Hello All,

After the great pleasure last weekend after the House of Representatives (finally) approved US aid for Ukraine, this week its been back to the war at the front. In some ways the approval of US aid has led to a Russian attempt to take as much territory before that aid arrives.

The other stories of the week that will be discussed here are a look back (and forward) at the US decision to aid Ukraine, and a brief mention of the Ukrainian decision to take US-built Abrams tanks off the front line because of their vulnerability to UAV attack. Hint—its not just UAVs.

The Two Races

With the approval of US aid for Ukraine (President Biden signed the bill on Wednesday April 24) there is a specific dynamic that seems to be happening on the battlefield right now. The Russians are trying to seize as much territory as possible before much US aid reaches the Ukrainian forces. From the Russian view this makes sense.


The Ukrainian forces that are fighting them along the front line are, from all reports, exhausted. The Ukrainians have been fighting for months with very little, sometimes practically no, artillery ammunition. They have been pounded at distance by the Russians who had 5 sometimes 10 times the ranged firepower, and this has taken a toll.

The Ukrainians basically held the line with a combination of infantry with lighter weapons and lots of UAVs, which continued to make vehicle-led advances almost impossible.

The Ukrainians have also not helped the situation by not preparing reserve forces. The Ukrainian government has hemmed and hawed too much about the question of conscription—which means that they lack a large number of new troops in the training pipeline.

What this means is that many of the same units, the best units in the Ukrainian Army, have been used repeatedly to blunt Russian attacks in the hottest part of the line.

Certainly this week there were signs that Ukrainian resistance was struggling mightily in places. There was, for instance, a Russian advance of a few kilometres in the area of village of Ocheretyne (top centre of map above).


Its about 10 kilometres (7 miles) from Avdiivka—which the Ukrainians withdrew from in February. Note—This is a cut picture from the excellent Deep State Map, which is easy to access and updates regularly.

At the same time, there was a Russian advance to the north of this (near Bakhmut) of a few kilometres. This was directed towards the Ukrainian town of Chasiv Yar. Chasiv Yar occupies a the high ground in the area, so the Ukrainians would very much want to keep it.

Now, there was talk of the Russians having a “breakthrough” with these attacks—particularly around Ocheretyne. There has even been talk of the Russians launching a pincer movement, linking up the two advances—which are about 50 kilometres apart as you can see in this map (Ive put the two towns in black boxes so you can see where Iam talking about in relative terms.


Certainly that would be a Russian ideal—and if they were going to try anything that ambitious it would have to be before US aid gets to Ukraine. We have not seen anything like this since the Ukrainian successes in Kharkiv Oblast in September 2022, and that was against practically non existent Russian defenses. Personally I’m skeptical that anything like such an operation could be successful now due to the general balance of offensive and defensive firepower. And certainly it would only be possible if the Ukrainian army were on the point of collapse.

That being said, if the Russians are going to do this—they will need to start soon. That is their race.

The Ukrainian race, in comparison, is to get their hands on US aid and get it to the danger points as soon as possible. There were reports last week that US aid had been prepared and ready to go—just waiting for the presidential order. Much of the first aid package the Pentagon announced was precisely the defensive firepower options Ukraine needs to stop any Russian offensive. These include lots of ammunition, and counter UAS equipment, etc.


(Btw, this aid package, and others from Ukrainian partners, give a good indication of what the war will be like this year. We will probably see the Ukrainians try to accelerate Russian attritional losses with heavy firepower, and not attack. The Ukrainian be preparing some kind of counter for 2025—based on development of a new UAV capabilities. Pay attention to what the US says above above giving Ukrainians help to build their own UAS systems. Much more will be said about this in the coming weeks)

Certainly if the Ukrainians can get this ammunition to the front soon—and combine it with their growing UAV capacity, the chance of a major Russian advance would be limited. You certainly could see regular incremental advances of the kind we have seen over the last few months—a kilometre here, a few kilometres there—but still infantry led, not fast and deep vehicle led.

However, if there is going to be a real crisis—it will happen in the immediate future as both sides are undertaking their different races.

Btw, Mykola and I are recording a new Ukraine-Russia War Talk Podcast this week, and we will go into the battlefield situation in some detail. Hopefully we can shed some light on what is actually happening.


Ukraine Withdraw Abrams MBTs

One of the reasons I do think any Russian advance needs to happen before Ukraine gets its hands on a lot of US aid is that the reality of this war remains relentless—vehicles get identified quickly once they reveal themselves, and once identified they become extremely vulnerable to attack from a range of different systems ranging from UAVs, to artillery, handhelds, minefields (pre-laid or even artillery laid), etc.

Maybe the most talked about example of the reality of this kind of war occurred this week when it was stated that the Ukrainians had decided to withdraw their American-made Abrams tanks from front-line duty.

US Army personnel offload military equipment at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta in Romania on February 14, 2017. Soldiers and equipment from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrived at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base as part of the ongoing Atlantic Resolve mission. The combined arms unit of the


Now the reason given was that the Abrams were getting too readily damaged by UAVs. This is a quote from the AP report which first broke the story.

But the battlefield has changed substantially since then, notably by the ubiquitous use of Russian surveillance drones and hunter-killer drones. Those weapons have made it more difficult for Ukraine to protect the tanks when they are quickly detected and hunted by Russian drones or rounds.

Five of the 31 tanks have already been lost to Russian attacks.

I think this is the truth wrapped up a little in a deception. This battlefield has always been extremely hostile to tanks and other large, expensive heavy vehicles. Even before the UAV started appearing in large numbers (second half of 2023) tanks were being destroyed in huge numbers. If you remember this summer, when the Ukrainians started their counteroffensive and their armor ran into problems—it was immediately said that mines were the biggest challenge that tanks were facing. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, often hand-helds were put forward as the great problem for tanks—with reports that US-made Javelins had destroyed 280 Russian tanks in just a few weeks (and only 300 had been fired).

UAVs have definitely made things even worse for vehicles like tanks—as they can now be identified very quickly after revealing themselves. But what they have done is take a bad situation and made it even worse. This is important to understand—because blaming the UAV for the problem with the Abrams makes it sounds like there is an easy solution. If you can stop the UAVs from attacking then the tank will start advancing down the roads again. Its far more complicated than that—its the layers of systems (much cheaper than the tank) that can destroy/damage the tank that is the fundamental problem.

Its worth pointing out that it was almost exactly 2 years ago that I started working on this article for The Atlantic, which made this exact point. When it came out, a large number of analysts—who had been boasting about Russian military prowess and how Russian armor would go streaking through Ukrainian lines and conquer the country quickly—attacked the idea. Actually—what the Abrams story shows is that things are heading more in the direction of my argument. Its interesting to note that the same analysts are now very quiet, or trying desperately to redefine their terms—saying that the tank still has value (when before they were boasting of the tank as a fast-moving offensive weapon).

What we have seen is that the tank has value as an offensive weapons in the way it was intended if the other side is so weak that it can hardly fight back. This in itself means it is of reduced value—and it will get worse unless the tank can be defended against all the different systems that now threaten it.

I will update thinking on this by looking back at the above piece on its two year anniversary. But for now, this is one of the reasons why I remain skeptical that the Russians will somewhow now be able to do a mass armor breakthrough and link up as per above. Unless the Ukrainians are so weak that they cant fire back, Russian armor will be identified on the open roads.

Plus the Russians cant exert air superiority over the battle area—which remains arguably the first step for a successful combined arms advance. There also remains the fact that the Russians will have to now show the ability to execute effective combined arms warfare (which they have not shown) and have the ability to supply advancing armored spearheads (which requires lots of trucks also streaking down open roads, which would be even more vulnerable to UAVs).

I have serious doubts that such complex operations can be managed by this Russian force under these technological conditions. The withdrawal of the Abrams reveals only one of the reasons for this.

Looking Back (and Forward) on the US Approving Aid for Ukraine

Just a few words on this issue as I’ve written lots about it this week (and for many weeks before this). The fact that the US has restarted large-scale aid to Ukraine remains an extremely positive development for Ukraine in the short term—but does very little to allay the big long-term worry for Ukraine and Europe as a whole.

The short term positivity is that aid is now flowing, it should get to the battlefield relatively soon, and it will help Ukrainian forces a great deal. There will also be, for the next few months, a greater sense that Ukraine’s partners are working together to help Ukraine more effectively.

The aid also seems to have come with a greater understanding by the Biden administration that Ukraine needs to be aided to fight a more intelligent and effective war. The administration giving ATACMS and saying that they could now be used in Crimea also provides some grounds for optimism in this regard.

So in the immediate and short term, assuming that Ukraine can weather this present storm, this aid story should really help.

However, if that is the positive, the aid story also reveals that the possible coming storm is still very much there. In the end, Trump did not come out and endorse this aid package (anyone who can provide evidence that he did—please do). He tolerated it because he desperately wants to get elected in November and understands that he cant do that without lots of Halley-supporting Republican voters. If you want to read more, I was able to have an interview with a very senior Republican on the subject, which I published in a midweek substack (interview is free). This person who, believe me, knows the party inside and out, was candid about Trump’s position.

Trump would much prefer to withdraw US support for Ukraine and focus on migration and trade.  He also knows he needs to win the election to stay out of jail. Given that Nikki Haley’s supporters are critical to his chances of winning in November and those supporters care about Ukraine, Trump knew he needed to kind of/sort of punt on the Ukraine vote. If Trump had actually supported the Ukraine bill then many more of his most die hard supporters in Congress would have voted yes. It’s telling that they didn’t and foreshadows what Trump’s policy toward Ukraine will be.

The reality that most Republicans in the House opposed Ukraine aid, as this person says, is all you need to know about Trump’s real position. He will not support Ukraine aid if elected again—and Ukraine and Europe will have to plan for such a situation. Not planning for such a situation in early 2024 almost led to catastrophe. Doing this again now—would be wilful negligence.

On that word of warning—have a good rest of the weekend.

Phillips P. OBrien is Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrew, Scotland.

Reprinted from the author’s blog Phillips’s Newsletter.  See the original here.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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