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Russia’s ‘Meteorite’ Could Be Putin’s Secret Weapon to Kill Ukraine’s Cities

Meteorite
The Soviet-developed UR-77 Meteorite.

Russia’s ‘Meteorite’ Vehicles Are Rocket-Launching Cables Full of Plastic Explosives to Devastate Ukrainian Cities – On April 22, Russian forces reported capturing the city of Rubizhne. But the eastern Ukrainian city of 56,000 (before the war) located in the war-torn Luhansk oblast, has stubbornly refused to remain captured. 

Russian officials and media had also reported the Rubizhne fully under their control on March 17. But the following day, the Ukrainian National Guard’s elite 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade—which had defeated Russian paratroopers massing near Kyiv on the opening day of the war—drove the separatists back.

From there on, attacks and counterattacks washed back and forth across the city, which is close to the key regional capital of Severodonetsk. Early in April, Rubizhne’s mayor, a known separatist supporter, essentially defected and had to be replaced. Shelling ruptured tanks of nitric acid, causing poisonous red clouds to steam over the city. 

On April 17, April 20, and April 21st Russian officials reported the city conquest, yet the victory never seemed to stick. 

A video suggests that Russian forces in Rubizhne were impeded by resistance on the campus of the RPK Poray-Koshitsy college, apparently vexed by defenders in the five-story Institute of Physics, Mathematics, and Information Technology. The building’s blackened roof and gutted windows testified to the amount of firepower it had already absorbed.

The projectile seen launching at the video’s beginning originated from a relatively innocuous-looking tracked vehicle, likely concealed behind a building. Lacking any sort of gun, it instead fired a rocket from a mushroom-shaped launcher raised from the back of the vehicle.

You can see the rocket’s motor flaring brilliantly in the video, trailing a thick white cable behind it as it lazily arcs towards and over the scorched technical institute. At the desired distance, a retractor line yanked the cable so it could drape over the other side of the building. For an entire minute after nothing seems to happen. 

But at 1:30, the commander inside the vehicle pressed a button, transmitting an electronic pulse down the length of the cable—causing 1,600 pounds of PVV-7 plastic explosive strung along a 90-meter length of the line to detonate all at once—bursting the institute down the middle.

Meteorite – Mine-clearers that also clear people

Minefields pose a deadly threat to attacking forces—but waiting for combat engineers to clear the minefield while enemy fire rains down from above and counter-attack forces mobilize can be even more lethal, and drain away any benefit from surprise and shock. The mine-clearing line charge (MICLIC), thus, was developed by several armies to accelerate the process of punching through minefields.

The Soviet-developed UR-77 Meteorite, also dubbed the “Gorynych Serpent” after a dragon from Slavic mythology, was designed to blast a 6-meter-wide lane through anti-tank minefields, allowing armored vehicles to pour through. 

The launcher on a UR-77 Meteorite is loaded with two 90-meter long UPZ-77 line-capable charges, which can be projected by the launching rocket up to 500 meters away. The shockwave from the three-quarter-ton of plastic explosives inside the cable is adequate to set off anti-tank mines nearby. 

The Meteorite shares a common hull with the ubiquitous 2S1 self-propelled howitzer and is typically dispatched in two-vehicle ‘engineering mobility support detachments’ (OODs in Russian) also including IMR-2 armored engineering vehicles. The OODs are farmed out to support infantry and tank battalion tactical groups assigned to seize and defend ground.

The linear charges also can be used to blast through barricades and other anti-vehicle obstacles. However, Russia has furthermore used its UR-77s to project linear charge cables directly onto enemy positions in combat, a practice dating back to the first Chechen War. This didn’t always work according to plan: in one incident near Grozny a UR-77 killed 28 Russian special forces operators in a friendly fire accident.

But in the second Chechen War, UR-77s and TOS-1 “flame-thrower” rocket artillery were extensively used to flatten and rubble-ize Chechen communities. Most infamously UR-77s swept away buildings in the encircled town Komsomolskoye in March 2000, where hundreds of Chechen fighters under rebel leader Ruslan Gelayev were holding out.

More than a decade late, UR-77s operated by Assadist forces in Syria were used to smash 90-meter swathes out of neighborhoods in Damascus, as you can see in the video below.

In 2015, when Russian troops stormed the Ukrainian-held Donetsk International Airport, they again employed UR-77s offensively, along with huge 2S4 240-millimeter mortar systems, to smash open an airport terminal Ukrainian paratroopers had held for many months. 

In a true case of projection, in February 2022 Russian disinformation specialists disseminated rumors that Ukraine’s own UR-77 vehicles were being massed for an attack on separatist-held territory…shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Besides the attack on the Rubizhne, a Russian video shows a UR-77 Meteorite being used offensively in the thoroughly destroyed port of Mariupol.

On the other hand, photos and videos show at least four of Russia’s thinly-armored UR-77s have been destroyed, and another nine captured/abandoned as of April 21.

Russia had supposedly introduced a successor to the UR-77, the UR-07M based on the hull of the BMP-3 fighting vehicle, back in 2013. This has sturdier steel armor and can launch UZP-06D cable charges with a range of up to 1 kilometer, but it has not been seen in action in Ukraine to the author’s knowledge.

Russia also fields the trailer-based UR-83P MICLIC which can be carried on the back of a truck. This was transferred to Donbas separatists alongside UR-77 prior to the war. One was recorded causing a huge explosion in Marinka in July 2019.

Ukraine has UR-77s too and has used them to attack separatist entrenchments in the past.

The use of explosive devices to destroy enemy strong points dates back many centuries and is not intrinsically unethical. However, weapons that create corridors of destruction stretching nearly the length of a football field do have a high potential for collateral damage, ie. killing civilians when cables full of plastic explosives strung over the roofs of their homes are detonated. 

In principle, then, the use of broad-area of effect weapons like the UR-77 or TOS-1 should be confined to places with little or preferably no civilian population nearby. Unfortunately for those still dwelling in eastern Ukrainian communities like Rubizhne, Russia’s highly destructive war leaves one little reason to believe that will be given much consideration. 

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National InterestNBC NewsForbes.com, War is Boring, and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.

Written By

Sebastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the 19FortyFive, The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com, and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    Not going to lie, but that thing looks terrifying. I wonder how many of them Russia has at hand?

    Not that they need any extra methods to bomb out cities, as it seems to be the one thing they are proficient in, but I wonder the combat efficacy of this mine-clearing machine against trenches and fortifications, especially so if the charges can be detonated before they reach the ground.

    Truly terrifying. The quote “But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.” comes to mind.

  2. Illurion

    April 26, 2022 at 7:45 pm

    The Ukrainians need to STOP playing DEFENCE, and start playing OFFENSE.

    Russia started all of this years ago to TAKE BACK THE CRIMEAN PENINSULA.

    Russia considers CRIMEA to be “TOTALLY THEIRS, AND ACTIVELY STABLE, AND SAFELY “BEHIND THEIR LINES.”

    So Russia moved on to take Mariupol, and is now attacking Donbass, both of which are LESS IMPORTANT to the Russians than CRIMEA.

    THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT DONBASS, is for Ukraine to “ATTACK CRIMEA WITH A MASSIVE, WEEKLONG MISSILE BARRAGE ON SEVASTOPOL, AND THE OTHER CRIMEAN CITIES.”

    CAUSE THE RUSSIANS TO HAVE TO “WITHDRAW” THEIR DONBASS ATTACK FORCE BACK TO PROTECT CRIMEA.

  3. Alex

    April 27, 2022 at 6:48 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

  4. michael robison

    April 27, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    russian troll

  5. CK

    April 28, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    It’s hilarious to think Alex doesn’t even realise everything he says has the opposite effect of what he means.

    When I meet or see people like Alex, I truly wonder how we ever got so far. Science, medicine, being in space. Doesn’t feel possible if ever one person of our race can be that stupid.

    The imbecile can’t even post something new on a new day, same old recycling, different garbage for a different day, just like his nation, reliving their WW2 hits.

    It gives me great joy to remember every single nation that has lived in the past has indeed been consigned to it, and Russia is boarding that train to history with gusto.

    Do svidaniya komrades!

  6. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:06 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  7. CK

    April 29, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    Ah, I see your tactic. You add a little shitty first paragraph so it doesn’t detect your duplicate post. Is this what it has come to now, you just posting the same exact post 2, 3, 4, 5 times per article?

    Wow, did they run out of paper in Russia, Alex? You guys can’t print new material? Literally using the same lines, over and over again, and now in duplicate in every post!

    Are you so defeated you can’t even come up with anything new? How sad. Now the idiot is talking about lend-lease at the end of his post, because he literally just copy + pasted it from another thread, with zero relevance to this one.

    Here’s a reminder:

    If someone wanted to know the truth about anything in Ukraine Alex, the last person they would go to is you.

    Paragraphs and paragraphs of bollocks, dubious claims about “independent journalists”, random documentarians, conspiracy theorists, deluded claims that of course, have no backup, lie after lie after lie.

    Classical Kremlin troll approach. Just flood the internet, the comments, the media, with tosh, doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure you write some old nonsense. Make sure to say the claim is supported by some dude in Germany, France, the states. If it’s a “documentary” (usually from youtube) then the better.

    Anything that victimises Russia, always the victim, always the bullied, never the problem. It’s always the Nazis. It’s always some pseudo-historical point.

    Anyone that has had the misfortune to study your “tactics” sees the forest for the trees, the pattern of lies, disinformation, blanketing of random claims, deflection, obfuscation, and other words beyond your vocabulary.

    It’s hopeless Alex. Your lies are as short as your intellect. What a pathetic job, to sit in your government shed, spreading your pathetic, government lies.

    A pathetic job for a truly pathetic man. A better match could not be made in heaven.

  8. opereta

    May 2, 2022 at 12:31 am

    This seems to be an excellent medicine for Ukrainian Nazis. If I was in charge, I would double the number of units in each front

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