A Hurricane in the East: are rebels getting BM-27 ‘Uragan’ Rocket Systems?

UraganUS intelligence sources are claiming that Russia has actually stepped up its material support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, including heavier rocket systems. I suspect these may the BM-27 Uragan (‘Hurricane’) systems, the very kind that Moscow has been criticising Kyiv for using in recent days. This is a truck-mounted multiple-tube rocket launcher system akin to the previously-used BM-21 Grad on steroids, able to ripple-fire its 16 220mm rockets in 20 seconds. As such, it represents a substantial upgrade to rebel firepower.

A few quick observations.

1. OK, so maybe Putin won’t be backing away from the rebels…but it may be the storm before the calm. A willingness to supply heavy hardware, coupled with the uncompromising rhetoric from the Kremlin, does suggest that Putin has chosen not to back away from his adventure in eastern Ukraine. However, it’s not impossible that the hope is that allowing the rebels to give Kyiv’s forces a bloody nose will allow Moscow to negotiate some terms for a ‘peace with honour’ extrication from the mess on stronger terms, given that at present, between the seizure of Slovyansk and the moral charge provided by MH17, the Ukrainian government is in unyielding mood. This can be disastrous (witness Russia clinging on in WW1 in the hope that “next battle” would provide one such victory), but can work.

2. The government forces outnumber the rebels, but their key advantages are airpower and long-range artillery. With systems such as the now-infamous Buk and the BM-27, Moscow is clearly trying to neutralise them (the BM-27 is a useful counterbattery weapon, able to silence Ukrainian guns). The idea is presumably to put Kyiv into the situation of facing a nasty–and higher-casualty–old-fashioned close-quarters battle in Donetsk if it wants to wipe out the rebels, hoping that Poroshenko won’t be willing to accept the costs. (Though I suspect he would, if need be.)

3. This would make the rebels more dependent on Moscow. Larger, higher-tech kit like the BM-27 needs maintenance, spare parts, etc. They also need ample ammunition to be effective, and unlike assault rifle rounds, these aren’t widely available in looted stockpiles and the black market. This gives Moscow more potential authority over the rebels, and also embeds the Russians more deeply in the fight.

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  1. Good interesting article as always.

    The alternative is that he continues to supply the rebels with more and more and better and better equipment, weathers the storm over MH-17, further sanctions and where there is strong evidence they are now involved in directly supporting the terrorists by firing rockets over the border and there is also speculation that they shot down the two SU25’s a few days a go. It will be a case of supporting the terrorists, so they don’t lose but they are also unlikely to win (or sustain a federated area) where they have no popular support from the local ethnic Russian or Ukrainian population or the humanitarian situation and civilian casualties get much worse, so Putin invades by other means by sending in a ‘peace keeping’ force.

    Where Putin has a tacit agreement with his supporters that they are prepared to put up with their loss of freedom of speech, free media, Internet and elections along with strong property rights and an independent judiciary in return for ever increasing living standards, he has a problem where the Russian economy is currently flat-lining at best and likely to get worse as the result of sanctions, soft energy prices and very little modernization of their economy. Crimea and other military adventures provide a popularity boosting detraction and excuses where Russian global assertion has costs, he can say they are worth it where where Russia and their ‘interests’ are projected on to the top rung of the world’s stage.

    By bleeding Ukraine dry economically, it will require continued Western support and he can point at Ukraine and say that’s what happens if you join the west. His nightmare scenario is a successful Ukraine with stronger more efficient public services, lower corruption, a modernising growing economy which makes the country and people richer. Putin’s critics will I’m sure be quick to point out you can have it all with increasing living standards and individual freedoms and human rights. This will make protests and a Russian Maiden much more likely.

    The risks to Putin are that Russia is increasingly treated as a the pariah, gangster, state that supports international terrorism, that it is, and is treated by the international community accordingly.

    Western Europe needs to urgently increase their weaning off of Russian energy, along with the construction of the facilities to import more LPG from other sources and greater gas storage (the latter particularly in the UK), so they are no longer so dependent on Putin and it weakens the Russian economy. Determined efforts here will see the Western Europe market disappear to Russia, before the infrastructure for Putin’s Chinese deals can be completed.

    I read yesterday that the US may give Ukraine favoured nation status and military support, how would this change the current situation?

    Sadly for the Ukrainian people, I can’t see a fast ending to this Russian invasion and unacceptable interference to their right to self determination. The Ukrainian people had a very bad 20th century where they were part of the Soviet Union and the 21st century is now not looking good where they live next door to the ‘neighbour from hell’.

  2. Mark, why do you think the US is being so reluctant to release satellite data that they say is a major part of evidence for Russia’s transgressions?

    They say they have detected an IR event from the missile launch that brought down MH17 (presumably from their space-based IR sats), and imagery showing deployment of these new self-propelled rocket launchers near the border.

    I’m not being cynical, and I genuinely believe that they do have such data, I’m just curious to know what their plans are. Waiting to see what Europe will do first? Afraid of revealing sensitive satellite capabilities to any potential adversaries?

    • Mark Galeotti

       /  July 26, 2014

      I have no inside knowledge but suspect it’s that last point – but to be honest a desire to protect its secrets ought in this case to take second place to showing its evidence, in my opinion

  3. Mark, like you, a week ago I nursed the feint hope that some good might actually come from the sickening tragedy of the MH17 disaster in the form of the emergence (for the first time) of some sort of resolve in Europe to actually stand up to Russian aggression.

    I am surprised that the experience of the past week has not completely extinguished any such hope. A week ago we witnessed the murder of almost 300 Western and Malay civilians (many of them children) in a single incident by Russian agents waging a despicable war of territorial expansion in eastern Ukraine. The deaths of large numbers of Western Europeans was not foreseen in even the worst case scenarios contemplated by Western leaders. And the response? A slight dialing up of the rhetoric of righteous indignation … and nothing more.

    Ukraine is very much on its own. The only question is whether they have the fight in them (and the resources) to preserve Ukraine on their own.

  4. I wonder if his ultimate strategy may be to create an enclave on the Russian border, with artillery like the Uragan just inside, and armoured vehicles behind every bush. There may be enough idiots to fight to the last man in Donetsk, but that’s a long supply line. Also a steep learning curve for anyone who operates the heavy weapons he’s belatedly introduced. His calculation now may be that he’s in so deep his only option is to keep the crisis going, albeit in a limited, more or less stable form. The economy can only get worse, and he may have to start finding ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people’ to keep any opposition quiet. If he stops pedalling now, he’s in for a really nasty fall.

  5. Every time the Ukrainian army makes significant progress, Russia escalates its support for the separatists. It appears that the ATO is fairly close to retaking key territories, thus, making it necessary to ask if an overt Russian invasion in the guise of a peacekeeping operation is being prepared? http://www.ukrainebusiness.com.ua/news/12634.html

    Given the attacks on Ukrainian mayors following the publication of the most recent European personal sanctions list (which included Russian security officials, perhaps signalling an impending diminution in cooperation between Russian and Western security officials), it is also necessary to consider whether Russian escalation will include a concerted state-sponsored terror phase.

  6. Reblogged this on Dave Page and commented:
    It does appear as though Putin does want to conquer the Ukraine completely but these can be taken out unless they are putting them into residential areas, as they apparently did before.

  1. A Hurricane in the East: Are Rebels Getting BM-27 ‘Uragan’ Rocket Systems?

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