Ukraine Situation Report: Swiss Veto Threatens Delivery of German Anti-Aircraft Vehicles
A report says U.S. intel sharing has helped Ukrainian forces, including in shooting down Russian planes, as other military aid grows.
A new twist on problems in getting German military assistance to Ukraine has emerged today. Swiss authorities have blocked the re-transfer of ammunition used in the 35mm automatic cannons on Gepard anti-aircraft vehicles that authorities in Berlin now plan to give to the Ukrainian armed forces.
The German government announced the planned shipment of an unspecified number of Gepards to Ukraine earlier today. This had represented a significant shift in policy for authorities in Germany, who have previously declined to join the growing number of countries sending armored vehicles and other higher-end weapons and equipment directly to the Ukrainian military.
The announcement of the new German military aid came as representatives of more than 40 countries met at the U.S. Air Force's Ramstein Air Base in the country to discuss additional ways to support Ukraine. This was the first of what is set to be a monthly meeting of American allies and partners that comprise a Ukraine Contact Group. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosted this gathering.
It comes just days after Austin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and announce yet another new tranche of U.S. military assistance.
NBC News published a new report about critical U.S. intelligence sharing with Ukraine, which says that information from American sources have helped Ukrainian forces avoid Russian attacks and carry out strikes of their own.
Western military aid for Ukraine has surged recently amid a renewed Russian offensive in the eastern and southern portions of the country. The U.K. Ministry of Defense said today that Russian forces appear to be attempting to encircle and cut off various Ukrainian positions in the east and looking to be aiming to capture multiple cities. Russia's military has already succeeded in taking control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kreminna as part of this new drive.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
The War Zone readers can get up to speed on the existing state of Russia's war in Ukraine before getting into the latest news below by first checking out our previous rolling coverage here.
POSTED: 6:25 PM EST—
The Swiss government announced today that it was exercising its right under the terms of the original export agreement to veto a transfer of 35mm ammunition from Germany to Ukraine. Over the weekend, a Swiss media report said that opposition from authorities in the country to the transfer of other types of ammunition was part of the reason why German officials had been dragging their feet on a separate plan to give Marder tracked infantry fight vehicles to the Ukrainian armed forces.
It's not immediately clear how this might impact the German government's Gepard plans. The Gepard — which means cheetah in German — is an armored self-propelled anti-aircraft gun that consists of a turret with two Swiss-made 35mm Oerlikon GDF automatic cannons, as well as a search radar and a tracking radar, among other things, all mounted on a chassis derived from that of the Leopard 1 main battle tank.
It was already unclear how many of these vehicles, which were first fielded in the 1970s and are no longer in active German military service, the Ukrainian armed forces might ultimately receive. German defense contractor Krauss-Maffei Wegmann said it had 50 Gepards available to send to Ukraine, but it's also not immediately clear how long it might take to prepare them for delivery. German authorities did say that they would train Ukrainian personnel in Germany on the use of these vehicles, which are being widely described erroneously as "tanks."
If the Gepards, and ammunition for them, do eventually make their way to Ukraine, they could help bolster the country's low-altitude, short-range air defense capabilities. The vehicles can also be been employed in a direct fire role against ground targets.
The Swiss objections to the German plan, ostensibly based on the country's neutral foreign policy, are somewhat ironic given how significant a change in policy this proposed transfer is for the government in Berlin. Previously, German authorities had resisted calls to join other countries in sending tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as other higher-end weapons and equipment, to Ukraine, due to various established policies and legal obligations. Potential risks of such shipments somehow broadening the conflict beyond Ukraine's borders had also been raised.
Those issues and arguments notwithstanding, Germany also remains heavily reliant on natural gas and oil from Russia. The German government is moving ahead with plans to cut its Russian oil imports, but has made less progress in decoupling from Russian natural gas.
Germany has already supplied various infantry weapons, as well as equipment like helmets, to Ukraine. It has recently begun to approve the re-transfer of various weapon systems, including armored vehicles, and equipment to Ukraine, as well. German-made systems now in use in Ukraine include PARM-series "off-route mines," which utilize a rocket-propelled warhead similar to one of those available for the shoulder-fired Panzerfaust 3 anti-armor weapon. The Ukrainian armed forces have already received shipments of Panzerfaust 3s, which you can read more about here.
Germany's announcement comes after a number of other countries, including the United States, have already sent or have committed to sending armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and more to Ukraine. At the meeting at Ramstein today, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand confirmed her country will transfer at least eight 155mm M777 towed howitzers, among other things, to the Ukrainian armed forces.
“I know that all the leaders leave today more resolved than ever to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and atrocities,” Austin, who also described Germany's decision to send the Gepards as significant, told reporters after the meeting of the Contact Group at Ramstein. “And I know we’re all determined to do even more to better coordinate our efforts.”
"But we don’t have any time to waste," he added. "The briefings today laid out clearly why the coming weeks will be so crucial for Ukraine. So we’ve got to move at the speed of war."
NBC News' report earlier today about how crucial U.S.-supplied intelligence, including information provided in near-real-time, has been to Ukraine's war effort highlights how American military assistance goes beyond just delivering weapons and other equipment.
"As Russia launched its invasion, the U.S. gave Ukrainian forces detailed intelligence about exactly when and where Russian missiles and bombs were intended to strike, prompting Ukraine to move air defenses and aircraft out of harm’s way, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News," according to that report. "That near real-time intelligence-sharing also paved the way for Ukraine to shoot down a Russian transport plane carrying hundreds of troops in the early days of the war, the officials say, helping repel a Russian assault on a key airport near Kyiv."
The "transport plane" referenced here is all but certainly one of two Russian Il-76 Candid airlifters that Ukrainian forces claim to have brought down very early in the conflict. Despite this and other reports citing U.S. officials corroborating those claims, no evidence that can be readily verified independently of those shootdowns has emerged to date.
With all of this help, Ukrainian armed forces have very successfully resisted the invading Russian for some two months now, but Russia's military retains significant advantages in overall size and combat capacity. Last week, Russian units launched reinvigorated offensives in various areas of eastern and southern Ukraine. Russian forces are also continuing to conduct stand-off strikes against strategic targets in western Ukraine. This includes recent missile strikes on a bridge linking Ukraine to Romain and rail infrastructure that are clearly intended to hamper the movement of Ukrainian forces and the flow of supplies to them.
"Russian forces are likely attempting to encircle heavily fortified Ukrainian positions in the east of Ukraine," the U.K. Ministry of Defense said in its latest daily assessment of the conflict in Ukraine, which it put out earlier today. "The city of Kreminna has reportedly fallen and heavy fighting is reported south of Izium, as Russian forces attempt to advance towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk from the north and east. Ukrainian forces have been preparing defenses in Zaporizhzhia in preparation for a potential Russian attack from the south."
Beyond Ukraine, there have been worrisome developments recently in Transnistria, a breakaway region of neighboring Moldova to the West that has ties to Russia. Reports of explosions today that destroyed a pair of radio antennas in the self-styled republic followed similar reports of a claimed attack on its Ministry of State Security yesterday.
Officials in Transnistria and Russia have indicated, without providing any evidence, that the Ukrainian government or other hostile foreign actors were to blame in both cases. Moldovan authorities said in response to the purported attacks today that internal actors were responsible, possibly suggesting the destruction of the radio towers at least may have been some kind of false flag attack.
Transnistria had been thrust into the spotlight last week after Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev, the Deputy Commander of Russia's Central Military District, said in an interview that the Russian military's objectives in Ukraine were linked, at least to some degree, to the breakaway region. Minnekaev's statements had quickly drawn criticism from Moldovan officials and others.
Speaking to reporters after the Contact Group meeting at Ramstein today, U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin had said that the U.S. government is certainly not interested in seeing the conflict spill over into a neighboring country like Moldova. He also separately said that continuing Russian rhetoric about the prospect of a nuclear exchange was "dangerous and unhelpful."
Rafael Grossi, head of the United Nations-affiliated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said today that Russia's occupation of the site of the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant and surrounding areas earlier in the conflict was extremely dangerous. However, despite an earlier spike in detectable radiation due to Russian military activities in the area, those levels have now returned to normal. Some media reports earlier in the day had incorrectly claimed that Grossi said the levels were still abnormal.
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken told Senators at a hearing today that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine would resume operations this week. It was later clarified that this would mean the resumption of American diplomatic activities run out of a site in the western city of Lviv, rather than the reopening of the Embassy in Kyiv, at least for the time being.
The Russian government is moving to cut the flow of natural gas to both Poland and Bulgaria in part over Moscow's demand to be paid for energy resources in rubles rather than other currencies going forward. There have long been concerns about the practical and the political impacts of such a move on the part of Russian authorities. Interesting, while Poland has been very active, and publicly so, in sending military aid and other support to Ukraine, Bulgaria has been less so.
For its part, Poland announced today that it had slapped new sanctions on some 50 Russian companies and individuals.
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