The message to US lawmakers of Ukraine’s first lady, delivered amid stark and graphic images of civilian bloodshed, could not have been clearer: After nearly a full five months since Russia launched its invasion, Olena Zelenska said her country needs more Western weapons. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent her to Washington to appeal directly to the US Congress for Air Defense Systems.
The call came on Wednesday as Russia suggested it was planning to seize wider areas outside of eastern Ukraine’s industrial region known as the Donbas, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressing that Moscow would also include the Kherson region and part of Zaporizhzhya claims and “constantly and persistently” will expand his profits elsewhere.
The billions of dollars in Western military aid have been crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to fend off Russian attacks, but officials in Kiev say the numbers are still too small to turn the tide of the war.
A look at what Ukraine has received so far:
HIMARS ROCKET LAUNCHERS
The US-supplied HIMARS systems and similar M270s from Britain have significantly boosted the precision strike capability of the Ukrainian military.
The HIMARS and M270 have longer range, much better precision and faster rate of fire compared to the Soviet-designed multiple rocket launchers Smerch, Uragan and Tornado used by both Russia and Ukraine.
The truck-mounted HIMARS launchers fire GPS-guided missiles that can hit targets up to 80 kilometers (50 mi), a distance that puts them beyond the range of most Russian artillery systems. The mobile launchers are difficult to spot for the enemy and can quickly change position after firing to escape air attacks.
The Ukrainian military has so far received a dozen HIMARS and several M270 systems, but it has already used them to successfully target Russian ammunition and fuel depots in eastern Ukraine, essential to supporting the Moscow offensive. On Wednesday, Ukrainian forces are said to have used HIMARS to hit a strategic bridge in the Russian-occupied southern region of Kherson.
“HIMARS has hardly had any rest during the day or at night. Their potential has been maximized,” Ukrainian military experts Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press. “The results are impressive. More than 30 key Russian targets have been hit with high precision in the past two weeks.”
The US authorities have so far refrained from providing Ukraine with longer-range missiles for HIMARS launchers that can reach targets up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), allowing the military to hit areas deep within Russian territory.
Ukraine has received deliveries of more than 200 heavy artillery systems from the US and its NATO allies. They include the American M777, the French CAESAR, the German PzH 2000 and a few other towed and self-propelled long-range artillery systems.
The Western howitzers have some advantages over older Soviet-designed systems in the Russian and Ukrainian arsenals, but it takes time for Ukrainian crews to learn how to operate them. Their wide range poses obvious logistical challenges.
“Ukraine has been given a tremendous amount of … artillery equipment that is very diverse,” said Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert and program director at the CNA think tank in Virginia. “What they’ve accomplished is a petting zoo of artillery, and it’s very difficult to do maintenance, conservation and logistics.”
A more serious problem is that the numbers of Western weapons are still far too small.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said last month the country needs at least 1,000 heavy howitzers, 300 multiple rocket launchers, 500 tanks and 2,000 armored vehicles — far more than the West has supplied.
“Western weapons are superior to Soviet-era analogues, but the numbers were too small to turn the tide of the war,” Zhdanov said.
Ukraine has asked the West for more armor to supplement its heavy losses on the battlefield. The country has reportedly received more than 300 Soviet-built T-72 tanks from Poland and the Czech Republic and has already used them in combat.
However, the long-promised delivery of German Leopard tanks has been suspended, a delay that has sparked an angry response in Ukrainian media and social networks.
Ukraine has taken delivery of hundreds of armored vehicles from the US and a few NATO allies, a motley crew of vehicles that has not fully compensated for what it has already lost.
Western allies have also provided Ukraine with large numbers of portable anti-tank weapons, which played a key role in helping Ukrainian soldiers decimate Russian armored convoys.
Early in the war, Ukraine used its inventory of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 laser-guided bomb-dropping drones on a large scale to hit long convoys of Russian troops and supply columns. However, Bayraktars have become less effective in the face of the denser Russian air and electronic defenses in eastern Ukraine.
Since the start of the war, US and Western allies have dispatched hundreds of other drones, including an unspecified number of “kamikaze” Switchblade 600s that carry tank-piercing warheads and use artificial intelligence to track targets. But their range is limited and they can only stay in the air for about 40 minutes.
Ukraine has strongly pushed for more advanced long-range drones that can survive radio interference and GPS jamming and rely on satellite communications for control and navigation.
AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS
The US and other NATO allies have provided Ukraine with more than 2,000 portable air defense missile systems, or MANPADS, such as Stingers and other similar weapons.
Such compact systems are efficient against attack helicopters and low-flying fighter jets, and the Ukrainian military has used them to inflict significant losses on the Russian Air Force, limiting its ability to support ground forces at close range and slowing the pace of Moscow’s offensive. . .
At the same time, Ukraine has also urged the West to provide it with medium and long-range air defense systems that would be able to shoot down cruise missiles and high-flying aircraft.
It has received several Soviet-built S-300 long-range air defense systems from Slovakia, the type of weapons that the Ukrainian military has long used.
The US has also pledged to provide Ukraine with two NASAMS mid-range air defense systems.
Germany has promised to deliver 30 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine, but they have yet to arrive.
Since the invasion began on February 24, Ukraine has urged Western allies to provide it with combat aircraft to challenge Russian air superiority.
However, the US and its allies are reluctant to give Ukraine the fighter jets it asks for, fearing it would provoke an escalating response from Moscow, which NATO has warned that supplying Ukraine with warplanes could be tantamount to participating in the conflict.
In March, the Pentagon rejected Poland’s proposal to transfer its Soviet-built MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine by transferring them through a US base in Germany, citing a high risk of causing a Russia -NATO escalation. Ukraine has its own fleet of MiG-29s, but it’s unclear how many of those and other jets are still in service.
Earlier this month, Slovakia announced its intention to hand over its MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine pending delivery of US F-16 fighter jets, but no action has been taken.
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