians focused their offensive on the southern side of the Severodonetsk Pocket. On Thursday, Russian airborne battalions, reinforced by Wagner Group mercenaries, rolled north.
The Battle of Severodonetsk has begun.
It’s an artillery fight. Ukrainian gunners, possibly deploying their new American-made M777 155 millimeter towed howitzers, did most of the killing at the Seversky Donets beachhead.
In the meantime, the Russian artillerymen brought in their biggest guns and mortars. Videos circulating online in recent days show both 2S7 203-millimeter self-propelled howitzers and 2S4 240-millimeter self-propelled mortars firing on Ukrainian positions in the Donbass.
These massive artillery pieces with their 200 or 300 pound shells can penetrate earthworks and bunkers to greater depth than smaller caliber guns.
And fired indiscriminately into towns and cities, they are devastating to civilians. Heavy Russian shelling early in the war around Chernihiv, east of kyiv in northern Ukraine, damaged thousands of homes and businesses. “The scale of this damage indicates that Russia is prepared to use artillery against populated areas, with minimal regard for discrimination or proportionality,” the UK Ministry of Defense explained.
At the same time, the Russians may be learning an important military lesson: poorly targeted bombardments are not an effective method of dislodging an entrenched enemy and certainly cannot replace tanks and infantry working in close coordination with targeted shots. .
“What we saw the Russians trying to do at the top was, you know, just pound what they thought was the line of contact of the Ukrainians into big artillery barrages – then try to move against them in a frontal assault after that, and were repelled,” an unnamed U.S. Department of Defense official told reporters on Thursday.
More recently, there are signs that, in the bombardment of military if not civilian targets, the Russians are making a greater effort to identify the targets – using scouts, drones or other means – before opening fire. .
“And so, I think what you’re seeing is a result of their inability to make much headway using large artillery barrages against larger units,” the official added. “I think they are adapting because their previous tactics failed.”
Deliberate targeting during combined arms operations could of course not spare the thousands of civilians who have not yet evacuated Severodonetsk. For the Russians, bombing cities is a terrorist tactic, not a military one.
They could take care to point their guns at Ukraine’s defensive works. But that doesn’t mean they won’t also launch 200-pound shells in the general direction of a Ukrainian town.