Russians may launch offensive on several fronts as weather improves
The Russian invaders may start an offensive on several fronts as weather conditions in Ukraine improve.
John Kirby, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications told in an interview with Voice of America :"We know that in the spring when the weather improves, and it's already starting to improve, that we can expect the Russians to want to go on the offensive in some areas, and we don't know exactly where or how they'll do that. But we want to make sure that the Ukrainians are able to better defend themselves against that, and if they choose offensive operations of their own, that they've got the capabilities to conduct those."
Kirby listed the needs of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, among which he named armoured vehicles, artillery, air defence systems, and logistical support.
"That’s really the lifeblood of any army in the field. How do you sustain it? How do you get them spare parts and food and water and fuel, the kinds of things that they need to maintain operations in a continuous way? So that's got to be front and centre as well," Kirby noted.
Iran ships 300,000 artillery shells and 1 million rounds of ammunition to Russia within six months
Russian ships have been transporting large quantities of Iranian-made artillery shells and other ammunition across the Caspian Sea to resupply Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, causing an increasing problem for the United States and its allies, who are trying to disrupt cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.
Cargo ships have transported over 300,000 artillery shells and 1 million rounds of ammunition from Iran to Russia in the past six months, according to officials and documents seen by The Wall Street Journal.
As people familiar with the matter state, intelligence on these shipments was passed on to the United States.
Officials in the Middle East said that the last shipment of weapons known to have crossed the Caspian Sea to Russia left Iran in early March aboard cargo ship Rasul Gamzatov, a 460-foot Russian vessel. It carried 1,000 containers with 2,000 artillery shells, a previously unreported shipment.
Sky News previously reported some other shipments from Iran to Russia.
Publicly available shipping data suggests that the Rasul Gamzatov left the Iranian port of Bandar Amirabad on 8 March and arrived in Astrakhan in Russia 6 days later. The vessel sailed back to Iran in late March and left for Russia once again, staying in docks for only a day.
The vessel belongs to the Russian company MG-Flot, formerly TransMorFlot LLC. Last year, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the company, stating that 16 of its vessels, including the Rasul Gamzatov, were transporting weapons for Russia.
The company did not respond to requests for comment. The Iranian delegation to the UN and the Russian Defence Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The White House declined to comment on the issue.
US officials state that Iran mainly uses cargo planes to deliver weapons to Russia, making intervention almost impossible. And taking action in the Caspian Sea would require help from the former Soviet republics located on its coast.
Earlier this month, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper made an unannounced visit to Turkmenistan to discuss a range of issues, including ways to deepen cooperation and expand maritime security. He declined to comment on whether the discussion was about intercepting arms shipments in the Caspian Sea.
Russia turned to Iran for help last summer. Iran initially provided Russia with hundreds of kamikaze drones and agreed to provide Russia with more than 300,000 artillery shells. One contract from September 2022, viewed by WSJ, showed a deal between Iran’s Defense Ministry and Russia’s JSC Rosoboronexport [state intermediary agency for Russia's exports/imports of defence-related and dual-use products, technologies and services] for over 74,000 artillery shells to be sold to Russia for US $1.7 million.
Several months ago, the United States and other allies of Ukraine stressed that Iran was ready to send ballistic missiles to Russia. However, according to US and foreign experts, this has not happened yet.
Middle Eastern officials say Russia has not yet sent Iran advanced Su-35 fighter jets. However, a group of Iranians recently visited a factory in Russia’s east that produces these modern jet fighters. This could be a sign that the deal is moving forward.
Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Iran’s relationship with Russia is gradually moving from transactional to strategic. "Russia is now dependent on Iran for the first time in the broad scope of the Russia-Iran relationship. It’s a historic shift".
ISW analysts assess whether Russia is ready to withstand Ukraine's counteroffensive
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believes that all of the airborne troops are already engaged in offensive or defensive operations in Ukraine and that Russia would need to deploy significant reserves to launch an offensive. Russian troops are exhausted and disorganised.
ISW report : "the pattern of Russian deployments throughout Ukraine strongly suggests that most of the available manoeuvre elements of all military districts, as well as major surviving Airborne forces, are already committed to either active offensive or defensive operations in Ukraine. Russia will need to commit significant reserves to any discrete axis in order to conduct effective offensive operations, and the generally exhausted condition of troops and the apparently disorganized and fragmented deployment pattern in some areas will likely pose significant obstacles to Russia’s prospects for defending critical sectors of the frontline."
On 23 April, the Institute for the Study of War published a report describing Russia's current order of battle in Ukraine, assessing the offensive and defensive capabilities of Russian groups along the contact line, and discussing the main factors that could complicate Russian defensive operations in the event of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The institute's analysts assumed that Ukraine would be able to conduct a coordinated multi-brigade mechanised offensive with the full use of nine brigades.
If the ISW's assumptions prove to be incorrect, then some of its assessments and observations will also be incorrect, and the prospects for the Russians to hold their positions will be better than presented in the report.
Russian troops in Ukraine are reportedly operating in decentralised and largely degraded formations, and the current deployment structure suggests that most of the available units are already engaged in offensive or defensive operations.
As ISW states, Russian troops are currently operating on seven fronts: Kupiansk, Luhansk Oblast, Bakhmut, Avdiivka-Donetsk, the western part of Donetsk Oblast/eastern part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the western part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast and Kherson Oblast.
At the same time, the Russians are conducting active offensive operations on at least five of these fronts (Kupiansk, Luhansk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka-Donetsk and the western Donetsk/eastern Zaporizhzhia) and mainly conducting defensive operations in the western part of Zaporizhzhia Oblast and in Kherson Oblast.
The Russian forces currently engaged in offensive and defensive operations in Ukraine are both regular and irregular, and it is likely that most Russian units throughout Ukraine are well below full strength due to losses incurred in previous phases of the war.