Ukraine Update: 16 March, 2023

China’s foreign minister conducted a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart and expressed the Chinese government’s growing concern with the continuing war between Russia and China. Beijing is anxious over the prospect of the war escalating and is urging Kiev to discuss a political resolution with Moscow. Coming from the Chinese, a request for negotiations at this point appears self-serving. The discussion between foreign ministers comes amid reports that a Chinese-made drone was shot down last weekend. The United States has led the charge in accusing China of moving closer to supplying Russia with weapons. It would make sense for China to urge a negotiated settlement to try and divert attention away from the discovery of a Chinese-made drone on the battlefield. Pushing this tact is even more sensible considering that Xi Jinping is expected to visit Moscow in the near future and there is widespread speculation concerning what Xi’s arrival in Russia might bring about.

Unfortunately for the West, the warnings put forward about China potentially supplying Russia with weapons and war material is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Led by the United States, NATO has provided Ukraine with a continuous stream of weapons since the start of the war. Most recently, a limited number of main battle tanks have entered the pipeline. In the next few days four Polish MiG-29s will arrive in Ukraine. These will be the first combat aircraft provided by a NATO member-state, representing a sizeable escalation in military support. Other alliance members could follow suit, opening the prospect of combat aircraft being made available to Ukraine’s air arm.

This could produce two significant actions. First, Russia might commit a sizeable portion of its air force to the war. So far, the Russian Air Force has played a limited role with the majority of its available combat aircraft kept out of the fighting. Second, an increase in NATO military support could prompt China to begin providing copious amounts of war material to keep Russia afloat. Time will tell which of these two prospects takes shape.

The Great European Main Battle Tank Soap Opera

Back in mid-January Great Britain announced it would be supplying Ukraine with a limited number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks. London’s move kicked off an anthill of activity as other NATO nations scrambled to offer tanks in their own inventories to Ukraine’s beleaguered military. Pressure was applied to Germany, urging Berlin to reverse its previous decision not to offer Leopard 2 MBTs to Ukraine. The Germans relented and their decision was followed by an announcement by the US that it would be sending thirty plus M-1 Abrams to Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, a number of smaller NATO member states joined in, pledging to make available limited numbers of their small MBT stocks, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Poland. The tank telethon was touted as a sign of NATO and European unity in the face of Russia’s continued war in Ukraine.

Fast forward to the present day and things are quite different compared to one month ago. Earlier this week the Netherlands and Denmark governments announced reversals to their promises to send Leopard 2 MBTs to Ukraine. The Dutch apparently came to the realization that the only tanks it could provide are the eighteen Leopard 2s leased to its military from Germany.  Both the Dutch and Germans concluded that these tanks could not be part of any shipment east. The Danes, with an active inventory of only 44 Leopard 2s announced it would not earmark any of these tanks for Ukraine. Both nations have affirmed that they will provide financial support to modernizing 100 Leopard 1 MBTs being stored in Germany. Compounding matters somewhat, yesterday Germany announced that with the Dutch and Danish withdrawals that it only has half the number of Leopard 2s on hand that Berlin originally pledged to Ukraine. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius confirmed that only ‘half a battalion’ of Leopard 2s will go east with the German tanks expected to be delivered in late March. Efforts to find the more modern A6 version of the Leopard 2 from other European nations is coming up short.

Meanwhile, Poland continues to push ahead full speed in its efforts to train Ukrainian crews on Poland’s German-made Leopard 2A4 MBTs. As per the agreement reached in January, Germany is focused on training and forming a battalion containing the A6 version while Poland concentrates on the slightly less capable A4 version of the Leo 2. Finland has also promised to send a limited number of its own tanks to Ukraine. However, this assurance seems to be contingent upon Finland being admitted to NATO as a full member. Turkey and Hungary are currently blocking this move.

The drama playing out truly seems more along the lines of a soap opera instead of a multinational effort to provide Ukraine with a large number of modern main battle tanks before an expected major Russian offensive kicks off in the spring.

Ukraine Update 15 January, 2023: British Challenger 2 MBTs To Ukraine

Great Britain’s announcement over the weekend that it will authorize the shipment of a limited number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine is being celebrated by the government in Kiev. Volodymyr Zelenskiy realizes Britain will only be sending enough tanks to equip a squadron, which is a sub-unit of a battalion. But he is really hoping Britain’s move will motivate other NATO members with large numbers of modern tanks to do the same and send some east. So far, NATO has been reluctant to do just that, viewing such a move as escalatory. Specifically, Ukraine is looking for a large number of Leopard 2 MBTs, the German tank in service with a number of NATO nations. Although Berlin has been reluctant to send some of these tanks east, Poland and other NATO members who have them may be easier to convince. In fact, Poland said on Wednesday it intends to transfer some of its Leopards to Ukraine, but it needs German permission before doing so. It remains unclear if they will receive the green light from Berlin.

Brief Note: Short update on this Sunday. Here in the States it is NFL playoff football weekend. Apologies. 😊

Missile That Landed In Poland Was A Ukrainian SAM

After yesterday afternoon’s mass rush to judgment by many in the media regarding the missile that landed in Poland, this morning they are being forced to walk back their initial claims. As have a number of politicians and government officials in Ukraine, Poland and across Europe. The reason for this because the preliminary investigation has revealed the missile was not fired by the Russian military. It seems the missile was likely launched by Ukrainian air defense forces likely during a Russian cruise missile attack. Components of the missile, an SA-10 Grumble, came down near the Polish village of Przewodów and killed two Poles.

Both NATO and the Polish government said earlier there is no indication of a deliberate Russian attack. In Ukraine, the government in Kiev has amended its position on the matter. After vociferously blaming Russia for the act, government officials have become rather quiet and are requesting access to the site of the blast. In Brussels NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said there will be no Article 4 meeting until the investigations have been completed.

Yesterday’s incident caused anxiety and concern around the Western world. Since the start of the war in Ukraine the possibility of the fighting spilling across the border into the territory of a NATO member-state and widening the conflict has been a major concern from Washington to Brussels. The first reports from Poland made it appear as if NATO’s  greatest fear was coming to life. Luckily, as time went on it became clear this was not the case.

No Confirmation That Russian Missile Landed in Poland

It’s been a tension-filled afternoon and evening on NATO’s Eastern Flank after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland, a short distance away from the Ukrainian frontier. It did not take long for the media to assume the missile belonged to the Russian military. In the absence of facts, the media speculated, and soon the Polish government called an emergency meeting. Social media reports took over from here and it was not very long before World War III was trending on Twitter and other platforms this afternoon.

As it stands now, there has been no confirmation that the missiles were Russian, in spite of supposed remarks by a US ‘intelligence official’ that they were. The US government, as well as other Western allies are investigating but have not been able to confirm the cause of the explosion. Two Polish citizens were killed in the blast, however little beyond this is known for certain. Consultations are taking place across Europe this evening. Poland has invoked Article 4 and tomorrow NATO ambassadors will meet to discuss the matter in detail.

Russia has denied that any of its missiles had been targeted at any points in proximity to the Polish border. The incident did occur around the same time a heavy wave of Russian missiles struck power infrastructure targets around Ukraine, causing considerable damage.

As the night goes on, hopefully more solid information will become known. We’ll follow up with an update here late tomorrow morning.