WASHINGTON — President Biden has ruled out sending American troops to fight in Ukraine, but American-made weapons are already in action and more may be on the way. Their effectiveness in repelling a Russian invasion is another question.
Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $2.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, according to the Pentagon, including a $200 million package in December that included equipment like Javelin and other anti-armour systems, grenade launchers, large quantities of artillery, mortars and small arms ammunition.
But military experts say that with 130,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine, Russia’s military could quickly overwhelm Ukraine’s military, even one backed by the United States and its European allies. Stretched Ukrainian forces defending multiple borders should prioritize units that received advanced weapons and additional ammunition.
Ukrainian troops – trained in recent years by US Army Green Berets and other NATO special forces, and better equipped than during the last Russian invasion in 2014 – would likely make a bloody advance from Russian troops. But a long-term Ukrainian strategy, US officials said, would be to mount a Western-backed guerrilla insurgency that could bog down the Russian military for years.
“All of this equipment and training will help the Ukrainians resist in an insurgent and conventional form,” said Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the administration. Barack Obama.
Sending weapons to Ukraine is important, said James G. Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral who was NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, but the less visible countermeasures could be even more crucial: US intelligence to help identify Russian forces and new tools to defend against crippling cyberattacks and counterattack Russian military communications.
The effectiveness of US military aid will largely depend on what Russian President Vladimir V. Putin orders his forces to do, military analysts have said.
If Russia mainly launches airstrikes and missiles, the equipment doesn’t help that much, said Rob Lee, a former US Navy officer and Russian military specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Missing from the influx of US military aid are advanced air defenses, such as Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems.
If Russian forces invade but have no intention of occupying the country, the weaponry might also not be so important, Lee said. But if Russian forces seek to occupy the country or break into major urban areas, the weapons — and any future supplies from the United States — could help sustain an insurgency.
To underscore the potential consequences for Russia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, sent an unequivocal message to his Russian counterpart when they met in late December: yes, said General Milley, the Ukrainian army stands little chance of repelling the larger and better armed Russian force.
But a quick victory would be followed, General Milley told General Valery Gerasimov, by a bloody insurgency, similar to the one that led the Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan in 1989, according to officials familiar with the discussion.
General Milley did not detail to General Gerasimov the planning underway in Washington to support an insurgency, a so-called “porcupine strategy” to make the invasion of Ukraine hard for the Russians to swallow. This includes forward positioning weapons for Ukrainian insurgents, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which could be used against Russian forces.
The United States began using social media to highlight arms transfers to the Kyiv government shortly after it first became clear that Mr Putin was assembling a potential invasion force on along his country’s border with Ukraine. The message from the United States was not subtle, with the government releasing photographs of planes loaded with weapons and equipment.
More help may be on the way. On Capitol Hill, senators from both parties rallied behind legislation that would allow Mr. Biden to use the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, last used in World War II, to lend military equipment to the ‘Ukraine.
The bill, led by Senators John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, is part of a bipartisan sanctions package targeting Moscow that lawmakers are negotiating, although a spokesperson for M Cornyn said senators are also exploring other ways to pass the bill given its broad support in the Senate.
“The circumstances of today are not those of March 1941,” Mr Cornyn said. “There is no mistake about it.” But he added that the historical parallels were “chilling” and that “the lessons of the past must inform the present”.
Since becoming an independent nation, Ukraine has remained largely loyal to the family of weapons designed by the Soviet Union. This can be seen in the Ukrainian army’s use of Kalashnikov-type assault rifles instead of the M16 and M4 carbines used by the United States and many other western armies.
That began to change after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, with the United States supplying hundreds of anti-tank missiles and other weapons to Ukraine. “The number of javelins given to Ukraine was in the hundreds before these recent shipments were made,” said Alexander Vindman, a retired army lieutenant colonel who oversaw European affairs at the council. national security from 2018 to 2020. “And now that number has increased by the hundreds and up to the thousands by including the advanced anti-armour capability provided by NATO allies,” he added.
Understanding the escalation of tensions over Ukraine
“On their own, they will not determine Russia’s military offensive decisions, but will affect the calculation of the costs and benefits of military action,” Col. Vindman said. “Javelins would be very effective in ambushes and Russia should account for this in certain ways, including forcing Russia to use air power against soldiers using them.”
While the Pentagon hasn’t specifically said it’s sending NATO-spec firearms like machine guns to Ukraine, it did share photos of munitions it shipped to Kyiv. On February 3, the Pentagon tweeted photos of an arms shipment to Ukraine that included dozens of crates, each containing 800 rounds of 7.62mm belted ammunition chambered for NATO machine guns like the Belgian-designed M240 commonly carried by troops western infantry and mounted in vehicle turrets.
Another important weapon is the Javelin, a relatively light guided missile developed specifically to destroy Soviet armored personnel carriers and tanks. But unlike previous generations of American man-portable anti-tank weapons like the TOW missiles supplied to the Syrian rebels, which require the operator to remain in place after firing and optically guide the missile to its target, the Javelin locks onto its targets so that the soldiers using it can move around. as soon as the missile is fired – limiting their exposure to any return fire.
The Javelin has two other features that make it attractive to the military: a single missile contains two explosive warheads – one behind the other – which can defeat modern types of advanced armor typically found on the front and on the sides of Russian tanks. It can also be configured to fly upwards and then descend almost directly onto the roof of a vehicle, where its armor is thinnest. Soldiers need little formal training to effectively use the javelin thrower.
Other American-made weapons arrive from NATO allies. In a series of Twitter posts over the weekend, the State Department released photos of American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles coming from Lithuania to Kyiv. In the 1980s, the CIA secretly supplied less advanced versions of these Stingers to mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan which were used to shoot down low-flying Russian helicopters and planes.
Ukraine exploits other sources of advanced armaments. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed earlier this month to supply one of the Ukrainian military’s most sophisticated weapons – a Turkish-made long-range armed drone whose combat use for the first time in Ukraine last fall infuriated Russian officials.
When governments covertly supply weapons to another country or a fighting group, they may grind down serial numbers on guns or paint markings on ammunition cases that identify the weapons and their country of origin.
This, however, has not been the Ministry of Defense’s recent approach to Ukraine.
In many military tweetaccompanying photos showed coded markings painted on crates or shipping tubes that were clear enough to discern not only their contents, but even the month and year of manufacture and the factory of where they came from, like the one showing a stack of Javelin missile tubes made in October 2003 at Lockheed Martin’s nearly 4,000-acre manufacturing facility in Troy, Ala.
Catherine Edmondson contributed report.