Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeals for more heavy weapons as Donbas battle looms

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeals for more heavy weapons as Donbas battle looms
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeals for more heavy weapons as Donbas battle looms / wiki
By bne IntelliNews April 14, 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on the West to provide more and heavier weapons, warning that without them the conflict in Ukraine would become, “an endless bloodbath, spreading misery.”

Speaking in English in a video directed at Ukraine partners in Western Europe and the US, Zelenskiy has been lobbying for weapons as Russia repositions its forces in preparation for a large battle for control of the Donbas region that is expected to start soon.

“Russia counted on capturing Ukraine within five days. That was the deadline they established for obliterating our country and destroying our democracy. But they had no idea of who they were up against,” Zelenskiy said in his video address.

“We have destroyed more Russian weapons and military equipment than some armies in Europe currently possess. But this is not enough… Ukraine needs weapons supplies. We need heavy artillery, armoured vehicles, air defence systems and combat aircraft. Anything to repel Russian forces and stop their war crimes,” Zelenskiy said.

Satellite images show that an eight-mile column of heavy Russian armour is on its way to the eastern Ukrainian regions, and includes hundreds of tanks and APCs in what analysts anticipate will be the biggest battle since the end of WWII. The images show trucks also towing artillery and analysts estimate tens of thousands of troops are being transported to the Donbas area. The troops around Kyiv have now mostly withdrawn, and life there is returning to normal and several European embassies have reopened. Czechia’s embassy is the latest to resume operations in the Ukrainian capital, although the British and US embassies have yet to re-open their doors.  

Ukraine has been lobbying hard for more, and more powerful, military help from its Western allies. At a Nato summit on April 7 Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that he had travelled to the meeting with three items on his agenda: “weapons, weapons and weapons.” At the same meeting Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to acquiesce and promised that more powerful weapons were on the way to Ukraine, but was vague about what systems will be included and when they will arrive.

More weapons are on the way from the US. President Joe Biden phoned Zelenskiy on April 12 and said he has authorised another $800mn worth of weapons for Ukraine, including heavier weapons systems. However, there was some confusion, as initially Biden appeared to offer to send Soviet-era T-72 tanks, but later backtracked on that promise.

The new US package will bring the US total commitment of arms and financial help up to $2.5bn and includes artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and unmanned coastal defence boats, Biden said.

Biden said he had also approved the transfer of additional helicopters, saying equipment provided to Ukraine “has been critical” as it confronts the invasion. The promise of 11 Mi-17 helicopters that had been earmarked for Afghanistan before the US-backed government collapsed last year was also thrown in doubt later, and confusion remains over their inclusion in the package.

Germany has also upped its efforts and the maker of the country's Leopard tanks said it was prepared to ship them if the government gave the go-ahead. But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is delaying a final decision over whether to give Ukraine high-end tanks for its battle against Russia, despite pressure from several other top officials, according to four people familiar with the deliberations, Politico reported on April 7.

Germany has remained reluctant to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, but in what appeared to be a change of policy, or a sign of a split within the coalition, German Foreign Minister and Greens leader Annalena Baerbock said on April 11 that Germany was ready to scale up its military help.

“Ukraine needs further military support to defend itself,” Baerbock told reporters, ahead of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.

“It is clear that Ukraine needs further military equipment, especially heavy weapons. Now we need creativity and pragmatism, it’s not the time for excuses,” she stressed, adding that Germany will continue its efforts in close co-ordination with the allies.

The UK has already sent ship-killing Harpoon missiles to Ukraine that have already arrived in the port city of Odesa. On April 12 Kyiv achieved a major PR victory by hitting Russia Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva with two Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles and setting it on fire. Russian military authorities admitted the ship had caught fire but blamed the tragedy on a munitions explosion.

The Moskva infamously sprang to prominence at the start of the war, as it was the ship that attacked Snake Island where the Ukrainian defenders replied to ultimatum to surrender saying: “Russian warship, go f**k yourself!” Ukraine’s post office released a stamp this week commemorating this act of defiance.

Analysts say the sinking of the Moskva will have little strategic impact on the war in the south, which remains largely a land battle.

Legitimate military targets

The danger of a direct confrontation between Nato forces and Russia is escalating as the West sends new and more powerful weapons to Ukraine. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov repeated earlier threats that Nato deliveries of materiel to Ukraine were “legitimate military targets” that Russia could attack.

Any attempts by the West to inflict significant damage on Russia's military or its separatist allies in Ukraine will be "harshly suppressed," Ryabkov said.

"We are warning that US-Nato weapons transports across Ukrainian territory will be considered by us as legal military targets," TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.

"We are making the Americans and other Westerners understand that attempts to slow down our special operation, to inflict maximum damage on Russian contingents and formations of the DPR and LPR (Donetsk and Luhansk People's republics) will be harshly suppressed," he said.

Top Kremlin aide and advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin Sergey Karaganov was even more explicit in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on April 8, saying Russia could strike Nato materiel while it was still on Nato territory.

“Americans and their Nato partners continue to support of Ukraine by sending arms. If that continues, it is obvious that targets in Europe could or will be hit in order to stop lines of communications. Then the war could escalate. At this juncture it is becoming more and more plausible,” Karaganov said.