Kyiv has been successful at the front, but airstrikes on critical infrastructure are becoming increasingly dangerous for Ukraine. The anti-aircraft defense is under pressure, and above all ammunition is running low.
Destroying what it cannot have: Nine months after the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin's army no longer even pretends to primarily target military targets. As the first winter of the war begins, two important factors become apparent. For one thing, Russia seeks to wipe out life in its neighboring country. "Ukraine without Ukrainians," is what Wladimir Klitschko, Kiev's mayor, calls this goal. To this end, Moscow's army repeatedly attacks critical infrastructure in Ukraine, initially mostly with drones and shortly thereafter with rockets and cruise missiles. And "critical" in winter means nothing more than essential for survival.
When the high-voltage lines that were supposed to bring energy from the power plants into the country are shredded, when the substations that would have to convert the electricity to lower voltages are reduced to rubble, large parts of the country are left without electricity - not only the homes, but also the hospitals , the drinking water supply, the combined heat and power plants. Again and again the Ukrainians manage to repair or replace cables and transformers. But how often in a winter that is just beginning?
"We know that the Russian armed forces have very precise knowledge of the supply infrastructure. It's a Soviet supply infrastructure," explains Brigadier General Christian Freuding in the Bundeswehr's "Demand" video format. Accordingly, the army proceeds according to the existing plans for their destruction. It was "planned through," says Freuding.
So these rocket attacks on Ukraine's vast hinterland are nothing more than Russian warfare, as calculated as the capture of Mariupol or the Lyman pocket were. It just takes place at a different level: not at the "tactical-operational" level, as the military calls everything that happens on the battlefield - the advance, the capture of a city, the offensive to drive back the enemy.
Rather, Russia is currently scoring on what the military calls the "strategic" level, where wartime opponents try to harm themselves in a way that hinders the opponent from continuing the war or even robs him of this ability altogether.
The Austrian military historian Markus Reisner sees a paradoxical situation here, when the Russian army, despite the retreat from Cherson and very slow gains in Donbass, can take the initiative at the strategic level. "We have successes in Ukraine on an operational level, but these are being nullified by the strategic attacks by the Russians. The Ukrainians are sitting in Cherson, but they are sitting there in the dark," said Reisner on ZDF.
The problem is the massiveness of the airstrikes, which often include 100 drones, rockets and cruise missiles. If the anti-aircraft systems intercept 70 of them, then 30 will still hit the target, and with far greater precision than many people initially gave them credit for. Since the Ukrainian air defense systems themselves are also the target of Russian attacks, they are under pressure. And there is always a lack of ammunition.
"Ammunition that you can no longer find in Ukraine and that is also not manufactured in Europe. That's why we have to switch to European or American systems," is Reisner's plea, and has been for many weeks. And even with ammunition for western systems, the stores are limited to his knowledge.
Freuding, who heads the Bundeswehr situation center in Ukraine, points out that the artillery fire systems supplied by Germany, such as the 14 Panzerhaubitzen 2000, also included "a lot of ammunition, tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition". However, it is less impressive when the CDU foreign politician Roderich Kiesewetter says about artillery ammunition that the Ukraine uses "5,000 to 6,000 rounds a day". Then the stocks supplied by Germany are little more than a few daily rates for a war that is forecast to last for months, if not years.
Kiesewetter sees the Ukrainian army's shortage of ammunition as a problem that the federal government could and should have considered earlier. Because Ukraine, which has to defend itself against a brutal and militarily superior aggressor, has no choice but to wear out its devices. Also the German weapons, which according to Kiesewetter are only "prepared for practice in Germany". Now they are in constant use. "When ammunition is missing, other ammunition is used, which causes particular pollution," says the foreign expert, describing practice at the front, which in turn contributes to the fact that German military equipment repeatedly fails completely.
"We let the months of March, April and May pass by," states Kiesewetter. Early demands to order spare parts and ammunition were not implemented. Especially the tubes for the howitzers would have a long delivery time. "One decided too naively, too late."
From mid-December there will at least be the opportunity to get the device running again just across the Slovakian border in a repair hub that is currently being set up. However, according to Colonel Reisner, the frequent shortage of ammunition cannot be solved in the short term. Because just as the devices are not set up for continuous use in war, the armaments industry has also set up its capacities for peacetime.
Unlike Russia, which has probably been planning its attack for years, Europe was not prepared for this war. And even now, from Reisner's point of view, the West is finding it difficult to do more than "alleviate suffering and hardship with small deliveries." What is missing are purchase guarantees that the armaments industry could rely on, so that investments are worthwhile.
"We have to start up our armaments factories, if they still exist," says the Austrian colonel, "and try to produce what Ukraine needs." A commitment that makes sense, especially given the unpredictable duration of the war. Such an initiative would clearly go beyond the support currently officially planned by Germany.