Wednesday, 22 May 2024 04:41

What to know after Day 818 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Ukrainian gunners finally get shells to stop Russians near Kharkiv

Ukrainian servicemen operating a howitzer in Kharkiv region near the Russian border work around the clock to stop an incursion by Moscow's troops, and they are finally getting the shells to do it.

Ukraine's defenders were hamstrung for months by shortages of artillery shells and other weapons as U.S. Congress held up billions of dollars worth of military aid. As the lawmakers in Washington argued, Russia's forces pressed their advantage on the frontlines, pushing forward on the eastern front.

With a $61 billion aid package belatedly approved by Congress last month, Ukraine's gunners say the crippling shortages are starting to ease.

Those in the northern districts of Kharkiv region say the fighting is more intense than their previous assignment in Bakhmut, the town in eastern Ukraine seized by Russia last year and reduced to rubble by months of fighting.

"It's 24/7, their infantry keeps coming, we keep fighting their attacks. At least we are trying to. Whenever possible, we take them down," said Pavlo, a gunner of Ukraine's 92nd Separate Assault brigade operating a howitzer.

"We were positioned in the Bakhmut area before, now we have been transferred here. It's much 'hotter' here. We didn't have shells there. Here, at least we have shells, they started delivering them. We have something to work with, to fight."

Russian forces pushed across the border earlier this month and say they have captured about a dozen villages.

The town of Vovchansk, 5 km (three miles) inside the border, remains the focal point of the incursion. Ukrainian forces control about 60 % of the town and are fighting house-to-house to fend off Russian attacks.

The stakes are high - capturing Vovchansk would be Russia's most significant gain since launching the assault. Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, lies 70 km away.

"We see them walking down the road, 5 km away all the way from Shebekino," said Vitalii, commander of the brigade's artillery unit, referring to a town on the Russian side of the border.

"We see them walking on foot to their positions. As they move, we of course try to hit them , to inflict maximum casualties."

Officers pore over drone footage of Vovchansk, with smoke rising over different districts, to assess the situation below. Monitors are checked, calculations made.

Two men are tasked with ensuring the howitzer is well camouflaged - with tree boughs.

Vitalii is confident that the shells will keep coming as everyone is aware of the importance of holding their line.

"Yes, we will be getting ammunition because we are up against a large and serious enemy group," he said.

"If we can demonstrate now that we are able in such an extreme situation to stop the enemy's big scale assault on Kharkiv and Kharkiv region, the enemy will not dare to think of attacking Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy or Poltava region."

** Russia starts exercise to simulate launch of tactical nuclear weapons

Drills ordered by Putin begin in southern Russia

Simulation will be closely watched in the West

Putin seen warning against deeper Western role in Ukraine

Russian forces have started the first stage of exercises ordered by President Vladimir Putin to simulate preparation for the launch of tactical nuclear weapons, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Moscow has linked the exercises to what it calls "militant statements" by Western officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, which it said created security threats for Russia.

Nuclear analysts say the exercises are designed as a warning signal by Putin to deter the West from wading more deeply into the war in Ukraine. Western countries have provided weapons and intelligence to Kyiv but have refrained from sending troops.

The Defence Ministry said the first stage of the exercise involved Iskander and Kinzhal missiles.

It is aimed at ensuring that units and equipment are ready for "the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation", the ministry said.

The drills involve missile forces in Russia's Southern Military District, which lies adjacent to Ukraine and also includes parts of Ukraine that Russia now controls.

Belarus, where Russia said last year it was deploying tactical nuclear weapons, will also be involved, the two countries have said.

Tactical, or non-strategic, nuclear weapons are less powerful than the strategic arms designed to wipe out whole enemy cities, but they nevertheless have vast destructive potential.

Some Western analysts believe non-strategic nuclear weapons have acquired greater importance in Moscow's thinking since the start of the war in Ukraine, where its conventional forces struggled in the first two years.

In theory the use of such a weapon could deliver a stunning shock to the West without necessarily triggering a full-blown nuclear war, though the risk of triggering a cycle of escalation would be huge.


Russia has about 1,558 non-strategic nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists, although there is uncertainty about exact figures. They are controlled by the Russian Defence Ministry's 12th Main Directorate, known as 12th GUMO.

The ministry said troops were practising obtaining "special ammunition" - meaning nuclear warheads - for Iskander missiles, equipping launch vehicles with them and "covertly advancing to the designated position in preparation for missile launches".

It said aviation units were also practising the fitting of special warheads to Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, and flying into designated patrol areas.

Video released by the ministry showed missiles being transported in a convoy of military vehicles and placed in position ready for firing.

"The exercises are, obviously, a signal in response to discussion of NATO countries' troops in Ukraine. The most important features are advance announcement and visibility," Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet and Russian arms control official, told Reuters.

Western militaries will be watching the exercises closely and seeking to draw conclusions about how much warning time they would have if Russia deployed such weapons for real, he said.

"The involvement of 12th GUMO can produce insights into how much time the release of warheads takes, how well detectable, how much warning," said Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

The involvement of Kinzhal, he said, was "a new element I did not expect to see", although there was no doubt about its capability to carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.

When Putin ordered the drills this month, Russia's Foreign Ministry linked them to comments by France's Macron, who floated the possibility of sending European troops to fight Moscow in Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who said Kyiv had the right to use weapons provided by London to strike targets inside Russia. It also cited the provision of long-range British, French and U.S. ATACMS missiles to Kyiv.

The Foreign Ministry said on May 6 the exercises should send a "sobering signal" to the West and its "puppets" in Ukraine.

"We hope these drills will cool the hot heads in Western capitals," it said, adding the West should realise "the potential catastrophic consequences of the strategic risks they are generating" and stop short of direct military confrontation with Russia.



Russia’s strikes hammer Ukrainian troops, equipment in 95 areas over past day

Russian forces struck Ukrainian manpower and military hardware in 95 areas over the past day in the special military operation in Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported on Tuesday.

"Operational/tactical aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, missile troops and artillery of the Russian groups of forces struck amassed manpower and military equipment of the Ukrainian army in 95 areas," the ministry said in a statement.

Russian troops repel three Ukrainian counterattacks in Kharkov area over past day

Russian troops kept advancing deep into the enemy’s defenses and repelled three Ukrainian army counterattacks in the Kharkov area over the past day, the ministry reported.

"Battlegroup North units continued advancing deep into the enemy defenses. They inflicted damage on manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian army’s 125th mechanized, 112th and 113th territorial defense brigades in areas near the settlements of Konstantinovka, Okhrimovka and Granov in the Kharkov Region. They repelled three counterattacks by enemy assault groups near the settlements of Volchansk and Staritsa in the Kharkov Region," the ministry said.

The Ukrainian army’s losses in the Kharkov direction over the past 24 hours amounted to 245 personnel, two tanks, two armored combat vehicles, two pickup trucks, three 152mm 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled artillery systems, a 152mm D-20 howitzer and a US-manufactured AN/TPQ-50 counterbattery radar station, it specified.

Kiev loses 425 troops, tank in Kupyansk area over past day

The Ukrainian army lost roughly 425 troops, a tank and two armored personnel carriers in battles with Russian forces in the Kupyansk area over the past day, the ministry reported.

"Battlegroup West units took more advantageous positions and inflicted casualties on formations of the Ukrainian army’s 14th, 21st and 66th mechanized brigades in areas near the settlements of Novosadovoye and Ivanovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic and Nevskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic. Over the past 24 hours, they repelled six counterattacks by assault groups of the Ukrainian army near the settlements of Stelmakhovka and Chervonaya Dibrova in the Lugansk People’s Republic and Grigorovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the ministry said.

The Ukrainian army’s losses in the Kupyansk direction over the past 24 hours amounted to 425 personnel, a tank, two armored personnel carriers, six motor vehicles, a 122mm D-30 howitzer and a 122mm 2S1 Gvozdika motorized artillery system, it specified.

Russian troops also destroyed two US-made AN/TPQ-37 counterbattery radar stations of the Ukrainian army, it said.

Kiev loses over 320 troops, ammo depot in Donetsk area over day

The Ukrainian army lost more than 320 troops and an ammunition depot in battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk area over the past day, the ministry reported.

"Southern Battlegroup units improved their forward edge positions and inflicted casualties on manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian army’s 57th mechanized, 105th and 118th territorial defense brigades in areas near the settlements of Konstantinovka, Razdolovka and Chasov Yar in the Donetsk People’s Republic. The enemy lost more than 320 personnel, a tank, two infantry fighting vehicles and two US-made 155mm M777 howitzers. An ammunition depot of the Ukrainian army was destroyed," the ministry said.

Russian forces repulse seven Ukrainian counterattacks in Avdeyevka area over past day

Russian forces repulsed seven Ukrainian army counterattacks in the Avdeyevka area over the past day, the ministry reported.

"Battlegroup Center units improved their tactical position and inflicted damage on formations of the Ukrainian army’s 68th jaeger and 24th mechanized brigades in areas near the settlements of Semyonovka and Novgorodskoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic. They repulsed seven counterattacks by assault groups of the Ukrainian army’s 71st jaeger, 47th and 110th mechanized brigades near the settlements of Ocheretino, Solovyovo and Umanskoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the ministry said.

The Ukrainian army’s losses in the Avdeyevka direction over the past 24 hours amounted to 420 personnel, five armored combat vehicles, among them four US-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, six motor vehicles, a 152mm Msta-B howitzer, a 122mm Gvozdika motorized artillery system and a 122mm D-30 howitzer, it specified.

Russian troops strike three Ukrainian army brigades in Kherson area over past day

Russian troops inflicted casualties on three Ukrainian army brigades in the Kherson area over the past day, the ministry reported.

"Battlegroup Dnepr units inflicted damage on manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian army’s 37th marine infantry, 65th mechanized and 15th National Guard brigades in areas near the settlements of Vesyoloye in the Kherson Region, Rabotino and Malaya Tokmachka in the Zaporozhye Region," the ministry said.

The Ukrainian army’s losses in the Kherson direction over the past 24 hours amounted to 105 personnel, seven motor vehicles, two US-made 155mm M777 howitzers, a 152mm 2A36 Giatsint-B howitzer and a 122mm BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher, it specified.

Russian air defenses down 45 Ukrainian UAVs, two ATACMS missiles over past day

Russian air defense forces shot down 45 Ukrainian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), two ATACMS, eight SCALP-EG and four HARM missiles over the past day, the ministry reported.

"During the last 24-hour period, air defense capabilities shot down 45 unmanned aerial vehicles, two US-made ATACMS tactical missiles, eight French-made SCALP-EG cruise missiles, five French-made Hammer guided aerial bombs, four US-manufactured HARM anti-radar missiles and eight US-made HIMARS rockets and Olkha rockets," the ministry said.

In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 601 Ukrainian warplanes, 274 helicopters, 24,464 unmanned aerial vehicles, 523 surface-to-air missile systems, 16,114 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 1,306 multiple rocket launchers, 9,717 field artillery guns and mortars and 21,872 special military motor vehicles since the start of the special military operation, the ministry reported.



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