Russian snipers and separatist marksmen trained in Russian military camps outmatch their Ukrainian counterparts in the Donbas conflict with better rifles, equipment, and ammunition, an analysis by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation says.
Given that the conflict in eastern Ukraine has entered a positional phase of trench warfare, the role of snipers and the advantages Russia-backed forces have in this area is more acute, the think tank said on February 25.
In these conditions, snipers are "an effective multiplier on the battlefield, able to precisely strike long-range enemy targets, conduct indispensable reconnaissance of enemy movements and positions, as well as demoralise enemy troops," the analysis said.
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When the war broke out in April 2014, Ukraine was using Soviet-era Dragunov (SVD) rifles, while their better-funded and technologically more advanced adversary was using the same rifles but with new barrels, scopes, and high-quality rounds.
"Russian professional snipers at the middle and rear lines" were using bolt-action rifles that "fire three times farther than the SVD rifles."
Lack of funding made it challenging to buy Ukrainian shooters night-vision devices, camouflage, rangefinders, ammunition, thermal sights, and silencers, something the Russia-backed forces are in no shortage of, it said.
Therefore, Jamestown Foundation wrote, Kyiv is still playing catch-up.
Ukraine has started a sniper programme with foreign instructors. More effective, lighter-weight rifles were procured from abroad and from the homegrown Zbroyar company.
Now, Ukrainian sniper teams are attached to each battalion, not just special forces.
Still, "poor funding, army bureaucracy, and ammunition shortages preclude Ukrainian snipers from reaching their potential today," the think tank wrote.
Lithuanian volunteer: Russia has worked on sniping capabilities for a long time
Jonas Ohman, head of the Lithuanian NGO Blue/Yellow, told LRT English that “every Russian sniper has been at least once to Ukraine”.
The organisation uses donated funds to supply optics and other non-lethal equipment to Ukrainian soldiers, including snipers, stationed at the frontline.
“We see some very well trained people among" the Russian snipers, said Ohman, adding that there were cases of Ukrainian soldiers being hit in the middle of the forehead. The Russian teams also use advanced tactics by working in pairs or three-man teams, he added.
Ohman told LRT English that the Ukrainian military has started investing into its own sniper programme, and Ukraine's XADO has developed a domestic long-range sniper rifle.
“It’s a very simple, but a very good weapon,” said Ohman. “We have already worked a lot with that rifle, we see that it was a very prudent decision.”
“Everyone understood that [sniping] is a very important part [of the war]” and Russia has really advanced far in it, he added.
This story originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Comments by Jonas Ohman were added by LRT English.