Russia Pounds Ukraine From The Air, Planning For Long-Term Military Threats

By: - January 22, 2023

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Ukraine’s military on January 21 cited ongoing fighting in the east of the country after Russia claimed to capture a village in the area, while Western officials offered more help but also tested Ukrainian “resiliency” as Russia’s full-scale conflict approached its 12th month.

The British Defense Ministry suggested that “overall” the war currently appeared to be “in a state of deadlock.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, signaled growing impatience on the key question of whether the West will provide his country with the newest battle tanks, saying “a decision…must be made.”

A key Zelenskiy aide later added bluntly that “global indecision” is costing Ukrainian lives.

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Ukraine has specifically requested that Western countries send German-made Leopard 2 tanks, but Germany has resisted.

White House national-security spokesman John Kirby said German leaders are working through their own process with respect to the Leopard 2.

“The Leopards are great tanks, very capable, won’t require an exorbitant amount of training for the Ukrainians should Germany want to move in that direction,” Kirby said on January 20 in an interview with Voice of America.

He added that the United States wants countries to contribute what they can, but said the question of sending Leopard 2 tanks is “for Germany to decide.”

He added that he would not describe the situation as a “standoff,” and stressed that the NATO alliance remains “incredibly, solidly behind and supportive of Ukraine, and we don’t see that fracturing at all.”

Kirby spoke after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of Kyiv’s Western allies at the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Germany, where defense ministers and other representatives of 54 countries gathered for talks aimed at coordinating the military aid they are sending.

Germany was said to be resisting pressure by Poland and other countries to green-light the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

U.S. military officials have suggested that the country’s latest pledge of weaponry is ready to use and provides sufficient firepower for Ukraine to defend itself.

It includes air-defense systems, Humvees, ammunition for artillery, and missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

In his regular video address late on January 20, Zelenskiy cast the stalemate over the Leopard tanks as part of an ongoing debate and suggested that the meeting in Ramstein would “strengthen our resilience.” He said some of the meeting’s details could not be announced publicly.

“Yes, we will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks,” Zelenskiy said, “but every day we make it more evident that there is no alternative that a decision about tanks must be made.”

Then, on January 21, senior Zelenskiy adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak expressed frustration on Twitter over Ukraine’s request for the tanks.

“Today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster,” he said.

On the battlefield, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said on January 21 that it had carried out 18 strikes on concentrations of Russian forces while it blamed the Russian side for attacks on 12 settlements in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

It said three of seven Russian missile strikes targeted the cities of Kramatorsk and Hulyaipole, and cited rocket salvoes that appeared to target “civilian infrastructure” in the city of Nikopol.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed a day earlier to have captured the village of Kleshchiyivka, in the Donetsk region about five kilometers south of the city of Bakhmut, echoing an unconfirmed claim by the head of the Vagner mercenary group.

But the ministry said regular Russian troops were involved, while Vagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin credited the purported success to his private fighters.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff initially said only that Russian forces had shelled Kleshchiyivka and did not explicitly mention that village in its January 21 update.

RFE/RL cannot confirm battlefield developments in the areas of heavy fighting.

But hours later, the British Defense Ministry’s daily intelligence assessment acknowledged “a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut,” although it said “overall, the conflict is in a state of deadlock.”

The U.K. intelligence update said “the heaviest fighting” was concentrated in three areas, including near Bakhmut; in the northeast near the town of Kreminna where Ukraine “has likely made small gains”; and in the Zaporizhzhya region in the south where Europe’s largest nuclear plant is in Russian hands.

The British update said both sides had “massed significant forces” in the Zaporizhzhya region but had “avoided any large-scale offensive effort.”

It said Russian regular troops and Vagner proxy forces “have likely been reconstituting” in the salt-mining town of Soledar captured last week.

With reporting by Reuters

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