Ukraine Situation Report: Movement To Give Kyiv Western Tanks Gains Steam
An announcement is anticipated about British Challenger 2 tanks heading to Ukraine while French AMX-10 RC armored vehicles will soon arrive.
On Friday, Ukraine picked up more positive waves in its long-standing push for modern tanks and armored vehicles.
Great Britain is “anticipated” to “formally announce” on Monday that about 10 Challenger 2 tanks will be provided to Ukraine, The Guardian reported Friday. Consummation of that deal, discussions of which began percolating earlier this week, would mark the first modern tanks Kyiv has been given by its allies. Several nations are providing Ukraine with Soviet-era tanks like the T-72, with the U.S. footing the bill for some of them.
“Ukrainian sources indicated they understood that Britain had already decided in favor,” of sending the country Challenger 2 tanks, The Guardian reported.
We must underline that this could change and we have not been able to independently confirm this claim. Still, it goes with a growing movement amongst Ukraine's allies to send the embattled country advanced western heavy armor.
Case in point, France on Friday announced that the first of its AMX-10 RC armored vehicles should arrive in Ukraine in the next two months, its 105mm main gun adding much-needed mobile punch to Kyiv’s arsenal as both sides in this nearly 11-month-old full-on war continue to lose equipment and personnel.
During a telephone conversation on Thursday, “Sébastien Lecornu, the Minister for the Armed Forces, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, set the agenda for the delivery of the AMX 10-RC” vehicles, the French Defense Ministry (MoD) announced Friday. The Ukrainian armed forces will thus receive these French-made armored vehicles “within two months.” "The two ministers also acted on the rapid organization of training for Ukrainian soldiers in the use of these tanks."
On Thursday, Germany's Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck has publicly come out in favor of approving requests from other countries, such as Poland, to send German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. The terms of the original sales of those tanks give officials in Berlin the authority to block foreign transfers, but they have been under very active political pressure from allies in recent weeks to allow them to proceed. Habeck's comments come a day after Polish President Andrzej Duda publicly declared his government's intention to transfer Leopard 2s to Ukraine. You can read more about that here.
And it comes ahead of the Jan. 20 meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of 50 defense ministers working to keep Ukraine armed and in the fight.
Tanks, and continued pressure on Germany to ease its reluctance over the transfer of Leopard 2s, will no doubt be heavily discussed at the meeting. But there’s another huge issue on the table - sustaining the tens of billions of dollars of equipment the U.S. and allies have already provided Ukraine – including German-provided IRIS-T SLM air defense systems and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
"I welcome the focus on systems but I think we need to also realize that this is not only about adding more systems, more platforms, more weapons, but also ensuring that the platforms, the weapons we have already provided, are working as they should, meaning that we also need to ensure that we provide the necessary ammunition, the spare parts, the training, the maintenance of the systems, which are already provided,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the signing of the Joint Declaration of Cooperation between NATO and the European Union at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.
The issue of keeping the weapons provided to Ukraine in the fight is also key for the Pentagon.
“Emphatically future aid to Ukraine should focus on maintenance and sustainment (M&S),” a senior U.S. defense official told The War Zone Friday. “The price tag for M&S on the Patriot air system alone is on average about $500 million for three years. Add the cost of [National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems] NASAMS, and the BFV, and we quickly reach the significant levels of sustainability” that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Pentagon policy officials “have been previously concerned about.”
Before The War Zone readers dive into the rest of the most recent updates on the ongoing conflict below, they can also first get up to speed on recent developments through our previous rolling coverage here:
The main focus of the war in Ukraine continues to be on the salt-mining town of Soledar in Donetsk Oblast, where Russia claims a victory that Ukraine denies.
“The city of Soledar, that is of great importance for continuing successful offensive operations in Donetsk direction, was liberated,” the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said on its Telegram channel Friday.
The statement seemed to take into account the consternation expressed by Yevegeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, that his forces were not getting enough credit for taking Soledar despite the tremendous losses there and in nearby Bakhmut.
“A combined-arms grouping of Russian troops (forces) carried out the offensive operations in this tactical direction that resulted in the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and the seizure of Soledar,” the Russian MoD said.
That happened "in accordance with a single concept and plan that stipulated blocking the town from the north and south, isolating the area of operations, preventing the enemy from moving reserves into the town from neighboring areas, and preventing the withdrawal of the AFU units from Soledar, as well as fire support of the offensive by ground-attack aircraft and artillery.”
Friday afternoon, Ukraine denied that Soledar had fallen.
“There are still Ukrainian units in Soledar,” Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army in the east, told The Associated Press.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated that position in his Friday night address
“The tough battle for Donetsk region continues, the battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our country continues,” he said. “Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our troops – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces – are defending the state.”
Meanwhile, video emerged Friday from Soledar showing what is said to be "a massive explosion at a building that appears to have been a shelter for Russian troops," according to CNN.
"The video shows between a dozen and 20 soldiers walking along a railroad track before turning along a street on the northern outskirts of the town," CNN reported. "After they reach a building with a distinctive green roof, the explosion destroys the building, with debris flying upwards.
The video has been geolocated by CNN. A longer version of the video has been posted by a Ukrainian soldier in the area. The soldier, with the codename Madiar, is a commander in a Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance unit.
The Wall Street Journal suggests that the capture of Soledar by Wagner troops not only boosts the group's image in Russia, but its finances as well.
"The salt mine could have economic value if Wagner can consolidate its hold there," the newspaper reported. "Russia has seized key economic assets in the parts of Ukraine that it occupies, echoing Wagner’s use of military muscle in Africa to take control of mines."
The Soledar salt mine "is one of Europe’s largest, with the capacity to produce around 2.8 million metric tons of the mineral a year in tunnels that stretch 125 miles into the surrounding countryside."
Beyond the economic hit to Ukraine, the collapse of Ukrainian forces in Soledar will likely make it harder to defend Bakhmut, where both sides have suffered tremendous losses of troops and equipment fighting for inches.
Both cities have been leveled by the fighting.
U.S. officials have said that even if Bakhmut falls, leading to Russia regaining greater control of the Donetsk Oblast, it won’t have a tremendous strategic effect on Ukraine’s efforts.
But the combination of lost personnel, equipment, territory and momentum - plus looming concerns of a new Russian offensive - do not bode well for Ukraine achieving its goal of complete liberation of its land.
Elsewhere on the frontlines, fighting continues to be focused largely in Donbas. Aside from the battles in Donetsk, the two sides continue to claw for territory along the P-66 Highway in Luhansk, running from Svatove to Kreminna.
Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and west of Donetsk City.
- Russian forces continued defensive operations on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River.
In an interview with the BBC likely to cause heartburn in Russia and NATO member nations, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that "Ukraine as a country, and the armed forces of Ukraine, became [a] member of NATO. De facto, not de jure (by law). Because we have weaponry, and the understanding of how to use it."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long framed his all-out war on Ukraine as an existential fight against the NATO alliance, which has taken great pains to explain that it is not at war with Russia. But Reznikov downplayed concerns that his comments will only feed into Putin's claims.
"Why [would it be] controversial? It's true. It's a fact," Reznikov said. "I'm sure that in the near future, we'll become member of NATO, de jure."
NATO may not be at war with Russia, but it is still massively concerned about the country's war against Ukraine.
"NATO will deploy [E-3 Sentry] Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes to Bucharest, Romania," the alliance announced. "The aircraft are scheduled to arrive on January 17, 2023 and will support the Alliance’s reinforced presence in the region and monitor Russian military activity."
“As Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine continues to threaten peace and security in Europe, there must be no doubt about NATO’s resolve to protect and defend every inch of Allied territory,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “Our AWACS can detect aircraft hundreds of kilometers away, making them a key capability for NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. I thank Romania for hosting the aircraft, which makes an important contribution to our early warning,” she added.
Since before the war began and especially after, E-3s have been a fixture in the skies along Ukraine and Belarus's western borders, keeping an eye on aerial movements.
"The NATO AWACS will start reconnaissance flights, solely over Alliance territory, in the coming days," NATO stated. "The mission is scheduled to last several weeks. The aircraft belong to a fleet of 14 NATO surveillance aircraft usually based in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Around 180 military personnel will deploy to the Romanian Air Force base at Otopeni near Bucharest in support of the aircraft."
As Ukraine keeps a wary eye on activities in its bellicose neighbor to the north, Russia continues to build up troops and equipment in its client state of Belarus.
"As part of the joint activities of combat coordination of the regional grouping of troops (forces) of Belarus and Russia, the artillery units of the 11th separate mechanized brigade are being prepared to perform tasks as intended," the Belarusian Defense Ministry said Friday on its Telegram channel.
Belarus also received a new air defense system from Russia.
"Today, military personnel of military unit 30151 received a battery of the Tor-M2K anti-aircraft missile system," the MoD said. "During the solemn transfer of military equipment, Colonel Andrei Lukyanovich emphasized that this is a significant day for the brigade, for the Air Force and Air Defense Forces, and for the Armed Forces. New weapons were handed over to a strategically important brigade. Last year, military unit 30151 became the best military unit in the Air Force and Air Defense Forces according to the results of the academic year."
A Russian official, meanwhile, threatened that a Ukrainian attack on either Russia or Belarus - as dubious as that might be - would spark a joint response by both nations.
"From a legal perspective, any use of force by the Kyiv regime or a Ukrainian military invasion of either Belarus or Russia would be enough to trigger a collective response," Russian Foreign Ministry official Alexey Polishchuk told the official Russian TASS news agency on Friday. "However, it would be up to the two countries’ political and military leadership to decide whether to respond and in what way. The advisability of the use of the Union forces and the adequacy of a joint response to the threats posed in a specific situation will be key."
Any cross-border attack would apparently now have an unlikely foe - beavers.
"Burst river banks, thick mud and waterlogged fields could be seen for miles around northwest Ukraine's border with Belarus on Thursday, making the prospect of a Russian assault from across the border unlikely for now despite recent warnings from Kyiv," Reuters reported.
The spokesman for one unit told Reuters that beavers were helping create that water-logged battlespace.
"When they build their dams normally people destroy them, but they didn't this year because of the war, so now there is water everywhere," Serhiy Khominskyi said.
We are finally getting a look at the imagery Ukraine has obtained through the use of its new SHARK drone, which manufacturer Ukrspecsystems says has a nine-foot wingspan and can stay aloft for four hours.
Ukrainian troops have to know how to fight in the snow, and that's just what they are learning to do in northern England. This is part of an ongoing training mission sponsored by that nation.
And finally, "fire safety violations" apparently continue to plague Russia, in this case, a blaze that reportedly destroyed a T-72 tank and damaged two others.
"During the repair of the T-72 tank in the Belgorod region, ammunition detonated - one tank was destroyed, two others were damaged," the Russian Baza news agency said on its Telegram channel.
"The fire at the repair and technical base began on the evening of January 12. The emergency arose due to a violation of fire safety during repairs. Firefighters arrived at the scene of the emergency two hours after the fire and extinguished the fire in half an hour. There were no casualties."
That's it for now. We will update this story if there is anything major to add.
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