Russia's air defences hitting ground targets amid 'critical shortage' of missiles

Moscow claims to have destroyed long-range weapons donated to Kyiv by the US

Russian soldiers fire a 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled heavy mortar from an undisclosed location in Ukraine. AP
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Russia is relying more on its air defence systems as artillery in Ukraine amid claims it is running low on ground attack missiles for its Donbas offensive, the British Army says.

As the war enters its sixth month, President Vladimir Putin’s military is struggling to replenish stocks of weaponry and meet objectives.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Friday that Ukrainian forces continue to repel the invading troops in their efforts to attack the Vuhlehirska power plant in the eastern Donbas region.

Russian soldiers used seven air defence missiles to strike buildings, energy facilities and storage areas in the Mykolaiv region, the governor Vitaly Kim said on Thursday.

“Russia has increased its use of air defence missiles in a secondary ground attack mode because of critical shortages of dedicated ground-attack missiles,” the MoD said.

“Russian has almost certainly deployed S-300 and S-400 strategic air defence systems, designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at long ranges, near Ukraine from the start of invasion.

“These weapons have relatively small warheads, designed to destroy aircraft. They could pose a significant threat against troops in the open and light buildings but are unlikely to penetrate hardened structures.

“There is a high chance of these weapons missing their intended targets and causing civilian casualties because the missiles they are not optimised for this role, and their crews will have little training for such missions.”

Russia was forced to change its course of action in April after failing to take Kyiv and other key cities in the first weeks of the war following the February 24 invasion.

The Battle for the Donbas officially began in April and President Putin’s forces have made gains in Ukraine’s coal mining heartland ever since.

Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov said this week that the Kremlin’s goals are not focused solely on the Donbas.

"It is far from being only DPR (Donetsk People's Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People's Republic), it is also Kherson Region, Zaporizhzhia Region and a number of other territories, and this process continues, it continues steadily and persistently," he said.

Russia's defence ministry said on Friday its forces had destroyed four high mobility artillery rocket systems between July 5 and 20, which would amount to half the units that had been donated to the Ukrainians by the Americans.

"Four launchers and one reloading vehicle for the US-made multiple launch rocket systems (Himars) were destroyed," the defence ministry said in a daily briefing.

Kyiv has hailed the arrival of eight Himars in Ukraine as a possible gamechanger for the course of the war.

The advanced weapons are more precise and offer a longer range than other artillery systems, allowing Kyiv to strike Russian targets and weapons depots further behind the front lines.

Moscow has accused the West of dragging out the conflict by supplying Ukraine with more arms, and said donations of longer-range weapons justifies Russia's attempts to exert control over a swathe of Ukrainian territory in the south of the country, beyond the Donbas, for its own protection.

On July 6, just days after the first Himars arrived in Ukraine, Russia's defence ministry said it had destroyed two of them, releasing a video of the alleged strike.

Ukraine rejected those claims and said it was using the US-supplied arms to inflict "devastating blows" on Russian troops.

This week Kyiv has used Himars to strike a crucial bridge across the Dnipro river in Russian-controlled parts of the southern Kherson region, putting huge holes in the asphalt and prompting local Russian-installed officials to say it could be completely destroyed if the attacks continue.

The US said on Wednesday it will send four more Himars to Ukraine in its latest package of military support.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 12:05 PM