Ukraine Reportedly Pulls Leopard 2s From Front, Low on Armor, Ammo as Offensive Stalls
10:55 GMT 09.07.2023 (Updated: 12:07 GMT 09.07.2023)
© Photo : Screenshot / Russian Defense Ministry videoLeopard 2 and Bradley pictured among destroyed and damaged Ukrainian vehicles. Screenshot of Russian Defense Ministry video.
© Photo : Screenshot / Russian Defense Ministry video
The US announced Friday that it would be rushing controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine to help shore up Kiev’s flagging counteroffensive, which began a month ago but has run up against stiff resistance from Russian forces backed by heavy artillery and air support.
The Ukrainian military doesn’t have enough tanks, armored vehicles or ammo to overrun heavily entrenched Russian positions, has pulled its vaunted Leopard 2s from the frontline, and is looking to ramp up domestic tank production – a process that will take up to 6 months, US business media have reported, citing senior Ukrainian officials and frontline commanders.
“It’s impossible to completely destroy such a well-prepared position before advancing,” a unit commander from Ukraine’s 108th Brigade said of Russian entrenchments, telling US media that Ukrainian forces are suffering a shortage of armored vehicles, with infantry forced to advance on foot, which makes them vulnerable to flanking maneuvers.
“If we had more vehicles, we could have brought more infantry to the flanks,” the commander said, admitting that a month after the counteroffensive began, he had yet to take part in an operation that successfully captured and held a defended Russian position.
Instead, Ukrainian forces have so far only be able to capture a “handful” of villages in Zaporozhye and Donetsk regions, at the cost of thousands killed and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles destroyed. Last week, the Russian military reported that in a month of battle, Ukraine had lost 920 armored vehicles, including 16 Leopard tanks, and 18 aircraft.
Another major problem is the lack of artillery and air superiority, with Kiev’s small arsenal of Soviet-era fighters and helicopters facing up against a superior force of Russian Sukhoi fighter jets and Ka-52 Alligator gunships.
Leopard 2s AWOL
Kiev has been loath to use its NATO-provided Leopard 2 tanks, with the 68 ton behemoths apparently getting stuck in minefields in the first phase of the offensive in early June, and Leopard 2s not “seen on the battlefield” since then. Western military analysts suggest Kiev may be saving them for use in a breakthrough amid probing for weak spots in Russian positions, but the task is said to be complicated significantly by the region's mostly flat, open fields, which offer scant protection or places to hide.
Grunts offered candid appraisals of Ukrainian forces’ horrific losses, with soldiers from the southern front, presumably in Zaporozhye, saying they could lose “dozens of men” in a single assault. “We had to evacuate the evacuation team,” a 19-year-old combat medic said, recalling an instance where a mortar hit his vehicle during an evacuation of wounded.
Russian choppers are said to be flying as little as 8 km from Ukrainian positions, which ordinarily make them vulnerable to Ukrainian air defenses.
“We don’t have proper air defense systems to deal with the threat,” a platoon commander from the 108th Brigade said of Russian air superiority. “When we’re warned that an enemy plane has taken off, the only way to deal with it is to take cover,” he said.
Plans to Ramp Up Domestic Tank Production
Amid the shortages of armor, Kiev has announced plans to ramp up the production of tanks and armored vehicles. However, Ukrainian arms industry chief Oleksandr Kamyshin told US media that this would take 3-6 months to accomplish.
The shortage of weapons for the counteroffensive raises questions about where the West’s generous weapons assistance, now estimated to total over $94 billion (i.e. nearly half of Russia’s entire annual defense budget) has gone, and appears to confirm reports about rampant corruption and pilfering, and the smuggling of weapons destined for Ukraine to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
It also brings into question why Kiev has devoted so much of its NATO-provided artillery, HIMARS rockets and Storm Shadow cruise missiles to terror bomb Donbass cities and civilian infrastructure, instead of stockpiling them for use for its now stalled counteroffensive.