Has Russia’s carpet bombing of Ukraine been halted?

Has Russia’s carpet bombing of Ukraine been halted?

Uniformed officers from numerous Western countries are staring at laptops in a large screened-off room full of provisionally laid data cables. Many languages overlap as they maintain contact with their respective high commands and with the Ukrainian government. According to reports by several US media outlets that were recently granted access to the US’s Patch Barracks installation on the outskirts of Stuttgart, in southwestern Germany, it is from this room that the United States and its allies are coordinating the supply of military aid to Ukraine. And it is believed that, in the coming weeks, this could force a turning point in the war.

The barracks, situated close to the airport and the highway, is home to the US Army’s European Command (EUCOM). On July 1, EUCOM was placed under the command of US General Christopher G. Cavoli. Born in 1964 to a US military family stationed in Würzburg, southern Germany, he holds an MA in Russian and East European studies from Yale University. 

EUCOM’s hastily established Control Center Ukraine/International Donor Coordination Center (ECCU/IDCC) receives a steady stream of purchase requirements from the Ukrainian army. The starting point for this was the Ukraine donor conference convened by the United States at its Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 26. According to US officials, more than 50 countries are now supporting Ukraine with arms shipments under US leadership. For months, they have also been coordinating politically in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group: deciding which country should supply which weapons to Ukraine, and determining the route that heavy weapons, such as the US HIMARS missile systems or the PzH 2000 self-propelled howitzers, supplied by Germany and the Netherlands, should take in order to reach the Ukrainian front.

‘War is changing’

This aid may have brought about a turning point in the war, said Nico Lange, of the Christian Democrats. “The crucial aspect of the past few days is that Russia is now being forced to react to the Ukrainians’ statements and actions,” Lange, who had served as chief of staff to former Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told DW. “Until now, it was the other way around: The Ukrainians were forced to react to everything Russia did.”

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told DW that targeted HIMARS shelling of the Russian army’s ammunition depots and command units has enabled Ukraine to reduce area bombardment by shelling — in the east and south of the country, at least — “by a factor of five to six.”

Lange said: “Russia has now moved significant forces to the south, toward both Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, to reinforce its presence there and concentrate on securing and holding the conquered territories.” The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, near Zaporizhzhia on the Dnieper River, is occupied by Russian forces, and an intelligence report by Britain’s Defence Ministry states that Russian units are using the nuclear plant and the area around it as protection.

At the beginning of August, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency reiterated his urgent demand that Russian forces grant IAEA access to the facility for inspection and repairs.

“From this, you can tell that the war is changing,” Lange said, “and that Russia is now forced to respond to the things Ukraine is doing.” Russia is not able to “escalate indefinitely,” he said — and, in fact, is in “tremendous” military difficulty. “The Russians have gone on the defensive both north of Kharkiv and in Kherson in the south,” he said. “They’re making clear that they are determined to hold this territory.”

Ukraine’s counteroffensive

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been promising a counteroffensive in the south for weeks now. “A Ukrainian attack will not look like the Russians’: this rolling barrage that destroys everything in its path,” Lange said. “Rather, it will also rely on partisans, on uprisings in the occupied cities, on mobile operations behind enemy lines.”

Leaflets from the Russian-occupied city of Kherson keep appearing on social media channels, depicting posters with warnings directed at the occupiers: “We know all your patrol routes,” they read. And: “Kherson is Ukrainian.”

“The Russians are having great problems controlling these areas,” Lange said. “There is a lot of partisan activity in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia oblast. Russian patrols are being killed at night. In Melitopol, too, as in Kherson, there are posters directed against the Russian occupiers, there are leafleting campaigns. Something new is constantly being put up.”

The Ukrainian governor of the largely Russian-occupied Luhansk region recently tweeted about an attack by partisans in the district of Bilovodsk. Ukrainian partisans reportedly shot and injured the Russia-appointed mayor and his deputy. Since then, the governor said, the Russians had been unsuccessful in searching for the Ukrainian resistance fighters. Such information cannot be independently verified.

What is surprising here is the location of the incident. Bilovodsk lies deep in the Russian-occupied region of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border, north of what was previously known as the “Contact Line.” From 2014 until the start of the Russian invasion in February this year, the Contact Line separated the occupied territory in Luhansk andDonetsk from the Ukraine-controlled parts of the region. The regional governor’s tweet can therefore also be interpreted as a signal to Western supporters that the partisan struggle is gaining momentum — even in outlying regions.

This area is beyond the range of the M31 rockets that the US has been supplying so far for the HIMARS rocket launcher. The M31 has a maximum range of 84 kilometers. However, these artillery systems are also capable of launching ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missiles, which have a range of 300 kilometers. Ukraine is asking the Western contact group and its operations center at EUCOM in Stuttgart to send ATACMS missiles as well. So far, the US has opposed this, because with these missiles the Ukrainian army would also be able to fire into Russian territory.

In recent months there has been an increased willingness to supply Ukraine with smarter weapons systems. The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has said that it felt like striving to reach the next level “in a video game.” Unlike in a game, he said, the Ukrainian soldiers killed on the front line only had one life.

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Last Update: Sat, 06 Aug 22 16:19:06