Weekly megathread for news/updates/discussion of Russian invasion of Ukraine - May 11
This thread is posted weekly on Thursday - please try to post relevant content in here, such as news, updates, opinion articles, etc. Especially significant updates may warrant a separate topic, but most should be posted here.
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This isn't directly related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but tonight, the leading candidate for the upcoming elections in Turkey sent out an unprecedented message to Russia via Twitter, accusing it of meddling Turkey's elections. In it, he says that if Russia wants to find an amenable partner after the date of the election, they should cease their operations immediately.
Considering Erdogan's two-sided approach to the invasion, this could mean greater and perhaps unilateral Turkish support for Ukraine in the near future.
UK confirms supply of Storm Shadow long-range missiles in Ukraine
BBC News – James Gregory – 11th May 2023
New german aid package just announced.
I've stitched another source into the above list and marked all things from that source as SPON
I've also found this webpage that you might find interesting - it seems to track actual deliveries, so the stuff above isn't yet in there.
(Unrelated to the above. I'll not source this, as it's more my own thoughts on a myriad of distinct events)
So, after months of "the Ukrainian offensive is going to start, right?", I feel we're finally getting somewhere. There's all kinds of activity all over. Ukraine is making ground in Bakhmut, long range strikes in Luhansk, Russian infrastructure in the rear burning all over. I wouldn't exactly say that it's starting just yet, my impression is that it's shaping operations. Supposedly, Ukraine hasn't actually committed reserves into Bakhmut, so these operations are Ukraine basically asking Russia "do you want to lose Bakhmut, or are you willing to weaken some other more strategically important part of the front to send reinforcements to bakhmut? Are you sure you want your air defense in, I dunno, the Melitopol/Zaporizhia area, or wouldn't you want to move it to Luhansk?" They're all over and without a real focus because Ukraine doesn't want to show its hand yet, or wants to force a blunder.
My personal take is that the hammer will drop towards the sea of azov. If Ukraine thinks they can't get there in one fell swoop, they'd of course try something else. But let's say Melitopol is the goal, then all these sabotage attacks a week or two ago are to reduce mobility of personnel and materiel, and the more recent ones are to draw troops away from the relevant part of the front. My guess for the timeline? Tanks start rolling in May. So anytime between today and in three weeks. But still a week or more away.
Throwback to 10 days ago, when Germany learned due to a police leak that Zelensky would be coming on the 13th. Well, today is the 14th, and Zelensky arrived at ~ midnight, coming from Italy. Started official stuff this morning with Frank Walter Steinmeier, Federal President. If you go back to about a year ago, Germany was miffed because Kyiv pretty much said that Steinmeier wasn't welcome because of the part he played in German-Russian relations and NordStream. It was this whole thing.
Anyways, lots of ceremonial hubbub, Zelensky receives the Karlspreis in recognition of his contribution towards European unity. Zelensky is also gunning for a
Fighter Mafiafighter coalition, i.e. a coalition of states that are willing to send fighter jets to Ukraine. Zelensky is going to France today or is already there.
What fighters? Well, Ukraine has previously been vocal that they want F-16s. Understandable, considering they can carry pretty much everything you'd want. That's the US though. What could Europe deliver? Well, in case of doubt, there's always old warsaw pact equipment, but considering Poland, we don't actually need a coalition there to break the ice anymore, and Germany has none left anyway. Germany wants to get rid of its Panavia Tornado fleet, though that is still a ways away, what with the replacement F35s having been ordered last year. The Eurofighter fleet, well apparently some of the older variants are due to be replaced. Whatever Germany sends, if it sends actual airframes, it's going to hurt a bit, but that was the case with PzH2000 and Leo2 as well. But I'd say there's options there that could be sent without hurting Germany too much. There's bound to be some airframes left with some useful life in them that are bound for resale or the scrap heap. Eurofighters are to this day being built in international cooperation with german participation, so maybe we could also pull a few off the line there for Ukraine, even though there seem to be plenty of unfilled orders. But Ukriane has skipped the queue on IRIS-T-SLM as well.
Looking further afield, there's Saab's Gripen, and Dassault's Rafale. Both broadly very similar to the Eurofighter, I'd say.
If Germany can't send airframes, I suspect we can still throw our weight around a bit to support airframes that others commit. For example, I suspect that a bunch of the 100 IRIS-T missiles are the "SLS" variant and not the SLM. (Surface Launched Short/Medium Range.) If that's correct, then (AFAIK) they're unchanged IRIS-T missiles, which can be strapped onto Gripens and Eurofighters.
My question regarding the potential pain of Germany providing airframes to Ukraine: what does Germany have them for? Are they currently serving Germany's interests? Given that they're on the docket to be replaced, do they do more good being used to decrease Russian ability to prosecute wars in Europe right now, or is it more important for Germany to hold onto them?
Agreed. I was hinting at it in my post, but let me spell it out: we gave up a not insignificant part of our tank and PzH2000 fleets. Not a "crippling the army" part, but "if we end up actually needing all of the army, we'll sorely feel it". So it's been done before, in a way.
The difference is: this time it's aircraft. As the items Ukraine needs get more and more expensive per unit, the number of units in inventory get smaller and smaller, and if you send a similar fraction of the inventory, you run into that awkward spot where nations either buy a larger fleet or don't bother at all. Looking around in the equipment lists of the smaller NATO economies, you'll see inventories of combat aircraft hardly drop below 12. If you can't afford 12 combat aircraft, you don't have an air force; your army just decided to organizationally group the air defense missiles with the president's flying limo service.
And if you pull 12 airframe from any currently flying type, you're already looking at a quite deep pit in the inventory.
And to be clear, "on the docket to be replaced" means the replacement airframes are available in many many years. Using the F-35 as an example, in the last 12 years, 890 were built. There's orders for 3400. The US, buying most of them, expects to complete its inventory by ~2030. Germany expects first deliveries by 2028.
All of this to say: This isn't exactly a trivial gap in capabilities.
Personally: Because the aircraft sent will be keeping Germany's most likely adversary in an "all hands on deck" kind of defense situation very busy indeed, I'd be entirely on board with sending a bunch of Tornados. I also understand that that's not the capability that Ukraine needs. So older Eurofighters then? Also fine by me. But I also believe that this is the kind of situation where a coalition makes a lot of sense. If you can get all/most EuFi project partners (GB, DE, IT, ES) to give up a part of their older aircraft, I think you have a decent chance that no one country's capabilities are hit too badly, while also scrounging together enough aircraft to make the whole thing worthwhile.
Another thing to keep in mind: Aircraft are fucking complex. You can teach the skills required to operate and maintain a tank very quickly in comparison to doing the same for an aircraft. I really hope the decision of what aircraft is possible to send has already been made, and Ukrainian crews are getting the training already. Otherwise the Ukrainian Army will have kicked the invaders back over the Kerch strait by the time new aircraft become useful.
Thanks for expanding on your perspective. I appreciate it.
Ukraine achieving some success in besieged Bakhmut, Russia says
Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment - May 11 (ISW)
How Ukrainian forces denied Russia victory in Bakhmut by Victory Day (Washington Post)
The fight for Bakhmut increasingly feels like this war's equivalent of Stalingrad, minus the actual strategic value. Ukraine, at great human expense, is tying down Russian troops and their forces and efforts from elsewhere over a patch of land with little strategic value but immense political symbolism. I feel that Russia can no longer pull out of the city without being massively humiliated, and Ukraine knows this.
I think this is absolutely the case. It remains to be seen however whether they are going to be able to leverage that successfully into a fixing operation (force Russia to expend troops to keep Bakhmut while the main force of the offensive attacks elsewhere) or if they plan to literally just counter attack at Bakhmut, which honestly given the state of infighting in the Russian military apparatus near Bakhmut right now, and the massive amount of fortifications Russia has built near the Zaporizhzhia axis which is arguably the most 'traditionally' effective place to attack, might not even be the worst option. Although it does seem a bit headstrong or reckless.
Archived from WaPo to bypass paywall:
The Discord leak from earlier this year indicates that Prigozhin reportedly offered to give up Russian troops positions if Ukraine would allow Wagner to withdraw from Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s cultural counteroffensive: The rush to erase Russia’s imprint (Washington Post)
According to the Kyiv Independent, Russia is on the cusp of 200,000 troop losses in the war.