Russia Grinds on in Bakhmut

Russian forces continue to grind forward in street-by-street fighting in the decimated eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Having apparently consolidated control over a railway station near the city’s center, Russian troops are slowly pushing deeper into the part of western Bakhmut still controlled by Ukraine. 

Last week, Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukrainian troops in the country’s east, said Russia had intensified its artillery fire and air strikes in Bakhmut. Ukrainian soldiers reported that Russia continued to pound the city with artillery and from the air. “Little by little,” Russian forces “are nibbling away little pieces” of Bakhmut, a Ukrainian deputy battalion commander in the city said, adding that the Ukrainian forces there “are starved for shells.”

Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut remain at risk of encirclement. Russian forces may have — at least temporarily — severed the road running from western Bakhmut to nearby Chasiv Yar, although a Ukrainian counterattack may have retaken the lost positions. Regardless, Ukrainian vehicles using the road remain threatened by direct Russian fire. Ukraine continues to repulse Russian assaults in the nearby town of Ivanivske, which straddles the T0504 highway connecting Bakhmut to Kostyantynivka.

Iran Supplying Artillery Ammunition to Russia

The Wall Street Journal reported on April 24 that Iran has provided Russia with more than 300,000 artillery shells and a million rounds of other types of ammunition over the last six months. Russian cargo ships ferry the ammunition from Iran to Russia via the Caspian Sea. According to Middle Eastern officials and shipping data cited by The Journal, the most recent known shipment occurred in March.

Russia’s military relies heavily on artillery, as does Ukraine. During Moscow’s campaign in the Donbas last year, Russian artillery fire peaked at 20,000 to 60,000 shells per day, depending on whom you ask. But Russia and Ukraine face shortages of artillery ammunition, forcing them to conserve. The most recent estimates indicate Russia is firing 10,000 to 15,000 artillery shells daily, while Ukraine is firing 3,000 to 7,000. U.S. intelligence believes Moscow will need “substantial third-party ammunition supplies … to sustain the current level of offensive operations in the coming months,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in March.

The Journal’s story tracks with previous allegations of Iranian artillery ammunition shipments to Russia. Moscow has also sought artillery shells and rockets from China, Egypt and North Korea. But there has been no sign Beijing or Cairo have actually sent ammunition to Russia, while U.S. officials have indicated that Pyongyang has given Moscow only relatively small-scale deliveries. While the quantities transferred by Tehran are not necessarily game-changing, The Journal report, if accurate, indicates Iranian supplies account for a substantial part of Russia’s daily expenditure rate.

Visual Confirmation That Switchblade 600 Has Reached Ukraine

A video taken by Russian troops, and posted to social media, shows what appears to be the remains of a U.S.-made loitering munition, or “suicide drone,” called the Switchblade 600. If supplied sufficiently, this weapon can help Ukraine destroy Russian armored vehicles, artillery pieces and air defense systems at or behind the front lines.

Last year, the United States had already supplied Ukraine with the Switchblade 600’s smaller cousin, the Switchblade 300. But the latter’s small warhead renders it ineffective against armored vehicles. The 600 variant uses the same warhead as the Javelin anti-tank guided missile, with which Ukrainian forces have destroyed numerous Russian tanks and other armored vehicles. The larger version also offers much better range and endurance.

A Pentagon representative confirmed last May that the administration intended to procure the Switchblade 600 for Ukraine. The following September, the Defense Department finally awarded a contract for an initial 10 Switchblade 600s, which likely arrived in Ukraine later that year. On February 24, the administration pledged to procure additional Switchblade 600s, but it didn’t specify how many or when they might arrive. Russian and Ukrainian sources subsequently asserted that Kyiv had received the Switchblade 600. Still, the April 20 video provides the first visual confirmation.

Russia has also employed loitering munitions in Ukraine, most notably the Lancet. Russian forces appear to have begun employing the Lancet more frequently in recent months, mainly targeting Ukrainian artillery pieces as well as radars and air defense systems. The Russian military also uses Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 suicide drones to strike predetermined targets, such as critical infrastructure. On Tuesday, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Russia had begun employing a new tactic: using Shahed drones to draw out Ukrainian air defense systems, then targeting them with the Lancet.