UPDATE: Mark Sumner
When one of these gets captured, it seems like it should be assigned to low-risk duty. Like guarding the Belarus border.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
It’s worth noting that the information The Washington Post is citing in it’s downbeat article about the possible success of a Ukrainian counteroffensive is not from the leaked documents that have previously been seen. This could indicate that the Post has access to information only made visible as part of a larger leak.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Reuters reports that Ukraine neighbor Romania is planning to buy F-35 fighters. They join Poland and the Czech Republic who have both put in orders for this plane in the last two years. The U.S. currently has F-35s stationed in the Baltics.
UPDATE: Mark Sumner
Just another story as a reminder that these are real people out there fighting this war, every day. Notice the picture of their wedding rings? They’re made out of aluminum foil that they carefully shaped into rings so they could hold the ceremony in the besieged city of Mariupol. Today, Valeriya is free, and that’s wonderful. But Mariupol is still occupied and Andriy is gone.
Kos covered many aspects of the document leak over the weekend and again on Monday, so I’m not going to spend much time on the details of what they include this morning except to say: We still don’t know if this is real, fake, or disinformation created by any one of several potential sources.
But wait, doesn’t the outrage and the warnings from U.S. officials that this information should not be spread mean … nope.
Surely all the statements about anger from allies, concern about lost credibility with Ukraine, and the desperate hunt for the leaker means that … nope.
Well, at least information casting doubt on Ukraine’s abilities proves … nope.
The purpose of disinformation is to look like real information, including treating the release of that disinformation as if it were real information. We don’t know. We won’t know unless the U.S. announces that someone has been arrested and charged with the release of this information. We can’t even be sure then.
That’s a good thing—because Moscow is in exactly the same position.
Do I think it’s real? Yes, sadly enough. It’s quite easy to believe that someone, somewhere, was that big of an idiot. Such an idiot that it’s hard to tell if this information was posted for any reason bigger than showing off and possibly winning an online argument. Because Minecraft servers are where all the real experts gather. Or something. Sorry, that part of the whole story makes my head ache. I’m imagining an argument that goes, “Yeah, well, Ukraine is running out of tank ammo, but look at my sick Minecraft model of Minas Tirith!”
What should we take away from these documents when it comes to the two broad statements that have been widely published: concerns about Ukraine running out of ammunition, and concerns that a Ukrainian counteroffensive might not be effective enough to push Russia out of most of the occupied territory?
Honestly, we should take both these evaluations as hopeful signs. Because they are signals that U.S. analysts were watching closely and noting those places where Ukraine needed help. And it is “needed,” not “needs.” After all, the date on these reports was in February. That was followed by a March 3 announcement of a $400M package that includes more HIMARS, artillery, and equipment for bridging rivers and streams. Just three weeks later, the U.S. followed up with a $2.6B package again dominated by ammunition. HIMARS rockets, tank ammunition, anti-aircraft ammo, and still more artillery. That package also contains fuel trucks, more bridging and recovery vehicles, and more anti-aircraft systems.
If the February analysis (which was likely made even earlier) says that the U.S. believed Ukraine is short of ammunition, the first March package looks tailor-made to address that issue. If the February analysis believed Ukraine lacked everything it needed to liberate and hold territory, the big package announced at the end of March looks as if it was absolutely designed to fill in the gaps in Ukraine’s logistics. If those leaks in February were a checklist, the packages in March ticked every box.
Ammunition. Fuel trucks to keep tanks and armor moving forward. Bridging equipment to prevent either rivers or tank trenches from slowing forward movement. Anti-aircraft gear to prevent Russia from obtaining anything like air superiority. More ammunition.
As kos noted, the number of HIMARS rockets, in particular, has limited the ability of these weapons to act in terms of repressing Russian artillery. Because the rockets are so limited, Ukraine has used HIMARS primarily to strike targets involving ammunition depots or equipment facilities that group many valuable targets. Russia has wised up enough to move most of these facilities beyond the HIMARS range. Ukraine really needs to have enough HIMARS on hand to use them in effective counterbattery fire and for smaller groupings of men and materiel.
What does the March 3 package include?
In this package, the United States will provide additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, additional 105 mm and 155 mm artillery rounds, and additional 25 mm ammunition.
What about that big package at the end of March?
The latest package of aid includes a large amount of various types of ammunition, such as rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, and an undisclosed number of fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats.
HIMARS and artillery ammo. HIMARS and logistical support.
Do I think the leaked documents are probably an accurate description of what the U.S. thought about Ukrainian capability in February? Yes. I do think it’s likely. But these documents weren’t created as the kind of hand-wringing assessment the Washington Post and others are headlining this morning. They were made to point out problems that could be fixed. And then the U.S. military moved to fix them. They’re not the only ones. Ammunition has been a focal point of assistance packages from the U.K., Poland, France, and others. It’s almost as if they watched the same slide show.
Those leaked documents—assuming they were real, assuming they were leaked—don’t show that Ukraine is failing or is doomed to fail. This isn’t a final report on a war that’s over. It’s observations of events in motion that are designed to highlight potential issues expressly so they can be addressed.
You know who else didn’t think Ukraine was prepared for an extended counteroffensive in February? Everyone. Including Ukraine. But then, Ukraine was never going to conduct a counteroffensive in February. Or in March.
Actually, those aren’t all British soldiers seeing these Ukrainians off. They’re an international crew that includes trainers from several nations that have participated in getting these troops up to speed on both Western weapons and combined arms tactics. Now they watch as these trainees return to use what they have learned.
The weapons are still arriving in Ukraine. The newly trained forces are still arriving in Ukraine. The newly allocated ammo, fuel trucks, and all the other gear needed to make a counteroffensive successful are still arriving in Ukraine.
When Ukraine launches a counteroffensive, there is no guarantee of success. Things go wrong. Estimates are off. Plans fail. However, it will not be launching a counteroffensive that everyone believes is doomed to failure from the outset. Back in February, Ukraine’s allies looked over the plans for potential issues and took action to fill perceived gaps.
When the counteroffensive begins, it’s going to stand a much better chance of success, because of cautious assessments made back in February.
One Bunny gone, but not forgotten
It’s not unusual for Ukraine to lose a tank in combat. We don’t know the total losses, but Oryx records 479 Ukrainian tanks lost so far during the Russian invasion. But this one, a tank called “Bunny,” was something special. I’m including the tweet rather than just the link because I don’t have rights to the images.
Bunny was a Russian T-80BVM captured by Ukraine last over a year ago, outside the city of Kharkiv. You can look at an old image here to see it in Russian livery. It was initially damaged, but Ukraine repaired it in Kharkiv and immediately returned it to service. The tank was seen in combat at multiple points along the front since then, often with a pair of bunny ears stuck onto the barrel. Silly as that may seem, Bunny and its crew took out six Russian tanks since Ukraine took possession of the tank. One of those tanks destroyed by Bunny was a T-80UM2. Or, more correctly, the T-80UM2. This updated version of the T-80, with a proposed set of experimental updates, was the only one of its kind. Destroying that tank was one of the first things Bunny did with Ukrainian soldiers at the controls.
Bunny’s crew all safely exited the tank before it was purposely (and sadly) burned to prevent it from falling back into Russian hands. Hopefully, that experienced crew will soon be given another ride.
This Bunny may not be the kind around which a children’s book is written. But then again...
The Belarusians are coming after all
Radio Liberty reports that after more than a year of will they or won’t they, at least several hundred Belarusians are coming to Ukraine. However, the men coming aren’t soldiers, they’re prisoners, and they’re not coming to bolster the ranks of Wagner Group’s depleted mercenary crew. Instead, prisoners from Belarus are reportedly being sent to Mariupol to serve as a construction crew for Russia.
Almost 90% of apartment buildings and 60% of individual homes in Mariupol were destroyed by Russian artillery and air strikes in Russia’s assault on the city. It’s unclear if the Belarus prisoners will be rebuilding these homes. Telegram channels indicate that they are turning Mariupol into a base for Russian forces.
Radio Liberty quotes an official saying those sent to Mariupol are accused of “minor crimes.” Not the best time to be a jaywalker in Belarus.
Bakhmut on hold, at terrible cost
On Monday, my changes to the map of the situation in Bakhmut were … actually, there were no changes to the map. Last Friday, it seemed Russia had broken Ukrainian lines at several points and was pressing Ukrainian forces around the railway station. Then on Saturday, Ukraine pushed back and drove Russian forces one to two blocks back from the rail lines. There were also reports that Russia had hurried ahead to the point that they hadn’t actually cleared Ukrainian forces from some buildings that were now in their rear, meaning that Russia again took high casualties and was forced to give up a corridor in the center of the city.
On Sunday, things seemed to quiet, at least in terms of area exchanged. On Monday, fighting was still described as “fierce,” but there appeared to be no measurable movement of lines inside the city. The lines around the city also appear to be momentarily frozen. However, it’s worth noting that Ukraine’s reduced area within the city, and Russia’s solidifying control of areas north and east, will make it possible for Russia to position and direct more intense artillery at the areas Ukraine holds within the city. It’s only getting harder in Bakhmut.
And the cost of holding the city is horrendous.
That ceremony shown in the image at the top of the article is for Ukrainian author Yevhen Gulevich. Gulevich was a critical figure in detailing the history of Ukrainian art, explaining the origins of Ukrainian culture, and in mapping that history onto modern Ukraine. He was the editor of a Ukrainian magazine and frequently in demand for his skill at translating books written in other languages into Ukrainian while preserving the emotion and beauty of language. Among others, he translated Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” so that it can be read by generations of Ukrainians the way it has been read and enjoyed by generations of Americans.
Gulevich died on Bakhmut. He probably died all the way back at the end of December, but his body could not be found, and his fellow soldiers maintained some level of hope that he was still out there until he was finally declared dead last month.
This loss is the tiniest sliver of what it means to say “Bakhmut holds.” Every day brings the loss of so many. Award-winning athletes. Brave humanitarian volunteers. Soldiers known for their bravery in the 2014 invasion. The daily toll from Bakhmut includes the famous and the ordinary, all made brothers and sisters in the place they gave up their lives to hold.
Bakhmut holds, at the cost of blood and lives. And every day we can only hope it’s worth it.
Another look at the training in UK