Reports suggest that Russia faces growing personnel and matériel challenges.
Saturday’s situation report from the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) provides some perspective on the reality underlying President Putin’s tough, we-haven’t-even-got-started-line of last week: Russian reserves are being called up and equipped with MTLB infantry carriers, a 1950s-era design being pulled from storage. “Russia is moving reserve forces from across the country and assembling them near Ukraine for future offensive operations. A large proportion of the new infantry units are probably deploying with MT-LB armoured vehicles taken from long-term storage as their primary transport. While MT-LBs have previously been in service in support roles on both sides, Russia has long considered them unsuitable for most front-line infantry transport roles. It was originally designed in the 1950s as a tractor to pull artillery, has very limited armour, and only mounts a machine gun for protection. In contrast, most of Russia’s first echelon assault units were equipped with BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles in February, featuring armour up to 33mm thick and mounting a powerful 30mm autocannon and an anti-tank missile launcher. Despite President Putin’s claim on 07 July 2022 that the Russian military has ‘not even started’ its efforts in Ukraine, many of its reinforcements are ad hoc groupings, deploying with obsolete or inappropriate equipment.”
A number of news outlets have focused on the description of the MTLB as a “tractor,” interpreting that description as indicating the vehicle is more of a makeshift than in fact it is, as if the Russian army were impressing agricultural tractors into military service. This is misleading. A “tractor” in this sense is a vehicle that tows something, usually an artillery piece, a cannon. The MTLB can indeed serve as a tractor, but it’s also a standard if obsolescent infantry carrier, with bench seats inside for the troops and a ring-mounted machine gun on top. It’s an old design, somewhat older than the US M113 armored personnel carrier, but designed and used in a similar role. Russian practice has long been to retain older equipment in reserve, stored against the possibility that it might be useful in an emergency. The reappearance of poorly armed and thin-skinned MTLBs indicates that Russia is running short of more modern frontline BMP-2s. The MTLB will be a less capable fighting vehicle.
The Telegram sees Moscow’s moves, last week, to place the Russian economy on a war footing as a sign of logistical desperation and a recognition that the army isn’t able to maintain, repair, or replace its vehicles. The headline, “Unable to even fix its own tanks, Russia’s humiliation is now complete,” is certainly overstated, but the logistical shortfalls appear real enough.
There are also accounts that suggest growing personnel as well as matériel issues. Today’s report from the UK’s MoD draws attention to open-source reports the MoD sees as indicating signs of exhaustion in Russian frontline troops. “In late June, a Russian-language media agency based in Russia’s far eastern Lake Baikal region uploaded a video in which the wives of soldiers from the Eastern Military District’s (EMD’s) 36th Combined Arms Army directly appealed to a local politician for their husbands to be returned home from service in Ukraine. One woman claimed that personnel of EMD’s 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade are ‘mentally and physically exhausted’, because they have been on active combat duty since the launch of the ‘special military operation’ on 24 February 2022. The lack of scheduled breaks from intense combat conditions is highly likely one of the most damaging of the many personnel issues the Russian MoD is struggling to rectify amongst the deployed force.”
Notes on an artillery war.
Sunday’s MoD report reveals that the war remains an artillery struggle. “Russian artillery continues to strike the Sloviansk area of the Donbas from around Izium to the north and near Lysychansk to the east. Russian forces have likely made some further small territorial advances around Popasna. Fires from Izium continue to focus along the axis of the E40 main road. Control of the E40, which links Donetsk to Kharkiv, is likely to be an important objective for Russia as it attempts to advance through Donetsk Oblast.”
Fighting has continued around both Kharkiv (under renewed Russian attack) and Kherson (the object of a Ukrainian counteroffensive). The MoD reported this morning, “As of Sunday 10 July, Russian artillery bombardments continued in the northern Donbas sector, but probably without any major territorial advances. Ukrainian forces continued to apply localised pressure to the Russian defensive line in North East Kherson oblast, also probably without achieving territorial gain.” In both Kharkiv and Donetsk, Russian fires again strike civilian residential areas, Reuters reports.
According to the Telegraph, Russian gunners are beginning to run short of ammunition. Their sources are pro-Russian bloggers associated with nominally separatist forces in the Donbas. Some of those blogs have been critical of Russian military leadership, but they are for the most part interested in providing positive advice to the Russian forces. A representative post urges better technique in dispersing high-value targets that are now being successfully engaged by NATO-supplied HIMARS and MLRS artillery rockets: “A number of systems supplied by Nato enable high-precision strikes far in the rear, especially with Nato satellite intelligence.” The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Labs confirms evidence of Ukrainian strikes against Russian ammunition supply points in the Donbas.
More deniable DDoS attacks strike countries friendly to Ukraine.
Lithuania’s state energy provider, Ignitis Group, sustained a large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack over the weekend, LRT reports. The attacks had been intermittent over more than a week, peaking on Saturday. Ignitis said that it has now overcome the attacks, and that its control systems were not affected. Tech Monitor says that Killnet claimed responsibility for the operation. Lithuania, like the other Baltic states, has strongly supported Ukraine during Russia’s war. It has recently stopped imports of Russian natural gas, and, just this morning, imposed further restrictions on Russian shipments to its discontinuous Kaliningrad territory.
Killnet also claimed responsibility for a DDoS attack against a website operated by the US Congress, which experienced brief interruptions of public access between 9:00 and 11:00 AM Thursday. CyberScoop quotes the group’s crowing over Telegram: “They have money for weapons for the whole world, but not for their own defense.”
The degree of control Russian intelligence services exercise over Killnet remains unclear, but the group makes no secret of its determination to support Russia in its war against Ukraine. Wired has a brief overview of the group’s activities, which have affected targets in Lithuania, Italy, the United States, Romania, and Norway. Killnet has “declared war” against these and other states who’ve been too sympathetic to Ukraine. For all of its online posturing, Killnet’s activities haven’t so far risen above a nuisance level. Flashpoint offers a suitably tepid appraisal of the group’s work. “While Killnet’s threats are often grandiose and ambitious, the tangible effects of their recent DDoS attacks have so far appeared to be negligible.”