Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Strykers, Modern European Tanks On The Table For Kyiv
Discussions are underway in Britain and Poland to provide Ukraine with modern tanks, while the U.S. is mulling sending Kyiv Strykers.
Ukraine may be one step closer to receiving modern Western tanks as well as Stryker armored combat vehicles.
The British Defense Ministry (MoD) is considering sending Kyiv a limited number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, according to a report Monday by Sky News while Poland is considering sending Leopard 2 tanks, according to The Associated Press. If that happens, it would mark the first time Ukraine has received non-Soviet-era tanks from NATO members. And Politico on Monday reported that the U.S. is mulling over the idea of sending Ukraine Stryker armored fighting vehicles. A senior U.S. defense official confirmed that to The War Zone Monday evening.
In a message to The War Zone, an MoD spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the Sky News report but seemingly left the window open for a transfer of Challenger 2 tanks to take place.
“The Government has committed to match or exceed last year’s funding for military aid to Ukraine in 2023, and we will continue to build on recent donations with training and further gifting of equipment,” said the spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation.
Britain has 227 Challenger 2 tanks, said the spokesperson.
Officials in Poland, meanwhile, are considering sending a limited number of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
On Monday, Polish President Andrzej Duda met with the prime minister to discuss, among other security related issues, Kyiv’s request for Western-made heavy battle tanks, according to The Associated Press.
“A presidential aide said the request for German-made Leopard 2 tanks which Poland, among other countries, uses, will be on the agenda,” the AP reported.
Any agreement to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks would “only be within a wide agreement and an undertaking by other countries that have these tanks,” said Pawel Szrot, the Polish presidential aide. Because the Leopard 2 is a German-made tank, Berlin would have to sign off on the deal as well.
Britain, Poland and France, however, are thought to be trying to goad Germany into allowing the Leopards to go to Ukraine, according to Politico.
"A French official told POLITICO that Paris is turning the screws on Germany in the hope of extracting an agreement from Berlin to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine ahead of a Franco-German summit on January 22, the 60th anniversary of the Élysée partnership treaty between the two nations," Politico reported. "Similar pressure is coming from Poland, which wants to form a broad coalition among Western partners to jointly hand over Leopards to Ukraine."
“We encourage other countries to form a broad coalition for the transfer of more modern tanks to Ukraine, such as Leopard tanks,” Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński told Polish public radio on Monday.
The U.S. "is considering sending Stryker armored combat vehicles to Ukraine in an upcoming aid package to help Kyiv fend off an expected Russian spring offensive," according to Politico, citing "two people familiar with the discussion." The Strykers "may be part of the next tranche of military aid, according to a Defense Department official, who like others asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations ahead of an announcement," Politico notes.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, declined to provide comment to The War Zone about the Strykers. However, a senior U.S. defense official told The War Zone that the U.S. is "considering" sending the Strykers to Ukraine.
While the Strykers are being considered to help Ukraine in the spring, those vehicles were so ill-suited for Arctic conditions that U.S. soldiers in Alaska had little faith in their effectiveness and spent far more time repairing the wheeled vehicles than operating them in the field. The Strykers often freeze up in the extreme cold. Soldiers became so frustrated with the Stryker's performance in Alaska that their replacement was seen as at least a partial salve to morale that had dipped very low. You can read more about that here. Of course, this wouldn't matter in the spring and they are unlikely to arrive anytime before then, that is if they are offered to Ukraine.
Speculation about British and Polish tanks and U.S. Strykers comes ahead of a Jan. 20 meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of 50 defense ministers working to provide Ukraine with arms.
So far, the U.S. and its allies have been reluctant to give modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, but last week, the U.S., Germany and France announced plans to send Ukraine armored vehicles - 50 M2A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) and AMX-10 RC armored cars respectively. You can read more about those plans here.
Whether the decision to provide Ukraine with armored IFVs leads to a change in Washington’s policy, at least as far as the U.S.'s M-1 Abrams main battle tanks, remains to be seen. Since September, the U.S. has said that main battle tanks are on the table for Ukraine.
On Friday, Laura Cooper, deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told reporters, including from The War Zone, that the U.S. was still not ready to give Abrams to Ukraine.
“We absolutely agree that Ukraine does need tanks,” she said. “It's one of the reasons that we've partnered with the Netherlands to refurbish a number of T-72 tanks that are already arriving on the battlefields. But we have to be cognizant of maintenance and sustainment considerations with tanks, and certainly, we know that the Abrams tank, in addition to being a gas guzzler, is quite challenging to maintain.”
There is other pushback from the West on the tanks as well.
American officials have argued that Ukraine has enough good tanks in its Soviet-era T-72s, though it is running short of ammunition for them, according to The New York Times. "The Americans and Germans argue that to train Ukrainians to operate modern Leopard or Abrams tanks — and to maintain them in the field — would take many months."
The Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 tanks - which each have 120mm main guns, improved armor and optics - would represent an upgrade to Ukraine’s collection of Soviet-era tanks, including a planned 90 Czech Republic T-72 tanks being refurbished by the U.S. and the Netherlands, which are splitting the $90 million price tag to modernize them.
So far, 20 of those T-72 tanks have arrived in Ukraine, Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone Monday afternoon.
The provision of Challenger 2 tanks would benefit Ukraine politically and militarily, a defense and security expert in Kyiv told The War Zone Monday.
Politically, Ukraine's receipt of Challenger 2 tanks could pave the way for other Western nations to provide their more modern armor the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss procurement issues.
Militarily, the Challenger 2 would "increase level[s] of agility of the troops, improve efficiency in direct actions, improve their maneuverability and physical defense capabilities," the source said. "In addition, it would improve the capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to breakthrough fortified positions, destroy firing strong points, military equipment and manpower of the enemy, as well as rapid organization of their defensive lines."
Despite long-standing Ukrainian desires and ongoing talks, no deal to send these kinds of tanks to Ukraine has yet been made. That's in part over logistical concerns like the ones raised by DASD Cooper and others, as well as over lingering anxieties about the reaction by Moscow, which has been arguing they are fighting not just Ukraine, but NATO as well given the tens of billions of dollars of arms provided to Kyiv by the U.S. and its allies.
Given the importance of these tanks as Ukraine eyes the liberation of Crimea while seeing its troops bogged down in the Donbas, this ongoing saga is something we will be watching closely.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up with our previous rolling coverage here.
On the battlefield, Donetsk remains a meatgrinder for both sides as they battle over Bakhmut and Soledar, where Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Defense, Hanna Malyar, said Russia was making new efforts at retaking lost ground.
"After an unsuccessful attempt to capture Soledar and retreat, the enemy regrouped, recovered losses, transferred additional assault units, changed tactics and launched a powerful assault," Malyar said on the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's (MoD) Telegram channel Monday.
"So far, the enemy has deployed a large number of assault groups formed from the best reserves of the Wagnerites," she said, referring to the Wagner Group's army of mercenaries run by Yevgeny Prigozhin. "The enemy literally steps on the corpses of his own soldiers, massively uses artillery, volley fire systems and mortars, covering even his own fighters with fire."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also acknowledged the ferocity of the fighting there.
“Although the occupiers have now concentrated their greatest efforts on Soledar, the result of this difficult and prolonged battle will be the liberation of our entire Donbas,” he said Monday on his Telegram channel. "And what did Russia want to win there? Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left. And thousands of their people are lost: the whole land under Soledar is covered in the corpses of the invaders and in scars from the blows. This is what madness looks like."
Luhansk too has seen fierce fighting, as both sides battle over territory along the P-66 Highway running from Svatove to Kreminna.
Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Russian forces continued counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on Jan. 8. Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated on January 8 that Russian forces transferred several battalions from the Bakhmut area to the Kreminna area.
- Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Serhiy Cherevaty stated on Jan. 8 that Russian forces do not control Soledar, and other official Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces captured Russian positions near Bakhmut. Prominent Russian milbloggers expressed divergent opinions of the potential for the Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and along the western outskirts of Donetsk City.
- Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov claimed on Jan. 7 that 300 Chechen Akhmat-1 OMON personnel deployed to Ukraine.
- Russian forces are continuing to intensify filtration measures to identify partisans in occupied territories. Russian occupation authorities claimed that likely Ukrainian partisans committed sabotage by mining a gas pipeline in Luhansk Oblast on Jan. 8.
- Russian occupation authorities intensified passportization efforts in occupied territories on Jan. 8.
Beyond Russia's immediate tactical goals for Bakhmut and Soledar are the long-term strategic value of those two mining cities, both for the natural resources as well as their capacity for underground storage. This could be critical to Russia which keeps losing topside ammo storage facilities in and near Ukraine.
The fight for Bakhmut and Soledar has taken a huge toll on both sides.
A Russian merchant ship whose owner has "allegedly carried weapons for the Kremlin turned off its transponder last month before surreptitiously docking at South Africa’s largest naval base, where it delivered and loaded unidentified cargoes, according to witnesses and a senior U.S. official," The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
"South Africa has declined to say what the ship was carrying or what was loaded onto it at the Simon’s Town navy base," according to the newspaper. The country’s defense minister shrugged off U.S. concerns, saying Washington “threatens Africa, not just South Africa, of having anything that is even smelling of Russia.”
The Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Ochakiv in Mykolaiv Oblast has come under increasing fire. Ukrainian officials say that 100 buildings were damaged and eight civilians injured. But the Russian Rybar Telegram channel said Monday that "missiles hit an ammunition depot of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, located on the territory of the former 7th coastal battery near the ship traffic control post...According to some reports, along with the ammunition depot, the radar station of the air defense complex was also destroyed."
Whatever it was, it certainly caused a major explosion.
Though it gets fewer headlines, Zaporizhzhia Oblast has seen its share of fighting and will be a key battleground in any Ukrainian effort to liberate Crimea. Russian forces in the occupied city of Polohy have expanded their trenches there over the past week, according to Brady Africk, a spokesman for the AEI Foreign and Defense Policy think tank.
Ukrainian victories in either or both of the Zaporizhzhia or Luhansk oblasts could have serious implications for Russia, the British MoD says.
While it is still unclear whether Russia really is planning a future offensive into Ukraine from its client state Belarus, Moscow is moving aircraft there, according to the Belarusian MoD.
From Jan. 16 to Feb. 1, "a joint tactical flight exercise will be held with the aviation units of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation," the Belarusian MoD said Monday on its Telegram channel. "Today, an aviation component from the Military Space Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation arrived in the Republic of Belarus. During the tactical flight exercise, all airfields and training grounds of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Belarus will be involved."
The Russian Wargonzo Telegram channel claims that Russian forces have captured a hand-launched Polish-made Ukrainian Fly Eye reconnaissance drone, which recently began to appear on the battlefield.
"In the Luhansk direction, Russian troops managed to take possession of a Polish drone," Wargonzo reported Monday. "They appeared in the arsenal of the Polish special forces at the end of 2010. And in the middle of 2016, they were already used by the Ukrainian army in the war zone in the Donbass."
If you ever wondered what it is like to be a Ukrainian tank crew member, check out this video by the Ukrainian Hromadske news agency.
Here's a look at Ukrainian armor in action, driving through mud and snow.
But even for those driving around in armor, this conflict is dangerous, as you can see by these images, provided by the Ukrainian Weapons Tracker OSINT group, of a damaged Ukrainian BVP M80A IFV donated by Slovenia.
It's dangerous as well for Russians, with the scope of that devastation becoming more apparent as Ukraine captures and holds more territory, as in the case of this recently discovered Russian Pantsir-1 air defense system.
But Ukraine still manages to capture Russian air defenses as well, like the intact S-300 launcher seen in this video.
Ukraine is using its own S-300s against Russian drones, as you can see in this video apparently showing one such battery targeting a Russian Orlan-10 drone. It is not quite clear in this video below what the outcome of that was.
Ukraine's rotary-wing aircraft continue to operate despite the dangers.
Things did not go well for the Russian soldier apparently using an "armored" vest made out of aluminum. It did not save him from a gunshot, according to @wartranslated.
And finally, we have shown you numerous examples of both Ukrainian and Russian drones dropping munitions on troops. But sometimes, those munitions don't explode, they just burrow into the troops below. Here is how Ukrainian medical personnel dealt with one such situation, in this case a Russian VOG grenade that somehow managed to enter the body of a Ukrainian soldier.
Our military doctors conducted an operation to remove a VOG grenade, which did not break, from the body of a soldier.
The operation [was conducted] in the presence of two sappers who supervised the safety of the medical staff and the patient.
One of the most experienced surgeons of the Armed Forces, Major General Andrew Willow, operated without electrocoagulation, as the grenade could detonate at any time.
The operational intervention was successful and the injured soldier was sent to further rehabilitation and recovery.
Ukrainian Armed Forces StratCom
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