How Himars could force Russia into an embarrassing collapse in Ukraine

·4-min read
Ukrainian servicemen firing on Russian positions with a Grad BM-21 multiple rocket launcher. The more accurate Himars system can hit targets from further away, forcing Russian troops to push back - GETTY IMAGES
Ukrainian servicemen firing on Russian positions with a Grad BM-21 multiple rocket launcher. The more accurate Himars system can hit targets from further away, forcing Russian troops to push back - GETTY IMAGES

Some weeks ago the Russians announced an "operational pause" in the Donbas.

Breaks in fighting like these are pretty normal in this type of high-intensity warfare, because of the vast supplies required and damages inflicted.

Armies sometimes just have to take time-outs to regroup and build up their supplies again, although normally you don’t broadcast to everyone that you’re doing it.

That’s a bit odd, and makes it seem like there must be another reason that Russian military activity has decreased.

And decreased it has.

Russian artillery fire has significantly dropped, and there are fewer offensives.

They compensated for this by lobbing a few missiles into cities, just to remind everyone they were still there, and still relevant. As if we’d all forgotten.

While the Russians were focusing on regrouping in Donbas, the Ukrainians started hitting targets on the Kherson front in the South. In fact, this continues a theme: the Ukrainians have actually taken more territory off Russia in the South, than the Russians have off them in the Donbas.

This is the reason why the Russian military activity has dropped - they are playing catch up and trying to rush assets and personnel to defend Kherson in the South.

Kherson is very important strategically - it is the only foothold that the Russians have north and west of the Dnipro River, which is the major strategic barrier that runs across Ukraine from Crimea to Kyiv.

It is also the route to Crimea for the Ukrainians, which is where they should put pressure on the Russians if they want to evict them from the whole country. If the Russians feel threatened in Crimea they will strip units out of elsewhere, including the Donbas.

Crucially, during this Russian 'operational pause', the Ukrainians started bringing into action the longer-range, western-donated artillery systems and attacking targets in the South.

Over the last fortnight or so, the Ukrainians have been hitting Command and Control posts up to the 70km range of the new systems. The targets include headquarters, communications sites, air defence radars, etc.

Destroying them dislocates a military force.

This sort of range means that - generally speaking - they are hitting brigade and divisional HQs rather than company and battalion ones.

In a war you keep the more valuable things further from the front line to protect them. Longer range artillery upsets this calculation.

Secondly, the Ukrainians have been hitting supply dumps. I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos and photos on Twitter.

Judging by the size of those fires they were brigade-, divisional- and corps-level supply dumps - which are predominantly fuel and ammunition.

Specifically for the Russians and the way that they conduct war - it means a lot of artillery ammunition.

This has meant that the Russians have had to move all of these supply dumps back beyond the range of the new Ukrainian artillery.

This has one very simple effect: the Russians now have to transport all those supplies, say, 100km rather than 30km, to get to the front line where they are used.

It also means that Russia, which relies on a very artillery-heavy way of fighting war (and artillery is extremely logistics intensive), can probably no longer get enough supplies up to the front line to conduct offensives; they can probably only defend on the Kherson front now.

The Ukrainians have now started attacking the bridges over the river Dnipro that connect Kherson to the other side of the river. In other words, the bridges to the Russian force’s rear.

A crater on Kherson's Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnipro river, which was caused by a Ukrainian rocket - GETTY IMAGES
A crater on Kherson's Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnipro river, which was caused by a Ukrainian rocket - GETTY IMAGES

There are only two of them. And they haven’t destroyed them yet, they’ve just cratered them making them unsuitable for heavy logistics, and unsuitable for the Russian forces to move their tanks and infantry fighting vehicles across.

If I were a Russian soldier in Kherson I would be pretty scared right now.

The way to get an enemy force to collapse is to hit their command and control, hit their logistics, and then start playing games with their minds.

And this is what the Ukrainian Government is doing: on Sunday it announced that its forces would be in Kherson by September; President Zelensky has previously talked of a million-man army marching on Kherson.

I would be watching Kherson and the south of Ukraine very closely over the next few days - we might be about to have another 'goodwill gesture' from the Russians reminiscent of their withdrawal from Snake Island - just that this time, they'll be leaving behind their equipment as well.

Dr Mike Martin is a War Studies Visiting Fellow at King's College London and author of Why We Fight.