Ukrainian soldiers on captured Russian T-72 tanks hold military training close to the Ukraine-Belarus border near Chernihiv, Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2022. The West’s move to send tanks to Ukraine was greeted enthusiastically from Kyiv, Berlin, and Washington. But Moscow seemed to shrug. The Kremlin has warned the West that supplying tanks would be a dangerous escalation of the conflict and denounced the decision. AP photo by Aleksandr Shulman, File.
KYIV, Ukraine — Hours after the US and Germany agreed to send battle tanks to Ukraine, Russia launched missile and drone strikes at targets across the country.
The Ukrainian military reported that it downed all 24 of the Iranian-made, exploding drones Russia launched the night of Wednesday, Jan. 25, including 15 targeted against the capital city of Kyiv. Then, during rush hour on Thursday morning, Ukrainian air defenses reportedly shot down 47 of the 55 cruise missiles Russia launched at Ukraine, including 20 aimed at the Kyiv region. Of the remaining eight Russian missiles that evaded Ukraine’s air defenses, three failed to hit their targets, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian military, reported on Thursday.
As of this article’s publication, six air raid alerts have sounded in Kyiv since Wednesday, spurring residents to repeatedly seek shelter. City officials said Thursday’s strikes killed a 55-year-old man and wounded two other people.
Halina Panasian, 69, reacts inside her destroyed house after a Russian rocket attack in Hlevakha, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. AP photo by Roman Hrytsyna.
“The goal of the Russians remains the same — psychological pressure on Ukrainians and the destruction of critical infrastructure. But we cannot be broken!” Zaluzhnyi wrote in a Telegram post on Thursday.
Russia’s drone and missile strikes this week were ostensibly targeted against Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Following Thursday’s strikes, DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy producer, announced emergency shutdowns in some parts of Kyiv to help stabilize power supplies. Despite the periodic disruptions to electricity and other utilities, Ukraine’s air defenses, bolstered by Western systems, continue to mute the effects of Russia’s strategic missile and drone strike campaign.
To date, Russia’s attacks have failed to outpace the ability of Ukrainian repair workers to restore power and other utilities. Russian strikes have similarly failed to overwhelm the resilience of Ukrainian civilian morale. Recent polling shows that Ukrainian civilians remain overwhelmingly opposed to making territorial concessions to Russia for the sake of ending the war.
“As long as the West keeps up the supply of both air defense systems and missiles, as well as power infrastructure spares, Russia can cause great inconvenience and damage, but not decisive results,” Justin Bronk, senior research fellow for airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, a British defense think tank, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
This week’s Russian strikes came within hours of American and German pledges to provide Ukraine with main battle tanks. The dual announcements on Wednesday reversed months of indecision and marked a milestone in the delivery of Western firepower to Kyiv.
The US will send Ukraine 31 M1 Abrams tanks, enough for an entire tank battalion. For its part, Germany pledged to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, a move that opens the floodgates for about a dozen more European countries to send their own German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, as well.
A woman stands on top of a crater next to a destroyed house after a Russian rocket attack in Hlevakha, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. AP photo by Roman Hrytsyna.
Originally, Berlin not only declined to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but also prohibited other countries possessing the German-made tanks from doing so as well, unless the US reciprocally pledged M1 Abrams tanks. To celebrate Berlin’s long-awaited decision, many Ukrainians posted social media pictures of themselves wearing leopard-print clothing this week.
The dual announcements from Washington and Berlin on Wednesday broke a key diplomatic logjam among Ukraine’s Western supporters, potentially heralding a new phase of military support for Ukraine ahead of what many analysts predict will be a renewed phase of Russian offensives in the coming weeks or months.
Still, Germany’s foot-dragging on Leopard 2 tank deliveries spurred some long-lasting frustration among other NATO members that see arming Ukraine as an urgent priority — especially countries such as Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which retain living memories of Soviet oppression.
“There is obviously frustration among NATO members about how slow the German government is at making the right decision,” Thibault Muzergues, a European political expert with the International Republican Institute, told Coffee or Die.
Western tanks will take months to affect the Ukrainian battlefield. On Thursday, the United Kingdom said it would deliver 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine within two months. And some experts say it could take up to a year before Ukrainians can operate and maintain the Abrams tanks America promised.
Even so, Western tank-delivery pledges have already sent symbolic shock waves through Kyiv and Moscow. The Kremlin, for its part, reacted furiously to the West’s tank pledges, claiming that the US and Europe are directly involved in the war.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin called the German government’s decision “extremely dangerous” and said it “takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation.”
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of Russia, recently said “the Anglo-Saxon world” was waging a “proxy war against Russia and its allies.”
Men are seen through a smashed window of a damaged truck following a rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. AP photo by Daniel Cole.
Moscow launched its so-called special military operation against Ukraine in February 2022 under the propaganda pretense of “de-nazifying” and “de-militarizing” its neighbor. Yet, after Russian forces failed to take Kyiv and Ukraine’s military began to regain terrain, Moscow’s spin doctors pivoted from their original war aims and painted the war as a direct conflict between Russia and NATO — and, along that line of thinking, an existential struggle for Russia’s survival.
“This is the price of the subservient readiness of the sellout Ukrainian elite to turn a once brotherly republic and a good neighbor to an outpost of infrastructure that is hostile to Russia,” Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kolokoltsev said Wednesday, the Russian news site Tass reported.
Germany’s decision to send its tanks to Ukraine sparked heated backlash from some of Russia’s most prominent propagandists who compared the modern German government under the leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Nazi Third Reich in World War II.
People wait on a street blocked by police after a rocket attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. AP photo by Daniel Cole.
“This Miss Ribbentrop has declared war on Russia,” Russian television presenter Vladimir Solovyov said during a nationally televised show on Wednesday, comparing German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany’s foreign minister.
Among Ukraine’s soldiers and civilians, the promise of Western tanks is a potent morale-booster after 11 months of full-scale warfare.
“The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Wednesday night video address. "We have to form such a ‘tank fist,’ such a ‘fist of freedom.’”
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