Ukraine Situation Report: Delivery Of Polish MiG-29s Imminent
Poland’s president says his country will be the first nation to deliver much-needed new fighter jets to Ukraine “within the next few days.”
In the latest development in the saga of getting Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine, the Polish president has confirmed that the first four examples will be handed over to Kyiv “within the next few days.” More MiGs will be transferred to Ukraine after that, Polish President Andrzej Duda said, adding that “The rest are being prepared, serviced.” According to a report from CNN, the total number of MiGs to be transferred is between 11 and 19.
“Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order,” Duda said today. Around 28 MiG-29s currently serve with the Polish Air Force, although Pawel Szrot, head of the president’s office in Warsaw, previously said that fewer than 14 would be transferred to Ukraine. In light of today’s announcement, it’s unclear if this is still the plan.
However, as we have explained in the past, the loss of a significant portion of the Polish MiG-29 fleet would not necessarily seriously impact overall capabilities, especially with South Korean-made FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft due to arrive in Poland beginning this summer. Looking further ahead, a more direct replacement for the MiG-29 will join the Polish Air Force in the shape of the F-35A stealth fighter.
In the past, President Duda told Sky News that Ukraine will need “modern planes, fighter jets in the future.” However, he also warned that this would take time, due to the need to for provide training for Ukrainian pilots on new aircraft types. Providing MiG-29s avoids that issue since the Fulcrum is already well established in service with the Ukrainian Air Force.
MiG-29s in service with the Ukrainian Air Force:
A renewed plan to get at least some of Poland’s MiG-29s into Ukrainian hands has gathered momentum in recent weeks. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed two days ago that at least some of the jets could begin to arrive in Ukraine in the next four to six weeks, suggesting that the plan has now been accelerated.
Last week, meanwhile, Slovakian Minister of Defense Jaroslav Nad confirmed that his Polish counterpart had told him at a European Union meeting the previous day that Warsaw would agree to a joint process to transfer MiG-29s to Ukraine. This is in line with the Polish proposal to establish a coalition of countries that can transfer MiG-29s from their respective stocks.
As well as Poland and Slovakia, which retired its Fulcrum fleet last summer, Bulgaria is the other NATO operator that has stocks of the Soviet-era jets that could potentially be sent to Ukraine.
This scheme should fare better than an earlier plan to provide Ukraine with the entire fleet of Polish MiG-29s, which was shot down by the U.S. government amid concerns that supplying Kyiv with fighter jets would be too provocative. That plan was also somewhat more elaborate, involving the transfer of the MiGs to the U.S. government, before passing them on to Ukraine, while Poland has hoped it would get U.S.-provided fighters, in return, to make up the deficit.
Previous efforts to provide Ukraine with other heavy weapons that were once seen as being off-limits have since been met with success. The best examples of these are perhaps the modern Western main battle tanks and Patriot and other advanced air defense systems that have now begun to be delivered.
We have already raised the question of how the MiG-29s would actually get to Ukraine although partial disassembly followed by movement by rail or road seems most likely.
Time will tell if the latest plan is another false start or whether it will finally succeed in delivering to Ukraine the additional fighter jets it’s long campaigned for. However, there are clearly points in favor of this initiative succeeding, including the aforementioned coalition of potential donors, Ukraine’s ability to absorb the MiG-29 specifically, and the fact that this type is still less provocative than a multi-role-capable Western-made fighter, for example. In the past, the U.S. and its allies have supplies large volumes of parts for Ukraine's fighter aircraft, especially the MiG-29.
It seems that there may be optimism among Ukrainian officials, too, with a recent tweet from Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, including four plane emojis in what was a very obvious nod to President Duda’s announcement today.
One thing the Polish decision won’t trigger, according to the United States, is a corresponding move on its part to supply Ukraine with the F-16 fighter jets it so badly wants. Speaking today, White House spokesperson John Kirby said that President Duda’s announcement “doesn’t change our calculus with respect to F-16s.”
Meanwhile, the push to secure F-16s for Ukraine continues in Washington, D.C., where a group of eight senators from both parties are requesting that the Pentagon provide more information on what it would take to send the jets to Ukraine.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
The latest suspicious blast in Russian territory occurred at a building belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) — the primary successor to the Cold War-era KGB — in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don today. At least one person was killed and two injured in the blast and subsequent fire, according to officials quoted by Russian state media.
Video footage of the incident quickly appeared on social media and showed thick black smoke billowing into the air over the city, which is the capital of the Rostov Oblast region which adjoins parts of eastern Ukraine.
A statement from the FSB explained that fuel and lubricants had caught fire in a workshop, creating an explosion that led to the partial collapse of the building that housed its border patrol section.
The Rostov regional governor, Vasily Golubev, blamed the fire on a “short circuit in the electrical wiring inside the building,” although some kind of hostile action seems to be at least a possibility, considering the spate of mysterious explosions that have occurred in Russia’s border areas with Ukraine since the start of the war.
While Ukrainian officials don’t comment directly on cross-border raids or partisan activities within Russia, Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyakdid reference the incident in Rostov-on-Don, saying that the fire “clearly indicates that this is a manifestation of panic, weakening of power control and [Russia’s] transition to a major internal conflict.”
There is no sign of Ukrainian forces withdrawing from the besieged city of Bakhmut, according to Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader in the occupied Donetsk region. Pushilin told the Russian state-owned news agency TASS today that “the situation [in Bakhmut] remains complicated, difficult, that is, we do not see that there are any prerequisites there that the enemy is going to simply withdraw units.”
As we have reported on several occasions before, Ukrainian officials have remained steadfast in their commitment to holding the eastern city, despite mounting losses and increasing questions about its strategic relevance.
Pushilin also claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are having difficulties in receiving supplies of ammunition, food, and reinforcements. As regards ammunition, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov has said Ukraine is now firing an average of 110,000 155mm artillery rounds alone each month. A request has been put into the European Union to provide a total of 250,000 rounds per month.
While the Russian claims around Bakhmut have not been independently verified, we have previously reported accounts of Russian forces closing in on the city from the north, east, and south. Meanwhile, the only road still available to Ukrainian forces, in the west, is under Russian artillery fire.
Now, according to Pushilin, the western road is “even more significantly under the fire control of the Wagner mercenary group.”
The video below shows fighters from the Wagner Group engaged in the kind of trench warfare that has become a trademark of the war being fought in certain sectors of eastern Ukraine, as well as in the south. In this combat, the Wagner troops were apparently attempting to regain control of a portion of the trenches from Ukrainian forces, with the confusion of the close-range fighting leading to a blue-on-blue or ‘friendly fire’ incident.
In another bizarre apparent blue-on-blue incident, a Russian BM-27 Uragan multiple rocket launch system (MRLS) fired a rocket into another Russian Uragan from directly behind it. While it’s unclear exactly what went wrong, a possible explanation is that the group of Uragans came under attack, which led to rockets in some of the damaged launchers starting to “cook off” and fire spontaneously.
More Wagner Group fighters are seen in the following video, in which a sniper team armed with an MTs-566 sniper rifle engages targets from within an abandoned building, somewhere in Bakhmut.
In an interesting development in the drone war in Ukraine, an example of a commercially available Chinese-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was claimed shot down recently near the city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers said that they brought down the Mugin-5 drone while it was flying at a low altitude early in the morning last Saturday. The drone was reportedly launched from Russian-held territory on Friday night and had been adapted to carry an explosive charge.
The Chinese company Mugin Limited, which produces the drone, confirmed to CNN that it was one of its products and described the incident as “deeply unfortunate.”
The Mugin-5 retails for $15,000 on Chinese e-commerce websites, although Mugin Limited says that it has not sold any products to Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Ukraine has used this type of drone extensively for long-range strikes into Crimea and Russia. Up until recently, it was the only known long-range drone capable of such missions. It first appeared in June during an attack on an oil refinery in Russia and has since been seen repeatedly, especially in attacks against Russian targets in Crimea. Ukraine does not acknowledge its existence. Regardless, it would be a major revelation if Russia was now using these 'improvised' off-the-shelf suicide drones for its own long-range strikes.
Meanwhile, a report from Politico today claims that many other Chinese companies currently are engaged in supplying weapons to Russia. The report suggests that China has delivered to “Russian entities” as many as 1,000 assault rifles as well as other equipment that could be used for military purposes, including drone parts and body armor.
Russia plans to recruit another 400,000 professional soldiers, according to a report from Radio Svoboda, which cites several regional media outlets. The recruitment campaign is planned for launch on April 1 and the report suggests that different regions within Russia have already received quotes for the number of people that need to be recruited to meet the overall target. For example, the regions of Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk will each be expected to secure 10,000 contractor soldiers, while the figure for Perm Krai is 9,000.
According to the Vyorstka outlet, Russian military recruitment offices are especially looking for soldier specialists, such as tank drivers and artillerymen, to replace combat losses.
As we stated earlier this week, a recent report from The Washington Post claims that Russia may have suffered as many as 200,000 killed and wounded during the conflict. In Bakhmut alone, Western officials have estimated total Russian casualties at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000.
Some remarkable video footage from apparently recent fighting at an undisclosed location in Ukraine reveals the effectiveness of the slat armor fitted to a Ukrainian BTR-4E Bucephalus, a locally produced amphibious 8x8 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle that has seen a lot of action in the conflict so far. The Ukrainian vehicle survives what looks like a direct hit from an anti-tank guided missile of unknown type, the warhead detonating on impact with the slat-armor screens that can help defeat various tiers of infantry anti-tank weapons.
Up-armored vehicles of another kind are also finding their way into the hands of Russian fighters in Ukraine. The photos below show heavily modified Ural trucks that are reportedly destined for use by Russian volunteers from the republic of Bashkiria. As well as additional armor plating around the cab, engine, and cargo area, one of the trucks also has the turret from a BRDM-2RKhB reconnaissance vehicle installed. This turret is fitted with twin 7.62mm PKT general-purpose machine guns.
Another recent Russian combat jet loss has apparently been recorded during the fighting near Bakhmut, in Donetsk Oblast. The Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed that they had shot down a Russian Su-24M Fencer strike aircraft, or a type operated by regular air force crews as well as by mercenary pilots from the Wagner Group. The accompanying video shows that at least one of the crew ejected. However, the precise identity of the aircraft is still unconfirmed, with subsequent accounts suggesting it could be a Russian Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft, a type also operated by both the air force and Wagner.
While Bakhmut remains a focus of attention for Russian and Ukrainian forces alike, there is growing evidence that a new offensive could be in the making in Mariupol, in Donetsk Oblast, which has been occupied by Russian forces since May 2022.
Unconfirmed reports citing the Mariupol City Council indicate that Russian forces in the city are preparing for a potential new Ukrainian offensive directed against it.
“Russian builders were removed from Mariupol and transferred to the field to build fortifications in the Mariupol district,” the council apparently said. “The occupiers are also urgently digging trenches along the Mariupol-Donetsk highway. They are preparing for an offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”
Another Leopard 2A4 main battle tank is headed to Ukraine from Canada, with confirmation that a second example is now on its way to Europe. The Leopard 2 departed Edmonton, headed to Poland, yesterday, aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-177 Globemaster III transport aircraft. It will join a previous Canadian Leopard 2 that was shipped to Ukraine in February. Another two have been pledged by Ottawa.
As Western armies increasingly donate arms to Ukraine, efforts are also being made to backfill or otherwise replace those inventories that have been depleted. One case in point is the United Kingdom, where the British Army is now set to receive 14 BAE Systems Archer self-propelled artillery systems, set to be fully operational by next April. These will provide an interim replacement for the 32 AS90 artillery systems that were donated to Ukraine.
Another modern tank that could yet find its way into Ukrainian service before too long is this Russian T-90M, apparently captured recently by Ukrainian soldiers. The T-90M is considered to be the top-of-the-line fighting vehicle in Russian Army service and we reported on the capture of the first fully intact example by Ukrainian troops in September 2022.
According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Russia has lost 15 T-90Ms in the Ukrainian war already, the same figure provided by the team of researchers at the Oryx blog, using open-source information. That total includes tanks destroyed, damaged, captured, and otherwise abandoned.
Interestingly, it appears that the T-90M includes various high-technology components of Western origin. In particular, the Ukrainian Armed Forces say that foreign components are found in the Kalina fire-control system, which is otherwise billed as being a Russian product.
That’s it for now.
We will update this story if there is anything major to add until our next new update is published.
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