The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has reached a critical juncture, with the exodus of Russian troops casting a shadow over Vladimir Putin’s military campaign.
In its latest update on the Ukraine war, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) underscored the significance of the battle for air supremacy and shed light on the challenges faced by Russian forces on the ground.
The MoD highlighted the intense struggle between Russia and Ukraine to overcome each other’s ground-based air defence systems, a contest deemed as one of the most pivotal aspects of the war.
At the forefront of this battle is the SA-15 Tor short-range surface-to-air missile system, operated by Russian army air defence units. The SA-15 plays a critical and largely effective role, boasting a maximum range of 15 km and serving as the frontline protector of ground troops.
However, it noted a critical limitation—the endurance of the SA-15’s crew.
The update read: “The efforts of both Russia and Ukraine to overcome their adversary’s ground-based air defence systems continue to be one of the most important contests of the war.
“On the Russian side, the SA-15 Tor short-range surface-to-air missile system (SAM) is playing a critical and largely effective role.
“With a maximum range of 15 km, the SA-15 is operated by the Russian army air defence units and is designed to protect the front line of ground troops.
“This is in contrast with other short-range systems, such as SA-22 Pantsir, which are operated by Russian Aerospace Forces and typically protects command nodes, longer-range SAMs, and air bases.
“Effectively acting as the front line of Russia’s elaborate air defence network in Ukraine, the SA-15 is currently particularly utilised to counter Ukrainian uncrewed aerial vehicle operations.
“One of the key limitations of the system in the current war is likely the endurance of its crew.
“With an established allocation of only three personnel to each system, maintaining a high state of alert for extended periods is highly likely proving an extreme test of endurance.”
The exodus of Russian soldiers has reached alarming proportions, reflecting a disheartening reality for Putin’s military ambitions. Independent sources, such as Mediazone, have reported a substantial increase in criminal cases related to desertion. A staggering 2,076 cases were initiated in the first half of 2023, marking a twofold increase from the previous year and three times higher than prewar figures in 2021.
The exodus of troops not only undermines the morale and efficacy of the Russian military but also exposes the vulnerability of Putin’s leadership on the international stage. The surge in desertion cases reflects a palpable dissatisfaction among Russian conscripts, who seem increasingly willing to risk legal consequences in order to escape the perils of the conflict.
The Kremlin’s attempts to suppress information about the true extent of military activities only heighten the uncertainty surrounding the actual number of desertions. The discrepancy between official figures and the grim reality on the ground further erodes public trust in the government’s narrative.