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Ukraine hits Russia hard with US rocket systems, war rages in east

American-supplied rocket systems are in action in Ukraine and hitting Russian targets far from the front lines. Kyiv says it is planning a major counteroffensive to retake southern territory lost to Russia.

(CN) — With the arrival of advanced U.S. rocket systems on the battlefield, Ukraine is claiming success in its effort to slow the advance of Russian forces and turn the tide of the war in its favor.

For the past several days, Ukraine has fired a barrage of missiles from U.S.-supplied rocket systems at Russian command posts, ammunition depots and other targets far the front lines.

The U.S. has sent eight high mobility artillery rocket systems, known as HIMARS, to Ukraine with four more on their way. The United Kingdom, Germany and Norway are expected to send nine more similar rocket systems. The HIMARS are mobile systems that shoot guided missiles with a range of about 50 miles. The shipment of these advanced weapons angered the Kremlin and escalated tensions.

Kyiv also says it is massing a million-strong fighting force to retake southern parts of Ukraine seized by Russian troops. Russia is now in control of a large swath of territory that extends from Kherson on the Black Sea to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Fighting continued on Wednesday in eastern Ukraine with Russian forces making small advances in recent days in the region of Donetsk, one of two regions at the heart of the conflict. After 140 days of fighting, Russia has occupied about 20% of Ukraine.

But combat has slowed in recent days, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington military think tank, said in its most recent analysis. It said Russian forces were in a “theater-wide operational pause” as they “regroup, rest, refit, and reconstitute” and “bombard critical areas to set conditions for future ground offensives; and conduct limited probing attacks.”

Civilian deaths caused by both sides continue to mount.

On Saturday night, Russia was accused of shelling a five-story apartment building in Chasiv Yar, a town of some 12,000 people in the middle of fighting over the Donetsk region. By Wednesday, 47 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, according to Ukrainian officials.

Ukraine was accused of launching HIMARS missiles that killed at least seven people and wounded about 90 others in Nova Kakhovka, a city of 45,000 people in the southern region of Kherson under the control of Russia. Regional military officials said the attack destroyed 65 houses, three factories and more than 200 stores. Ukraine said it was targeting an ammunition depot there.

In this 2011 file photo, a launch truck fires the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) produced by Lockheed Martin during combat training in the high desert of the Yakima Training Center in Washington state. (Tony Overman/The Olympian via AP, File)

The deployment of the HIMARS is raising Ukraine's confidence.

“The occupiers have already felt very well what modern artillery is, and they will not have a safe rear anywhere on our land, which they occupied,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly message Tuesday.

Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the Luhansk region, which is now fully under the control of Russia, boasted in a Newsweek interview that Russia is “in panic mode” over strikes by HIMARS.

“As the whole world has seen over the past week or so, we have been able to inflict massive damage to their missile defense systems and ammunition storage facilities deep behind the enemy lines,” Haidai said. He said this “was largely down to the variety of weapons we have recently received from the West. And when we have sufficient amounts of such weaponry, we will be able to carry out further counterattacks.”

In an interview with the Times newspaper, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine will be able to retake southern territories from Russia once it is better equipped with Western advanced weapons and amassed a million-strong fighting force. He said Zelenskyy has given the military an order to conduct a counteroffensive in the south.

Reznikov said Ukraine needs more sophisticated weapons from the West.

“We need more, quickly, to save the lives of our soldiers. Each day we’re waiting for howitzers, we can lose a hundred soldiers,” he said.

Ukrainian forces are also being trained by NATO. Britain says it is training 10,000 troops every 120 days. The U.S. is also training Ukrainians on how to use the HIMARS.

“We are sure the anti-Kremlin coalition was born. Our partners in London and Washington, D.C., and other capitals, they are invested in us, not only with money but the expectations of their people that we have to make the Kremlin lose. We have to win this war together,” Reznikov said.

Reznikov said Russia must not only be defeated but also broken apart into smaller countries. In the West, it's become common to say Russia, like other former empires, needs to be “decolonized” and split into smaller republics. Russia, of course, views such rhetoric coming from the West as an existential threat and confirmation that the U.S. has long harbored such designs.

“I’m sure that in the next few years we will see a procession of calls for sovereignty on Russian territory. The Russian Federation will finish its life as different countries — Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, etc.,” he told the Times.

Still, it remains far from clear what direction the war will take and how big of an effect the HIMARS and other high-end weapon systems will have.

Mick Ryan, a retired major general in the Australian army and military analyst at Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the HIMARS “are awesome” for Ukraine but that “some perspective is required before expectations for their impact get too overblown.”

“They are attacking the Russian weak points once again – its railway centric logistics, its over talkative battlefield generals, and its over reliance on massed artillery to advance in the east,” Ryan said in comments on Twitter.

“Beyond the physical, there is a psychological impact. Now, a much greater proportion of the invading Russian force falls within the radius that can be attacked,” he said. “They will have seen its impact, on social media and in person.”

But he added that “we must not cast the HIMARS as the wonder weapon that will change the tide of the war … HIMARS is having an important impact and will continue to do so, but it alone will not win this war.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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