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Russian 'Shaping' Operations in Donbas Point to More Aggressive Plans in Future

April 18, 2022 | BY C. TODD LOPEZ , DOD News

Recent Russian activity in the Donbas region of Ukraine, the Defense Department believes, portends future, more aggressive operations, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing today. 

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"It's been, just over the last several days, you can see ... the Russians are doing what we call shaping," Kirby said. "They're trying to set the conditions for more aggressive, more overt and larger ground maneuvers in the Donbas." 

Those "shaping operations," Kirby said, involve putting more forces, enablers and command and control capability into the Donbas. 

"We have seen the Russians continue to flow in enablers, capabilities that will help them fight in the Donbas going forward," he said. "That's artillery, rotary aviation/helicopter support [and] command and control enablers. And we do believe that they have reinforced the number of battalion tactical groups in the east and the south of Ukraine." 

Kirby said the Department has seen the Russians add about 10 additional tactical groups over what they already had in the Donbas, though it's unclear for now where they are going. 

A large gun and soldiers are in silhouette.
Fire Mission
Soldiers prepare for a fire mission in order to register their new M198 155mm Howitzer at Forward Operating Base Boris, East Paktia, Afghanistan, August 8, 2009. The U.S. is sending 18 155mm howitzers to Ukraine as part of the latest security assistance package.
Photo By: Army Spc. Christopher Nicholas
VIRIN: 090808-A-D0439-194

The Russians have also brought in additional artillery to the Donbas region, Kirby said, and the Ukrainians are doing the same. Some of those artillery pieces will be American 155mm Howitzers — a total of 18 — which are part of the most recent $800 million security assistance drawdown package that was announced last week. Along with those howitzers come 40,000 rounds and some light training for a few Ukrainian artillerymen that should begin in the next few days. 

"That training will occur outside of Ukraine. It'll be more of a 'train-the-trainer's' kind of environment," Kirby told reporters. "It'll be a small number of Ukrainians that will be trained on the howitzers and then they will be reintroduced back into their country to train their colleagues." 

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Press Conference
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby speaks during a press briefing, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 18, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brittany A. Chase
VIRIN: 220418-F-BM568-1263

Kirby said Ukrainian forces are already familiar with how to use artillery, such as what the U.S. is sending. But the Ukrainian military, he said, uses 152mm shells, rather than 155mm shells. 

"They understand how to use artillery," he said. "We don't believe will take very long or require much detailed training to get them up to speed on American howitzers, an artillery piece, so I've been told, [that] is not unlike other artillery pieces. The basic outlines of the system are the same. We'll just have to get them up to speed on the particulars of our howitzers." 

A soldier interacts with the barrel of a large gun.
Howitzer Duty
Army Pfc. Johnny Reberon removes carbon deposits from the barrel of an M198 155mm Howitzer at Forward Operating Base Boris in East Paktya, Afghanistan, August 8, 2009. The U.S. is sending 18 155mm howitzers to Ukraine as part of the latest security assistance package.
Photo By: Army Spc. Christopher Nicholas
VIRIN: 090808-A-D0439-036

The artillery, Kirby said, was something the Ukrainians specifically asked for, and was something the U.S. provided in the latest security assistance package. Shipments from that package have already been sent to Ukraine. 

"That authorization from the president was on the 13th [of April]," Kirby said.  "The execute order was issued on the 14th. And on the 15th — two days later — the first shipment started arriving in the theater of stuff from that $800 million drawdown package ... That is unprecedented speed — 48 hours after authorization from the president — [the] first plane was on its way. And there have been subsequent shipments since then, almost a half a dozen."