US officials said Russian artillery fire has decreased by about 75%, in the latest sign of Moscow’s struggle


Washington
CNN

As for Russia Ukraine invasion In the 11th month, American and Ukrainian officials told CNN that Russian artillery fire had fallen significantly from wartime highs, in some places by as much as 75%.

US and Ukrainian officials do not yet have a clear or individual explanation. Russia may be rationing artillery shells due to low supplies, or it may be part of a broader reassessment of tactics in the face of successful Ukrainian offensives.

Either way, the dramatic drop in artillery fire is further evidence of Russia’s increasingly vulnerable position on the battlefield nearly a year after its invasion, US and Ukrainian officials told CNN. It also comes as Ukraine enjoys increased military support from its Western allies, with the United States and Germany announcing last week that they would provide Ukrainian forces for the first time. Armored fighting vehiclesAnother Patriot Defense missile battery will help protect its airspace.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be seeking to shore up domestic political support, US intelligence officials believe, for a war he initially described as a limited “special military operation.”

US officials believe that Ceasefire for 36 hours Two people familiar with the intelligence told CNN that Putin’s order in Ukraine last week to allow Orthodox Christmas to be celebrated was an attempt to appease Russia’s vast Christian population, as well as an opportunity for Putin to blame Ukrainians for breaking and painting it. Heretical pagans.

Much of the domestic opposition Putin and his generals have faced over the handling of the war has come from one of the Russian leader’s closest allies: Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary organization Wagner Group. Prigozhin complained that the Russian Ministry of Defense was spoiling the war effort, and that the Wagner Group should be given more equipment, authority and autonomy to carry out operations in Ukraine.

A senior US official said that the Wagner Group has lost thousands of fighters in Ukraine in the past two months alone.

Workers remove the debris of a destroyed building that allegedly housed Russian servicemen killed in a Ukrainian missile attack, January 3, 2023.

Russia suffered another setback earlier this month when Ukrainian forces It hit an armory in Makevka in eastern Ukraine, destroying more Russian supplies and killing dozens of Russian troops stationed nearby. The strike also raised questions among prominent Russian military bloggers about the basic competence of Russian military officers, who apparently decided to quarter hundreds of Russian troops next to a sunken Ukrainian target.

“Maybe this strike is a drop in the bucket, but the bucket is dwindling,” a US defense official said, referring to the dwindling stockpiles of the Russians.

Until now, questions about Russia’s weapons stockpile have focused mostly on its precision-guided munitions, such as cruise and ballistic missiles. But U.S. officials said the significantly lower rate of artillery fire may indicate that the long and brutal battle was having a significant impact on Russia’s conventional weapons supply as well.

Last month, a senior US military official said Russia had had to turn to 40-year-old artillery shells as its supply of new ammunition dwindled. For the United States, the use of degraded ammunition, as well as the Kremlin’s outreach to countries like North Korea and Iran, have been a sign of Russia’s dwindling stockpile of weapons.

The rationing of ammunition and the low rate of fire seem to mark a departure from Russian military doctrine, which traditionally calls for massive bombardment of a target area with intense artillery fire and rocket fire. This strategy was played out in cities like Mariupol and Melitopol where Russian forces used punitive strikes to push back the slow and brutal advances into Ukraine.

The officials said the shift in strategy may have been the work of Russia’s recently installed theater commander, General Sergei Surovkin, whom the United States believes is more capable than his predecessors.

Ukraine had no choice but to ration its ammunition from the start of the war. Ukrainian forces quickly burned through their supply of Soviet-era 152mm ammunition when the conflict broke out, and while the United States and its allies provided hundreds of thousands of rounds of Western 155mm ammunition, this supply had its limits.

As a result, Ukraine averaged about 4,000-7,000 artillery rounds a day—much less than Russia.

A U.S. defense official noted that the Russians’ rate-of-fire decline is not linear, and there are days when the Russians are still firing more artillery shells—notably around the eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Krymina, as well as near Kherson in the south. .

U.S. and Ukrainian officials gave widely different estimates of Russian fire, with U.S. officials saying the rate dropped from 20,000 rounds per day to about 5,000 rounds per day on average. Ukraine estimates that rate has dropped from 60,000 to 20,000 per day.

But both estimates point to a similar downward trend.

Ukrainian self-propelled artillery fires towards Russian forces on the front line in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Saturday, December 24, 2022.

A U.S. military official said that while Russia still had more artillery ammunition available than Ukraine, early U.S. assessments greatly exaggerated how much Russia was acting, and underestimated how successful the Ukrainians were in hitting Russian logistical sites.

Russia now appears to be focusing more on strengthening its defensive fortifications, particularly in central Zaporizhye, Britain’s Ministry of Defense reported in its regular intelligence update on Sunday. The ministry said the movements indicate that Moscow is worried about a possible Ukrainian attack either there or in Luhansk.

“A major Ukrainian breakthrough in Zaporizhia would seriously challenge the feasibility of Russia’s ‘land bridge’ connecting Russia’s Rostov region and Crimea,” the ministry said, while a Ukrainian success in Luhansk would undermine Russia’s stated war goal of “liberating” Russia. Donbass. ”

Ukraine’s counter-attacks last fall targeting Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the north resulted in humiliating defeats for Russia – and were largely supported by advanced Western weaponry such as HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzer artillery systems and formerly US-possessed Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. She was reluctant to introduce it.

“The fact of the matter is that we’ve been deterring ourselves for over a year now,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army’s European and NATO Allied Ground Command and currently a senior advisor on human rights. First.

“There was a lot of concern about the possibility of Russian escalation — I mean ten months ago, there was concern about giving the Stingers away… Obviously that’s ridiculous, and it seems ridiculous now.”

Tensions have also been running high between Kremlin defense officials and leaders of the Wagner Group amid public complaints by the mercenaries that they are running out of equipment and reports that their leader, Prigozhin, wants control of the lucrative salt mines near Bakhmut.

In a video broadcast on Russian state media, Wagner Group fighters complained that they were running out of combat vehicles, artillery shells, and ammunition, limiting their ability to invade Bakhmut — and Prigozhin’s lack he then blamed on “internal bureaucracy and corruption”.

“This year we will win! But first we will overcome our internal bureaucracy and corruption,” he says in the clip. “As soon as we overcome our internal bureaucracy and corruption, we will defeat the Ukrainians, NATO, and then the whole world. The problem now is that the bureaucrats and those who are involved in corruption will not listen to us now because they are all drinking champagne on New Year’s.”

A destroyed Russian armored car stands by the railway line from the window of an evacuation train from Kherson to Khmelnytskyi, on Sunday, December 18, 2022.

But the United States believes that Prigozhin’s ambitions are not limited to greater political power. There are also indications that he wants to take control of the lucrative salt and gypsum from mines near Bakhmut, a senior administration official told CNN.

“This is consistent with Wagner’s modus operandi in Africa, where the group’s military activities often work in tandem with control of mining assets,” the official said, adding that the United States believes these monetary incentives push Prigozhin and Russia to take on Bakhmut.

The official also said the Wagner Group had suffered heavy losses in its operations near Bakhmut since late November.

“Of its force of about 50,000 mercenaries (including 40,000 convicts), the company suffered more than 4,100 dead and 10,000 wounded, including more than 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut,” the official said. Adding that about 90% of the dead were convicts.

Russia “cannot afford this kind of loss,” the official said.

The official added, “If Russia eventually captures Bakhmut, Russia will certainly describe it, misleadingly, as a ‘major victory.’ But we know that’s not the case. If the cost of all 36 square miles is to Ukraine [the approximate size of Bakhmut] Thousands of Russians over seven months, that’s the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.

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