The Russian military’s downfall in Ukraine has been reported extensively since the start of the war. Vladimir Putin’s soldiers failed to take the capital Kyiv and then lost swathes of territory near Kharkiv in September. In April, Russia’s main naval vessel was sunk by Ukrainian forces in the Black Sea. Desperate to avoid further embarrassment, Russian troops are now defending the territory they hold in Kherson, southern Ukraine, as well as regions in the east. But Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the United States Army Europe, believes that Russia is set to lose all territory gained since 2014.
This would mean Ukraine taking back Crimea, the territory annexed by Russia in 2014. Key to this objective is the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System).
Mr Hodges explained: “If you think about HIMARS, what is happening now is the offensives are moving to Kherson, and I think Kherson’s probably going to fall in the next three or four weeks, and then there is the other wing of the counteroffensive coming down south towards Donetsk.
“Both of these are headed towards Crimea. Once they get HIMARS in range inside Crimea it is math after that.”
The HIMARS is a light multiple rocket launcher developed in the Nineties for the US Army, usually mounted on a truck, and enable forces to strike targets at longer range.
Logistics is not the only issue harming Russia’s military efforts. Low morale has also been a reported source of problems during the war. On Friday, reports claimed that Russia’s forces are now threatening to shoot down their own men if they try and retreat.
The Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update: “Due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started deploying ‘barrier troops’ or ‘blocking units’.”
The report added that this “likely attests to the low quality, low morale and indiscipline of Russian forces.”
As Russia prepares to defend Kherson, the Kremlin has signalled that its soldiers may well retreat, with a source close to the halls of power this week saying: “Most likely our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank.”
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However, Ukraine is weary that such comments could be a trap to try and lure Ukrainian troops into a disadvantaged position. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, said this week: “This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles.”
For now, Ukrainians are content with making slow but consistent advances near Kherson, and US military figures are confident that they can eventually reclaim the city. US Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, was speaking at the Pentagon in Washington this week when he said Ukraine is capable of just that.
He said: “On the issue of whether the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnipro [Dnieper] river and in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that.
“Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe they have the capability to do that. We have seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory.”