U.S. To Bolster Ukrainian Air Defenses As Russian Advance Grinds On (Updated)
Russia has been unable to achieve air superiority nearly three days into its invasion of Ukraine and faces continued resistance on all fronts.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that a new military aid package for Ukraine will contain "lethal defensive assistance" to help the country "address the armored, airborne, and other threats." This strongly suggests that anti-aircraft weapons, possibly shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles will be among the deliveries. It has been confirmed that the U.S. shipments will include more Javelin anti-tank missiles, which have already distinguished themselves in this conflict. All of this comes as Russia continues to press ahead with its invasion in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Author's note: YOU CAN READ OUR MOST RECENT ROLLING COVERAGE ON THE CONFLICT IN OUR NEW POST HERE.
Secretary Blinken released a statement regarding the planned military air shipments this morning. This followed an announcement from the White House authorizing up to $350 million in additional military assistance to Ukraine late last night. U.S. officials, as well as those from other countries in the NATO alliance, had said yesterday that they fully intended to continue delivering weapons and other materiel to the Ukrainian armed forces, which are now in their third day of fighting invading Russian forces.
"This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing," Blinken wrote. "It is another clear signal that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign, courageous, and proud nation."
He did not provide any specific details about what weapon systems the U.S. government now plans to send, but the reference here to capabilities to respond to "airborne" threats very much points to planned shipments of air defense weapons. Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), are the anti-aircraft weapons that would be among the easiest and most practical for American officials to send for reasons The War Zone has explored in detail in the past.
Latvia and Lithuania, both NATO members, had already delivered shipments of Stingers, including pedestal-mounted twin-launcher versions, to Ukraine and had begun training personnel on their use before the conflict erupted. Those Stingers have apparently already been employed with at least some success against Russian forces.
Another possibility is the Polish Piorun, another type of MANPADS that you can read more about here. The Polish government had previously pledged to supply Pioruns to Ukrainian forces with reports stating that these weapons would be exported first to the United States as part of the transfer arrangements.
The reported U.S.-Polish arrangement might also point to the possibility of the U.S. government facilitating the delivery of more substantial air defense systems, including former Soviet types or derivatives thereof that Ukraine might be able to more quickly integrate into its order of battle. Besides air defense systems that use Stinger, the U.S. military does not have any other short or medium-range surface-to-air missiles in inventory that could be available for transfer on short notice to Ukraine.
Regardless of what air defense system or systems, the United States might send to Ukraine, they will be a welcome addition to the country's arsenal. Ukraine's existing combat aviation and air defense capabilities have been able to prevent Russia from obtaining complete air superiority. Ukraine claims to have shot down 14 fixed-wing aircraft, including a pair of Il-76 transport aircraft just overnight, as well as eight helicopters, though it has been hard to independently verify these claims.
At least two Russian A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control aircraft have been spotted flying from Belarus in the past day or so, which would be critical to the Kremlin's continued efforts to gain control of the skies over Ukraine.
Still, a U.S. defense official said today that Ukraine's air and missile defense forces were "still viable," despite being heavily targeted by Russian forces. American authorities have assessed that, among other things, the Russians have fired approximately 250 individual cruise and ballistic missiles at various targets in Ukraine.
The inability of Russian combat aviation elements to operate in Ukraine with absolute impunity could well be one of the many factors that have already contributed to consistent reports that they are advancing slower than they expected, especially toward the country's capital. Despite fighting on the ground and additional Russian strikes on the city, Kyiv, which is now under a total curfew, was able to emerge this morning still firmly under Ukrainian control.
The U.S. government believes that the Kremlin is "increasingly frustrated" with the overall situation, a U.S. defense official said today. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has now issued a similar assessment.
That being said, Russian forces have continued to press on and have made some significant advances just in the past 12 hours, particularly in the southern portion of Ukraine. Russia claims to have taken the city of Melitopol, which occupies a highly strategic position northeast of the Crimean Peninsula. The exact extent of their control has been disputed, though imagery has clearly shown Russian forces in the city in the past day.
There are some indications that Russia, which is now assessed to have deployed around 50 percent of the forces it amassed around Ukraine in the past few months, might be looking for new ways to break the deadlock in certain areas. A video emerged today showing TOS-1 thermobaric rocket launchers, as well as other heavy artillery, on the move south from Russia's Belgorod region. These weapons could be particularly devastating when employed against dug-in Ukrainian forces in urban areas.
Their use, especially in population centers, could also significantly raise the risk of collateral damage. Ukrainian authorities, foreign officials, and international organizations have already begun reporting that Russia appears to be at least been attacking in an indiscriminate manner that puts civilians at unnecessary risk. Despite the growing evidence, Russia has denied these claims.
The conflict, overall, shows no signs of abating. Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's main spokesperson, said today that Ukrainian authorities had rejected their proposed terms to start negotiations to end the conflict. Ukrainian officials had confirmed that such talks were ongoing as of last night.
At the same time, much of the international community continues to work to put pressure on Russia to end its invasion through sanctions and other means. French authorities notably seized a Russian-owned cargo ship in the English Channel today that is suspected of being in violation of new European Sanctions.
However, a Tweet from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier that seemed to say that Turkey had agreed to block Russian warships from passing through two straits that link the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea appears to be false and may have simply been a reiteration of a previous Ukrainian request. Through an international agreement, Turkey does have the authority to limit maritime traffic in these areas and impose other restrictions, but cannot prevent warships from making the transit if it is not a party to the conflict in question.
The Black Sea has proven to be a particular point of concern when it comes to possible spillover effects from the conflict, with multiple commercial vessels having now been damaged or possibly destroyed in and around this body of water as a result of Russian strikes targeting Ukraine. Russia says that it has destroyed a number of Ukrainian naval vessels as part of these maritime operations.
All told, the conflict in Ukraine continues to evolve rapidly as it progresses through its third day. With Russian forces closing in in larger numbers around Kyiv, tonight could be pivotal to the outcome of the conflict.
Our newest update to this story can be found below, with older updates appearing in reverse order after that.
UPDATE: 6:50 PM EST—
What looked like a large-scale artillery barrage occurred on an area to the south of Kyiv which most say was Vasikov. After the barrage, which lasted minutes, ended, a large fire could be seen glowing in the area. Reports state that an oil/petroilium storage area was hit and subsequently exploded and burned. There is also an airbase to the north of the city that has been highly contested that could have been targeted. Fighting has continued in the city for days, with last evening supposedly being especially ferocious. It's possible that the use of mass artillery barrage seen there is a preview of what is coming for Kyiv as Russia's assault on the capital has stalled.
The exodus to Poland continues to many Ukrainians:
Russian forces are rallying their forces at another major infrastructure facility, in this case the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant:
The U.S. and its allies and counterparts around the globe have moved to remove Russian banks from the SWIFT system. When it comes to sanctions, this was considered the nuclear option that will cut off Russian banks from being able to transfer money to and from other banks. Germany was the last holdout against this move, but it has since changed its position and is also sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine.
Buy all accounts, Ukraine's militia grows rapidly as average citizens take up arms to defend their country:
Reservists of the Forces Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine! Honor! You are already 37 thousand! Thank you for a reliable shoulder! Together to victory!
UPDATE: 3:15 PM EST—
Russia says it is 'guarding' Chernobyl and that they seized it to keep Ukraine from building a dirty bomb. Ukraine has other nuclear facilities so this makes little sense just in one manner, among many others.
There are fears that a manufactured radiological event could provide yet another pretext/justification for Russian military actions or even for manipulating the pace of the conflict.
A little primer on employing the Stinger:
Unconfirmed video of supposedly showing Su-25 being shot down:
Ukraine's embassy in Israel briefly put out a statement looking for foreign fighters before taking it down:
There is a lot of talk, and images to support it, that Russia is moving its TOS-1 launchers into place around cities. These thermobaric artillery systems are extremely nasty and are especially capable of killing people hiding in enclosed areas like subways. They create a powerful pressure wave that does incredible physiological damage and a vacuum that ruptures the lungs. Severe burns are also a part of these weapons' lethal mix. There are fears that these will be unleashed on cities to force capitulation.
Big commitments to enhance Ukraine's combat capabilities are flowing in from foreign allies. The timing could be an issue though, but even if Russia sacks the capital, the resulting insurgency will be extremely brutal. Zelensky is also pushing the UN Security Council to qualify Russia's actions in Ukraine as genocide.
Here is the latest line out of Moscow, now they are 'really' going to try to take Kyiv because there is no negotiation opportunity:
UPDATE: 2:35 PM EST—
As the night in Ukraine wears on, there are continued reports of fighting in and around a number of cities, including the capital Kyiv and Kharkiv (Kharkov) further to the northeast.
Ukraine says it has shot down more Russian aircraft in the past day or so.
Private satellite imagery and intelligence analysis provider ImageSat International has now released images of various locations in Ukraine. One of the shots shows Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport near the capital with what appears to be vehicles on the runway. There had previously been reports that actions were being taken to prevent Russian forces from landing airborne forces at various airfields. A new satellite image from commercial provider Planet Labs shows something similar at Boryspil International Airport, also near Kyiv. That image also shows two Turkish Air Force A400M cargo aircraft still on the ground days after they first arrived, suggesting they may now be stranded.
It has now been confirmed that Chechnya, a semi-autonomous republic within Russia, has mobilized thousands of additional personnel to support Russia's war on Ukraine. Chechen special operations units have already been spotted taking part in the invasion. BBC News Russian reported today that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was among a select few to be involved in Putin's planning for the operation.
A video reportedly made by Russian special operations forces personnel, or spetsnaz, has emerged online calling on Ukrainians to surrender.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has now asked the United Nations to strip Russia of its permanent seat on the Security Council over the invasion.
UPDATE: 1:35 PM EST—
A number of other countries have now announced their own planned deliveries of additional military aid to Ukraine. Most significantly, Germany, which has previously refused to send weapons and other "lethal aid," and has blocked third-party transfers of German weapons, says it will now send Stingers and Panzerfaust 3 unguided anti-tank weapons. The German government will also allow the Netherlands, which is also considering deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles in NATO territory opposite Ukraine as part of the alliance's own buildup to deter further Russian aggression, to transfer additional Panzerfaust 3s.
Belgium and Slovakia are reportedly preparing to send a mix of machine guns, ammunition, and fuel.
Separately, the German government says that it is moving toward agreeing on proposed European Union-wide sanctions that would cut Russia off from the SWIFT banking system. Germany is now the only country within that economic bloc that has not agreed with this plan.
In the meantime, the U.S. government says that Russian forces continue to push in Ukraine along three main axes. American officials have now confirmed an amphibious landing along Ukraine's coast in the Sea of Azov to support Russin advances in the southern part of the country.
Author's note: YOU CAN READ OUR MOST RECENT ROLLING COVERAGE ON THE CONFLICT IN OUR NEW POST HERE.
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