Yesterday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a criminal recidivist and the owner of the Wagner PMC, released a video message berating Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as “bitches stuffing their pockets in offices”. In the video, he alleged that they were limiting the supply of shells, and warned that his PMC would withdraw from Bakhmut by May 10 unless the shells were delivered. In an interview with The Insider, military expert Leonid Dmitriev said that the Russian troops are experiencing a shortage of shells, and may soon be forced to retreat regardless of the demands of Prigozhin, Gerasimov, and Shoigu.
Despite Prigozhin's claims, the scarcity the Russian forces are facing is not of shells, but of people. While it remains uncertain whether Prigozhin will make good on his earlier threat to leave Bakhmut on May 10 (having previously threatened to do so on May 5), such a decision would likely be driven more by political considerations than shell supply. However, the current lack of shells is a significant challenge for the Russian military. Though stocks are still at around 60% of pre-invasion levels, the problem lies in logistics rather than availability.
Russia continues to fight using outdated tactics from the 1930s, while Ukraine employs a more strategic approach. When faced with the decision to strike a tank or a fuel tanker, Ukraine chooses to hit the latter. As a result, tanks, which consume up to a thousand liters of fuel per hour, are immobilized after a few hours, and its gun may even become inoperable due to dead batteries. Ukraine has been disabling ammunition and fuel depots at a faster rate than Russia can replenish them, effectively hindering Russia's military capabilities.
As per regulations, shells are typically stored about 60 kilometers from the front line, with a battery requiring around 500 shells per day. However, due to sustained HIMARS attacks, these storage sites must now be relocated much farther away, around 150-200 kilometers instead of 60. The same holds true for fuel supplies - to meet the needs of a battalion, around 12 fuel tankers are required to operate continuously. However, these tankers must now travel much farther, up to 200 kilometers instead of the usual 60.
Apart from the issue of delivering supplies to the front line, there is also a concern regarding storage. Fuel must be collected in oil depots that are out of HIMARS's reach. However, the large hubs such as those located in Sevastopol are no longer operational. There are only a few dozen oil depots within reach of gasoline tankers that can be utilized. Of these, only about a quarter were active, and half of those have recently burned down. Although the depots can be restored in 3-5 months, Ukraine can render them unusable in just a matter of days. Given this reality, Russia may not have sufficient time to repair them.
The issue of delivery also extends to shells, which must be transported in bulk to the frontline via rail. There were three rail lines available for this purpose: the Kupyansk, Crimean, and Mariupol railroads. However, two of the three are now inactive, as the Ukrainian Armed Forces regained control of Kupyansk during the Kharkiv counterattack last year, while Volnovakha, a major railway junction in the south, is frequently shelled by Ukrainian artillery, making it impossible to transport shells through it. As a result, only the line from Crimea to Melitopol is somewhat functional, although its throughput capacity has also decreased. Additionally, the guerrillas have reduced the rate of supply of shells from remote regions by derailing trains competently and without breaking the electrical circuit, so no signal of railway disruption is sent.
As a consequence, Russia's artillery advantage over Ukraine has been lost due to logistical issues. Last year, Russia fired several thousand shells per day at Soledar and Severodonetsk during the peak of the conflict, but now in Bakhmut, they only manage to fire a maximum of a couple of hundred shells. Ukraine has been effective in targeting fuel depots and ammunition stores, disrupting supply lines and causing a significant reduction in artillery capability. Russia's missile inventory is also suffering, with only inaccurate Kh-22s available and some missile types having less than 30% left. As a result, every missile launch must now be coordinated at the level of Shoigu or even Putin.
Russia's logistics of fuel and ammunition supply will soon become even more complicated, to the point where there will be barely enough ammunition left on the front line to facilitate an organized retreat similar to the one from Kherson. And there is little chance for the situation to improve in the near future.