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Military And Security Developments
- BAKHMUT: Fighting remains intense across Donetsk oblast, but Russian forces are only making marginal gains around Bakhmut following the likely seizure of Klishchiivka. This morning (20 January), the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia claimed that Klishchiivka has been taken, following claims by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin that his forces had done so yesterday. Other reports indicate some limited progress around Sil’, to the north of Soledar, but the Ukrainian General Staff continues to report that their forces are successfully repelling attacks across the full-length of the Donetsk frontline – including Soledar. Further south, heavy fighting continues to take place west of Donetsk city, with Russian forces claiming incremental progress over recent days. Russian sources did claim on 19 January that their forces had broke through Ukrainian defences near Pobieda, 15 miles (24km) south-west of Donetsk city, though any advances remain unconfirmed.
- US-Germany: NATO tank talks likely to strain bilateral relations in short term. US Defence secretary Lloyd Austin will lead a meeting of NATO defense ministers at Ramstein Air Base on 20 January to discuss sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a new weapons package. Austin was in Berlin on 19 January seeking to persuade German officials after announcing the US will send 100 Stryker combat vehicles to Ukraine. However, Germany has signalled it will not send its Leopard 2 tanks, nor will it permit any other country to do so, until the US agrees to send its M1 Abrams tanks. The US will pressure Germany, but the latter is not likely to yield without a pledge of American tanks – a prospect which is also unlikely given opposition among policymakers in Washington DC. The issue will increase tension in the alliance in the short term.
- EU-Russia: Special International Tribunal for war crimes will elevate regional tensions; increase risks for foreign nationals. On 19 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to set up an International Special Tribunal for investigating and punishing war crimes in Ukraine. The aim of the tribunal will be to prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership and its allies for crimes of aggression against Ukraine. While the International Criminal Court (ICC) can investigate crimes in Ukraine’s territory, it is unable to prosecute non-members, including Russia. The proposed tribunal would fill this legal void and would enable the prosecution of the Russian leadership under EU law, including President Vladimir Putin. Whether such a tribunal actually takes place remains to be seen, but the prospect will elevate regional tensions and reinforce the unlikely prospect of peace negotiations. If the tribunal goes ahead and finds Russian leaders guilty, Russian retaliatory action will elevate the risk environment for Western nationals in Russia, reinforcing already high risks of arbitrary detentions as well as accusations of espionage or sponsoring terrorism.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Ukrainian counter-offensive operations continue north-west of Svatove amid likely preparations for spring offensives. The Ukrainian General Staff this morning (20 January) reported that Russian forces remained on the defensive in the ‘Kupiansk and Lyman’ directions (referring to the Oskil-Kreminna line). This likely indicates that Ukrainian forces are continuing to launch ground assaults to the north-west of both Svatove and Kreminna, and might be making marginal gains towards both locations. Various Russian sources over the last 24-48 hours have reported Ukrainian ground assaults against numerous villages north-west of Svatove, with some unconfirmed indications of marginal gains, including around Novoselivske, 8 miles (14 km) north-west of Svatove.
- SOUTHERN: Russia claims marginal gains along the southern Zaporizhzhia front, but Ukrainian officials deny any advances. This morning (20 January), the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed that their forces had taken the village of Lobkove, 16 miles (26km) south-west of Orikhiv, while other Russian officials claimed further gains in this direction on 19 January. While these advances remain unconfirmed, the Ukrainian General Staff reported yesterday (19 January) that various Russian attacks by the 58th Combined Arms Army along this axis had failed to achieve any ground, and had taken significant casualties in the process.
- SOUTHERN: The head of the Russian occupation movement ‘We Are With Russia’ Vladimir Rogov stated this morning (20 January) that he believes Western-supplied main battle tanks will eventually be sent to the Zaporizhzhia front. While the provision of Western main battle tanks will likely take many months, Rogov’s assessment clearly reinforces enduring Russian anxiety about the prospect of an eventual Ukrainian counter-offensive on this axis. Russian forces have consistently been reinforcing the Zaporizhzhia line in recent weeks.
- WAGNER GROUP: Infighting between the Russian MoD and Wagner Group likely continues to undermine the Russian war effort in Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) reported on 19 January that according to its latest intelligence, the newly installed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, is attempting to ‘neutralise’ Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. Meanwhile, Prigozhin himself is currently attempting to increase his influence and proximity to President Vladimir Putin. This latest GUR assessment aligns with our own, that Gerasimov’s appointment is a clear attempt by the MoD to reassert its authority and curb the growing influence of Prigozhin (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 12 January). Notably, UK Defence Intelligence reported this morning (20 January) that it currently estimates Wagner Group have some 50,000 troops in Ukraine.
- WAGNER GROUP: On 19 January, Moscow City Duma deputy Yevgeny Stupin published a letter from Gerasimov where the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine stated that Wagner Group does not belong within the structure of the Russian Armed Forces. While we cannot confirm the authenticity of the letter, the contents and the timing of its publication reflect the broader trends we have been assessing and the deepening power struggle between the MoD and Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. We will continue to monitor for further developments, but it is clear that this escalating briefing battle between the two factions will only undermine cooperation at the front, particularly along the Bakhmut line.
- WAR CRIMES: On 19 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution for an International Special Tribunal for investigating and punishing war crimes in Ukraine. The tribunal will aim to prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership and its allies for crimes of aggression against Ukraine. While the international criminal court (ICC) can investigate crimes performed on Ukraine’s territory, it is unable to prosecute non-members’ crimes of aggression, which includes Russia. The special international tribunal will fill this legal void and enable the Russian leadership’s prosecution according to EU law, including President Vladimir Putin.
- WAR CRIMES: Whether such a tribunal takes place remains to be seen. However, the prospect of a tribunal will elevate regional tensions and reinforce the extremely unlikely prospect of peace negotiations in the short to medium term. The Kremlin is even less likely to enter negotiations if the Russian leadership faces an international war crimes tribunal, even if the ability of the tribunal to enforce its rulings remains limited. If the tribunal goes ahead and finds Russian leaders guilty, Russia will likely hold its own tribunal in response to find Ukrainian and Western volunteers captured in Ukraine guilty of war crimes and sponsoring terrorism. This in turn will also elevate the risk environment for Western nationals inside Russia, reinforcing already high risks of arbitrary detentions as well as risks of being accused of espionage or sponsoring terrorism.
- NUCLEAR: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on 19 January that there has been a ‘dramatic reduction’ in the number of Ukrainian staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), but reported that the overall situation remains stable for now. Ordinarily, the ZNPP would have around 10,000 staff, but it currently only has around 3,000. The IAEA indicated that staffing remains ‘adequate in the current conditions’, and that IAEA staff are able to conduct their work correctly. However, the plant remains a matter of concern for the organisation– only yesterday (19 January) two explosions were recorded near the plant. Despite IAEA efforts to establish a protection zone around the plant, this remains unlikely as both sides are set to continue fighting and exchanging fire in its vicinity. As we continue to track escalating rhetoric triggered in part by today’s Ramstein summit, threats to nuclear safety around the plant are increasingly likely in the coming weeks as the Kremlin steps up its strategic deterrence efforts (see FORECAST below).
- BELARUS: Senior Russian and Belarusian officials, including both foreign and defence ministers, held discussions on 19 January, during which both sides underscored the countries’ ‘shared vision’ for the war in Ukraine and growing military cooperation. Defence ministers Sergei Shoigu and Viktor Khrenin in particular discussed the ‘ongoing implementation of strategic deterrence measures and progress of the preparation of the Belarus-Russia regional military force’. Meanwhile, foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Aleinik discussed plans for how both countries can counter the ongoing ‘Western hybrid war’ against them and signed a memorandum on ‘ensuring biological security’. The latter is likely in reference to Russia’s long-maintained but unfounded claim that Ukraine is developing chemical and biological weapons in US-funded labs across the country.
- BELARUS: While military cooperation continues to strengthen, particularly amid ongoing bilateral air force drills, our overall assessment of the likelihood of Belarus entering the war directly and supporting a renewed invasion towards Kyiv in the short to medium term remains unchanged. This morning, the Ukrainian General Staff once again confirmed that it has seen no indications of the formation of any joint strike groups in southern Belarus, though it did note that Russia is strengthening its aviation assets in the country under the guise of the ongoing air drills.
AID: Today, 20 January, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin opened the latest summit of the Ukraine Contact Group in Ramstein, Germany, to coordinate international military support for Ukraine. Numerous states have already announced their latest military aid packages, many of which are amongst the largest individual states have so far provided. These include a USD 2.5 billion US package including infantry fighting vehicles (though notably not Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bombs as previously indicated), as well as expansions of military aid by Finland and other states. However, the key issue on the agenda at Ramstein will be the provision of Western main battle tanks, and in particular Berlin’s decision on whether to approve the re-export of Leopard 2s to Ukraine. Polish President Andrzej Duda has already indicated that his government may push forward with providing their own Leopard 2s even without German approval. The new German defence minister Boris Pistorius also stated on 19 January that German Leopard 2s may still be supplied to Ukraine even if the US does not supply Abrams tanks, as Berlin has previously indicated would be a condition. As the frequent conflicting reports have indicated throughout this week, German policy remains highly uncertain on this issue. It therefore remains to be seen whether mounting international pressure will force Berlin’s hand or whether Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s current cautious approach will continue, preventing the re-export of Leopards across Europe. Irrespective of the enduring tank dispute, and in part because of it, Russia is highly likely to feel under pressure to respond to curb the building momentum towards sending increasingly advanced weaponry to Ukraine. Escalatory rhetoric is highly likely in the coming days as Moscow likely steps up its strategic deterrence efforts to disrupt and deter Western weapons shipments, and prevent further momentum building. Only this morning (20 January), the Dutch government indicated that it is considering the possibility of sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine – something that would be a significant boost to the Ukrainian Air Force that would severely undermine Russian air power in Ukraine if provided in significant quantities. The stakes for Russia are therefore clearly increasing, and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has already today warned that ‘the conflict in Ukraine is developing in an upward spiral’ and that the involvement of NATO is growing. As a result, the Ramstein summit has clearly precipitated a new escalation inflexion point, after many months of relatively stable fighting in Ukraine following the Russian withdrawal from Kherson. While we anticipate increased rhetoric, including nuclear threats as previously assessed, Russia’s capability to escalate the war conventionally remains very limited. Moscow does not retain the capability to fight a war with NATO. As a result, we anticipate that any response from the Kremlin will more likely take the form of grey zone threats and operations, which if deployed would attempt to demonstrate Russian capability and will escalate outside the borders of Ukraine. Any potential hybrid operations would aim at exacerbating policy disagreements between NATO members and feed into narratives prevailing in some parts of Europe that weapons transfers risk escalation with Russia. We have previously assessed the precedent set by the Nord Stream sabotage in September 2022 . While the Ramstein summit may not necessarily trigger a similar operation against other European critical infrastructure, the threat of such hybrid operations is increasing in the wake of the summit – particularly if states begin to discuss not only tanks but also F-16 jets.
- BAKHMUT: Russian offensive operations continue around Soledar and Bakhmut, along with unconfirmed Russian claims of progress to the north and south of the latter. The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed this morning that his forces have taken Kleschiivka, a village four miles (7km) south-west of Bakhmut, contrasting claims that his forces had done so earlier this week. This likely indicates that progress has indeed been made around the key settlement, which sits roughly three miles (5km) south-east of Ivanivske and the N-32 highway – a key ground line of communication (GLOC) for Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut. Russian forces also appear to have made marginal gains north of Soledar over the last 24-48 hours. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has claimed that its forces have taken the village of Sil’, roughly two miles (4km) north-west of Soledar. However, the Ukrainian General Staff claimed earlier on 19 January that its forces had successfully repelled attacks against not only Sil’, but also Bakhmut, Soledar and Kleschiivka. As such, we cannot confirm the alleged Russian advances; numerous settlements likely remain highly contested, including areas north and west of Soledar.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Heavy fighting continues to the north-west of Svatove and Kreminna; both sides are likely attempting to set conditions for further offensive operations. Earlier on 19 January, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces (SSO) reported that their forces conducted a special reconnaissance mission against Kreminna, but met an ‘overwhelming’ concentration of Russian forces, indicating that the approaches to the town likely remain well defended. The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast, Serhiy Haidai, also confirmed reports on 18 January that Russian forces continue to deploy reserves to this front, including increased concentrations around Severodonetsk, 13 miles (21km) south-east of Kreminna. Despite wider reports of limited Russian counter-attacks around Ploshchanka, 11 miles (18km) north-west of Kreminna, any Russian advances are likely to be marginal.
- SOUTHERN: Ukrainian officials continue to report a steady build-up of Russian forces along the Zaporizhzhia frontline, which likely reflects a Russian attempt to prepare defences ahead of a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported on 18 January that Russian forces conducted offensive operations near Orkhiv and Hulyaipole, 32 miles (52km) and 50 miles (81km) south-east of Zaporizhzhia, respectively. While it is unlikely that Russian forces have made any advances in this direction, the stepping up of attacks possibly indicates an attempt to improve Russia’s tactical positioning as part of a wider effort to improve defences along this critical front.
- AID: The US is likely to approve a USD 2.5bn military aid package for Ukraine ahead of the Ukraine Contact Group summit in Ramstein (Germany) on 20 January. According to preliminary reports, the package, one of the single largest announced by the US since the beginning of the war, will include additional Bradley and Stryker Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IVFs), as well as Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs). Abrams main battle tanks are unlikely to form part of the package, though momentum towards providing such weapons continues to increase (see below).
- AID: There are also unconfirmed reports that the US will possibly provide Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) systems for the first time – a highly significant development if true. We first reported this possibility in November 2022 . The provision of GBU039 Small Diameter Bombs would be a highly significant development given that the systems from which they are launched have a range of around 94 miles (150km), which is further than the current High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). This would place almost the entirety of the Donbas and parts of northern Crimea within range, and would provide Ukraine with a cost-effective intermediate capability to strike Russian targets deeper behind the frontline. This would also mark an important step towards the provision of even longer-range systems, including Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). For further analysis of the strategic implications of such longer-range systems, see the FORECAST below.
- AID: Unnamed German government sources cited by Reuters on 18 January indicated that Germany will allow the re-export of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but only if the US also sends its own Abrams tanks. The unconfirmed development comes ahead of the Ramstein summit and a meeting between the US and German defence ministers later on 19 January. If true, Germany’s condition that the US also provide main battle tanks is highly likely to delay the approval of Leopard re-exports, given recent US statements.
- AID: On 18 January, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl stated that the US ‘is not there yet’ in terms of providing Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine. Kahl argued that given the complexity of the vehicles, providing them would not be ‘helpful’ for Ukraine given the logistical and maintenance issues involved in keeping them in the field. However, Kahl did not rule out such a move taking place in future. When asked about Berlin’s position at the ongoing World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Scholz also did not rule out Leopard 2 transfers, but stated that ‘we must avoid Russia-NATO war’. As such, it remains to be seen whether mounting international pressure will speed up the re-export of Leopard 2s, or whether Berlin’s conditions will prevent their export to Ukraine for the foreseeable future, or until a shift in US policy. For further analysis on the likelihood of a German approval of tank transfers.
- ESPIONAGE: Earlier on 19 January, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) announced that it had opened a criminal case against a US citizen for espionage. The FSB has provided no further details beyond the allegation that the individual, a male, ‘collected intelligence information of a biological nature aimed against Russia’s security’. The arrest comes after a high-profile prisoner swap that saw US basketball star Britney Griner exchanged for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout on 8 December 2022 (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 9 December 2022). An ex-US marine and businessman, Paul Whelan, is currently serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being found guilty of espionage in 2020. If the latest individual has already been arrested, it is highly likely that he will be tried and found guilty. While it remains unclear if the allegations are true, the threat of arbitrary detention of Western (particularly US and British) individuals remains high in Russia, where the counter-intelligence services currently enjoy extensive powers under partial martial law.
- NEGOTIATIONS: On 18 January, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in St Petersburg, in which he stated that the goal of the ‘special military operation’ is to end the ‘war’ in the Donbas, drawing a direct parallel to the Second World War. Putin notably used the Russian word for war (‘voyna’), one of only two occasions he has publicly done so (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 23 December 2022). Putin also once again denied Ukrainian sovereignty, stating that ‘there can be no talk of negotiations with Zelensky’ due to the West’s alleged control of Ukrainian decision-making. The symbolic resonance of the St Petersburg speech, made on the 80th anniversary of the siege of Leningrad, clearly reflects an attempt to equate the war in Ukraine with the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany. It also reflects broader Russian rhetoric which has sought to equate the existential Soviet struggle against the Nazis with the current operation against the ‘neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv’.
- MOBILISATION: Building on Putin’s theme, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West on 18 January of waging genocide against the Russian people. He compared the West’s support for Ukraine with the Nazi’s ‘final solution’ to exterminate the Jews of Europe in its supposed aim to strategically defeat the Russian Federation. Such provocative rhetoric clearly aims at building domestic support and preparing the population for a protracted war in Ukraine, as we have previously assessed. It also reflects the Kremlin’s efforts to cast the war in Ukraine as an increasingly existential conflict for the Russian state and people. While Putin did not make any announcement relating to mobilisation and/or conscription during his speech, an expansion of mobilisation remains a realistic possibility moving forward as the Kremlin casts the ‘special military operation’ as an increasingly existential struggle.
ESCALATION: According to unnamed US officials cited by the New York Times (NYT), the Biden administration is now actively considering providing Ukraine with long-range systems capable of targeting occupied Crimea, even if such a move increases the risk of escalation. Kyiv has long lobbied the US and other Western partners for long-range weapons, such as Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). However, Washington DC has so far refused these requests due to concerns over escalation. As reflected in the building momentum for the supply of main battle tanks and intermediate-range Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) systems (considered out of the question just months ago), this seemingly newfound acceptance that Ukraine needs long-range capabilities ultimately reflects growing Western support for Ukraine. Increasing readiness to escalate support for Ukraine is likely to continue throughout 2023, particularly as Ukraine looks to break the stalemate and push Russian forces back during its spring counter-offensive. However, a marked increase in Ukraine’s ability to target Russia would increase the risk of escalation, and also feed into the Russian narrative that the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine is an existential struggle against the West (see NEGOTIATIONS above). Although US officials cited by the NYT have emphasised that US concerns about Russia using nuclear weapons to defend Crimea have diminished, the risk remains. However, the former President and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev explicitly stated on 19 January that a nuclear power losing a conventional conflict could ‘provoke the outbreak of nuclear war’. Nuclear rhetoric will possibly ramp up in the coming days and weeks as Russia attempts to deter the US from supplying long-range systems to Ukraine and to undermine Kyiv’s war goals. During an address to the WEF in Davos (Switzerland) earlier on 19 January, President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his determination to retake Crimea. He also notably stated that ‘peace talks are not peace’, and called on all ‘parties’ to understand this given that Ukraine has for the past three years done everything possible to liberate Ukrainian land through diplomacy, and that Russia has consistently undermined these efforts. While US support for the provision of long-range systems differs hugely from its support for the complete liberation of Crimea through military means, Russia is highly likely to see the provision of such systems as a decisive step towards retaking the peninsular.The threat of escalation in Ukraine will therefore increase. Indeed, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded earlier on 19 January by describing the provision of long-range systems as an ‘extremely dangerous’ move that will likely bring the conflict to a ‘new qualitative level’ – a likely euphemism for escalation. However, despite pledges to destroy any weapons supplied to Ukraine, Russia’s options for retaliation remain limited. As such, we continue to assess that Russia is highly unlikely to target NATO forces outside Ukraine; however, wider grey zone ‘military-technical measures’ against European infrastructure remain a realistic possibility, especially if Moscow decides to ramp up its strategic deterrence campaign, as we have previously assessed.
- BAKHMUT: Russian forces continue to launch offensive operations around Soledar, though the tempo of advances has slowed as both sides consolidate their positions. On 17 January, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Denis Pushilin, stated that Russian forces are still conducting clearing operations in and around Soledar. He also claimed that subsequent Russian advances around the town have been slow due to the need for Russian forces to consolidate their ‘footholds’ in the town and repel Ukrainian counter-attacks, which we previously assessed as a possible opportunity for Ukrainian forces. Nevertheless, Pushilin claimed earlier on 18 January that Wagner Group assault brigades are making steady progress further south towards Bakhmut. However, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin denied earlier Russian reports that his forces had taken the village of Klishchiivka, four miles (7km) south-west of Bakhmut, though the settlement remains highly contested. Fighting has also intensified further south to the west of Donetsk city, though it remains unconfirmed whether Russian forces have made any gains along a front that has been largely static for months.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk oblast, Serhiy Haidai, reported on 17 January that a large-scale Russian offensive from the north of the oblast remains a possibility. Russian forces have been consistently strengthening their positions along the Oskil-Kreminna front, including through the deployment of airborne VDV units. Such reinforcements will possibly form part of wider preparations for Russia’s anticipated offensive in the coming weeks, with the reclamation of territory lost during the Kharkiv counter-offensive in September 2022 a possible objective. A major offensive from northern Luhansk oblast would also likely aim to retake key positions along the Luhansk-Donetsk border, which would enable Russian forces to support future operations against Kramatorsk-Slovyansk.
- SOUTHERN: Nothing significant to report.
- MOBILISATION: On 17 January, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed earlier plans for a major reform and expansion of the Russian Armed Forces, increasing overall troop numbers from 1.35 to 1.5 m between 2023 and 2026. As we previously assessed in December 2022, Russia’s proposed military reforms clearly illustrate that the Kremlin is committed to increasing Russia’s overall military strength and also to preparing for a protracted war in Ukraine. The expansion of the military will increase the likelihood of further rounds of mobilisation throughout 2023.
- MOBILISATION: The Kremlin confirmed that President Putin will make an ‘important statement’ on 18 January in St Petersburg to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the German siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg’s former name). This will be a highly symbolic occasion for Putin’s native city. While Putin has yet to make an announcement on mobilisation and/or conscription at the time of writing, this remains a possibility going forward in light of earlier Ukrainian intelligence reports.
- WAGNER GROUP: BBC Russia Service reported on 17 January that the Wagner Group private military company (PMC) has officially registered as a joint-stock company in St Petersburg. Registered under the name ‘PMC Wagner Center’, the registration documents claim the entity’s activities include business consulting, publishing, media, scientific development and leasing ships and aeroplanes, but not private security. Its shareholders have not been disclosed. While the group is now a legal entity, PMCs are still officially banned in Russia. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has likely been lobbying the Kremlin for this to be changed in recent months, but the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine suggests that this is unlikely in the short term; the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) is keen to reassert its authority over all Russian forces, including PMCs.
- WAGNER GROUP: A former Wagner Group officer named Andrei Medvedev fled to Norway and is currently seeking asylum. His testimony so far aligns with wider reporting about the poor treatment of prisoners and other contractors, including summary executions and extremely high casualty rates. Medvedev also claims that after refusing to sign a second contract, he was wanted by both the Wagner Group and official Russian state special services. If true, this indicates that Russian service personnel face extreme pressure to extend their contracts; many are likely presented with little option but to continue fighting indefinitely due to fear of security service reprisals.
- DOMESTIC: Earlier on 18 January, a Ukrainian DSNS ES-225 helicopter crashed in the city of Brovary, killing 18 people and the entire senior leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, his deputy Yevhen Yenin and state secretary Yuriy Lubkovich. At time of writing, it remains unclear what caused the helicopter to crash. An investigation has been opened. Kyiv indicated that the interior minister was on his way to the frontline. Numerous children from a nearby kindergarten are also understood to have been killed in the crash. Brovary, located to the east of the capital Kyiv, remains within range of Russian S-400 anti-air defences based in Belarus; the helicopter was therefore likely forced to fly at an extremely low altitude to avoid radar detection. Such a manoeuvre increases the risk of accidental collisions.
- NEGOTIATIONS: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued a joint statement with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverley on 17 January, in which he described Russia’s demands for Ukraine to recognise ‘new territorial realities’ in order to initiate peace talks as unacceptable. Blinken’s statement alludes to President Vladimir Putin’s comments on 5 January (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 6 January). Meanwhile, former President and Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev reiterated earlier on 18 January the need for ‘tacit acceptance’ that the occupied territories have been annexed by Russia, as well as the creation of ‘new international rules’ (likely an allusion to Europe’s security architecture) as preconditions for negotiations. Both sides remain entrenched in their mutually exclusive negotiating positions; they are both gearing up for their respective spring offensives, and so serious negotiations remain highly unlikely in the short to medium term.
- UNREST: On 17 January, Russian human rights group OVD-Info reported that the Russian security services detained four people for holding a spontaneous memorial service for those killed in a recent Russian strike against an apartment block in Dnipro on 14 January. According to similar reporting, pro-war activists called the authorities to disperse the spontaneous memorial in central Moscow. The speed with which the small, peaceful memorial was dispersed illustrates the security services’ zero-tolerance policy towards any activities deemed pro-Ukrainian or anti-war. We will continue to monitor the domestic situation inside Russia, but as the small turnout indicates, anti-war protesting remains a marginal concern for the Kremlin at present. Widespread apathy and fear of reprisals will likely deter such gatherings. On 17 January, Russian human rights group OVD-Info reported that the Russian security services detained four people for holding a spontaneous memorial service for those killed in a recent Russian strike against an apartment block in Dnipro on 14 January. According to similar reporting, pro-war activists called the authorities to disperse the spontaneous memorial in central Moscow. The speed with which the small, peaceful memorial was dispersed illustrates the security services’ zero-tolerance policy towards any activities deemed pro-Ukrainian or anti-war. We will continue to monitor the domestic situation inside Russia, but as the small turnout indicates, anti-war protesting remains a marginal concern for the Kremlin at present. Widespread apathy and fear of reprisals will likely deter such gatherings.
AID: The White House indicated that a new package of military aid for Ukraine will possibly be announced as soon as the end of this week. The announcement will possibly be made after the next meeting of the US-led Ukraine Contact Group in Ramstein on 20 January. The summit will bring together over 50 of Ukraine’s international partners in an effort to better streamline and expand military aid to Kyiv. In another significant development, the Netherlands confirmed on 17 January that it will send a Patriot air defence battery to Ukraine – the third such system after those pledged by the US and Germany. Around 100 Ukrainian troops are already in the US undertaking training for the system, which the Pentagon confirmed would take ‘several months’ before they are able to deploy to Ukraine. Earlier on 18 January, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the German ‘government is preparing to deliver Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine’. Although the report has not been confirmed and the Handelsblatt article acknowledges that no decision has yet been taken, pressure is mounting on Berlin to announce its position ahead of this week’s Ramstein summit. The newly appointed German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, will hold talks with his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on 19 January; Leopard 2 battle tanks will inevitably be the centrepiece of their discussion. Pistorius was appointed on 17 January following the resignation of Christine Lambrecht, which was triggered in part by the battle tank issue. Despite mounting pressure on Berlin to outline its defence policy immediately, the Ramstein summit will provide an ideal setting for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to make a formal announcement. Among his first comments as defence minister-designate, Pistorius acknowledged that Germany is already ‘indirectly’ involved in the war in Ukraine. These remarks possibly indicate that Pistorius is willing to intensify German military aid to Kyiv. It now appears increasingly likely that Germany will permit the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, which would allow Poland to fulfil its pledge to provide Ukraine with approximately 14 of the tanks and unlock extensive stockpiles across Europe. It is less clear whether Germany will agree to supply its own Leopard 2 tanks, despite the Handelsblatt report. However, Berlin is reportedly considering supplying the tanks as part of an ‘alliance’ of countries willing to export the vehicles. In any case, the question of providing Ukraine with NATO battle tanks continues to generate increasing traction; a decision by Germany this week will strongly influence other nations’ willingness to do so.
- During this monitoring period, pro-Russia cyber operations against Ukrainian targets were limited. The alleged joint attack by Killnet and its Belarusian accomplice Infinity Hackers BY against the US Internal Revenue Service remains consistent with the group’s modus operandi and targeting history. Pro-Russia groups will likely continue to conduct hostile cyber operations targeting the elections in Czechia in the coming weeks. This is in line with pro-Moscow hacking groups’ tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in terms of targeting pro-Ukraine European governments.
- Pro-Ukraine cyber campaigns remained broadly consistent with targeting patterns observed in previous weeks. There was a moderate decline in cyber attacks targeting Serbian government entities and officials, though a renewed uptick is likely in the coming weeks. In addition, a major joint operation led by the pro-Kyiv hacking group Team OneFist (with support from members of the Anonymous collective) targeting Russian internet service providers and telecommunications networks represents the first of its kind. Claims by Team OneFist that it has provided training to Anonymous hackers will increase the likelihood of further collaborative and relatively sophisticated cyber campaigns targeting Russian energy, IT, industrial and telecommunications infrastructure in the coming weeks.
Latest Significant Updates
Killnet claims further phishing attacks against US agencies; pro-Russia groups launch cyber attacks targeting Czech presidential elections, companies
- On 17 January, a collective of media organisations covering the Ukraine conflict, named Media Center Ukraine, claimed that a Russian cyber attack targeted their ‘information platform’. The attack reportedly delayed and disrupted the live streaming of a press conference by the head of Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, Yurii Shchyhol, on the topic of Russian hacking.
- On 16 January, Killmilk (the founder of Killnet) reported that the group allegedly hacked and stole data from the US Internal Revenue Service, including usernames and passwords. Killmilk claimed that Killnet hackers conducted the operation with support from members of the Belarusian cyber threat actor, Infinity Hackers. The hackers purportedly gained access to the internal database via a phishing attack targeting an employee working for the logistics division of the agency. The groups have stated that they will publish 198 m rows of data stolen from the database if the US takes ‘another step…towards the borders’ of Belarus and Russia.
- On 12 January, the US-based cyber security firm Sentinel Labs reported that pro-Russia cyber threat actor NoName05716 attacked several websites linked to the ongoing 2023 Czech Republic presidential elections. In the past week, the group has blocked presidential candidate web pages, including that of General Petr Pavel, a top presidential candidate. In addition, the group launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on 16 January against the websites of Czech manufacturing companies, including Zetor Tractors.
Anonymous collective claims cyber attacks against Russian companies, infrastructure; Team OneFist, Anonymous RoughSec announce first joint operation
- On 12-17 January, the Italian branch of the Anonymous hacktivist collective, Anonymous Italia, claimed several cyber attacks against Russian companies in the financial services sector. The companies include Russia’s largest private bank, Alfa-Bank, and the Luxembourg-based investment firm owned by Alfa-Group, Alfa Asset Management Europe. Other targeted companies include discount hypermarket group, Karusel, and business administrative regulator, Intertrust Trustees Ltd (Axon Trust), both of which are linked to Russia’s largest food retailer, the X5 Group. Anonymous Italia provided no further details about the attacks.
- On 13-15 January, pro-Kyiv cyber threat actors Team OneFist and Anonymous RoughSec, a sub-group of the decentralised Anonymous collective, carried out their first joint operation, labelled ‘Operation Turn Ruzzia Off’ (TRO). Operation TRO targeted Russian Rostelecom and Beeline internet service providers, reportedly disabling approximately 1,260 network routers in 48 hours.
- On 13 January, the IT Army of Ukraine, a hacktivist group comprised of volunteers with ties to the Ukrainian government, announced the launch of cyber attacks targeting both a Russian hardware manufacturer, Shtrih-M, and a commercial equipment manufacturer and distributor, Azur-POS. The group did not provide further details or evidence regarding the attacks.
- On 12 January, the pro-Ukraine hacktivist group KiraSec, operating as a sub-group of the Anonymous collective, launched cyber attacks targeting the website of a Serbian pastry shop, Inokomerc Tortino. The group defaced the website with its logo, the Ukrainian flag and a message calling for Serbia to ‘stop supporting Russia’. Website operators have since removed the message.
Pro-Russia cyber attacks against Ukrainian targets remained limited during this monitoring period, despite the alleged attack against the live streaming of a press conference by the head of Ukraine’s State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection on the topic of Russian hacking. Nevertheless, Ukrainian state-linked entities, mainly in the defence, security and energy sectors, will continue to remain vulnerable to pro-Russia cyber operations in the coming weeks. Primary tactics will include relatively low-level phishing and DDoS attacks. During this monitoring period, pro-Russia hacking groups continued to launch attacks targeting pro-Ukraine European governments. Pro-Russia groups will likely continue conducting hostile cyber operations targeting the Czech elections in the coming weeks. The final round of voting is scheduled to take place on 27-28 January. Further DDoS attacks against Czech government websites and companies are unlikely to generate significant operational disruption or material losses. Meanwhile, the alleged attack carried out by Killnet and its Belarusian accomplice Infinity Hackers remains consistent with the group’s modus operandi and targeting history, especially in light of the use of phishing methods and the targeting of US government agencies (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 21 December 2022). The US Internal Revenue Service has neither confirmed nor denied the claims at the time of writing. There is a realistic possibility that the group is exaggerating the extent of its success and the quality of any stolen data. However, it is possible that Washington DC is refusing to comment on the claims in a bid to avoid releasing sensitive information on the vulnerability of government systems to cyber attackers and to avoid emboldening pro-Moscow cyber threat actors. Nevertheless, Killnet will likely continue claiming cyber attacks against US government agencies and entities in the coming weeks. During this monitoring period, pro-Kyiv cyber campaigns remained broadly consistent with targeting patterns observed in previous weeks. This includes sustained cyber attacks claimed by Anonymous Italia against Russian companies with links to prominent oligarchs such as the Alfa-Group founder, Mikhail Fridman. The incidents are likely to have involved relatively low-level DDoS attacks temporarily overwhelming targeted servers. Anonymous Italia is highly likely to claim further attacks against Russian-owned/affiliated private-sector targets in the coming days. Meanwhile, Team OneFist resumed pro-Kyiv cyber attacks with the support of Anonymous RoughSec, following a brief hiatus over the holiday period in December 2022. Operation TRO is aimed at generating internet outages across Russian cities to hinder Moscow’s logistical capabilities in Ukraine. The leader of Team OneFist, Voltage, claimed that the group had been training Anonymous hacktivists during this period. As such, further joint operations are likely to target Russian energy, IT, industrial and telecommunications infrastructure in the coming weeks. However, we observed a decline in cyber attacks targeting Serbian government ministries and IT infrastructure during this monitoring period, compared with previous weeks (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 11 January 2023). Cyber attacks claimed by the Anonymous collective against Serbian government targets are likely to resume in the coming weeks, as the group maintains its criticism of Belgrade’s close ties with Moscow.
- BAKHMUT: Over the last 24-48 hours, Russian forces have continued to make slow but steady progress along the Bakhmut line, particularly north and west of Soledar. It is highly likely that Russian forces took control of Sil’ railway station on 16 January, roughly two miles (4km) north-west of Soledar, where the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) claims its airborne VDV units were operating. However, the Ukrainian General Staff reported earlier on 17 January that its forces repelled attacks against Sil’, among other settlements. We cannot confirm whether Russian forces are in complete control of the town, as maintained by many Russian sources. Russian forces also claimed modest progress south and south-west of Bakhmut, as part of their wider effort to begin the encirclement of the city. Heavy fighting continues north of Opytne and Klishchiivka, four miles (7km) south-west of Bakhmut, though it remains unconfirmed whether Russian forces have made any gains in this direction.
- DONBAS: On 17 January, the Russian MoD confirmed that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected the headquarters of the ‘Vostok’ (Eastern) group of forces in Ukraine, though it did not specify where precisely the inspection took place. If true, the event would mark Shoigu’s first visit to inspect troops at the frontline since an alleged visit on 18 December 2022. However, geolocated evidence analysed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty indicated that Shoigu’s December visit actually took place in a village in occupied Crimea, hundreds of kilometres from the frontline. The reports of the latest visit come shortly after the Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, promoted himself at the frontlines during the assault on Soledar. As such, Shoigu’s visit is highly likely part of a wider effort by the MoD to reassert its authority over operations in Ukraine and present the High Command as directly involved and in contact with front-line commanders. For further analysis on infighting within the Russian military, see FACTIONS below.
- DONBAS: Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on 16 January that Russian President Vladimir Putin has possibly ordered his military to take the entirety of the Donbas region by March. While we cannot confirm this deadline, the order is credible given the largely unrealistic expectations Putin has placed on his commanders and officials in recent weeks, as well as the timing of the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine. It remains a realistic possibility that Gerasimov was appointed as commander under the promise that he will be able to achieve major progress in the Donbas following months of attritional fighting.
- BAKHMUT: It is clear that Russian forces are trying to keep the pressure on Ukrainian positions as they consolidate their control over Soledar. However, the number of casualties sustained by the Wagner Group will possibly provide an opportunity for Ukraine to conduct a counter-attack. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak claimed on 15 January that nearly 77% of Russian prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group have now been killed, injured or captured. While we cannot confirm these numbers, Western intelligence indicates that Wagner Group forces are overwhelmingly made up of convicts, many of whom have been thrown into wasteful attacks around Bakhmut and Soledar. If such casualty figures are accurate, Wagner forces will likely need regular Russian forces to support their operations and help consolidate their newly taken positions in order to prevent a Ukrainian counter-attack. It therefore remains possible that the costs of the assault on Soledar will prevent the Wagner Group from capitalising on its limited victory and ability to press towards Bakhmut in the coming days and weeks. However, Ukrainian casualty rates are also estimated to be very high, which in turn will likely prevent Ukraine exploiting any Russian gaps as Russian regular forces, including the VDV, deploy to shore up the frontline.
- DONBAS: Given it has taken Russian forces months to take Soledar, a town comprising fewer than six square miles, the capture of Bakhmut remains an extremely difficult task, let alone the remaining areas of the densely populated Donetsk oblast. Bakhmut remains heavily defended, but the more built-up conurbations around Kramatorsk-Slovyansk will likely present a more formidable objective. Furthermore, following the Kharkiv counter-offensive in September 2022, Russian forces are no longer able to apply pressure from the north, making the encirclement of those cities less likely. Nevertheless, Russia has mobilised some 300,000 additional service personnel since September; the coming spring offensive will aim to allow Russia to retake the initiative and push towards its primary objectives in Donetsk oblast. For further analysis, see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 13 January.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: The pattern of military activity remains broadly unchanged over the last 24-48 hours, though Russian forces claim to have retaken some territory north-west of Svatove. Russian sources claimed on 16 January that unidentified Russian special forces took the village of Novoselivske, eight miles (14 km) north-west of Svatove; this remains unconfirmed. Beyond this, both sides have continued launching limited ground attacks north-west of Svatove and Kreminna.
- SOUTHERN: The head of the Russian occupation movement ‘We Are With Russia’ Vladimir Rogov claimed earlier on 17 January that Ukrainian forces are preparing for street fighting in the city of Zaporizhzhia. Rogov claims that the pattern of Ukrainian military activity along the Zaporizhzhia frontline has changed ‘dramatically’, and that Ukrainian forces had previously been preparing for a counter-offensive, but had now shifted towards defence. Rogov claims that Ukrainian forces are establishing not only defensive fortifications along the current frontline, but are also fortifying areas of the city itself – which currently lies more than 22 miles (35km) north of the frontline. Both sides have been steadily fortifying and reinforcing this front in recent weeks. However, it remains unclear whether the front will feature prominently in the upcoming spring offensive, as the area remains a vulnerability for both sides.
- SOUTHERN: Nevertheless, as a major city in close proximity to the frontline, Zaporizhzhia will remain vulnerable if Moscow decides to push north from Melitopol during its spring offensive – which Ukrainian contingency planning and fortification construction illustrates remains a possibility. Such an operation would likely reflect an attempt to provide Russian forces with more breathing space in the south, amid concerns that Ukrainian forces will eventually attempt to unhinge Russian defences and sever the land corridor connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.
- AID: Oryx estimates that Ukraine’s international partners have provided over 4,000 armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, aircraft and other weapon systems since 24 February 2022. These include:
o 410 Soviet-era tanks from former Eastern Bloc partners;
o 300 armoured infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 250 of which are Soviet-era IFVs;
o 1,100 armoured personnel carriers, including 300 US-produced M13 and 250 M117s;
o 1,540 infantry mobility vehicles, including 1,250 US Humvees;
o 925 mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles;
o 300 towed howitzers, including 210 155mm M777s;
o 400 self-propelled artillery pieces;
o 95 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), including 38 high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS);
o Numerous air defence systems, including 37 German Gepard self-propelled anti-air tanks, and two (as yet undelivered) Patriot batteries from the US;
o 18 Russian-produced Su-25 ground-attack aircraft purchased from Bulgaria and North Macedonia;
o 20 Russian-produced Mi17 helicopters from the US and 11 Soviet-era helicopters from former Eastern Bloc partners;
o Over 30 Turkish-produced Bayraktar TB2 drones;
o 415 reconnaissance drones;
- NUCLEAR: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on 16 January that it has established a permanent presence at the Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, and will do so at Ukraine’s other nuclear plants ‘in the coming days’. The chief, Rafael Grossi, is currently in Ukraine overseeing the establishment of the permanent teams. These will be made up of two permanent IAEA personnel at each site, including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) currently under Russian control and the decommissioned Chernobyl plant. The security situation at the ZNPP has stabilised in recent weeks, though fighting continues. If and when Russia and/or Ukraine launch new offensives along the Zaporizhzhia frontline this spring, ‘provocations’ at the plant and nuclear rhetoric will likely increase. However, we continue to assess that a major meltdown at the plant remains highly unlikely.
- FACTIONS: On 16 January, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov downplayed the apparent infighting between the Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and the MoD. Peskov claimed that reports of a rift are ‘products of information manipulation’, though he also noted that ‘friends’ as well as ‘enemies’ have been conducing such manipulation – a possible allusion to Prigozhin and his backers who have frequently criticised the MoD. It is notable that on 15 January, President Vladimir Putin credited on live television the MoD and the General Staff for the success at Soledar, mirroring MoD messaging that has underplayed or failed entirely to mention the Wagner Group’s involvement. This supports our earlier assessment that Valery Gerasimov, the newly appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, has received permission from Putin to curtain Prigozhin and Wagner Group’s oversized influence in Ukraine and reassert the MoD’s authority (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 12 January). We will continue to monitor the ongoing power struggle, though at present there is little indication that such factional infighting is undermining Putin’s grip over the Russian state and war machine.
NEGOTIATIONS: Earlier on 17 January, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergei Naryshkin, reiterated the long-held Russian line that ‘the overseas masters of the Kyiv regime’ are preventing peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Naryshkin claimed that Washington DC and London are demanding that Kyiv continue prosecuting the war, and that this is preventing progress with regard to recent negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul (Turkey). Moscow continues to place the onus of negotiations on Ukraine’s Western partners, which the Kremlin likely hopes will lobby Kyiv to accept concessions during future negotiations. New polling data published on 17 January indicates deep divisions across the EU with regard to the way people think the war in Ukraine should end. Around 48% are in favour of a quick end to the war, even if that means Ukraine losing territory. The pollster Euroskopia surveyed citizens from numerous EU countries. Citizens of the following states support a quick termination of the war, even at the cost of Ukrainian territorial concessions: Austria (60%), Germany (60%), Greece (54%), Italy (50%), Spain (50%), The Netherlands (48%), Portugal (45%) and Poland (42%). Overall, 32% of those surveyed are against Ukraine ceding territory to bring the war to a quick end, compared to the 48% who favour this avenue. While this overall pattern remains in line with previous assessments, especially that the views of citizens from Germany and Poland lie at opposite ends of the spectrum of results, the numbers also reflect several key discrepancies between government policy and public opinion. This is particularly the case in Germany, where the government has ramped up its support and commitment to support Ukraine in recent weeks. It is highly likely that influencing Western citizens to favour a quick end to the war in Ukraine is at the heart of Russia’s long-term strategy. Amid its continued refusal to acknowledge Ukrainian sovereignty, the Kremlin clearly hopes that increasing numbers of Western citizens will exert pressure on their national governments to pressure Kyiv into making concessions. However, European governments have in recent weeks stepped up their military support for Ukraine, exemplified by the transfer of IFVs and increased discussions surrounding the transfer of main battle tanks. As Russia doubles down to fight a protracted war in Ukraine, the Kremlin likely hopes that Western (in particular EU) resolve to continue supporting Ukraine will steadily dissipate; this will in turn increase the pressure on Kyiv to end the war on terms more favourable to Russia. However, as long as US resolve to support Ukraine with weapons remains firm, Ukraine will likely continue fighting for the foreseeable future given Kyiv’s stated goal of reclaiming all occupied territories.
- BAKHMUT: Fighting around Soledar continued over the weekend of 14-15 January. Russian forces have likely pushed Ukrainian positions beyond the city limits. Conflicting reports continue to make it challenging to assess the exact location of the frontline, with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov acknowledging last week that Kyiv did not know if Russian forces controlled the settlement at the time. Nevertheless, on 15 January, Ukrainian drone commander Robert Brovdy reported that as of 1730hrs (local time), Russian forces had taken the last remaining industrial zone (mine number 7) within the administrative city limits of Soledar.
- BAKHMUT: Unconfirmed reporting indicates that Ukrainian forces have now likely been pushed outside the city limits – though it remains unclear whether Russian clearing operations within the town are ongoing. Social media footage published over the weekend indicates that Ukrainian forces have established fortified positions along the T-0513 highway, which we previously assessed to be a likely fall-back position for Ukrainian forces (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 9 January).
- BAKHMUT: Russian sources claim their forces have made advances to the north, west and south of Soledar, and that they have pushed closer towards Bakhmut. The Russian defence ministry reported that elements of Russian airborne forces (VDV) are operating north of Soledar, particularly around Sil’. However, claims that Russian forces have cut off Ukrainian forces in Dvorichchia, located two miles (3km) west of Soledar, remain unconfirmed. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian General Staff reported over the last 48 hours that its forces are successfully repelling attacks against several settlements north-east of Bakhmut and Soledar, including Krasnopolivka, which is situated three miles (5km) north of Soledar.
- BAKHMUT: It is clear that Russian forces are trying to keep the pressure on Ukrainian positions as they consolidate their control over Soledar. However, the number of casualties sustained by the Wagner Group will possibly provide an opportunity for Ukraine to conduct a counter-attack. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak claimed on 15 January that nearly 77% of Russian prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group have now been killed, injured or captured. While we cannot confirm these numbers, Western intelligence indicates that Wagner Group forces are overwhelmingly made up of convicts, many of whom have been thrown into wasteful attacks around Bakhmut and Soledar. If such casualty figures are accurate, Wagner forces will likely need regular Russian forces to support their operations and help consolidate their newly taken positions in order to prevent a Ukrainian counter-attack. It therefore remains possible that the costs of the assault on Soledar will prevent the Wagner Group from capitalising on its limited victory and ability to press towards Bakhmut in the coming days and weeks. However, Ukrainian casualty rates are also estimated to be very high, which in turn will likely prevent Ukraine exploiting any Russian gaps as Russian regular forces, including the VDV, deploy to shore up the frontline.
- OSKIL-KREMINNA: Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have continued launching limited attacks north-west of Svatove and Kreminna, though it is unlikely that either side has made notable progress over the last 48 hours.
- SOUTHERN: On 14 January, the Russian-installed governor of Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, claimed that the construction of a new modern fortification system along the southern (left) bank of the Dnieper River is nearing completion. He claimed such fortifications are a ‘back-up’ for the low likelihood scenario that they will need to repel a Ukrainian assault, maintaining that he is confident that Russian forces will reclaim Kherson city in 2023. At present, there is little prospect of Russian forces crossing the Dnieper. Nevertheless, Ukrainian adviser to the Kherson regional administration, Serhiy Khlan, reported on 15 January that Russia has deployed additional forces in Kherson oblast, including Wagner Group forces. In addition, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command, Yevhen Yerin, similarly reported on 15 January that Russian forces have increased their presence along certain parts of the Zaporizhzhia front. Both deployments are likely to be defensive in nature.
- MARITIME: Russian officials confirmed earlier on 16 January that the first Poseidon underwater unmanned vehicles (UUV), a nuclear-capable torpedo, had been produced and will be deployed aboard the Belgorod (K-329) submarine ‘in the near future’. The Poseidon system is part of Russia’s advanced strategic weapon programme and is designed to target carrier task forces or provide a second-strike capability against coastal infrastructure, causing tsunamis that would devastate coastlines. The Belgorod previously deployed for trials in the Kara Sea in October 2022 (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 3 October 2022). There is a realistic possibility that during periods of heightened tensions in the coming months, the Belgorod will be deployed to conduct testing of the new system and to demonstrate Russian capability – akin to the deployment of the Admiral Gorshkov (which is equipped with Tsirkon hypersonic missiles) earlier this month (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 5 January).
- STRIKES: On 14 January, Russia launched two waves of missile strikes targeting critical energy infrastructure across Ukraine. Over 50 missiles and three airstrikes hit targets in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Sicheslav (Dnipropetrovsk), Vinnytsia and an unspecified location in western Ukraine. Ukraine’s energy ministry reported that energy infrastructure in at least six regions had been damaged and that emergency power outages would be introduced in the coming days. In addition to energy infrastructure, a Russian missile also struck an apartment building in the city of Dnipro, killing at least 40 people and injuring 75 others.
- STRIKES: Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Yuriy Ignat assessed on 14 January that the strikes which hit Kyiv were likely either Iskandr-M ballistic missiles, or S-300 or S-400 anti-air missiles fired on a ballistic trajectory from Belarus. Ignat noted that Ukrainian air defences are currently unable to intercept Russian missiles fired along a sharp ballistic trajectory from Belarus towards Kyiv, and that Ukraine will only prevent such strikes if it can target Russian S-300 launch sites at source with long-range weapon systems which it currently lacks.
- AID: On 14 January, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed that the UK would supply 14 British-made Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, making the UK the first country to supply Kyiv with NATO-made main battle tanks. The decision will place further pressure on Ukraine’s Western allies (especially Germany) to follow suit in anticipation of new counter-offensive operations in the spring
- AID: However, on 15 January, the CEO of German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall, Armin Papper, stated that the company would not be able to deliver battle-ready Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine until early 2024. The comments come amid growing pressure on the German government to increase Western military support for Ukraine by approving the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The decision to green-light the re-export of Leopard 2s would, for example, allow Poland to follow through on its pledge to provide Kyiv with a company of the tanks. A decision will possibly be announced on 20 January during a meeting of Western allies at Ramstein Air Base (Germany). While there are indications Berlin will approve the re-export of Leopard 2s, it is less certain whether Germany will directly supply its own Leopard 2s.
- AID: Earlier on 16 January, Germany’s defence minster, Christine Lambrecht, resigned following months of PR issues and perceived inaction in overhauling Germany’s defence policy and providing support for Ukraine. Lambrecht’s resignation will provide Chancellor Olaf Scholz with an opportunity to set out a clear stance on defence and support for Ukraine by appointing a credible successor who can facilitate the supply of tanks to Kyiv. However, Lambrecht’s replacement will almost certainly be a Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician. There is also still a debate within the SPD over how best to support Ukraine. As such, there is a risk that SPD party politics will hinder the implementation of a clear German defence policy moving forward, which will possibly undermine wider European efforts to facilitate timely Leopard 2 transfers to Ukraine.
- DIPLOMACY: On 13 January, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Vassily Nebenzya, gave a speech rejecting Ukraine’s offer of a peace summit. In addition to a long list of discredited narratives depicting Ukraine as an ‘aggressor’, Nebenzya insisted that Kyiv must recognise Russia’s control over the four regions it ‘annexed’ (but does not fully control) in September 2022. In line with our previous assessment, Nebenzya’s comments demonstrate that the Kremlin’s maximalist objectives in Ukraine remain fundamentally unchanged.
Russia: Russian hackers’ access to ChatGPT would pose more complex risks to individuals, organisations. Cyber security firm Check Point Research (CPR) has warned of Russian cyber criminals discussing on hacker forums ways to bypass OpenAI’s restrictions on its artificial intelligence-enabled (AI) chatbot ChatGPT for malicious purposes. While there are currently no known successful attempts of Russia-based cyber criminals gaining access to ChatGPT, their gaining access would likely enable them to bolster their capabilities by benefitting from ChatGPT’s features, including creative coding. ChatGPT, according to CPR, could render cyber criminals’ activities ‘more cost-efficient’, thereby prompting more criminal attacks for financial, theft, and other malicious purposes. ChatGPT’s creative capabilities, could, according to CPR and others, lead to the democratisation of cyber crime, which would likely lead to more complex cyber risks and threats to individuals, businesses, and governments alike at a larger scale and greater speeds. CPR, in fact, had already warned of hackers using ChatGPT to develop malware, including infostealers and multi-layer encryption tools, which ‘[facilitate] fraud activity’.
CONSCRIPTION: While no partial mobilisation announcement was made on 15 January, other indicators continue to point to preparations for an expansion of Russian mobilisation and conscription. Last week, the head of the Russian State Duma Defence Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, stated that Russia would raise the upper age limit for conscription from 27 to 30 ahead of the spring conscription cycle. This aligns with the military reforms approved by President Vladimir Putin in December, which aim to increase Russian force numbers by 30% (see Sibylline Daily Ukraine Update – 22 December 2022). As such, further announcements ahead of the spring conscription cycle are likely. The UK’s Defence Intelligence (DI) suggested on 15 January that the Kremlin possibly hopes that a rise in the conscription age limit will bolster the number of personnel available to fight in Ukraine, and therefore avoid the need for a more ‘alarming’ and unpopular round of partial mobilisation. However, this ignores the fact that conscripts have not been deployed to Ukraine en masse, and downplays the political implications of such a decision. Under Russian law, it is illegal for conscripts to be deployed to a foreign war zone. However, the annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts in September 2022 provided the Kremlin with a legal loophole to circumvent this law and deploy conscripts to Ukraine, given that these regions are now viewed by Moscow as ‘Russian territory’. However, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied that conscripts (as opposed to mobilised reservists) will be sent to fight in the ‘special military operation’. Despite isolated cases of conscripts being illegally deployed last year, there is limited evidence to suggest that they have ever been deployed en masse. The hundreds of thousands of Russian conscripts are, by and large, better trained than many of the freshly mobilised reserve personnel who have been deployed to Ukraine in recent months. Therefore, as the need for manpower increases, the Kremlin is increasingly likely to consider tapping its pool of conscripts to support future offensives. However, the fact that the Kremlin has not yet deployed conscripts to Ukraine, despite the legal loophole that would technically permit Moscow to do so, likely illustrates the Kremlin’s wariness of the political implications and backlash from families if such an option was ever pursued. Russia will still possibly send conscripts to fight in Ukraine given the need for capable forces to support its upcoming spring offensives. However, such a decision would likely prove even more unpopular than Moscow’s partial mobilisation of reservists in September 2022. Although the Kremlin’s stability would not be threatened in this scenario, the possibility of a backlash has so far clearly influenced Moscow’s decision not to deploy conscripts to the front. (Source: Sibylline)
23 Jan 23. Germany signals shift in veto on Leopard tanks for Ukraine. Germany would not stand in the way if Poland wants to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Germany’s foreign minister said, signalling a possible breakthrough for Ukraine as it tries to bolster its forces ahead of an expected new Russian offensive.
Eleven months after Russia invaded its southern neighbour, the fighting is centred on the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s east, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a battle of attrition.
Russia’s defence ministry said for the second straight day on Sunday that its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia, though a Ukrainian military spokesperson told the state broadcaster the situation there was “difficult” but stable.
Reuters was not able to independently verify battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies to supply them with the modern German-made tanks for months but Germany has held back from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Leopard tanks, which are held by an array of NATO countries but whose transfer to Ukraine requires Berlin’s approval, are seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Western allies pledged billions of dollars in weapons for Ukraine last week but they failed to persuade Germany to lift its veto on providing the tanks.
But in an apparent shift in Germany’s position, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said her government would not block Poland if it were to send its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval.
20 Jan 23. Stocking Ukraine could generate foreign military sales boom.
Replacing the military equipment transferred to Ukraine by the United States’ NATO allies could lead to roughly $21.7bn in foreign military sales or direct commercial sales for American industry, according to research by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Military and Political Power.
At the same time, backfilling the weapons these allies have sent to Ukraine with U.S. equipment could improve their capabilities and build a more effective military deterrent while lowering the Pentagon’s cost to procure these weapons. It would also enhance the quality of the weapons U.S. warfighters wield and strengthen U.S. defense industrial base capacity.
In addition to the $26.7bn worth of security assistance the United States has committed (as of Jan. 20) to Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, other NATO members have contributed bns of dollars’ worth of equipment. It is difficult to calculate precisely the cumulative value because many countries, unlike the United States, do not publish detailed lists.
CMPP relied on open-source information from the military analysis site Oryx to establish a baseline regarding the types and quantities of arms non-U.S. NATO countries have committed to Ukraine. It then identified an analogous U.S. system and used data from Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcements of FMS sales to estimate the unit price of the respective American system. The center then added the cost of all replacement systems the U.S. could and would likely provide, which totals roughly $21.7bn as of Dec. 5.
Admittedly, such analysis is somewhat imprecise, given the uncertainty in forecasting future decisions by allied governments. The research project, therefore, required several assumptions, which certainly can be debated.
Some countries may not replace equipment sent to Ukraine at a 1:1 ratio or may seek to acquire different American equipment than predicted. Moreover, some governments will buy equipment from non-U.S. manufacturers instead.
At the same time, the actual amount of equipment provided to Ukraine (and likely needing replacement) is almost certainly understated in this research due to some equipment being provided in unknown quantities or in secret. Additionally, many NATO allies are increasing their defense budgets significantly.
NATO countries (not including the United States) have cumulatively increased their real defense spending each year since 2015, and those levels of defense spending are likely to increase further following Russia’s latest invasion. Poland, for example, is raising its defense spending from 2.2% of its gross domestic product to 3%, which will help Warsaw purchase more military equipment.
Replacing the (often legacy) equipment NATO members have donated to Ukraine with modern American systems will improve the capabilities of individual NATO members and the alliance’s combined ability to deter aggression. For example, replacing Soviet legacy multiple launch rocket systems such as the BM-21 with High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, which have proven very effective against the Russian military, would allow NATO members to strike adversaries with greater precision and from greater range. Replacing Soviet-era T-72 tanks sent to Ukraine with M-1 Abrams tanks would yield similar benefits.
In addition, an alliance in which individual member countries employ more common equipment is one that can train and operate together more effectively and use more efficient logistics and sustainment systems.
Increasing production to backfill NATO members will also bring benefits for the Pentagon, U.S. service members and American taxpayers. Foreign military purchases of American equipment increase the quantities produced, which “may help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD,” according to the DSCA. That can help stretch the U.S. defense budget.
Increased and predictable multiyear demand for arms can incentivize the U.S. defense industry to invest additional money into research and development at the company’s own expense. Higher rates of investment in R&D can lead to more advanced weapons, helping ensure U.S. warfighters are wielding the best capabilities possible wherever they deploy, including in the Indo-Pacific region and the Middle East.
Increased demand for American equipment and munitions will also incentivize the U.S. defense industrial base to create much-needed additional production capacity. Current U.S. industrial base production capacity cannot adequately support the Pentagon’s most significant military modernization effort in four decades and arm Ukraine to defeat Putin’s invasion while ensuring Taiwan has the means to deter an invasion from Beijing.
To be sure, investments in additional production capacity often don’t yield fruit for some time. Moreover, any additional production capacity created in the short term should be used first to equip American forces and beleaguered democracies such as Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine confronting grave current or prospective threats. With the exception of allies on NATO’s eastern flank, shipments of American arms to Europe should only come after those urgent requirements are addressed.
Regardless, decisions now to eventually backfill NATO allies with American arms to replace those sent to Ukraine will help strengthen U.S. and transatlantic security and enable the United States to once again become the arsenal of democracy. That will have benefits far beyond Europe. (Source: Defense News)
20 Jan 23. U.S. officials advise Ukraine to wait on offensive, official says. Senior U.S. officials are advising Ukraine to hold off on launching a major offensive against Russian forces until the latest supply of U.S. weaponry is in place and training has been provided, a senior Biden administration official said on Friday.
The official, speaking to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States was holding fast to its decision not to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine at this time, amid a controversy with Germany over tanks.
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President Joe Biden, who approved a new $2.5 billion weapons package for Ukraine this week, told reporters at the White House, “Ukraine is going to get all the help they need,” when asked if he supports Poland’s intention to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
U.S. talks with Ukraine on any counter-offensive have been in the context of ensuring the Ukrainians devote enough time first to training on the latest weaponry provided by the United States, the official said.
U.S. officials believe an offensive would stand to be more successful should the Ukrainians take advantage of the training and the significant infusion of new weaponry.
The United States on Thursday announced it will send hundreds of armored vehicles to Ukraine for use in the fight.
A high-ranking U.S. delegation that included Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and deputy White House national security adviser Jon Finer was in Kyiv in recent days for talks with Ukrainian officials.
The belief in Washington is that Ukraine has spent considerable resources defending the city of Bakhmut but that there is a high possibility that the Russians will eventually push the Ukrainians out of that town, the official said.
If that happens, it will not result in any strategic shift on the battlefield, the official said.
One consideration for the Ukrainians, the official said, is how much they continue to pour into defending Bakhmut at a time when they are preparing for an offensive to try to drive the Russians out of areas they hold in southern Ukraine.
U.S. officials are working with the Ukrainians on this tradeoff, the official said.
On another front, U.S. officials are advising Ukraine to adjust how Kyiv conducts the war away from trying to match Russia round for round with artillery fire because ultimately Moscow will gain the advantage through attrition, the official said.
This is why the latest U.S. supply of weaponry includes armored vehicles, because it will help Ukraine shift how it fights the war, the official said.
Bad winter weather has hindered fighting on the front lines, although a cold snap that freezes and hardens the ground could pave the way for either side to launch an offensive with heavy equipment, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, said.
The official said the United States does not plan at this juncture to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine because they are costly and difficult to maintain.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on Friday denied Berlin was unilaterally blocking the shipment of Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine but said the government was ready to move quickly to send them if there was consensus among allies.
20 Jan 23. U.S. to impose new sanctions against Russia’s Wagner private military group. The United States will impose additional sanctions next week against Russian private military company the Wagner Group, which U.S. officials say has been helping Russia’s military in the Ukraine war, the White House said on Friday.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. Treasury Department will designate Wagner as a significant Transnational Criminal Organization. He said Wagner’s growing clout in Russia was causing tensions among the country’s military leadership.
“In coordination with this designation, we will also impose additional sanctions next week against Wagner and its support network across multiple continents. These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” Kirby told reporters at the daily White House briefing.
Declaring Wagner a Transnational Criminal Organization under U.S. executive order 13581 freezes any U.S. assets of Wagner and prohibits Americans from providing funds, goods, or services to the group.
“With these actions, and more to come, our message to any company that is considering providing support to Wagner is this: Wagner is a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those assisting Wagner,” Kirby said.
Last month the White House said the Wagner Group had taken delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, in a sign of the group’s expanding role in that conflict.
North Korea’s foreign ministry had called the report groundless and denounced the United States for providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin last month denied taking delivery of arms from North Korea and characterized the report as “gossip and speculation.”
Prigozhin, asked for reaction to Kirby’s Friday comments, did not directly address the U.S. accusations, but said they showed that Wagner and the Americans were “colleagues” who were both involved in “dismantling criminal clans,” an apparent reference to Russia’s claim that its war is designed to remove what it calls Ukraine’s illegitimate government.
The White House on Friday made public an image dated Nov. 18 that it said showed Russian rail cars traveling between Russia and North Korea.
Kirby said North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner and that the imagery showed five Russian railcars that traveled from Russia to North Korea. “On November 19, North Korea loaded the railcars with shipping containers, and the train returned to Russia,” he said.
“While we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems,” he said.
Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin has been increasingly turning to Wagner for military support, causing some tensions in Moscow.
“We are seeing indications, including in intelligence, that tensions between Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry are increasing,” he said. “Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.”
He said the United States assesses that Wagner currently has about 50,000 personnel deployed to Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons.
“Our information indicates the Russian Defense Ministry has reservations about Wagner’s recruitment methods. Despite this, we assess that it is likely that Wagner will continue to recruit Russian prisoners,” he said.
20 Jan 23. Need to focus on ammunition, maintaining weapons to Ukraine- NATO chief. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that countries backing Ukraine needed to focus not only on sending new weapons to Kyiv, but looking at ammunition for older systems and helping maintain them.
NATO and defence leaders from about 50 countries are meeting at Ramstein Air Base, the latest arms-pledging conference since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago.
“We need also to remember that we need to not only focus on new platforms, but also to ensure that all the platforms which are already there can function as they should,” Stoltenberg told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.
“We need ammunition. We need a spare parts. We need maintenance and we training,” he said.
The United States announced an additional $2.5 billion in military aid for Ukraine on Thursday, a package which will include more armored vehicles and ammunition.
20 Jan 23. Ukraine defence minister says forces will train on German tanks in Poland – VOA.
Ukrainian forces will train on Leopard-2 battle tanks in Poland, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov was quoted as saying on Friday, even though allies failed to reach an agreement to supply the German-made vehicles to Kyiv.
Reznikov spoke to Ukrainian-language Voice of America after attending a meeting at Ramtsein Air Base, Germany, where Ukraine’s partners did not take a decision on handing over the tanks. Germany, which makes the Leopard tanks, would have to approve any transfer.
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Reznikov described the training development as a breakthrough, attributing the success to efforts by Poland.
“We will start with this and then we will move further,” Voice of America quoted him as saying.
Reznikov, echoing earlier comments by Ukrainian officials, said he hoped Germany will reach a decision on the tanks.
“I see this in an optimistic way,” he added. “Because the first step has been taken – we will start training missions on the Leopard-2.”
Earlier Reznikov had tweeted his gratitude to the German government and people for their military aid and hospitality.
Next to a photograph of himself with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, he wrote, “We had a frank discussion on Leopards 2. To be continued.” (Source: Reuters)
20 Jan 23. Allies offer more weapons to Ukraine, but no decisions made on tanks.
- U.S. urges Ukraine to hold off offensive
- No agreement reached on Leopard tanks at Ramstein meeting
- U.S. general says it will be hard to eject Russian forces
- Improvised memorials laid in Russia for Dnipro victims
Western allies on Friday dampened Ukraine’s hopes for a rapid shipment of battle tanks to boost its firepower for a spring offensive against Russian forces, with the United States urging Kyiv to hold off from mounting such an operation.
The top U.S. general, speaking after a meeting of the allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, also said it would be very hard for Ukraine to drive Russia’s invading forces from the country this year.
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The run-up to the Ramstein meeting had been dominated by the issue of whether Germany would agree to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or permit other countries that have them to do so.
In the end, no decision on supplying Leopards was reached on Friday, officials said, although pledges were given for large amounts of other weapons, including air defence systems and other tank models.
“We had a frank discussion on Leopards 2. To be continued,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleskii Reznikov said after the meeting.
The United States was also holding fast to its decision not to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine yet, a senior U.S. official said in Washington.
In Ramstein, U.S. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference: “From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year, it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine.”
The developments likely came as a disappointment to Ukraine, as the war unleashed by a Russian invasion last February grinds on, with no solution nor let-up in sight. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had specifically requested more battle tanks.
Ukraine was hit especially hard this week, reporting 44 people confirmed dead and 20 unaccounted for after a Russian missile attack on an apartment block in Dnipro. Russians in St Petersburg and Moscow have been laying flowers at improvised memorials to the victims.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news conference at the end of the Ramstein meeting that while time was of the essence for Ukraine to take the fight to Russia’s forces in the spring, Ukraine was well-equipped even without the Leopards.
“Ukraine is not dependent on a single platform,” he said.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration faces pressure at home to supply more advanced weaponry. A group of U.S. senators visiting Kyiv on Friday blasted the delays. “We should not send American troops to Ukraine, but we should provide Ukraine with whatever we would give our troops if they were fighting on the ground,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters Ukraine’s backers needed to focus not only on sending new weapons, but supplying ammunition for older systems and helping maintain them.
For its part, the Kremlin said supplying tanks to Ukraine would not help and that the West would regret its “delusion” that Kyiv could win on the battlefield.
Germany has been under heavy pressure to allow Leopards to be sent. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrat party is traditionally sceptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when there would be a decision on the tanks but Berlin was prepared to move quickly if there was consensus among allies.
“All pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,” Pistorius said.
Defence ministers from NATO and other countries met at Ramstein amid concern that Russia would soon reenergize its military campaign to seize parts of Ukraine’s east and south that it says it has annexed but does not fully control.
Zelenskiy thanked allies for their support at the start of the meeting, but said more was needed and more quickly.
“We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon. The Kremlin must lose,” he said. (Source: Reuters)
20 Jan 23. Germany dashed its allies’ hopes that it would approve the dispatch of battle tanks to Ukraine on Friday when a high-profile defence ministers meeting failed to reach an agreement. Many western countries argue that the German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks would greatly help Kyiv mount a counteroffensive against Russia, but Berlin has yet to agree, despite weeks of intense pressure from its allies. “[The Germans] have not made a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks,” US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said after the meeting in Ramstein, western Germany. Berlin’s approval is necessary not only for sending its own Leopards, but also for the transfer of those held by 12 other European nations. Ukraine says it needs more heavy armour to help it retake territory before Russia, which has mounted a huge mobilisation campaign, can refit and regroup. Boris Pistorius, Germany’s new defence minister, said his ministry would check the army’s inventories of Leopards to see how many could be provided to Kyiv, as it continues to deliberate whether to release them to Ukraine. He said the review would try to establish whether the Bundeswehr’s Leopards are compatible with the systems that Germany’s partners use and how many of them are available. “It’s not prejudging the decision — it’s simply preparing for the day that might well come,” Pistorius added. “Then we would be able to act immediately and provide the support within a very short time.” Olaf Scholz, chancellor, has insisted Germany will not go it alone on the tank issue, indicating he will only act in concert with the US.
But Biden administration officials argue the Leopards, which are lighter and easier to maintain than the US-made Abrams tank, are better suited to the war in Ukraine. “American partnership and a new defence minister provided the perfect cover for Scholz to move on this,” said one western diplomat in Berlin. “But he dodged it, infuriating half his partners.” The US argues that supplying Ukraine is a matter of urgency. “We have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring, whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that’s not a long time,” Austin said. Recommended ExplainerWar in Ukraine Why are Ukraine’s allies arguing about tanks? But the US secretary of defence defended Germany as a longstanding “reliable ally”, adding that the debate on arming Ukraine was about more than just tanks. “This isn’t really about one single platform,” he said. Pistorius also hit back at claims that Berlin was the sole block on sending tanks to Ukraine. “The impression that occasionally arises that there’s a united coalition and Germany is standing in the way is wrong,” he said, adding that there were “many allies” who shared Germany’s view of the tanks issue. Some German MPs were baffled by Pistorius’ statement. “It’s alarming that it took a new defence minister to check how many Leopard tanks we have, only now, 11 months after Russia attacked Ukraine,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, head of the German parliament’s defence committee. On Friday three top US senators — Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Republican Lindsey Graham — met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. (Source: FT.com)
20 Jan 23. Defense Leaders Pledge New Ukraine Support. This is a crucial and tumultuous time for Ukraine, but western leaders are demonstrating they will stand by Ukraine as it faces the challenge from Russia.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today praised the result of the eighth meeting of Ukraine Defense Contact Group, saying the more than 50 nations involved are standing strong alongside Ukraine.
At the conclusion of the meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Austin said the contact group members deepened their coordination and commitment to Ukraine, and the nations are working together very smoothly to deliver to Ukraine the equipment it needs to defend its citizens and expel Russia from Ukraine’s borders.
“This contact group will not slow down,” Austin said. “We’re going to continue to dig deep. And based upon the progress that we’ve made today, I’m confident that Ukraine’s partners from around the globe are determined to meet this moment.”
Austin is chairman of the contact group, which first met at Ramstein in April 2022. The secretary was able to share the most recent tranche of equipment President Joe Biden authorized to send to Ukraine. This amounts to around $2.5 billion worth of gear, including Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Stryker armored personnel carriers, mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, Humvees and more.
Maintaining the impetus to defeat the Russian invasion of Ukraine requires munitions and supplies. Included in the U.S. package are 20,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery shells and 600 precision-guided 155 mm artillery rounds.
The presidential drawdown authority also transfers 95,000 105 mm artillery rounds and about 11,800 120 mm mortar rounds to Ukraine. The package also will deliver more ammunition for high mobility artillery rocket systems and 12 ammunition support vehicles.
The Ukrainian military will also receive more than 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition.
The United States will transfer a number of high-speed, anti-radiation missiles to Ukraine. These missiles are designed to home in on antiaircraft radars.
The contact group focused on Ukraine’s need for air defense. Many nations have provided military capabilities in this area. The group works to “synchronize those donations and turn them into fully operational capabilities,” Austin said. “And that means every step —from donation to training to maintenance and then to sustainment.”
How these capabilities work together in an integrated air defense system was also discussed.
“Several countries have come forward with key donations that will help protect Ukraine skies and cities and citizens,” the secretary said. “France, Germany and the have all donated air defense systems to Ukraine. And that also includes a Patriot battery from Germany that’s especially important coming alongside our own contribution of a Patriot system. The Netherlands is also donating Patriot missiles and launchers and training.”
In addition, Canada has procured a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System and associated munitions for Ukraine. “These air defense systems will help save countless innocent lives,” Austin said.
The contact group also discussed Ukraine’s requirements for tanks and other armored vehicles. Austin noted the United Kingdom is sending Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine — the first Western nation to do so. Sweden announced it is donating CB-90 infantry fighting vehicles, and Denmark will donate 19 howitzers.
Latvia — a frontline state — is donating more Stingers, helicopters and other equipment to Ukraine.
Finally, Estonia, also a frontline state, is providing Ukraine with a significant new package of much needed 155 mm howitzers and munitions.
“Now, all of today’s announcements are direct results of our work at the contact group,” Austin said. “And these important new commitments demonstrate the ongoing resolve of our allies and partners to help Ukraine defend itself because this isn’t just about Ukraine’s security; it’s also about European security, and it’s about global security.”
Milley said he was impressed by the unity of NATO members and the contact group. “I think that, over my 43 years in uniform, this is the most unified I’ve ever seen NATO,” he said.
He noted that the war has evolved over the last 11 months. “Still, the mission of this contact group under Secretary Austin’s leadership has remained the same: We are effectively committed to support Ukraine with capabilities to defend itself against illegal and unprovoked Russian aggression,” the chairman said.
Milley said the United States is in this operation for the long haul. The contact group is a “clear, unambiguous demonstration of the unity and resolve with the allied nations,” he said.
Milley also said the recent security assistance package combined with earlier ones includes combined arms maneuver capabilities with supporting artillery that is equivalent to at least two combined arms maneuver brigades, or six mechanized infantry battalions.
“Eventually, Russia will realize the full extent of their strategic miscalculation, but until Putin puts an end to this war — his war of choice — the nations of this contact group will continue to support the defense of Ukraine in order to uphold rules-based, international order,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
20 Jan 23. Austin, Zelenskyy Call on Contact Group to Redouble Efforts. Now is not the time to slack off. Now is the time to dig deep and aid Ukraine in its existential struggle against Russian invaders, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group today.
The eighth meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, brought together representatives from more than 50 nations and organizations to determine the best way to get the military capabilities that Ukraine needs to repel Russian forces from their sovereign territory.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the contact group as the meeting opened and the delegates received a briefing from Ukrainian military officials on the situation on the ground and what they believe they need to continue operations.
It is the first time Zelenskyy addressed the contact group and he thanked the assembled delegates for their efforts. He said their military capabilities are already making a difference on the frontlines in Ukraine.
“But do we have a lot of time,” the president asked. “No. Terror does not allow for discussion. The terror which burns city after city becomes insolent when I tell that defenders of freedom run out of weapons against it. The war started by Russia does not allow delays.”
The president called on the contact group to speed up deliberations. “I’m truly grateful to all of you for the weapons you have provided,” he said. “Every unit helps to save our people from terror, but time remains a Russian weapon.”
Zelenskyy stressed he was speaking to them as ministers of defense. He said they defend “everything that makes our world free, civilized.”
He said the ministers serve a world that values freedom and asked them to remember “the world your parents dreamed of for you. And I’m addressing those who themselves dream of a certain world for their children. It is time now to protect those dreams.”
“People who dream, that freedom will be protected for Ukraine for all of Europe for each and every coalition country,” Zelenskyy said. “It is about people who believe that evil and hatred will always lose. The Kremlin must lose.”
Austin, who chairs the Contact Group, began the meeting detailing the latest tranche of weapons and supplies the United States is pledging to Ukraine. This is a $2.5 billion set of equipment and ammunition that brings the total U.S. contribution to the effort to $26.7 billion since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24, 2022.
“Our new package provides even more air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its cities and its skies,” he said.
This includes new National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, and eight Avenger air-defense systems.
The assistance package also helps address Ukraine’s need for armor and combat vehicles, the secretary said. “We’re providing 59 more Bradleys, 90 Strykers, 53 and 350 Humvees,” he said. The package also restocks Ukraine’s need for artillery and ammunition.
“The United States remains determined to lead — and to do our part to help Ukraine defend itself,” he said.
And so it is with democracies around the world. Austin said the unity demonstrated by the 50 countries that have stepped up to aid Ukraine demonstrates the resolve to defend small nations from the aggressions of the large nations, basing that defense on the international rules-based order that has served the globe so well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his cruel invasion and expected a quick and easy victory against an unprepared foe. He expected the world would ignore his blatant power grab. “But Putin didn’t count on the courage of the Ukrainian people,” Austin said. “He didn’t count on the skill of the Ukrainian military. And he didn’t count on you — on everyone on-screen and around this table,” he said, addressing the assembly.
Eleven months into the conflict, the combat has changed. Ukraine repelled the initial Russian push to try and take Kyiv. They launched counterattacks that saved Kharkiv and pushed the Russians out of Kherson. The fighting continues in the Donbass region, with Russian forces reliving the troglodyte combat of World War I with thousands of casualties for every inch of gain.
“We need to keep up our momentum and resolve,” the secretary said. “We need to dig even deeper. This is a decisive moment for Ukraine — and a decisive decade for the world. So make no mistake: We will support Ukraine’s self-defense for as long as it takes.”
It is a worldwide effort and Austin noted Poland’s efforts in “providing armored vehicles, in training Ukrainian forces and in providing shelter for Ukrainian refugees. “Our German hosts have announced that they will also provide a Patriot air-defense system for Ukraine, complementing our own Patriot contribution. Germany will also donate Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles for Ukraine,” he said. “Last week, Canada announced that it would provide a NASAMS air-defense system to Ukraine. That’s a major investment in Ukraine’s ability to defend its skies.”
He noted that France is also turning over AMX-10 light tanks to Ukraine and that many European nations are involved in helping train Ukrainian forces.
“This is a crucial moment,” Austin said. “Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down: It’s a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us. The Kremlin is watching us. And history is watching us.” (Source: US DoD)
19 Jan 23. US still holds back long-range ATACMS missiles from Ukraine.
“Our judgement to date is the juice isn’t really worth the squeeze,’ says top defense official.
The U.S. has decided for now against providing Ukraine with the ATACMS long-range missile system, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“Our view is that we think the Ukrainians can change the dynamic on the battlefield and achieve the type of effects they want to push the Russians back without ATACMS,” Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters Wednesday.
Ukraine has been asking the U.S. for months for the Army Tactical Missile System, a long-range surface-to-surface missile which is fired by the Lockheed Martin-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. Though truck-mounted launchers have been critical for Ukraine, the U.S. has held back the longer range missiles which would let Ukraine to hit Russian targets nearly 200 miles away, fearing it would escalate the conflict.
“Our judgement to date is the juice isn’t really worth the squeeze on ATACMS. You never know, that judgement at some point might change, but we’re really not there yet,” Kahl said.
“We think there are other capabilities that can enable the Ukrainians to service targets that they need to,” Kahl said, adding that other long-range systems from the Pentagon give Ukraine “strike potential in the coming phase of the conflict.”
According to Kahl, those include long-range unmanned aerial vehicles, Joint Direct Attack Munition kits that turn air-to-surface bombs into precision weapons, and thousands of 50-mile-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems ― which the Ukrainians have fired from U.S.-supplied HIMARS.
While the U.S. has denied Ukraine some capabilities, “I think our track record of partnership is pretty good. On the ATACMS issue, I think we’re at ‘agree to disagree,’” he said.
Asked whether the Biden administration’s refusal to provide ATACMS is driven by a fear Ukraine would use them to strike Russian territory, Kahl said it remains U.S. policy not to enable such strikes. Still, Kahl noted that the U.S. considers the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed after its 2014 invasion, part of Ukraine.
“Clearly the Russians are also attacking the rest of Ukrainian territory from Crimea, so we’ve never argued that Crimea is off limits for the Ukrainians to decide how they want to hold targets at risk in Crimea,” Kahl said.
The U.S. is working to equip Ukraine to break the near-stalemated conflict and break through dug-in Russian forces, Kahl said. That includes new pledges of Bradley armored fighting vehicles, but, for now at least, not the M1 Abrams tank.
“Really what we’re focused on is surging those capabilities to Ukraine for the next phase of the conflict and really trying to change the dynamic ― and continue the momentum that the Ukrainians had in the late summer and early fall,” Kahl said.
Critics, which include key Republican lawmakers, stepped up pressure on the Biden administration this week to send ATACMS or other longer range weaponry to help Ukraine.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, blasted what they called “handwringing and hesitation by the Biden administration and some of our European allies” for costing Ukrainian lives. They lashed out at an impasse with Germany over tanks it manufactures.
“Now is the time for the Biden and Scholz governments to follow the lead of our U.K. and Eastern European allies – Leopard 2 tanks, ATACMS, and other long-range precision munitions should be approved without delay,” the lawmakers said in a statement Wednesday, referring to the U.S. president and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army Europe, said that ATACMS, or Gray Eagle and Reaper drones could help Ukraine retake Crimea, a potential knockout blow against Russia. Ukraine could make Russia’s occupation untenable by targeting Russian logistics hubs like Sevastopol and key transit routes, like the Kerch Bridge, which links Crimea and Russia.
Hodges is also among advocates for sending Ukraine the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb, which has a range of 90 miles and can be fired from HIMARS systems. It’s made by Boeing and the Saab Group, which added a rocket motor to Boeing’s GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.
But Hodges argued that U.S. policy so far has “in effect created sanctuary for the Russians.”
“They’ve got to compel Russia to leave Crimea by use of force before the Russians can ever get back on their feet,” Hodges said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
20 Jan 23. Ukraine: UK joins core group dedicated to achieving accountability for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The UK is joining a core group of partners to shape thinking on how to ensure criminal accountability for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The UK will play a leading role in a core group of likeminded partners to pursue criminal accountability for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has announced today, Friday 20 January.
Alongside other international partners invited by Ukraine, the UK will shape thinking on how to ensure criminal accountability for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
This includes assessing the feasibility of a new ‘hybrid’ tribunal (a specialised court integrated into Ukraine’s national justice system with international elements).
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an outrageous violation of the rules-based international order. The atrocities we’ve witnessed in Ukraine are diabolical – thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, and millions more displaced, forced to flee for their lives in the most horrific circumstances. These atrocities must not go unpunished. That’s why the UK has accepted Ukraine’s invitation to join this coalition, bringing our legal expertise to the table to explore options to ensure Russia’s leaders are held to account fully for their actions.”
An investigation into the Crime of Aggression could complement established mechanisms for investigating war crimes, including the International Criminal Court and Ukraine’s domestic legal process. Together these parallel processes would help ensure all crimes are fully investigated and that perpetrators are held to account.
In joining this additional core group focused on Crimes of Aggression, the UK will complement its previous support in the pursuit of accountability for Russia’s actions.
In March 2022 the UK led efforts to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court, which has now secured the support of 42 other countries. We have also provided £1m of UK funding for the International Criminal Court to increase its collection of evidence capacity and provide enhanced psychosocial support to witnesses and survivors. Looking ahead, in March 2023 the UK and Netherlands will co-host an international meeting of Justice Ministers in London to encourage more practical support for the ICC’s work.
The UK has also co-founded the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) with the US and the EU to directly support the War Crimes Units of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine in its investigations, and appointed Sir Howard Morrison KC as an Independent Advisor to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General.
Through the ACA, the UK has funded a £2.5m package of assistance including training for more than 90 Ukrainian judges, the deployment of Mobile Justice Teams to the scene of potential war crimes, forensic evidence gathering, and support from UK experts in sexual violence in conflict.
Attorney General Victoria Prentis said:
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is barbaric. The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, and we are committed to helping them secure justice for a growing catalogue of war crimes.
Ukraine’s resolve in bringing prosecutions in the middle of a live conflict is extraordinary. By providing funding and legal expertise to Ukraine’s domestic prosecutors and judicial system, the UK is helping them to investigate atrocities committed on Ukrainian soil and, where appropriate, bring speedy prosecutions in Ukrainian courts.
19 Jan 23. Poland heaps pressure on Germany to send tanks to front line. Poland is ready to take “non-standard” action if Germany opposes sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told private radio RMF FM on Friday.
Asked whether sending tanks to Ukraine would be possible even with Germany opposition, Jablonski said, “I think that if there is strong resistance, we will be ready to take even such non-standard action … but let’s not anticipate the facts.”
It comes after Nato allies warned that Germany must drop its opposition to sending tanks to Ukraine or Vladimir Putin’s forces could gain the upper hand in the war.
Last night Britain and the US were at the forefront of an international pressure campaign calling on Berlin, which holds the export licence for Leopard II tanks, to send them to Ukraine and allow other nations to do so. (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
19 Jan 23. Biden Administration Announces Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine.
Today, the Department of Defense (DoD) announces the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs. This authorization, which is valued at up to $2.5bn, is the Biden Administration’s thirtieth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021. It contains hundreds of armored vehicles, critical support for Ukraine’s air defense, and other important capabilities including:
- Additional munitions for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS);
- Eight Avenger air defense systems;
- 59 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) with 590 TOW anti-tank missiles and 295,000 rounds of 25mm ammunition;
- 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) with 20 mine rollers;
- 53 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs);
- 350 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs);
- 20,000 155mm artillery rounds;
- Approximately 600 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds;
- 95,000 105mm artillery rounds;
- Approximately 11,800 120mm mortar rounds;
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
- 12 ammunition support vehicles;
- 6 command post vehicles;
- 22 tactical vehicles to tow weapons;
- High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
- Approximately 2,000 anti-armor rockets;
- Over 3,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition;
- Demolition equipment for obstacle clearing;
- Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
- Night vision devices;
- Spare parts and other field equipment.
The Kremlin’s most recent air attacks against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure again demonstrate the devastating impact of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. This package provides additional NASAMS munitions and Avenger air defense systems to help Ukraine counter a range of short and medium range threats and bolster Ukraine’s layered air defense. The 59 Bradley IFVs included in this package, together with the 50 Bradleys previously committed on January 6, and the 90 Stryker APCs will provide Ukraine with two brigades of armored capability. In total, the United States has committed more than $27.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $29.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine and more than $26.7 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24, 2022. (Source: US DoD)
19 Jan 23. Austin Meets New German Defense Minister Ahead of Contact Group Gathering. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with newly appointed German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin today to discuss Russia’s war with Ukraine and NATO issues and to chart the path forward for a bilateral U.S.-German defense relationship.
The secretary also met with Wolfgang Schmidt, the federal minister for special affairs at the German Chancellery, an agency serving the executive office of the chancellor.
Austin met Pistorius just a few minutes after the defense minister officially assumed the job. Austin has a long history with the country, serving in then-West Germany in the 1970s.
“Germany remains one of our most important allies,” he said.
Austin publicly expressed his sorrow over the death of Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky and more than a dozen others in a helicopter crash near Kyiv.
Austin said that Germany has been a steadfast ally in this turbulent time for Europe. “Throughout the crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Germany has remained a true friend of the United States and a staunch defender of our allies and values,” he said.
He said the United States and Germany will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they resist Russian aggression and defend their sovereign territory.
Pistorius said that Germany would support Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invaders alongside its allies.
Austin noted that Germany has already delivered critical capabilities and supplies to the Ukrainian military, saying the aid is “invaluable.”
Beyond that, Austin also mentioned his appreciation of Germany’s strong support “for our increased presence and for logistical operations to quickly move soldiers and equipment to and through Germany to reinforce our eastern flank allies.”
The secretary previewed the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, tomorrow. There are approximately 50 nations involved in the group and this will be the first meeting of the group in 2023. “We’ll renew our united commitment to support Ukraine’s self-defense for the long haul,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
19 Jan 23. UK to send 600 extra Brimstone missiles to Ukraine.
The UK will be supplying a further 600 Brimstone missiles to Ukraine, in addition to its latest support package, which includes 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, the Defence Secretary has said.
Ben Wallace said Nato allies should now be prepared to step up their support to Ukraine to enable it finally to drive out Russian forces from its territory.
“Today I can say we’re also going to send another 600 Brimstone missiles into theatre, which will be incredibly important in helping Ukraine dominate the battlefield,” Mr Wallace said during a visit to Estonia.
Britain has supplied a range of weapons and vehicles to Ukraine – including more than 10,000 anti-tank missiles.
What are Brimstone missiles?
Brimstone missiles are a British weapon, developed for the Royal Air Force by arms manufacturer MBDA.
They are precision-guided missiles, meaning that they are programmed to hit a specific target, minimising collateral damage.
Brimstone missiles have been used by British forces in Libya and Syria.
They are typically launched from fast jet aircraft such as a Typhoon, but in Ukraine’s war against Russia they have been launched from the ground.
The missiles, which are incredibly sophisticated and hit 98% of their intended targets, have been in Ukraine since May 2022, fired from modified trucks.
What are Brimstone’s specifications?
At 1.8m in length and weighing 50kg, the Brimstone can be fired from land or air and can target fast-moving vehicles.
According to its manufacturer, MBDA, the Brimstone offers proven capability against both static and moving or manoeuvring targets and pinpoint accuracy, minimising collateral damage.
MBDA also says the missile has “human-in-the-loop capability to meet restrictive rules of engagement”, and standard interface which assists rapid integration to a large number of platforms. (Source: forces.net)
18 Jan 23. The West doubles down on aiding Ukraine with heavy weapons.
Weeks before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western officials agreed to send a flurry of offensive armored vehicles to Ukraine’s battlefields that they previously refused to deliver for fear of provoking Russia — heralding a new phase of international support for Kyiv.
Plans to send yet heavier equipment designed to win maneuver battles are expected to come to a head this week, as defense leaders huddle in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday to discuss the war and pledge new contributions. They follow Western assessments that the fighting has become a virtual stalemate and that Ukraine will need intensified backing to punch through.
The Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters Wednesday that because Russian forces have dug in and fortified their forward line, the U.S. and other allies feel spurred to pledge infantry fighting vehicles and other mechanized capabilities. Ukraine can either change the battlefield dynamics of the fighting will continue on as “grinding slog,” he said.
“The Russians are really digging in. They’re digging trenches, they’re putting in these dragon’s teeth, laying mines. They’re really trying to fortify that that FLOT, that forward line of troops,” Kahl said. “To enable the Ukrainians to break through given Russian defenses, the emphasis has been shifted to enabling them to combine fire and maneuver in a way that will prove to be more effective.”
Ahead of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s meetings with German officials on Thursday and other allies at Ramstein, Kahl said the U.S. is considering American-made M1 Abrams tanks and Stryker armored fighting vehicles. But for now, Washington is still disqualifying the Abrams for Ukraine because of its fuel, maintenance and training needs.
“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment,” Kahl said. “It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on, it has a jet engine. I think it gets about 3 gallons to the mile of jet fuel. It is not the easiest system to maintain. It may or may not be the right system, but we’ll continue to look at what makes sense.”
“One of the things that Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has been very focused on is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and they and that they over the long term can’t afford, because it’s not helpful.”
This month, after France pledged to send AMX-10 RC armored reconnaissance vehicles, sometimes called “light tanks,” the U.S. pledged to send 50 M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles as part of its largest Ukraine aid package yet, and Germany pledged 40 Marder fighting vehicles.
Meanwhile, the U.K. became the first country to commit to sending Western-made tanks to Ukraine with a pledge of 14 Challenger 2 platforms.
Poland and Finland have offered to send German-built Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, subject to approval by Germany. Roughly a dozen countries operate the Leopard and have the potential to add to the supply. But Germany, like the U.S., has held back.
Analysts were describing a change in Germany’s tone as the week progressed, predicting that the government, with a fresh defense minister in place as of Thursday, might use the Ukraine donor group forum at Ramstein Air Base on Jan. 20 to announce tank aid — either involving the newer generation or older Leopard 1 types.
German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported Tuesday that manufacturers could provide 10-15 refurbished Leopard 2s in 2023, information that the paper said was confirmed with defense industry executives.
Armin Papperger, chief executive of Rheinmetall, which makes the tank in conjunction with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, had said days earlier that getting the newer-generation tanks war-ready from storage would take until 2024.
But speaking to delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz resisted the mounting international pressure and said Berlin would not take steps without Washington.
Also at Davos, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a personal appeal for Western tanks, saying they must arrive ahead of any Russian mobilization drive. Ukrainian officials have been warning they expect Moscow to call up more conscripts in the coming weeks.
“The supplying of Ukraine with air defense systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks. The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks,” he told delegates to Davos via teleconference.
Speaking afterward, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he fears Russia is preparing to launch a new offensive in Ukraine within months, and that it is time to provide Kyiv with modern tanks and missiles.
“They [Russian forces] are still very strong, and we are afraid they are preparing for a new offensive in a few months, so it’s crucial to send additional support to Ukraine, specifically modern tanks and modern missiles,” Duda said.
The U.K.’s new aid package of 14 Challenger 2 tanks would also includes 30 AS90 self-propelled artillery weapons, Bulldog armored personnel carriers, minefield breaching and bridging capabilities, “dozens” of drones, another 100,000 artillery rounds, more Starstreak air defenses, and precision rockets for the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System ― as well as associated training for Ukrainian forces
“We think now is the right time to intensify our support for Ukraine,” Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said Tuesday while visiting Washington. “We can’t allow this to drag on and become a kind of First World War attritional-type stalemate.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
19 Jan 23. Berlin sets condition for U.S. on supplying German-made tanks to Ukraine – source.
- Germany’s Leopard tanks seen as best suited for Ukraine
- All eyes on Germany when defence leaders meet on Friday
- U.S. to provide $125m to Ukraine to support energy systems
- Cabinet minister among dead in Ukraine helicopter crash
Germany will send German-made tanks to Ukraine so long as the United States agrees to do likewise, a government source in Berlin told Reuters, as NATO partners remained out of step over how best to arm Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Ukraine has pleaded for modern Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, so it can regain momentum following some battlefield successes in the second half of 2022 against Russian forces that invaded last February.
Berlin has veto power over any decision to export its Leopard tanks, fielded by NATO-allied armies across Europe and seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Several times in recent days, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed, behind closed doors, the condition that U.S. tanks should also be sent to Ukraine, the German government source said on condition of anonymity.
When asked about Germany’s stance, U.S. President Joe Biden’s spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said: “The president believes that each country should make their own sovereign decisions on what steps of security assistance and what kinds of equipment they are able to provide Ukraine.”
NATO allies have sought to avoid the risk of appearing to confront Russia directly and have refrained from sending their most potent weapons to Ukraine.
According to a U.S. official, the Biden administration is set to approve a new aid package for Ukraine, worth more than $2 bn, which would likely include Stryker armoured vehicles for Kyiv, but not M1 Abram tanks.
The package could be announced as early as Friday during a meeting of top defence officials from dozens of countries at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The Pentagon is still not prepared to meet Kyiv’s request for M1 Abrams tanks, Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser who had just returned from a trip to Ukraine, has said.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kahl said. “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine.”
Germany’s new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius will host U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday.
Austin will press Pistorius at the meeting to allow for the transfer of German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, as several NATO countries had them and were willing to deliver them quickly, U.S. officials said.
PRESSURE ON GERMANY
Attention at Friday’s meeting will be focused on Germany, which has said Western tanks should only be supplied to Ukraine if there is an agreement among Kyiv’s main allies.
Britain has raised the pressure on Berlin this month by becoming the first Western country to send tanks to Ukraine, pledging a squadron of its Challengers. Poland and Finland have said they will send Leopard tanks if Germany approves them.
In a speech by video link to the Davos forum on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Western allies to supply his country before Russia mounts its next missile and armoured ground attacks.
“The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks,” Zelenskiy said. “The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks.”
Germany’s Leopard 2 is regarded as one of the West’s best tanks. It weighs more than 60 tons (60,000 kilograms), has a 120mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five kilometres (three miles).
Ukraine, which has relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to drive out Russian troops in decisive battles.
TOUGH FRONTLINE SITUATION
The fighting has been concentrated in the south and east of Ukraine, after Russia’s initial assault from the north aimed at taking Kyiv was thwarted during the first months of an invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation”.
“The situation on the frontline remains tough, with Donbas being the epicentre of the most fierce and principled battles,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Wednesday. “We are seeing a gradual increase in the number of bombardments and attempts to conduct offensive actions by the invaders.”
Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk, is the industrial heartland of Ukraine’s east. Russian forces have been pressing for months for control of the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk but with limited success, and have shifted their attention to the smaller nearby town of Soledar in recent weeks.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a YouTube video that Ukrainian army units remained in Soledar, with heavy fighting in western districts despite Russian claims for more than a week that it now controlled the town.
Reuters could not verify battlefield reports.
Separately, a helicopter crashed in fog near a nursery outside Kyiv on Wednesday, killing 14 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister, and a child.
Ukrainian officials have not suggested that any action by Russia was responsible for the helicopter going down.
The crash was “a terrible tragedy” and “the pain is unspeakable”, Zelenskiy said on Telegram, and in his nightly video address, he said the had asked the SBU intelligence service to investigate the cause.
18 Jan 23. Netherlands confirms plans to supply Patriot system to Ukraine. The defence system will be delivered under the US’ military aid package announced in December 2022. The Netherlands has confirmed it intents to supply the Patriot missile defence system to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their fight against the Russian invasion.
The announcement comes after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s recent visit with US President Joe Biden.
During the bilateral meeting, Rutte revealed that the Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target (PATRIOT) system will be delivered by the Netherlands as part of the US’ military aid package announced in December 2022.
The US’ initiative to equip Ukrainian forces with the Patriot system was also joined by Germany earlier this month.
“We have the intention to join what you are doing with Germany on the Patriots project, so the air defence system. I think that is important that we join that. I discussed it also, this morning, with Olaf Scholz of Germany,” Rutte added, as stated in a White House statement published on 17 January.
According to the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the Netherlands is the only country, apart from the US and Germany, that can supply the Patriot system to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) has also increased its efforts to support the war-torn nation by confirming the deployment of up to 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to train the Ukrainian troops.
This new Australian training mission, called ‘Operation Kudu’, is being conducted under the UK-led international training programme to hone the battle skills of Ukrainian soldiers.
The Australian contingent has already departed from Darwin to commence the training activities later this week in the UK.
Operation Kudu will primarily focus on enhancing the basic infantry tactics of the Ukrainian soldiers to undertake missions in urban and wooded environments. (Source: army-technology.com)
19 Jan 23. US finalising plan to send nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles to Ukraine. Officials say Washington also expects to send more Bradley infantry vehicles American officials see armour, including modern main battle tanks, as critical to Kyiv’s ability to launch successful advanced combat operations in the coming months. The US is finalising plans to send nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles to Kyiv, with an announcement expected at a meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Germany on Friday, according to officials. In addition to sending Strykers for the first time, Washington is also expected to announce it will send at least 50 more Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Officials cautioned the plans were not final. The new US assistance package comes as Washington and its partners recognise that Ukraine may only have a narrow window to launch a successful counter-attack before Russia rearms and reinforces its depleted forces. The US started advanced combat training for Ukrainian forces in Germany this week.
American officials see armour, including modern main battle tanks, as critical to Kyiv’s ability to launch successful advanced combat operations in the coming months. “To enable the Ukrainians to break through given Russian defences, the emphasis has been shifted to enabling them to combine fire and manoeuvre in a way that will prove to be more effective,” said Colin Kahl, the top policy official at the Pentagon, who travelled to Ukraine last weekend. The UK has so far committed to sending Challenger 2 main battle tanks and other countries, including Poland, have expressed interest but need German sign off to send Leopard 2 tanks. Germany has made clear it will not commit to sending Leopard 2 tanks unless the US follows suit, which American officials say they are not ready to do. “I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kahl said. “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine.” Recommended Lawrence Freedman The west has changed its thinking on how to outsmart Putin US defence secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting his new German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, for the first time on Thursday. The US said earlier this month it would send Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, along with similar announcements of mobile armour from Germany and France. Berlin also joined the US in sending a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, with air defence remaining critical as Russia continues to attack Ukrainian infrastructure with missiles and drones. (Source: FT.com)
18 Jan 23. Davos 2023: Ukraine’s Zelenskiy says tank supplies should come quicker. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the World Economic Forum on Wednesday that Western supplies of tanks and air defence units should come more quickly and be delivered faster than Russia was able to carry out its own attacks.
Zelenskiy spoke by video link before Western allies meet at the Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday with the focus on whether Berlin will allow its Leopard battle tanks to be supplied to Kyiv to help drive out Russian forces.
“The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks,” Zelenskiy said. “The supplies of western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks.”
Almost 11 months since Russia invaded its neighbour, Moscow’s forces hold swathes of Ukraine’s east and south. The battlefield momentum has been with Kyiv for months, but Moscow has expended huge resources to try to advance in the east.
“Daily, there are fights in the east. We are standing strongly, resolutely,” Zelenskiy said.
At the forum, he was asked whether he was worried about his own personal security after his interior minister was killed in a helicopter crash earlier on Wednesday. He said he was not worried.
“My views haven’t changed. We need ammunition, I’m in no hurry anywhere,” he said.
Before he delivered his address, Zelenskiy asked the forum’s participants to take part in a minute of silence to remember the 14 people killed in the helicopter crash. They included the minister, other senior officials, the crew and a child. He accused Russia of exporting “terror”, pointing to a Russian missile attack that destroyed an apartment building and killed at least 45 people. Moscow has blamed that civilian attack on Ukrainian air defences. (Source: Reuters)
18 Jan 23. HENSOLDT delivers more air surveillance radars to Ukraine.
TRML-4D high-performance radars detect targets within a radius of 250 km. Sensor specialist HENSOLDT is supplying two more of its TRML-4D high-performance radars to strengthen Ukraine’s air defence. As part of an order worth a two-digit m euro sum, the two radars will already be delivered in the next three months. At the turn of the year, HENSOLDT had already contracted four TRML-4D radars as part of the IRIS-T SLM air defence system for Ukraine.
Thomas Müller, CEO of HENSOLDT, said: “This contract conclusion is not least due to the excellent operational results that have been reported back from the deployment in the country, further strengthening Ukraine’s defence capability. The radars for Ukrainian air defence protect lives and we are proud to be able to deliver much needed equipment at short notice.”
TRML-4D uses the latest Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar technology with multiple digitally shaped beams. It is capable of detecting, tracking and classifying various types of aerial targets, with a focus on small, fast and low-flying and/or manoeuvring cruise missiles and aircraft, as well as helicopters. It ensures the rapid detection and tracking of about 1,500 targets in a radius of up to 250 km.
HENSOLDT has decades of experience with radar systems for air defence and actively drives the further development of key technologies in this field. The company’s portfolio also includes the Twinvis passive radar, the Spexer product family and radars for securing ship and air traffic. HENSOLDT supplies radars for the new frigates and corvettes of the German Navy, for airspace surveillance and for approach control at airfields of the German Armed Forces, among others.
18 Jan 23. Canada pledges 200 armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine with anti-chemical attack systems.
The vehicles are also designed to defend against grenade and mortar blasts, and the tyres can re-inflate if they suffer punctures
Canada is sending Ukraine 200 Senator armoured vehicles capable of repelling hits from .50 calibre bullets and protecting crews from chemical attacks.
The delivery follows “a specific Ukrainian request for these vehicles”, Canada’s defence minister announced on Wednesday during a visit to Kyiv.
“The vehicles offer state-of-the-art, best-in-class technology and weapons can easily be mounted on them,” said Anita Anand, while sitting next to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defence minister.
The Senator Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) are highly maneuverable and well armoured in order to safely transport troops, equipment, and conduct medical evacuations.
Among their high-tech features is a system that can counteract chemical, biological and nuclear attacks by ensuring a supply of clean air inside the sealed cabin.
The vehicle has also been designed to help occupants survive grenade and mortar blasts, and it can re-inflate its tires if they suffer a puncture.
The diesel-powered vehicles are made by Roshel, an Ontario-based company.
The donation is part of £300 m in military aid announced by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, in November.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, Canada has committed more than £600 m in military aid to Kyiv, including armoured vehicles, howitzers, winter clothing, drone cameras and ammunition.
The donation of the vehicles is part of £300 m in military aid announced by Justin Trudeau in November
Last week, Mr Trudeau announced the purchase of a US-built air defence system for donation to Ukraine, the first such system offered by Canada.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, tweeted his gratitude for the APCs.
“On this difficult day for Ukraine, our friends continue to support us,” Mr Zelensky said, referring to the death of Denys Monastyrsky, the interior minister, in a helicopter crash that killed at least 14 people on Wednesday.
“Together we are moving towards victory!” (Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
17 Jan 23. World leaders should press Switzerland on arms deliveries to Ukraine. As government officials and business leaders from around the world flock to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this week, Ukrainian soldiers continue to fight and die to protect their homes — and the rest of Europe — from Russian aggression. Yet, Switzerland is blocking vital assistance.
Despite repeated pleas, Switzerland won’t allow Germany to give Ukraine much-needed Swiss-made air defense ammunition that can help protect Ukrainians from the Russian onslaught. As they descend on Davos, U.S. and allied officials should take this opportunity to press Switzerland to change course.
Berlin has provided Kyiv with Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns that have proved effective against the drones and cruise missiles Russia uses to bombard Ukraine’s electrical grid and other critical infrastructure. Gepards also proved useful in protecting Ukrainian ground troops during their counteroffensive in the Kharkiv oblast last September. Berlin intends to provide Kyiv with seven more Gepards, which could allow Ukraine to defend more critical infrastructure sites or deploy more of them to the front lines.
But these additional systems will be useless if Ukraine lacks sufficient ammunition to operate them. Kyiv is already running low, and could run out soon. The Germany company Rheinmetall is building a new facility that can produce the 35mm rounds fired by the Gepard, but it won’t begin production until June.
With its Gepards out of action, Ukrainians would be more vulnerable to Russian attacks and would be forced to expend much more expensive surface-to-air missiles, some of which are already in short supply.
The good news is that Switzerland can help. The bad news is that Bern refuses to do so, citing its commitment to military neutrality. Switzerland, where much of the existing ammunition for the Gepard was made, has repeatedly rejected German requests for permission to send Kyiv Swiss-made ammunition exported to Germany decades ago. Switzerland has also blocked other weapon transfers to Ukraine from Spain and Denmark.
Despite Switzerland’s longstanding commitment to military neutrality, the country is actually a significant exporter of military hardware. Bern attempts to thread this needle by prohibiting arms exports to countries at war, but it has at times loosened these guidelines, mainly out of a desire to support the Swiss defense industry.
Notably, the Swiss government in 2016 decided to permit certain arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries fighting the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. Among other things, Bern allowed Riyadh to receive ammunition for previously delivered air defense systems, noting that the ammunition would be used for “legitimate military self-defense” and to “protect civil infrastructure.”
Does that sound familiar? That is exactly how Swiss air defense ammunition would be used in Ukraine, even against the same Iranian-made drones.
If it wanted to, Switzerland could make a similar exception for Ukraine. Some Swiss politicians argue that legislative changes to the country’s laws governing arms sales wouldn’t even be necessary, meaning Bern would perhaps simply need to issue an administrative decision.
This week in Davos, American and European leaders should make clear to their Swiss hosts that Bern’s inconsistent and lamentable position on the transfer of Gepard ammunition will cost lives in Ukraine and incur increasing consequences for Switzerland.
Those consequences should include decisions to stop purchasing Swiss arms, as some politicians in Germany — one of Switzerland’s top arms customers — have already suggested. In fact, reducing the reliance on Swiss weapons might make sense anyhow if there is a danger of Bern blocking deliveries of spare parts and ammunition to NATO countries in a future conflict.
American officials may also want to remind their Swiss counterparts that the U.S. is planning to deliver advanced weapon systems to Switzerland, including the Patriot air defense system. This is the same Patriot system Washington promised to deliver to Ukraine in the near future. These systems are also desperately needed to protect allies and American forces forward deployed in Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific region.
If Bern persists in its refusal to allow others to provide Kyiv with air defense ammunition, then Washington should think twice about prioritizing future arms sales to Switzerland, especially for systems needed elsewhere by countries willing to carry their fair share of the security burden.
Ukraine is defending itself from a war of aggression in which the Kremlin deliberately targets civilians. A Russian victory would overturn the post-World War II order that has fostered peace and security in Europe, including for the Swiss. Viewed in that light, Switzerland’s decision to block aid from reaching Ukraine is not an act of neutrality — it is something much worse. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
18 Jan 23. Ukraine closer to receiving modern Western battle tanks, more Patriots.
- Tank decision to be made by new German defence minister
- Allies must intensify Ukraine military support -British minister
- Dutch to send Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine
Ukraine is a step closer to winning approval for German-made modern battle tanks to confront invading Russian forces and has secured a pledge of more Patriot defence missiles as its allies appear ready to rally for the next phase of the war.
Germany’s Leopard 2 tank, operated by armies in about 20 countries, is regarded as one of the West’s best. The tank weighs more than 60 tons, has a 120mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five km.
Ukraine, which has relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a broadly expected fresh Russian offensive as well as help re-take some of its territory.
Germany has been the West’s biggest holdout on pledging tanks but a cabinet minister said on Tuesday the issue would be the first to be decided by new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius.
He will host U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday ahead of a meeting on Friday of dozens of defence ministers at Ramstein air base in Germany.
Western countries have provided a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded last Feb. 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to protect its security because its neighbour grew increasingly close to the West. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.
The allies must intensify their military support to Ukraine to help them break a hardening of the front lines, Britain’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, said on a visit to Washington.
“What we see when you have these kind of brutal, attritional conflicts is this huge loss of life. And that cannot be what any of us want to see – which is why we think that now is the right time to intensify our support for Ukraine,” Cleverly said.
Also in Washington, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands told U.S. President Joe Biden of Dutch plans to offer the U.S.-made Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine.
This is in addition to pledges by the United States and Germany to send Patriot missile systems to Ukraine.
The training of Ukrainian officers to operate Patriot advanced long-range air defence system will last 10 weeks, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.
Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska urged delegates at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday to do more to help end the war, adding she would deliver a letter from her husband to the Chinese delegation setting out Ukraine’s proposed peace formula.
China is an important partner for Moscow and has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is to speak on Wednesday to the forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the civilian death toll from a missile that struck an apartment block on Saturday rose to 45, including six children, among them an 11-month-old boy, Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. Ukrainian authorities called off the search for survivors on Tuesday.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Wednesday the two sides had exchanged fire on the eastern frontline, where neither has advanced much in recent months.
Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces pounded the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where nearly 30 settlements were shelled, including the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut as well as the village of Klishchiivka, the military’s report said.
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks in Bakhmut and the village of Klishchiivka just south of it in Donetsk, it added.
Russia claims to have captured the small mining town of Soledar near Bakhmut, a focal point of recent fighting, but Kyiv says its forces are still fighting there.
“The situation is complicated. Fighting is still going on in the streets of Soledar and Ukrainian forces are fighting hard. Part of the town in occupied,” Petro Kuzyk, commander of the “Freedom” battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard, was quoted as saying by the Espreso TV news website.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a YouTube video that eyewitnesses had noted Russian soldiers at the railway station in the town of Sil – just north of Soledar.
The number of Wagner fighters-for-hire, who played a major role in recent advances in Donbas, is much smaller, with Russian soldiers and conscripts now spearheading attacks, he added.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit St Petersburg on Wednesday, the 80th anniversary of the day Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city – then known as Leningrad – and break a Nazi blockade that had lasted since September 1941.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a domestic news agency that there was no truth to rumours Putin would announce changes to the war effort such as a general mobilisation. (Source: Reuters)
17 Jan 23. Russia to make ‘major changes’ to armed forces from 2023 to 2026. Russia said on Tuesday that it would make “major changes” to its armed forces from 2023 to 2026, promising to shake up its military structure after months of setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine.
In addition to administrative reforms, the Defence Ministry said it would strengthen the combat capabilities of its naval, aerospace and strategic missile forces.
“Only by strengthening the key structural components of the Armed Forces is it possible to guarantee the military security of the state and protect new entities and critical facilities of the Russian Federation,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the changes had been made necessary by the “proxy war” being conducted in Ukraine by the West, which has been sending increasingly heavy weaponry to Ukraine to help it resist Russian forces.
The defence ministry, which has faced sharp domestic criticism for the ineffectiveness of its drive to take control of large tracts of Ukraine, vowed in December to boost its military personnel to 1.5 m.
It has made numerous changes to its leadership in the 11 months of what it terms a “special military operation”, in which its forces initially seized large areas of southern and eastern Ukraine but have since suffered a series of painful defeats and retreats.
Last week, Shoigu appointed Army General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the military general staff, to take charge of the Ukraine campaign.
The Defence Ministry said on Friday that it had taken control of Soledar – a small, salt-mining town in Ukraine’s Donetsk region that had for weeks been the focus of a Russian assault. (Source: Reuters)
16 Jan 23. Ukraine says Russian strike pattern suggests it is low on ballistic missiles. Russia is stepping up its use of S-300 and S-400 air defence systems to conduct strikes on ground targets, suggesting that Moscow’s stocks of ballistic missiles are running low, Ukraine’s Air Force spokesman said on Monday.
The official, Yuriy Ihnat, cited Ukrainian intelligence as claiming that Russia had fewer than 100 modern Iskander ballistic munitions left. He said Russia was, instead, using its S-300 and S-400 systems because of an abundance of munitions.
“The enemy is trying to use their potential, because there are many S-300 missiles already manufactured, (Russia) is a manufacturer of these missiles, and they are already using them in this way,” he told a briefing in Kyiv by video link.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said last month that Russia had likely expended a large portion of its stocks of SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which can carry a 500kg warhead up to 500 km (310 miles).
Russia’s Ministry of Defence has not commented on the claims, which could not be independently verified.
Dwindling stocks of weaponry could become key issues for both sides in a war that has raged for almost 11 months and appears set to continue.
The S-300 system belongs to a family of surface-to-air missiles that were originally developed by the Soviet Union. It was first put into operation in the late 1970s after a decade of development.
They are used by both Ukraine and Russia, although the latter has far more systems in its inventory.
Moscow developed the S-400 system to replace the ageing S-300 system in 2007. Ihnat said Russian forces preferred to use the more plentiful S-300s against ground targets, although S-400s were also being utilised in this way.
He said the S-300s can be used against ground targets up to 150 km away and presented a threat to Ukraine.
“S-300s are a threat, and of course we won’t have enough systems from the West … to shoot down every S-300 in the air. We need to destroy them at the positions from which they are fired,” he said. (Source: Reuters)
17 Jan 23. Ukraine urges speedier weapons deliveries from West to confront Russian pressure.
- Death toll rises to 40 from Russian strike on Dnipro apartments
- Russian artillery pounding eastern towns, Ukraine says
- Zelenskiy calls for faster weapons supply from West
Ukraine urged the West to speed up its supply of weapons, with the city of Dnipro reeling from a Russian missile strike that killed at least 40 people in an apartment block and Ukrainian troops under increased pressure on the eastern front.
Ukraine’s army General Staff said on Tuesday that Russia had launched more than 70 rocket attacks in the past 24 hours.
It said Russian forces shelled more than 15 settlements near the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, including the salt-mining town of Soledar, where Russia and Ukraine have waged fierce trench warfare for weeks.
Relentless Russian shelling has completely destroyed the city of Bakhmut and heavily damaged the city of Avdiivka in the centre of the Donetsk region.
“Very heavy fighting is continuing in the two key sectors of … Bakhmut and Avdiivka,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said on YouTube.
“The enemy is attacking constantly and around the clock. And we are trying to maintain our positions. Russian troops are active at night – we are in great need of night vision equipment.”
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his Monday night video address that the attack on Dnipro and Russia’s attempts to gain the initiative in the war underscored the need for the West “to speed up decision-making” in supplying weapons.
Western countries have produced a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine since Russian forces invaded last Feb. 24 but Zelenskiy and his government are insisting they need tanks.
Britain confirmed on Monday it was going to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks and other hardware, including hundreds more armoured vehicles and advanced air defence missiles.
Germany is under pressure to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine but its government says those tanks should be supplied only if there is agreement among Kyiv’s main allies, particularly the United States.
Oleskiy Danylov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, also mentioned on Monday night the need for an acceleration in weapons supplies because the government expected Russia “to attempt to make a so-called final push.”
Danylov told Ukrainian television that could take place on the invasion’s anniversary or in March.
“We must prepare for such events every day. And we are preparing … The first and last question is always about weapons, aid to help us defeat this aggressor that invaded our country,” Danylov said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was to host allies at an air base in Germany on Friday to discuss further aid for Ukraine.
Russia calls its actions a “special military operation” to protect its security because its neighbour grew increasingly close to the West. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory and to erase the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic.
Russia’s invasion has displaced ms, killed thousands of civilians and left Ukrainian cities, towns and villages in ruins. Kyiv and its allies have also accused Russia of the large-scale deportation of Ukrainians.
Zelenskiy called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) on Monday to do more about Ukrainians he says have been forcibly taken to Russia.
The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organisation, consisting of 57 states and encompassing the United States and all European states, including Russia and all states of the former Soviet Union.
“No international organisation has found the strength to gain access to the places of detention of our prisoners in Russia yet. This must be corrected,” Zelenskiy said.
The U.S. State Department estimated last year that between 900,000 and 1.6 m Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, have been forcibly deported into Russian territory.
Russia denies deportations and says those arriving are war refugees. In November, the country’s emergency ministry said that some 4.8 m Ukrainians, including 712,000 children, had arrived in Russia since February. (Source: Reuters)
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