Authored By Levina
‘Wars are won in the mind before they can be won on the field.’
Russia-Ukraine war is an apropos example of fighting a drone and trench war simultaneously and utilizing information warfare to dent the psyche of the adversary. Whilst the media is incessantly covering every detail of the attack on Bakhmut since last few weeks, Vuhledar hasn’t got the attention it deserves. In Vuhledar, Russia is fighting its biggest battle of tanks since World War-II. Albeit this battle is not just about tanks. Vuhledar has been on Russian crosshair since 2014, and nine years later the mighty Russians could not manage to penetrate the city till their strategies were transmogrified.
This article explores why Russians are fighting the biggest tank battle in Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, importance of this city and the strategies deployed by Ukrainian Army and Russian Army’s counterstrategies.
You may also watch a video on this topic
Russian Reliance on Tanks
During the 2nd World War, a total of 8000 tanks belonging to Hitler’s Army and the Russian Army fought against each other in the battle of Kursk. This is the largest battle of tanks known to us, and it ended with Stalin’s Red Army defeating Hitler’s Army.
Since then, Russians have been famous for their reliance on tanks. However, news emanating from Vuhledar hints at the heavy loss that Russian Army had to bear for using tanks. Ukraine claims 130 Russian battle tanks are destroyed in Vuhledar.
The figures may sound exaggerated, but the fact is that war has been raging in this area since over a year. Myriads of pictures and videos from the area show that Russia may have indeed sacrificed multiple waves of tanks in Vuhledar. Russian telegram channels associated with Wagner group like Greyzone, further confirm this news. Russia had faced a similar backlash in Bucha last year.
Why is Vuhledar important?
The word Vuhledar means gift of coal. This is a small town with one of the largest coal reserves in Ukraine.
Presently, Ukrainians have a tactical upper hand in the greater battle for the Donbas region. Vuhledar is located on an elevated plane, which means Ukrainian soldiers can easily spot Russians movement from afar. Vuhledar’s capture would be an important step in Russia’s plans to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines. At the same time, securing Vuhledar would give Ukraine a potential launching pad for future counter-offensives in south. This city is critical as it is located between Mariupol (75km to south) and Bakhmut (100 Km to North).
After Russians took over Crimea in 2014, Ukrainian soldiers dug trenches around the city of Vuhledar, as they knew sooner or later Russians will be knocking at the doors of Vuhledar, which is an important energy source for Ukraine. The place is a fortress now, surrounded by trenches.
Ukrainian soldiers who have control over the urban center of Vuhledar, which is located at a higher elevation, can spot Russian Armored vehicles rolling across the swathes of fields and forests outside the city. Once the lead tank hits a mine and explodes, rest of the column falls into disarray. At this point, vehicles which try to go around the lead vehicle or the one’s which retreat, risk running into mines, as there might be mines behind the column too. A stuck column of tanks then becomes an easy target for further attacks.
With the assistance of NATO, Ukrainians have improvised their strategies.
Mines are a gargantuan problem that Russians are faced with. Russian soldiers have confirmed that as they remove mines to facilitate the movement of their tanks, Ukrainians immediately lay more mines, exacerbating the situation.
According to a tweet posted on March 16 by the British Ministry of Defense, a factor of the Russia’s heavy losses in the Vuhledar sector has been Ukraine’s successful adoption of Remote-Anti-Armour Mine (RAAM) systems.
Ukraine has so far received 7200 RAAM shells in its aid packages from America since the war began last year.
RAAM is a special artillery shell that scatters anti-armour mines up to 17km away from the firing unit. Ukraine have been effectively launching these mines over and behind advancing Russian units, causing disarray when Russian vehicles attempted to withdraw. These are fired into positions using either the M109 series, M198 or M777 series howitzers. Ukrainians claim they used RAAM systems to annihilate the 155th Marine Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet.
Use of HIMARS:
Ukrainians have ditched their traditional mining strategy where soldiers manually laid mines and switched to using RAAMs. They claim to put HIMARS to good use against the Russian tank columns which are already in chaos due to an ambush. In one instance, Ukrainian commanders called in a strike by HIMAR guided rockets against tanks. HIMARS are usually used on stationary targets like ammunition depots or barracks, but HIMARS also proved effective against a stationary tank column too.
Drones and Tank combo:
Ukrainians have also been using drones for ambushes against tanks. Ukrainian Tanks stop few kilometers away from the ambush site, just out of range of return fire from Russians, and then shoot in coordination with the assistance of Ukrainian drone pilot, who gives them the exact location of the targets, which are not visible to the tank crew.
After multiple losses Russians changed their counterstrategies.
One of the biggest reasons Russians landed in a quandary in Vuhledar is the fact that the terrain works against those attacking the city of Vuhledar.
Another issue is that the Russian forces are working in tandem with DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) forces in Vuhledar. DPR forces lack coordination, which whittles down the Russian Army’s movement too.
Since the war has been going on for more than an year now, and both sides have lost many soldiers, a lot of the soldiers in the front are inexperienced. As the casualties increased, the morale of the soldiers on Russian side fighting in Vuhledar declined steadily.
Finally, the Russian forces called in for Air support. Russian Defence Ministry has recently released a dramatic footage of its forces making an advance in Vuhledar near the frontline in east Ukraine’s Donetsk region. The video shows Russian troops on ground attacking Ukrainian units with the assistance of Russian air support.
Vuhledar hasn’t fallen yet, just like Bakhmut where an intense fight has been going on since months.
Russian President, Putin, visited the fallen city of Mariupol few days ago. The video released by Russian media showed him driving a car to Mariupol, a city is just 75 kms away from Vuhledar. This is Russia’s way of rubbing salt into the injuries of Zelensky’s Army.
Ukrainains have their woes, like—they are losing skilled soldiers and replacing them with new recruits , who are then sent to the front. The tank crewmen are being trained on Western tanks in countries like Germany and Britain. Merely getting trained isn’t enough to fight a behemoth and experienced Army like that of Russia’s.
Russian media house Sputnik reported that Ukrainians dropped a munition carrying unidentified toxin on Russian soldiers fighting in the outskirts of Vuhledar. Soldiers effected, suffered lung burns and other symptoms of poisoning. Though Ukraine has denied the use of chemical munitions.
More than the tanks, drones, and other hi-tech weapons, it’s the strategy of psychologically demoralizing the opponent that has been used steadily by both Russia and Ukraine. A victory in Bakhmut and Vuhledar can change the game for Ukrainian Army, which would then eye the city of Mariupol. Meanwhile, like a tarantula that slowly feeds on it’s prey, Russian Army has readied multiple waves of soldiers to slowly bleed Ukrainian Army in a battle of attrition.