Ukraine commanders say Russian invasion will overwhelm them

Kiev, Ukraine – On the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces this week, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi donned a helmet and a protective vest to tour the trenches and made a big noise announcing the delivery of new tanks, armored vehicles and ships to front-line units fighting Russian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists.

While the weapon systems can help maintain parity in the slow war of attrition that has been going on for years, neither they nor anything the Ukrainian military can muster now would be enough to fend off the massive Russian attack that Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow seems to be preparing. With nearly 100,000 soldiers now scattered across Ukraine’s eastern, northern and southern borders and even more on the way, even Ukrainian officials responsible for defending their country recognize that their armed forces are operating without a significant influx resources do not have much of a chance.

“Unfortunately, Ukraine has to be objective at this stage,” said General Kyrylo O. Budanov, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence. “There are not enough military resources to fend off a large-scale attack by Russia if it begins without the support of Western forces.”

General Budanov outlined his nightmarish vision of a Russian invasion that would begin with air and missile strikes, initially targeting ammunition depots and trench-bound troops. The Ukrainian military would be unable to act very quickly, and its leadership would not be able to coordinate a defense and supply the front. After that, he said, the front line commanders would be responsible for continuing the fight alone.

“They will hold as long as there are bullets,” said General Budanov. “They will be able to use what they have on their hands, but believe me, without the supply of reserves there is no army in the world that can stand it.”

While Russia could be militarily ready to launch an invasion of Ukraine as early as January or February, according to Ukraine and Western intelligence agencies, there is no evidence that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has decided to do so. In a video call with President Biden on Tuesday, Putin denied concerns about troop buildup on the Ukrainian border and blamed the United States and NATO, for accusing Russia of jeopardizing Russia’s security by providing weapons and training to the Ukrainian military.

“The Russian troops are on their own territory,” an adviser to Mr. Putin, Yuri V. Ushakov, said in a briefing with reporters after the presidents spoke. “You are not threatening anyone.”

However, the gathering of troops and heavy weapons on the border in recent weeks has forced Ukrainian officials to face some harsh truths. The US secret service has assessed that Russia has developed plans for an offensive with 175,000 soldiers.

Ukraine has only slightly more soldiers and officers in its entire military, according to the Defense Ministry. It is inferior on land, sea and in the air, with only about 200 aircraft in its air force, including transport vehicles, fewer than the number of warplanes Russia has already stationed on the Ukrainian border.

Russia’s armed forces include combat-ready submarines and frigates in the Black Sea armed with cruise missiles, as well as land-based units armed with Iskander-M ballistic missiles, while Ukraine is not lacking in serious anti-missile defense systems. The Russian missiles could wipe out a significant portion of the Ukrainian military in less than an hour, said Robert Lee, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Ph.D. Candidate at King’s College in London who is a Russian military expert.

“If Russia really wants to unleash its conventional capabilities, they could do massive damage in no time,” said Lee. “You can destroy the Ukrainian military in the east very quickly, within the first 30 to 40 minutes.”

The Ukrainian military is no longer what it used to be. In 2014, elite Russian troops were able to capture the entire Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine without firing a shot. Then when Russia-backed separatists took over part of the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region, Ukraine relied on volunteer brigades of people with little or no military training who took up arms to fight back the uprisings.

But the Ukrainian military fought back, fought the separatists to a standstill and ended the worst hostilities. This was done with the help of Western allies. The United States alone has provided US $ 2.5 billion in military aid, including high-tech surveillance and communications equipment and drones. In November, the United States did delivered approx. 88 tons Ammunition, which is part of a $ 60 million military aid package pledged by the Biden government.

On Wednesday, President Biden ruled out sending US forces to Ukraine to deter Russia. But there are more than 150 US military advisers in Ukraine, a combination of US special forces and the National Guard, currently serving 53 troops. About a dozen other NATO countries now also have military advisers in Ukraine, officials said.

Under the Trump administration, Ukrainians received Javelin anti-tank missiles for the first time. The Ukrainian armed forces have so far failed to fire spears at the battlefield, partly out of a desire not to anger the Kremlin.

The Biden government continued to supply them and delivered a new missile cage in October. John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that there were no conditions or restrictions on the spears other than that the Ukrainian armed forces use them “responsibly” and “for self-defense”.

In an interview with Radio Liberty this month, General Oleksandr Pavlyuk, the commander of the Joint Forces in the fight against the separatists, said the spears were already stationed in military units in eastern Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military issues, confirmed that a month ago Javelin missiles had been stationed at frontline military units but had not yet been fired in action.

“The Javelins are there, and when our enemies use tanks, they will be used,” said the officer.

The Biden government has remained clear about how else to defend Ukraine in the event of an invasion.

In his video call with Mr Putin on Tuesday, President Biden looked his counterpart in the eye and warned the United States to exceed the economic penalties imposed on Russia after the 2014 occupation of Crimea if Mr Putin decides to order military action into an account of Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the President. What these penalties might be has been left unclear, although few expect the United States to provide significant military assistance beyond what is already provided.

The lack of firm commitments from Western Ukraine supporters is a source of dismay for Ukrainian officials.

“They have to decide whether we are either allies, as they explain – and in this case the allies help each other – or they have to say that this is exactly not the case,” said General Budanov, chief of military intelligence. “If the civilized world wants to avoid a catastrophe – and this will be a catastrophe for everyone – we need military-technical support now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, not in the year. Now.”

Those who understand that such a level of support is unlikely have begun to speak darkly of the armed resistance of the population to any Russian occupation. In an interview, General Pavlyuk stated that there are up to half a million people in Ukraine with military experience. If the West does not come to the aid of Ukraine, he said, “we will start a partisan war.”

“Eight years have passed and there are very many people with military experience who are ready to fight with weapons in hand,” he said.

A senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if all else failed, the military would simply open their weapons depots and allow the Ukrainian people to take away whatever they need to defend themselves and their families.

Eric Schmitt contributed coverage from Washington.

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