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Videos of an artillery ambush show Russian tanks and armor making 'opening day mistakes' and paying the price for them

Ukrainian soldiers fire with D-30 artillery at Russian positions in the direction of Klishchiivka as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 12, 2023
Ukrainian soldiers fire D-30 artillery at Russian positions near Klishchiivka on August 12.Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • Videos of an apparent artillery ambush have emerged and show Russian forces taking heavy hits.

  • A retired US Army general said Russians were making "opening day mistakes" 18 months into the war.

  • Russian forces have made similar mistakes repeatedly in the war in Ukraine.

Videos of what looks like a very skillfully executed artillery ambush appear to show Russian armor forces making costly mistakes as the Ukrainians carry out what a retired US general called a "textbook" integration of combat capabilities.

In the videos — drone footage that was shared on social media by Ukraine war monitors and open-source intelligence accounts — a group of Russian tanks and armored vehicles can be seen moving into the open in an area around Klishchiivka in Donetsk. The ground is already noticeably scarred by previous exchanges of fire, and smoke seems to fill the air.

The Russian vehicles are running close together in a line when multiple explosions, some seemingly caused by mines and others by artillery strikes, tear through them. Cluster munitions appear to rain down in the aftermath.

In the resulting chaos, surviving troops can be seen running from burning vehicles and a Russian tank inexplicably fires toward another Russian vehicle, possibly because the gunner panicked or because a round cooked off in the barrel.

The clips of this single engagement posted online are just two of dozens of videos showing fierce and horrific combat in Ukraine that are shared every day, but they're telling about the conflict. Beyond simply showing what the war looks like, they speak to what each side is and is not learning about warfare.

Ukrainian soldiers fire with D-30 artillery at Russian positions in the direction of Klishchiivka, in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on August 13, 2023.
Ukrainian soldiers fire D-30 artillery at Russian positions near Klishchiivka on August 13.Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The video footage stood out to retired US Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Hodges, formerly the head of United States Army Europe.

"You've got the juxtaposition of what looks to me to be very, very well-trained professional artillery against a Russian formation that is not well-trained or not disciplined and didn't have the leaders making those soldiers do the right thing," he told Insider.

While coordinating fires and capabilities the way the Ukrainians do in the videos is no easy task, the Russians lightened the lift for them by bunching up close together in a line.

"The easiest way to destroy a formation is when they line up nice and neat for you," Hodges said.

When moving through an area that has potentially been mined, it may be necessary to follow behind the vehicle in front, but bunching up like the Russian vehicles do is a mistake. It's human nature when scared and surrounded by threats to circle the wagons, so to speak, but training and discipline are meant to break that.

"What has continued to amaze me after 18 months, since the so-called 'special military operation' started," is that "after all this time, they are still making opening day mistakes of not being dispersed," Hodges said.

"You can imagine the confusion" of this moment, he said of the Ukrainian ambush and resulting destruction, "and if you're not really trained and you're not really disciplined and you're not really confident about what's happening around you, it's terrifying."

"This is when mistakes happen," Hodges added.

A press officer who goes by callsign Damian looks at a destroyed Russian military vehicle in Novodarivka village, Zaporizhzhia Region, southeastern Ukraine.
A Ukrainian military press officer looks at a destroyed Russian vehicle in the village of Novodarivka in southeastern Ukraine.Ukrinform/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Unlike the Ukrainians, who spent years building a Western-style military structure, Russia lacks a similar corps of noncommissioned officers for battlefield decision-making. Furthermore, many experienced Russian units have been decimated by high casualties and filled with less-experienced troops. That dearth of leadership and experience, along with other issues, has been costly.

The problem with Russian tank formations is one that has been seen repeatedly.

During fighting near Vuhledar earlier this year, for instance, Russian forces drove tank and armor columns straight into Ukrainian ambushes, using some of the same flawed tactics seen the year prior, and the results were catastrophic.

The issues extend beyond armor operations. In just the past few weeks, Russia has put troops in vulnerable positions within range of Ukrainian HIMARS, left key supply routes unguarded, and left warships unprotected from known threats, among other failures.

And just the other day, after video footage of a Russian Ka-52 "Alligator" attack helicopter being shot down emerged, Hodges noted the way the aircraft was flying pointed to Russian inexperience, incompetence, and an inability to learn important lessons.

Ukrainian forces, of course, are not infallible, and mistakes have jeopardized operations, including the opening phase of the ongoing counteroffensive, according to experts who visited areas near the front.

In the early days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, for example, some less-experienced units found themselves disoriented, especially at night. They also moved the wrong way, and sometimes they ran into deadly minefields covered by defending Russian forces — traps not entirely unlike the ambush seen in the recent videos.

Additionally, Ukraine's indirect fire and assault operations were not always well coordinated, its troops didn't have adequate backup plans for when situations went sideways, and, at times, the element of surprise was forfeited by certain unforced errors.

In the aftermath of those early setbacks, the Ukrainians stepped back and adjusted their approach, making changes to the ways they advanced. They have been able to put increased pressure on the Russians through artillery and counter-battery fire and to adapt to major threats like Russia's attack helicopters, at least three of which were reportedly shot down last week.

Russia, which was expected to overpower and overrun Ukrainian defenses within weeks, if not days, of the start of the special military operation, has often demonstrated less flexibility and a limited ability to adapt.

As one expert told Insider, the Russians have a tendency to repeatedly "run teeth first into the problem" before going looking for a solution.

Read the original article on Business Insider