April 6, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukraine lacks ammunition to initiate counteroffensive operations — Zelenskyy

Institute for the Study of War

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that Ukraine does not have enough materiel to contest the battlefield initiative. Zelensky stated during an interview aired on April 6 that Ukrainian forces currently do not have enough ammunition to initiate and sustain future counteroffensive operations and reiterated that Ukrainian forces are currently using drones to partially compensate for artillery ammunition shortages across the theater. Zelensky stressed that Ukraine must conduct countermeasures to deprive Russian forces of the ability to prepare and conduct significant offensive efforts and not only rely on defensive operations. Zelensky stated that striking Russian force concentrations is one such countermeasure but that Ukrainian forces lack long-range weapons to strike Russian force concentrations and other targets necessary to undermine Russian operations. Senior Ukrainian officials have long called for timely and sustained Western military assistance that would enable Ukraine to conduct both defensive and counteroffensive operations when the timing is optimal for Ukraine to undertake such efforts, as opposed to having materiel shortages constrain Ukraine’s ability to plan and execute operations and losing opportunities to exploit Russian weaknesses. Zelensky recently stated that delays in security assistance forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia, and Ukrainian officials have warned that Ukraine cannot plan either a successful counteroffensive or defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive. ISW continues to assess that shortages in Western military assistance have forced Ukrainian forces to husband materiel, and Zelensky’s statement suggests that Ukrainian forces are now having to make difficult decisions about prioritizing certain aspects of its defense over constraining Russian military capabilities or preparing for counteroffensive operations. The New York Times similarly reported on April 5 that Ukrainian forces are close to running out of some types of munitions and that Ukrainian officials have observed a five-to-one Russian artillery advantage throughout the frontline. Ukrainian soldiers reportedly told the New York Times that Ukrainian forces currently have enough cluster munitions that are effective at repelling Russian infantry assaults but are low on high-explosive artillery shells needed to repel mechanized assaults.

Continued delays in US security assistance are specifically impacting the capabilities that Ukrainian forces need to respond to the increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi warned on April 6 that a particularly difficult situation has emerged east of Chasiv Yar and west of Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast, both areas where ISW has observed a recent intensification of Russian mechanized assaults ranging from platoon-sized to battalion-sized attacks. Syrskyi also observed that Russian forces are conducting platoon-, company-, and sometimes battalion-sized infantry assaults in separate directions. The Press Service of the Ukrainian Airborne Forces stated that Russian forces with massed armored vehicle support are still attempting to break through Ukrainian defenses west of Avdiivka despite not yet repeating mechanized assaults as large as the ones that they conducted in the area between March 29 and March 31. Geolocated footage published on April 6 indicates that elements of the Russian 90th Guards Tank Division (41st Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]) recently conducted a likely company-sized mechanized assault southeast of Umanske (west of Avdiivka), and a Ukrainian airborne assault brigade reported that its personnel destroyed 10 Russian tanks, five BMP infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), and a MT-LB IFV during 11 mechanized assaults in the area. Ukrainian forces have so far successfully repelled intensified Russian mechanized assaults throughout eastern Ukraine in the past week but have done so despite persisting materiel shortages.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that Ukraine does not have enough materiel to contest the battlefield initiative.
  • Zelensky stressed that additional Western security assistance is necessary for Ukrainian forces to effectively defend Ukraine’s airspace against the intensified Russian strike campaign and increased Russian aviation operations along the frontline.
  • Zelensky cautioned that the arrival of all promised F-16 fighter jets from Ukraine’s Western partners in 2024 will provide Ukraine with only 10 percent of the fighter aircraft Ukraine would need to completely defeat Russian aviation and restore Ukraine’s ability to operate effectively in the air domain.
  • Continued delays in US security assistance are specifically impacting the capabilities that Ukrainian forces need to respond to the increased tempo of Russian mechanized assaults in eastern Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin explicitly threatened its long-term ally Armenia on April 5 over Armenian outreach to the West following Russia’s failure to prevent Armenia’s loss of Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023.
  • The Russian MFA also continues to threaten Finland and claimed that Finland has “lost its independence in making foreign policy decisions” since its accession to NATO — a narrative that the Kremlin routinely used to falsely claim that NATO was controlling Ukraine and using Ukraine to threaten Russia.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov announced on April 5 that 3,000 former Wagner Group personnel will join the Akhmat Spetsnaz unit following successful negotiations between Akhmat and Wagner commanders.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Avdiivka and Donetsk City.
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