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US-led arms airlift to Ukraine seeks to bolster Kyiv’s ability to resist Russia

US-led arms airlift to Ukraine seeks to bolster Kyiv’s ability to resist Russia


KYIV, UkraineThe United States and a loose coalition of several NATO countries are operating an airlift to deliver military aid to Ukraine, carrying weapons and ammunition Kiev has requested to mitigate a decided Russian military advantage and deter a possible invasion.

Eight US cargo planes have landed in Kiev since Jan. 22 after US President Joe Biden approved $200 million in new military aid for Ukraine, with more expected in the coming days. North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, including the UK and the Baltic states, have also sent planes loaded with weapons, with Poland and the Czech Republic due to make deliveries soon.

Until Russia’s current escalation, Turkey and the United States were the only countries willing to risk Moscow’s wrath by supplying arms to Ukraine. Turkey has provided Kiev with a fleet of TB2 Bayraktar armed drones that Ukraine has already used on the battlefield in the Russian-held Donbass region in the east of the country. Alongside the United States, British, Canadian and Polish trainers have long trained Ukraine’s armed forces in modern warfare.

The United States, NATO and Russia are locked in a diplomatic stalemate over Moscow’s troop build-up on the border with Ukraine. The WSJ examines what Russia wants and how Ukraine and its allies are preparing for a potential crisis. Photo: Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press

Moscow has an overwhelming advantage in air, sea, artillery, missiles and manpower that the latest Western supplies are unlikely to eliminate. Still, officials from several countries have said their concerted military assistance efforts demonstrate Western resolve and complicate Russia’s invasion costs and choices.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO. Russia, while denying it was planning a military invasion, said it would not accept Ukraine joining the Western alliance. With more than 100,000 forces massed on Ukraine’s borders, Russia has the capability to launch an imminent invasion if it decides to do so, US officials say.

US expeditions have so far included a panoply of equipment, including small arms ammunition, mortar and artillery shells, anti-tank guided missiles, bunker-busting missiles, grenade launchers, explosive ordnance disposal and Mossberg 500 shotguns, according to US and Ukrainian officials. The United Kingdom provided thousands of anti-tank missiles, and the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania sent American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

US military aid was unloaded at Boryspil airport in Kyiv, Ukraine on Thursday. Photo: Arthur Bondar for The Wall Street Journal The cockpit of a Russian Su-30 fighter jet while taking part in a training mission in the Krasnodar region, Russia, in January. Photo: Vitaly Timkiv/Associated Press

Stepan Poltorak, who served as Ukraine’s defense minister from 2014 to 2019, said Ukraine needs a close and consistent relationship in defense development and procurement with the United States and NATO. , rather than piecemeal deliveries. Current draft shipments exclude complex weapon systems, given the training time required for new operators.

The last American plane arrived in Kiev on Saturday. The United States has sent about 650 tons of weapons and equipment to Ukraine since January 22. Since the capture of Crimea by Russia and the occupation of the eastern regions of Donbass in 2014, the United States has provided $2.7 billion in military aid to Ukraine.

Those deliveries are ongoing, a Pentagon spokesperson said. The United States identifies additional equipment held in Department of Defense inventories.

Last month, the US administration notified Congress of its intention to transfer five Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopters to Ukraine. The Afghan army used the helicopters, which are now in Ukraine for maintenance. A U.S. official said the administration is awaiting the conclusion of approval procedures.


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Much of the US shipments to Kiev consisted of ammunition of various calibers, including high-intensity grenades, high-caliber rifle cartridges, armor-penetrating tracers, hundreds of thousands of anti-tank rounds and a surplus of bullets. 7.62 caliber for Soviet-designed small arms widely used in the Ukrainian army.

Ukraine suffers from a severe ammunition shortage, a US official said. Several Ukrainian arms depots were destroyed in accidents Kiev blamed on Russian sabotage after 2014. Russian intelligence was then implicated in an attack on Czech arms depots that supplied Ukraine. Ukraine’s only ammunition factory, in the city of Luhansk, is located in an area under Russian control since 2014.

An expanded group of foreign partners is forming to replenish stores in Kiev. Last month, the UK sent around 2,000 short-range NLAW anti-tank missiles to Kiev. Ukrainian forces began training exercises with NLAW missiles this weekend near the town of Chernihiv, northeast of Kiev.

Ukraine has every right to defend its borders, and this new aid package further strengthens its ability to do so, said Ben Wallace, UK Secretary of State for Defence. Let’s be clear, this support is for close range and clearly defensive weapon abilities. They are not strategic weapons and they pose no threat to Russia.

A Ukrainian soldier took part in a drill involving NLAW anti-tank missiles in western Ukraine in late January. Photo: Pavlo Palamarchuk/Associated Press In 2019, Turkey began supplying Ukraine with the Bayraktar TB2 drone, which Ukraine used in the Russian-controlled Donbas region. Photo: Birol Bebek/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Ukraine and the UK are also negotiating Kiev’s purchase of two refurbished minesweepers from the Royal Navy and discussing the production of frigates and the joint development of eight missile warships.

In 2019, Turkey began supplying Ukraine with the Bayraktar TB2 drone, which Ukraine used to destroy an artillery howitzer in the Russian-held Donbass region in October. During a visit to Kyiv last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan formalized an agreement with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to produce Turkish drones in Ukraine. The construction of a production plant outside Kiev is already underway.

Mr Zelensky said the Turkish drones represented an increase in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.

A vocal opponent of Russia’s buildup, Poland has pledged to supply Ukraine with drones and a portable short-range anti-aircraft system, the Piorun, which is designed to strike low-flying aircraft such as than helicopters, up to 13,000 feet. Mariusz Baszczak, Poland’s National Defense Minister, said Poland is giving Ukraine its new weapon.

During a visit to Washington in December, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov brought a wish list topped with anti-missile systems, according to Ukrainian and American officials, signaling Ukraine’s understanding of the capability of the Russia to hit from long range.

We believe the chances of advancing enemy forces are high, said Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister who currently works at the Center for Defense Strategies, a Kyiv think tank.

Mr Zagorodnyuk said Ukraine would resort to small group tactics making Russian advantages in aviation less relevant. He listed several items that Ukraine would find useful, including sniper rifles, night vision goggles, combat and reconnaissance drones, and counter-battery and counter-drone radar systems.

The issue of providing lethal aid to Ukraine is at least as old as Russia’s 2014 capture of Crimea and the invasion of Donbass.

The current buildup of the Russian military has inspired several governments to change their aid policies, but others have balked, especially those with significant trade and energy relations with Russia.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov during National Guard drills in the abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine on Friday. Photo: Mykola Tymchenko/Associated Press

Citing guilt for its invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, Germany refused to provide Ukraine with military aid beyond 5,000 helmets and medical supplies. Berlin also refused to allow Estonia to send German-made D-30 howitzers to Ukraine, which can hit targets 12 miles away.

Other countries have shared non-lethal aid, as Canada did on Friday by sending a plane full of equipment, including surveillance and detection equipment, to Ukraine, according to the Department of National Defense from Canada.

Washington’s stance on the issue has evolved, from President Barack Obama’s resistance to sending lethal aid to Ukraine, to President Donald Trump’s decision to supply Javelinantitank weapons in 2019, to endorsing by President Joe Bidens last month of a new $200 million Ukrainian military aid package, which paved the way for the current air shipments.

Mr. Reznikov, Ukrainian Defense Minister, welcomed the arrival of a shipment last week. On Twitter, he posted a photo of the planes’ cargo hold, which depicted weapons and equipment secured in large gray storage containers. More importantly, this is not the end, Mr. Reznikov wrote. To be continued.

Write to Brett Forrest at [email protected]

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