Colonel Markus Reisner sees the fighting for Avdiivka as reaching a turning point. In the next few days we will see whether Ukraine launches relief attacks there, as it did in the battle for Bakhmut last year. “That will decide the fate of the city.”
Currently in Avdiivka it is about the localized fight for a city. In the future, however, Reisner sees Ukraine under massive pressure. “If Ukraine fails to continue to counter the pressure from the Russians, if it doesn’t get the ammunition it needs, then that could actually lead to a Russian breakthrough.”
ntv.de: What is the situation in Avdiivka? Are the Ukrainians fighting in a cauldron there?
Markus Reisner: In military terms, this is not a closed cauldron, as the Ukrainian soldiers are not completely surrounded by the enemy. What we see here is more of a so-called operational closing of a boiler. The two Russian pincers moving toward each other are already capable of controlling the terrain between them by fire.
Does that mean there is still an entrance, but it is under attack?
That’s the problem. In the northwest, the Russians have driven a wedge between the urban area and the coking plant. This wedge now touches the O0542 road, so that flow to and from Avdiivka is hardly possible anymore. South of this road are only fields and windbreaks. That would be the only way for the Ukrainians to get out on a massive scale now.
Is there a threat of a Russian breakthrough beyond Avdiivka?
Currently not. This is about the local fight for the city. This already came to a head last year as a result of a Russian pincer movement. Even then, Avdiivka was about to be captured by Russian troops. By relocating forces and counterattacking, the Russians were brought to a halt. For this purpose, the 47th mechanized brigade was brought from the Robotyne area to Avdiivka – the brigade that is equipped with Leopard and Bradley main battle tanks. She managed to push back the Russians’ northwestern pincer movement; in the southern part it was the 53rd Mechanized Brigade. But the Russians have also concentrated their forces in Avdiivka. We had the same situation almost a year ago in Bakhmut, even though this city is much larger than Avdiivka.
At that time, President Zelenskyj really wanted to keep Bakhmut.
Of course, the pressure is now very high for the new commander-in-chief, Olexander Syrskyj. He has to show that he is capable of getting things moving on the front line. Especially since President Zelensky says he doesn’t want stagnation on the front. General Syrskyj is seen as someone who stubbornly implements orders in the interests of the political leadership. Syrsky was also responsible for the fighting for Bakhmut. The then commander-in-chief Valeriy Zalushnyj, whom Zelenskyj has just fired, advocated a withdrawal to the heights west of the city – to where the Ukrainians are now. However, the Ukrainian government’s perspective was that although Ukraine suffered heavy losses in Bakhmut, Russian losses were much higher. We now have such a situation in Avdiivka. In the next few days we will see whether there are relief attacks there like in Bakhmut. That will decide the fate of the city.
According to a calculation by military expert Gustav Gressel and data analyst Marcus Welsch for the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung”, Russia has had a superiority of three to one to seven to one in the supply of artillery shells in the past three months. How is it even possible for Ukraine to hold the defensive line in the face of such inferiority?
This is something that has increased massively in the last fourteen days: the so-called ammunition hunger. The term comes from the time of the First World War. By the way, there was also an ammunition crisis in Great Britain back then, in 1915, which could only be solved by nationalizing the British arms industry. Today, the causes of Ukraine’s ammunition crisis are primarily disputes in the US Congress and a lack of delivery capacity. The European Union originally wanted to deliver one million artillery shells to Ukraine by March. Now it will only be half that, the date for the million has been set back. It is now having a massive impact on the front. The hunger for ammunition is increasingly becoming the biggest problem for the Ukrainian troops. The Russians produced massive amounts of ammunition last year, probably two million artillery shells. There are also a million artillery shells from North Korea. According to my information, there are currently an average of 10,000 Russian shells for every 2,000 Ukrainian shells. The Ukrainians are trying to make up for this deficiency by using first-person view drones.
But that is not enough?
With FPV drones, Ukraine can only reach targets up to two kilometers away. This means that no effective counter-fire against the Russian artillery units is possible. In addition, Ukraine can hardly use anti-aircraft systems at the front because they are needed to protect the rear. But this means that the Russians can drop the so-called UMPK bombs from a safe distance. These are basically stupid bombs that are made glide using kits. British intelligence reports that the Russians have used 600 such glide bombs in Avdiivka in the last four weeks. This also puts Ukraine under enormous pressure. At the weekend I received messages from Ukrainian comrades at the front. They sound really desperate now because they no longer have any ammunition with which to keep the Russians at bay.
Does this mean that the front will become fragile if supplies are not received soon?
The balance between the Russians’ material and the Ukraine’s counterfire was always fragile. Help for Ukraine came primarily through the use of Western systems, which seem very precise compared to the Russian systems. Western support enabled the Ukrainians to target Russian artillery positions in a very targeted manner, while the Russians have always used a massed use of artillery because their guns are not as accurate.
A week ago you said, .
It is now fifteen kilometers deep, sometimes up to six kilometers deep. The Ukrainians are no longer able to hold back the Russians at critical points, as they have been able to do in the last few months. Russia has around 500,000 troops deployed in Ukraine. Between Kupyansk and Zaporizhzhia there are six groups of corps strength, i.e. with 25,000 to 30,000 men each. In terms of size alone, they are forcing Ukraine to use its reserves. This will increase in the next few weeks because the presidential election is coming up in Russia in March. Before that, Putin wants to have success – at least Avdiivka, possibly even more.
The Times recently wrote that Ukrainian defense planners assume that in the worst case scenario, for example if there is no help from the USA, they can stop the Russians at the Dnipro. Is this the worst case scenario, a Russian advance to the Dnipro?
This river is actually the Ukrainians’ most resilient defense line. That’s why the Russians tried to get a foothold on the other side right at the beginning of their attack, and why the Ukrainian army tried so vehemently to push them out of the area around the city of Kherson, which they succeeded in doing. If Ukraine fails to continue to counter the pressure from the Russians, if it does not get the ammunition it needs, then this could actually lead to a Russian breakthrough. That’s how precarious the situation is at the moment. And this applies not only to the tactical-operational battlefield, but also to the strategic component, the ongoing air strikes. Since February 1, Ukraine has experienced airstrikes every night except three days, including one major airstrike using cruise missiles and drones in combination. If this continues, there is a risk that Ukraine will not be able to achieve what it has set out to do this year, namely to ramp up arms production again.
They repeatedly refer to the level of information warfare. What do you think of the interview that Putin gave to US presenter Tucker Carlson? Can the Kremlin count this as a success or is it not so relevant when a dictator repeats historical fake news for hours?
Look at how many people have seen this interview by now.
Not everyone believes.
That’s of course true, many people will have just watched it to get an idea. But you must not forget that the war between Ukraine and Russia is portrayed by Russia as a conflict between the global North and the global South. Russia is clearly succeeding in getting the global south on its side, because otherwise, without China and without India, the Russian defense industry would no longer be able to produce. Tucker Carlson gave Putin a platform to repeat his propaganda narrative for two hours. This is a success for Russia.
Trump’s comments over the weekend about NATO have reignited the debate about Germany’s defense capability.
This is also an aspect of information warfare that helps the Russians: If a possible future US president says that Putin should go ahead and get everything he believes he is entitled to, then the West or the global North does not give a good picture away. At the same time, the condition of many armed forces in NATO countries is certainly not good. Nevertheless, the past two years have mostly been reassuring: We don’t have to worry, the Russians are amateurs, they are militarily inferior to us. And now we see that the Russians are advancing and we have nothing left to deliver to Ukraine.
Is the Bundeswehr on the right track or is Defense Minister Pistorius a “phantom giant,” as a CDU defense politician says?
As an Austrian, it is not my place to give Germany good advice. But I can make a second diagnosis like a doctor. My diagnosis is that the German Defense Minister sees what has been left behind over the last few decades. The stocks are neither sufficient for deliveries to Ukraine nor for the Bundeswehr’s own armed forces. That’s why Boris Pistorius is sounding the alarm. One NATO country after another is reminding its people that this is really serious. The Scandinavians and Balts were the first to start it. Meanwhile, the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, General Carsten Breuer, has also said that the Bundeswehr must be ready for war in five years.
That doesn’t mean that the first Russian tanks will soon be on their way to Berlin. But we are already in the preliminary stages of war – cognitive warfare, which involves influencing elections and the like. We are right in the middle of it instead of just there. Many of our populations don’t even notice this. They willingly adopt the propaganda of our opponents. Our governments, on the other hand, are losing the sovereignty of interpretation. If we want to be prepared for the future, we have to make massive efforts now. We must not present an image of weakness to our opponents. This only makes them more aggressive. The situation is serious. This needs to be spoken out. Nobody should say they didn’t know.
Hubertus Volmer spoke to Markus Reisner