In his column dated April 6, Russian military observer Anton Lavrov analyzing the “spring escalation” in the east of Ukraine and comparing the Ukrainian forces in the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) zone with the forces of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the Russian Federation in the occupied Donbas (so called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)) emphasized that only the unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) Bayraktar TB2 are really effective weapons for Ukraine, but their number is still not sufficient to significantly shift the balance of power in the combat zone. Lavrov is a regular contributor for the Russian Izvestia newspaper.
Without revealing to readers any specific details regarding the types of the latest Russian military equipment available in the Donbas, the observer stressed that the so-called LPR and DPR are armed with enough air defense systems that have prevented Ukraine from effectively using aviation since 2014.
It is worth mentioning that that InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community discovered more than 50 specific types of Russian weapons and military equipment in the occupied Ukrainian Donbas which could not have been captured in battle, since there was no evidence of the loss of these types of equipment by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also most types of such equipment is officially in service exclusively with the Russian army, therefore their presence in the east of Ukraine is direct evidence of supplies from the Russian Federation. Among these types of military hardware, there are more than 10 types of the latest Russian electronic warfare systems, as well as the Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system (SAM), the 9K330 / 9K331 Tor SAMs and the newest Russian 96K6 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile and gun system (SAMG).
However, Russian air defense systems showed their low effectiveness against the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs both in Nagorno-Karabakh and during military operations in Syria and Libya.
Photo: damaged Pantsir-S1 SAMG in Libya
Back in June 2020, Defense Express published a report in which it noted that more than 20 Russian-made Pantsir-S1 systems were hit in Syria and Libya by UCAVs. Although the key to such success, according to experts, was not so much the technical superiority of the drones, as sensible planning of operations and their effective “hybrid” use.
After Azerbaijan’s military success in the fall of 2020 during the battles for Nagorno-Karabakh and effective deployment of the Turkish combat drones, the Russian military command tried to review this experience and draw appropriate conclusions projecting them on other hot spots, in particular east of Ukraine, a scene of trench warfare for more than 7 years.
For example, in October 2020, InformNapalm international intelligence community drew attention to signs of preparations for an escalation of hostilities in Donbas and to the Russian forces in the occupied parts of the Donbas preparing to counter UCAVs that could be deployed by Ukraine.
Whereas in February 2021, for the first time since 2014, OSCE SMM observers recorded the newest Russian 51U6 Kasta-2E1 radar station on the occupied territory. The Russian military men hastily tried to disguise it from the OSCE drone with a cloth in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. It is worth noting that the Russian mobile UHF-band radar station 51U6 Kasta-2E1 is designed specifically to detect airborne targets, including those flying at ultra-low altitudes. As Ukraine does not deploy any air power in the JFO zone, the station was apparently deployed specifically to hunt for UCAVs.
In April 2021, Ukrainian and foreign media actively covered Russia’s “military muscle flexing” near the borders of Ukraine, in particular, they closely followed the deployment of military camps and the movement of military hardware.
However, one should not forget that a significant parts of the hybrid Russian forces have been located and has accumulated directly in the occupied part of the Ukrainian Donbas on a rotational basis since 2014. This allows the aggressor to continue the plausible deniability game and to make official statements alleging that Russian Federation “is not a party to the conflict” and its troops on the eastern borders “do not threaten Ukraine.”
In the context of Western diplomatic ping-pong and perennial “deep concern” in response to Moscow’s threats, it is the provision of high-precision weapons to Ukraine and the training of specialists for their use that may become a truly effective factor in deterring the aggressor. In the recent years, the FGM-148 Javelin ATGM was deemed a “silver bullet” of sorts. After Azerbaijan’s successes in the war to reclaim its territory in the fall of 2020, the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs also received this status to a certain extent. They have become the main topic for daily publications in the Russian media. It looks like a significant increase in their number in service with the Ukrainian army and the readiness to use them may become a real deterrent for the Russian Federation.
Ukraine can get far with the “deep concern” of the collective West, but with the delivery of a large consignment of high-precision lethal weapons AND the “deep concern”, Ukraine can apparently get much farther. The eventual cost of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine should grow rapidly and daily. It must become not only economically unaffordable to retain the newly occupied territories, but also prohibitively expensive in terms of intolerably high military losses from the Ukrainian response to the escalation.
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