Monday, February 02, 2015

If Putin Wants War, Help Ukraine Wage It

Russia's hand puppets are pushing the Ukrainians back and threatening an important road and rail hub. We seem on the verge of moving beyond camping gear to help Ukraine.

Russia's forces are advancing enough in the Donbas region to start a flow of civilian refugees:

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that around 1,000 of Debaltseve's residents have been evacuated in the past days. Many end up at a government-owned holiday camp in the resort town of Svyatohirsk, where the sound of artillery fire is replaced with an uneasy quiet. ...

Fighting has been most intense in the last week around the government-held town, a strategically valuable railway hub that has been almost entirely encircled by rebel forces. Only one road remains open for escape, and that has been targeted by artillery fire.

While this rebel boast is empty, it does highlight the decisive role of Russia in creating and running this separatist force:

Separatists battling government troops in east Ukraine plan a general mobilization and aim to boost their fighting force to 100,000 men, one of their main leaders said on Monday.

Ukraine's active force--all their services--is barely much more than that. The idea that a small sliver of Ukraine could field that size of a force without massive Russian aid is ridiculous. So just boasting of it speaks to the secessionist frame of reference.

Putin's continued offensive against Ukraine has finally gotten our attention. The New York Times reported that we are open to sending arms to Ukraine. A first step would be a semi-official assessment of Ukrainian needs:

The Times said eight former senior U.S. officials would issue an independent report on Monday urging Washington to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, including anti-armor missiles and reconnaissance drones.

Small arms aren't necessary. Ukraine has lots of decent infantry weapons. I hope Ukraine has used their time to move their massive stockpile at Slovyansk in Donbas.

And Ukraine has a massive stockpile of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery.

Ukraine doesn't need more of those, although they could use help putting them into service and modernizing them. Perhaps our new NATO allies could trade on a 1:1 basis excess (because they are switching to Western weapons) modernized and operational Russian-designed weapons with Ukraine and get non-operational weapons that could be upgraded--and sent on to Ukraine again.

As I wrote in that post on the size of Ukraine's heavy weapons stockpile, Ukraine's defense needs are more in the area of filling gaps:

We don't need to ship major weapons to Ukraine. That would take too long to re-equip and re-train the Ukrainian army. And they have plenty of existing stuff that is adequate to face the Russians.

Ukraine needs to repair and upgrade what they have, which our new NATO members who are shedding old Soviet equipment can help upgrade and maintain.

Our help should be in training, command and control, logistics, intelligence, and recon capabilities.

Weapons should be limited to filling capability gaps--like anti-ship missiles, naval mines, and more longer-range precision surface-to-surface missiles (like the SCUD-B--which given Ukraine's armaments industry in this field they should be able to build on their own, right?) than Ukraine possesses to threaten Sevastopol naval base--and equipment (which could include personal and crew-served weapons) to make their special forces, infantry, and paramilitary infantry more capable.

Since landmines seem to be out of fashion, we should make sure that Ukrainian combat engineering capabilities are good to build obstacles to slow a mechanized advance.

It will be interesting to see what that independent report's list consists of.

Remember, Russia wanted a short and glorious war. Crimea was perfect. Let's make sure that Ukraine can impose a price on Putin for seeking an easy victory in Donbas.

UPDATE: Ah, here's a story on the assessment:

The group's final report, titled, “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do,” contends that Ukraine cannot defend itself unless it gets more advanced weaponry, and that arming Ukraine is key to deterring Putin. It argues that the West needs to "bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive.”

The $3 billion military aid package would pay for counter-battery radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic counter-measures for use against opposing UAVs, secure communications systems, armored Humvees and medical support equipment. Ukrainian forces also need light anti-armor missiles, given the large numbers of armored vehicles that the Russians have deployed in Donetsk and Luhansk and the abysmal condition of the Ukrainian military’s light anti-armor weapons, the report says. It suggests other NATO members besides the United States should provide military assistance to the Ukrainian military, particularly those whose forces operate former Soviet equipment that is compatible with the arms currently in the Ukrainian inventory.

This fits what I've been saying.

And there is this:

The group concluded that one of Putin’s vulnerabilities is that the majority of Russians do not want their country fighting a war in Ukraine and will not tolerate heavy casualties. If Ukrainian forces were better armed, Wald said, the pressure would shift to Putin to de-escalate the conflict to avoid risking additional losses and losing support at home.

Yes. Put more crudely, more Russian soldiers have to die. It might not win this war. But it might deter the next one.

So far, the Russians want to keep going:

Ukrainian troops battled Monday to repel waves of Russian-backed separatists trying to surround a strategic railway hub in eastern Ukraine, while in an ominous sign for peace efforts, the rebels announced plans to boost the size of their armed forces.

Unless the Ukrainians can manage a better counter-attack than the one they put together at Donetsk airport, Ukraine will suffer another battlefield defeat.

Will American military aid be too little and too late?

UPDATE: Here's the report. Fine recommendations, although I'd add anti-tank mines, engineering capabilities to create obstacles, and anti-ship missiles to defend Ukraine's long coast.

And I'd like to see Ukraine create the ability to bombard the Sevastopol naval base in occupied Crimea. But I think Ukraine has the rocket industry to do that.