Asia Times is initiating a near-daily Ukraine war situation report based on multiple military and think tank sources. It’s our unvarnished bid to cut through the propaganda and misinformation of all sides that contribute to the fog of war.
In the critical sector south of the Izium–Lyman line, the Russian Ministry of Defense claims to have taken control of the town of Sviatohirsk in the direction of Sloviansk. NATO sources have confirmed the claim.
Intense house-to-house combat continues in Severodonetsk. After back and forth fighting over the weekend, Russian forces appear to own most of the city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Russian forces are mounting a “dangerous” attack on the major southern city of Zaporizhzhia, but there is no independent evidence or confirmation of the claim.
However, there are credible reports of a tentative agreement between Ukrainian and Russian authorities to facilitate grain shipments out of the southern port of Odessa.
Ukrainian and NATO claims that Russian Navy vessels have been pushed up to 100 kilometers offshore are credible as – short of landing operations support – there is no reason for Russian ships to put themselves within easy reach of Ukrainian Neptune and Danish and UK Harpoon batteries supported by NATO targeting capabilities.
A dense fog of war continues to obscure the Severodonetsk fighting. As The Situation has observed previously, the question remains whether or when Russian or Ukrainian forces will drop the three still-standing bridges across the Donets River to Lysychansk. A decision by Ukrainian forces to put themselves into a Sun Tzu-like “death ground” position would replicate the Mariupol outcome.
Strategically more important is the situation south of the Izium–Lyman line in the direction of the transportation hub of Sloviansk. There are bridges still standing across the Donets River just south of Sviatohirsk and east of Raihorodok, the latter just 10 kilometers from Sloviansk.
The capture of Sloviansk would open the way for Russian forces south in the direction of Bakhmut to join with forces out of Popasna toward Bakhmut, closing off the Donbass salient. Russian forces driving north out of the city of Donetsk have been gaining ground and could attack Bakhmut from the west.
Lines of contact have remained largely unmoved for a week. Artillery fire from the Russian side is concentrated on the area around Mykolaiv.
US sources report that Russian forces continue to build east of the center of the east-west line between the Dnepr and Donetsk. Russian forces can be expected to attempt to push north there once they feel they have adequate forces to flank Ukrainian forces around Donetsk. The Zelensky alarm over an impending attack on Zaporizhzhia likely relates to that.
The grain shipment deal noted above apparently reflects an understanding between United Nations, Turkish and Russian officials to the effect that Turkey would be responsible for sweeping mines and escorting grain ships from pier-side Odessa to neutral waters.
Once in neutral waters, Russian escorts would receive the Turkish escorts and then escort the ships to the Bosporus. Reportedly, Ukraine has yet to agree to the deal.
US President Joe Biden was matter of fact in a recent New York Times op-ed, where he wrote: “We will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.” US officials have said the system to be delivered is the M142 HIMARS.
Not to be outdone, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a few days later, “We cannot stand by while Russian long-range artillery flattens cities and kills innocent civilians. The UK will gift the Ukrainian Armed Forces multiple-launch rocket systems so they can effectively repel the continuing Russian onslaught.”
The UK system to be delivered is the 1970s vintage M270 MLRS. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has less vocally promised “a number” of Germany’s MARS 2 MLR systems.
None of the three NATO member leaders said much about the number of such artillery pieces to be sent to Ukraine or when. The Western press quickly termed it a “game-changer”, only to tone down the assessment when it emerged that the US would “initially” send just four HIMARS batteries, the UK three M270 MLRS and Germany “two to four” MARS 2 MLRs.
That likely means around 11 MLR systems will arrive in Ukraine after a minimum training period of three to four weeks. Of course, it’s possible and even likely that some training of Ukrainian soldiers has been underway for some time at the German Grafenwoehr facility.
Germany currently has 22 Mars 2 batteries, the UK 42 M270 systems and the US about 350 HIMARS. It’s thus hard to guess how many of the systems will actually be sent to Ukraine by year-end, assuming the war is still ongoing.
But it’s highly doubtful that 11 or 22 or even 44 of the systems will make for a “game-changer.” No one non-nuclear weapons system is ever likely to be a war-time game-changer.
Notably, there was no huge outcry on the Russian side by the advanced rocket system announcement. President Vladimir Putin said on Russian TV on June 5 that the Ukraine military already possesses dozens of Soviet and Russian-made MLRS batteries and the addition of a few more will not make a substantial difference.
That’s Putin bravado. While the outdated British systems are in the same class as the Russian Smersh, Grad and Ungaran systems, the US HIMARS and German MARS 2 are substantially more accurate. Distance is less of an issue if the NATO states stick by the assurance that no long-range rockets of above 70 – 80 kilometers will be delivered to Ukraine.
Russia has deployed 110 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to Ukraine, each equipped with six to eight artillery pieces ranging from howitzers to MLRS for a total of about 750 firepower assets.
As the first to invent them, the Russians know a thing or two about multiple rocket launchers.
Nearly 81 years ago, on July 14, 1941, a Red Army unit under the command of Captain Ivan Flyorov first deployed and fired the BM-13 “Katyusha” system at a German supply unit at the railway station of Orsha on the Dnepr River to devastating effect.
The German dubbed it “Stalinorgel” (Stalin’s Organ) after the looks of its pipes and the sound it made when fired. It became the most feared of Russian weapons systems in World War II. Tens of thousands were produced and spread terror among enemy forces.