ISW asks how hard Makiyivka strike hit Russians, how long will Iranian drones really last

5 January, 01:50 PM
Analysis of the ruins of PTU and Makiivka, where Russian soldiers were based (Photo:Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters)

Analysis of the ruins of PTU and Makiivka, where Russian soldiers were based (Photo:Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters)

Kyiv’s plans to launch a major counteroffensive in the spring do not conflict with its current offensive efforts, while Ukraine’s attack on Makiyivka continue to reveal the systemic problems of the Russian army, U.S. think tank Institute for the Study of War(ISW) said in a Jan. 5 report.

The recent statement by the Head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, about the intention of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to launch a major counteroffensive in the spring of 2023 is not inconsistent with earlier statements by Ukraine about other counteroffensive efforts this winter, according to ISW analysts.

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Ukrainian forces can use the current and subsequent winter operations to create conditions for a larger counteroffensive operation in the spring, the ISW said.

“ISW has not observed any indicators that Ukrainian forces intend to halt counteroffensive operations this winter in order to conduct a major counteroffensive this spring,” the institute said in its latest report.

Budanov said that there would be further strikes "deeper and deeper" inside Russia but declined to comment on Ukraine’s involvement in previous strikes on Russian rear areas in Russia.

The Russian milblogger or military blogger information space continues to seize on official responses to the Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a Russian base in Makiyivka to criticize endemic problems with Russian military apparatus, ISW sais.

The Russian Ministry of Defense released an official response to the strike on Jan. 4 and attributed it to the “presence and mass use by personnel, contrary to prohibitions, of mobile telephones within range of enemy weapons systems.” The Russian MoD also claimed that the death toll of the strike is now 89, including a deputy regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bachurin. 

The clear attempt by the Russian MoD to blame the strike on individual mobilized servicemen, as ISW assessed the Russian MoD would likely do on Jan. 2, drew immediate ire from Russian milbloggers.

Several milbloggers noted that the use of cell phones on the frontline in the 21st century is inevitable and that efforts to crack down on their use are futile. The milblogger critique of the Russian MoD largely converged on the incompetence of Russian military command, with many asserting that the Russian military leadership has no understanding of the basic realities faced by Russian soldiers on the frontline and is seeking to shift the blame for its own command failures on the “faceless masses” of Russian mobilized recruits.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are increasingly relying on Iranian-made drones in their campaign against critical infrastructure in Ukraine but have likely significantly depleted their current supply of these UAVs, ISW analysts said.

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR), Vadym Skibitskyi, reported on Jan. 4 that Russian forces have used about 660 Shahed-131 and -136 drones in Ukraine since their first use in September 2022.

A spokesman for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Yuriy Ihnat, said on Jan. 4 that Russian forces use Shahed drones because they can better evade detection on radar because they fly low to the ground, particularly along the Dnipro River, in attack routes focused on targets in Kyiv.

Ihnat said that the Air Defense Forces of Ukraine had shot down 540 attack drones, but stated that even with a 100 percent hit rate, Shaheds can still cause damage to Ukrainian cities, as their warheads do not always explode when intercepted by Ukrainian anti-missile weapons and can and can detonate upon impact with to the ground.

Skibitskyi also reported that the Russians are using massive swarms of Shahed drones to break through Ukrainian air defenses, which cannot be achieved if they use only 5-10 drones at a time. As a result, in each attack Russian forces use a significant number of these drones, which arrive from Iran in batches of 200-300 units.

According to Skibitskyi, Russia’s contract with Iran stipulates the transfer of 1,750 drones, and currently the Russian army needs to replenish its reserves after its intensive use of drones in previous days.

ISW predicts that Russia will continue to seek further bilateral cooperation with Iran to acquire a greater number of high-precision weapons systems for use in Ukraine. An Iranian state-run media source claimed on Dec. 28 that Iran will soon receive 24 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia likely in exchange for Iranian-made drones and ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials reported on Dec. 9 that Russia is providing an unprecedented level of military and technical support to Iran in exchange for Iranian-made weapons systems

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ISW experts estimated that Russia could use up all 1,750 Iranian-made drones in Ukraine by May 2023 if it uses them at the same rate as between September and December 2022. Therefore, the Russian Federation will probably seek to secure further agreements with Iran on the supply of Iranian-made high-precision weapons systems in order to strengthen its campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure.

The Iranian government’s Islamic Republic News Agency claimed on Jan. 1 that Russia and Iran are building a new transcontinental trade route to bypass sanctions and “foreign interference.” Russian and Iranian officials may be negotiating a trade route in part to support more consistent arms transfers between the two countries, ISW analysts said.

ISW has previously assessed that Iran may be supplying drones and potentially ballistic missiles to the Russian Federation to more clearly establish an explicitly bilateral security relationship with Russia – one in which Iranians are more equal partners.

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