- HIMARS leaves an impression —no pun intended
- A sampling of pro-Kremlin responses to HIMARS
- Russia continues framing the war as with US and NATO
- Denials and distractions in the rear
- Putin downplays war crimes and ignores extreme costs
- References for this report
HIMARS leaves an impression —no pun intended
The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, shorthanded as HIMARS, is a full-spectrum, combat-proven, all-weather, wheeled precision strike weapons system. RT went so far as to compare the impact of HIMARS in Russian-occupied territory to Hiroshima, the location where the US dropped an atomic bomb known as “Little Boy” during World War 2. The strike killed between 70,000 and 135,000 people. HIMARS are not comparable to atomic bombs.
Still, perhaps the story conveys more about Russia's emotional response to the HIMARS. The Russian military's frustration and morale erosion permeated from pro-Kremlin spaces. In the US, the Washington Post ran the headline “Shorten the war. Send 60 HIMARS to Ukraine.”
Assessing how much of the messaging reflects genuine sentiments is difficult because pro-Kremlin channels often forward content widely. Some information operations like Cyber Front Z and RaHDit assign tasks or perspectives to push on social media platforms. For this reason, perspectives can seem more unified than reality.
Still, at least some of the despondent HIMARS-related posts seemed genuine. In some cases, the commentary depicted Russia in an unflattering light and hoped for a change of strategy.
One exasperated poster said:
“There was an explosion in Novaya Kakhovka. Used HIMARS. Is there really nothing you can do about it? And it's only 8 HIMARS at the front that have already f***ed us here. And what will happen next?”
Pro-Kremlin channel Military Informant, which has over 450,000 subscribers, delivered a grim assessment of Russia’s options for responding to the HIMARS.
Thus, for the fight it was necessary to carry out a whole range of preparatory measures in advance, in the current conditions it will take years, at best months , which is already too late. The physical destruction of such missile systems requires a developed reconnaissance system, primarily aviation, as well as control over the battlefield at least a couple of tens of kilometers deep, which is impossible without many light AWACS aircraft, which we do not have, which allows only 4-8 installations maneuver freely from Kharkov to Kherson and provide a successful fire impact. It is really possible to paint for a long time, but in the current situation we do not see a universal and quick solution to the problem that has arisen.
Extremist group Rusich lamented the lack of air defense, suggesting it could be “treason” that “jingoistic patriots” had not come to their aid.
A sampling of pro-Kremlin responses to HIMARS
"I do not know the real statistics of the HIMARS strikes on the Allied ammo depots and command centers, but neither does Strelkov or Rezident, Rezident's and Western self-congratulatory circle-**** notwithstanding."
A message that originated from Slavygrad referred to the HIMARS as “very serious weapons.” Telegram channel Mig41 seemed candid, telling readers:
“With such approaches as we have now (we are talking about the rear, which is not even officially named rear yet), it is very easy to defeat Ukraine. But it is absolutely impossible - almost half of the world's GDP. Draw your own conclusions. PS I would like to hope that approaches will still be changed.”
The author seemed to imply Russia could defeat Ukraine but not Ukraine plus “half of the world’s GDP.” Mig41 hoped for a change in the Russian approach, given their current predicament.
Word of the HIMARS, their impact, and specifics surfaced in a Transnistrian channel. The Kherson Herald quoted the Kremlin-installed Kherson official Katerina Gubareva: "Ukraine is bombing peaceful cities with American weapons, like a real terrorist."
The comment may be in response to a recent bipartisan resolution drafted in the US that would designate Russia a state sponsor of terror.
A Russian channel with well over 600,000 subscribers told readers about a rumor that Ukraine was planning to strike Crimea but was stopped by “foreign partners.” The post asserted Russia would declare war if that happened, which doesn’t necessarily demonstrate how that would change things for Ukraine.
Russia continues framing the war as with US and NATO
The other element of the Russian response, besides being rocked by the HIMARS, was to play up the HIMARS connection to the US and NATO and portray those weapons as having taken civilian life.
Russia neglected to acknowledge that the HIMARS are being used by a sovereign state to expel foreign invaders, meaning the use of HIMARS, insofar as international law is considered, is the fault of Russia. Ukraine would not be firing them if Russia retreated from Ukrainian land.
- One post read, “Hundreds of apartments destroyed by US HIMARS strike on Novaya Kakhovka.” President Zelenskyy of Ukraine reported Russian attacks on apartments just days earlier. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered an investigation into the killing of Ukrainian children on July 11.
- Another pro-Kremlin channel depicted an emotional scene: “As a result of attacks by Ukrainian Nazis on Nova Kakhovka, a disabled teenager who was on duty at a warehouse with humanitarian aid died.” Russia has for years made false claims about Ukrainian military or paramilitary groups attacking Russian speakers. No evidence supports the claim.
Denials and distractions in the rear
After responses to the HIMARS triggered public discussion, we also noticed content that downplayed the HIMARS’ ability to alter the war's course. On a pro-Kremlin channel with a few thousand readers, the author reassured, “our air defense is able to shoot them down. Again, the "wunderwaffe" did not save the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Popular pro-Kremlin channel Rybar told readers that Russia had arranged to buy a HIMARS from Ukrainian defectors. Rybar teased with details of an alleged plan to acquire American weapons and asserted that public confirmation would come shortly:
The method of transmission chosen is extremely funny: to leave the launcher in a barn in the gray zone, so that Russian military personnel "accidentally" stumble upon it during the sweep. Ukrainian "hoarders" definitely found a use for their skills on the line of contact. We are waiting in the next couple of weeks for a public confirmation of the "find."
This claim, like many others that have appeared since the renewed invasion began in February, is unsupported by evidence. The idea a HIMARS would be sold to Russia seems nigh impossible, but on the off chance they were to commander one, they would lack access to ammunition. Still, the claim has started to circulate in smaller pro-Kremlin channels.
Putin downplays war crimes and ignores extreme costs
Russian-state media quoted Putin on July 7.
We hear today that they want us to be defeated on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try. We haven’t even really started anything yet.
Saying “we haven’t even really started anything yet,” which is what the state media have highlighted with the headline, seems a strange way to frame the situation.
This has been a brutal assault waged in a neighboring country for four months that is all but certain to bring economic hardship to Russia and has likely cost at least 40,000 soldiers.
It’s unclear if this was a turn of phrase like Americans saying, “I’m just getting started” when they want to communicate, they are capable of more, or Putin crafting a way out of this failed “special operation.”
The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation commented on Putin, implying that the war didn’t amount to much yet:
During the Second World War, Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said: "as soon as you start lying that the war was not serious, consider that the war has already been lost."
References for this report
- Reactions to HIMARS
- Ruptly and RT headlines, “We haven’t even really started anything.”
- Ukraine information dashboard