Dangerous Twist in Ukraine Conflict
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 24 Jul , 2022

The supply of long range artillery and rocket systems to Ukraine by the US and allies is changing the contours of the Ukraine Conflict. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently sent his wife to Washington to ask for more weapon systems with longer ranges from the US Congress. Earlier, the US wanted Poland to give its F-16’s to Ukraine (to be replaced by the US) but Poland had refused to do so. Now there is ‘some’ speculation the US ‘may’ supply fighter aircraft to Ukraine, if the Russian operations are expanded.

There is no more scope for Russia-Ukraine talks discussing a ceasefire and related operational issues. The US is not interested in talking to Russia to end the conflict. On the contrary, the US is determined to keep fueling the conflict, perhaps raising the level gradually to a higher level because of the following two reasons.

First, General Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a media briefing at Pentagon recently that the Ukrainian territory gained by Russia is “not very much” and “in terms of actual ground gained — very, very little by the Russians, relative to all of Ukraine.” According to Ben Hodges, former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, Russia lacks the resources and capabilities to make “meaningful progress” in Ukraine and with continued support from the West, Ukraine could even wipe out Russia’s territorial gains by 2023. This appears rather utopian and akin to the US military telling their hierarchy that the Taliban are a spent force, during 20 years of US-NATO deployment in Afghanistan.

Second, American officials are vehement that Russia is in complete isolation from the world, which is absurd. US President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia including attending the Arab Summit at Jeddah was a fiasco. On the other hand Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran and the trilateral Russia-Iran-Turkiye talks go far beyond simply normalizing the situation in Syria. This is just one example.

Apparently, the US, Germany and the UK appear to be getting isolated more by trying to upgrade the Ukraine Conflict, while most of the world (including some European countries) are not in favour of continuing anti-Russia sanctions. Not only is the American dream to ‘kill’ Russia impossible, Russia and an expanding BRICS, along with an alternative to the SWIFT system, is a challenge to the Biden administration’s dream of a US-centric “rule-based” world order.

Russia will never accept the West supplying long-range weaponry to Ukraine which can hit targets in Russian territory. Presently, the US has refused to send MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine as requested by Zelenskyy, citing they could fall into the hands of the Russians. But this could change with reports that Iran would be supplying thousands of drones to Russia. The US and Western allies, however, have supplied hundreds of drones to Ukraine including an unspecified number of ‘kamikaze’ Switchblade 600 drones that carry tank-piercing warheads and use artificial intelligence to track targets.

Ukraine has also requested for the 300 km range missiles for the HIMARS launchers to hit deeper into Russian territory. Ukraine already has a dozen HIMARS launchers and more are expected. Ukraine has also requested the West for a medium-range air defence system for downing cruise missiles and high-flying aircraft. America has promised Ukraine two NASMAS mid-range air defence systems while Germany is to supply Kiev 30 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. Ukraine already has Russian S-300 long-range air defence systems supplied by Slovakia.  

Slovakia, a NATO member, recently announced it would give its MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine as the US is to deliver F-16 fighters to them. But Moscow has warned NATO that supply of combat aircraft to Ukraine would be taken as NATO joining the conflict. The Pentagon has responded by saying that the US has not transferred aircraft to Ukraine and has only helped with spare parts for existing aviation; Ukraine has a fleet of MiG-29 fighters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently told the state media that the geography of Ukraine has changed and Moscow’s military mission would go beyond Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, adding, “This is far from being only the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic). It is also the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhia region and a number of other territories. Lavrov said if Western countries continue to supply Ukraine with long-range weapons like the American HIMARS, Russia will push its military goals in Ukraine even further; Ukraine having weapons that pose a direct threat to Russian territory and DPR-LPR would not be tolerated. 

Zelenskyy has been saying that Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia will be taken back, but Russia has promised doomsday if Crimea is attacked. While Russian forces control the Luhansk region and fighting is continuing in other parts of Donbas, the US has accused Russia of planning to annex more Ukraine territory. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby says that Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls, in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Russia had vacated Snake Island to allow export of Ukrainian grain, even as Zelenskyy boasted that Ukraine had captured the island. But no grain was exported. Now Russian and Ukrainian officials have signed a deal to allow grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. This would help ease a global food crisis but Zelenskyy says that that this responsibility is of the United Nations. This indicates any mischief can be blamed on Russia.  

The 10-day annual maintenance work on the Russian Nord Stream-1 pipeline has jolted Europe. Though the supply of gas has restarted, there is fear that Moscow could cut off gas supplies in the winter months. Alternatives are being feverishly explored but there are no easy solutions. Russian gas exports have actually gone up from the quantum exported before the Ukraine conflict began despite the US-EU sanctions. Hungary has declared an ‘energy emergency’ and is for strengthening relations with Russia.  Spain and Portugal have pushed back the EU plan that would require countries to curb their natural-gas consumption by 15 percent in an emergency situation, saying that the blanket proposal doesn’t account for differences between European countries.

Western estimates are that Russia has lost 15,000 troops in Ukraine without mentioning Ukrainian casualties which may be similar if not more. A source had earlier said that Ukraine had suffered 80 percent casualties in their elite units. But the West continues to pump mercenaries in Ukraine along with mercenaries.

Western officials believe that Russia will likely begin another major offensive in Ukraine early next year, which will include an attempt to seize the strategic Odessa Port, cutting off Ukraine from the sea. The Russian Defence Ministry said on July 20, 2022, that Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) destroyed a launcher of the US-made Harpoon anti-ship complex in Odessa region with precision weapons. Also, Russian forces killed more than 200 personnel of Ukraine’s Marine Corps brigade near Odessa.

According to another report, the pro-Russian Odessa brigade, consisting of native fighters from south of Ukraine, Odessa and Nikolaev regions, has completed combat coordination for offensive actions that will begin in the near future in the Nikolaev and Odessa directions. A representative of the Odessa brigade said, “In the near future, together with the allied forces, we will begin the liberation of the city of Nikolaev and the hero city of Odessa. There will be no mercy for the ‘Ukronazis’, mercenaries and any Bandera evil spirits from us,”

Interestingly, Boris Johnson having resigned as prime minister of Britain, visited the camp of Ukrainian Armed Forces in North Yorkshire, where the British military is training them. Johnson learned how to throw grenades, which has sparked some humour that he might volunteer as a mercenary to fight in Ukraine, since Kiev had named a croissant after him! 

On one hand the US officials say that Russia has hardly captured any territory, is not likely to achieve much and Moscow is isolated, but on the other hand talk of Russia planning to capture more areas – which apparently they believe Russia will. However, the Biden administration remains sanguine that with  the US raking in billions of dollars through weapon exports and exporting energy, hat escalation of the Ukraine conflict can be calibrated. This is a dangerous assumption.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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