The Australian government is sending artillery and ammunition to Ukraine as Russia appears to prepare for a protracted battle in the east.
Australia is providing six M777 155mm lightweight, towed howitzers and 155mm howitzer ammunition to Ukraine, on top of 20 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles, 14 protected weapons systems, anti-armour weapons and ammunition, military equipment, combat rations, medical supplies and financial contributions.
"The Australian Government will continue to identify opportunities for further military assistance where it is able to provide a required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces expeditiously," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
The decision to export howitzers to Ukraine reflects the importance of long-range fire to Ukraine's defence against Russian armour. In a recent report from the Royal United Services Institute, a senior adviser to General Valerii Zaluzhnyi – the commander of the Ukrainian armed forces – said ‘anti-tank missiles slowed the Russians down, but what killed them was our artillery. That was what broke their units.'
Although the effectiveness of long-range fire partly came through the confinement of Russian armour to Ukrainian highways, a situation that is unlikely to be repeated in the more open terrain of the east, Ukraine has also demonstrated better targeting capabilities through local intelligence, special forces and UAVs.
The supply also comes as Russia begins to prepare its population for a protracted conflict. RUSI's source include documents from within the Russian government, which show a decision in mid-March to 'ideologically mobilise the Russian public for war' through creating a false sense of territorial threat. With greater public support, it will be less politically costly for the Russian government to mobilise larger numbers of troops for the offensive to capture eastern Ukraine.
The Russian documents cited by RUSI also indicate a conflict between the FSB and the Russian military as each seeks to blame the other for failures in Ukraine. As the FSB seeks to regain influence, the team responsible for Moldova (the 11th Unit of the Department for Operational Information) is believed to be fostering political unrest in that country. Russia has a brigade of troops stationed in Transnistria, which are currently isolated from resupply and of little current utility to Putin's war in Ukraine.