Denmark has said that, together with its allies, it will decide “before the summer” as to whether they will provide Ukraine with the fighter jets the country has long been campaigning for. During a visit today to Ukraine, Troels Lund Poulsen, Denmark’s acting defense minister, confirmed that the matter was under discussion but that the process was taking a long time due to the requirement for different countries to cooperate on any such transfer of aircraft.
Denmark is the latest country to put itself forward as a possible candidate in Ukraine’s long-running search for new Western combat jets. According to figures from Flight Global, the Royal Danish Air Force currently operates around 43 upgraded F-16AM/BM fighter jets — a type that has been repeatedly mentioned in relation to Ukraine’s requirements and preferences — which are due to be replaced beginning in the near future by 27 F-35A stealth jets.
Speaking in the wake of the first deliveries of Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine from Poland and Slovakia, Serhiy Holubtsov, a senior Ukrainian Air Force commander, said:
“The F-16 is a fighter that has become a multirole aircraft which can fulfill the entire spectrum of airborne tasks. The MiG-29 unfortunately, is from the last century.” Holubtsov added that he considered the F-16 “four or five times” more effective than the MiG.
Bulgaria, the other remaining NATO MiG-29 operator, has meanwhile denied that it held talks on donating MiG-29s to Ukraine, with its defense ministry stating that such a transfer “would lead to a deficit of capabilities.”
Poulsen’s reference to countries acting together to provide Ukraine with new fighter equipment echoes a previous suggestion from the Netherlands. In January, the Dutch government said it will look at any Ukrainian request to transfer its F-16s with an “open mind.” However, while the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra proposed that idea, it was significantly walked back soon after by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Nevertheless, it would appear beyond doubt that an increasing number of European NATO nations are now seriously considering how they could work together to expedite the delivery of (most likely F-16) fighter jets to Ukraine. Other fighter jets have been suggested as possible candidates too, including French Mirage 2000s and Finnish F/A-18 Hornets.
At the same time, any such collaborative program involving American-made jets would still require final approval from the U.S. government, which has so far proven resistant to such a scheme, including due to the potentially escalatory nature of such a move.
“Denmark will not do it alone,” Poulsen said, adding that a decision was still achievable “in the near future”. He said: “We need to do this together with several countries. We will also have a dialogue with the Americans about this.”
The Danish announcement today follows the news yesterday that the country had confirmed its intention to provide 100 refurbished Leopard 1 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
“We will start delivering Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine before the summer,” Poulsen said. “And then, hopefully, looking half a year ahead, it will be possible for us to donate about 100 Leopard 1 tanks, and that, I’ll say, would be a substantial thing for Ukraine’s army.”
According to Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, he and Poulsen also discussed maritime security and other aspects of support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces during their meeting in Kyiv.
Before we get into today’s latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.
In the wake of the leak of classified materials from the Department of Defense, The Washington Post is reporting that the documents include evidence suggesting that Egypt may have been poised to deliver up to 40,000 rockets plus other munitions to Russia.
The Egyptian weapons would have been channeled to Russia in a covert manner, the paper reports, citing a document, dated February 17. The document claims to summarize talks held between Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and some of his senior military officials.
In the document, Sisi calls upon his officials to maintain secrecy over the production and delivery of the rockets “to avoid problems with the West.” The Egyptian president also refers to plans to supply Moscow with artillery rounds and propellants.
In response, Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, told the Washington Post: “Egypt’s position from the beginning is based on non-involvement in this crisis and committing to maintain equal distance with both sides while affirming Egypt’s support to the UN charter and international law.”
An unnamed U.S. official also told the paper that there was no evidence that Egypt followed through with the alleged plan by supplying Russia with the weaponry mentioned.
Last week, we reported that Ukraine was assessing the damage caused by the release of the documents and that there was concern Kyiv would become more reticent to share information as a result of this situation. More recently, there have been suggestions that there may be many more of the secret U.S. defense documents already compromised, with a report that what has been revealed so far could be just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Meanwhile, the U.K. Ministry of Defense has issued a warning about what it says is a “serious level of inaccuracy” in regard to allegations about the leak of alleged classified U.S. information. Although not providing any specific information, the defense ministry tweeted that:
“Readers should be cautious about taking at face value allegations that have the potential to spread disinformation.”
It’s possible that the British statement refers, at least in part, to a report relating to the incident over the Black Sea last September involving a U.K. Royal Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft and a Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jet. During the encounter, the Flanker ‘released’ a missile under generally mysterious circumstances.
Yesterday, however, an unnamed U.K. defense source told The Guardian newspaper that the reports based on the Pentagon documents “contain inaccuracies and do not reflect what happened in international airspace over the Black Sea.”
Back in October, U.K. officials said they did not consider the incident a deliberate escalation and blamed the missile release on a technical malfunction.
Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, the battle for the besieged city of Bakhmut continues.
In a video posted today, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military company fighting on behalf of Moscow, has said that Russian forces now control more than 80 percent of the city.
“In Bakhmut, the larger part, more than 80%, is now under our control, including the whole administrative center, factories, warehouses, the administration of the city,” Prigozhin said in the video, posted to Telegram by a Russian military blogger.
A broadly similar analysis was provided by the Russian-installed head of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin, who said yesterday that Russian forces controlled more than 75 percent of Bakhmut.
Prigozhin’s claim is countered by Ukrainian officials, however.
“This statement by Prigozhin is not true,” said Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the Eastern Military Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “I’ve just been in touch with the commander of one of the brigades that are defending the city,” Cherevatyi told CNN. “I can confidently state that the Ukrainian Armed Forces control a much larger percentage of the territory of Bakhmut.”
“Prigozhin needs to show at least some victory in the city, which they have been trying to capture for nine months in a row, so he makes such statements,” Cherevatyi added.
While it’s not currently possible to independently verify Prigozhin’s statement, there’s no doubt that Russia has, in the past, made extravagant claims about its progress in the campaign for the city, in which both Russian and Ukrainian forces have been mired for months now, with thousands of soldiers killed.
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, described the situation in Bakhmut as “difficult but controllable.” In an interview yesterday, he also accused Russia of pursuing “scorched earth” tactics in the city, including using airstrikes and artillery to target buildings.
According to a U.S. think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, Russia is continuing to make gains in Bakhmut but is suffering “significant” casualties in the process.
“Geolocated footage posted on 9 and 10 April shows that Russian forces made marginal advances northwest of Khromove (1.2 miles west of Bakhmut), in southwest Bakhmut, and north of Sacco i Vanzetti (9.3 miles north of Bakhmut),” the ISW stated in a recent update.
Meanwhile, the U.K. Ministry of Defense assesses that Russia is “expending significant resources for minimal gains” during the campaign around Donetsk. According to the same source, over the past seven days, Russia had stepped up its armored assaults around Marinka, a small town about 12 miles southwest of Donetsk city.
Airstrikes have been taking place elsewhere in Ukraine, too, with Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the Ukrainian presidency, stating today that “Russian Su-35 aircraft carried out airstrikes on the cities of Orikhiv and Hulyaipole in the Zaporizhzhia region. The losses are currently being ascertained.”
Yermak posted the statement to Telegram, followed by images purportedly showing some of the damage inflicted by the airstrikes, including rescue workers tackling a fire in a non-residential building.
A possible Ukrainian drone strike within Russia’s borders was also reported today. According to a report on the Telegram channel of the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency, the drone in question came down yesterday close to Belgorod Airport. No reason was given and it’s not clear if it was engaged by local air defenses. Local emergency services told the same agency that “there were no casualties, the [airport perimeter] fence was slightly damaged.”
As casualties mount, Russia is seeking to address its need for soldiers for the war in Ukraine by introducing a new system of electronic call-up papers. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, has approved the plan to set up an online portal to better manage the enlistment process and to reduce draft avoidance, which has been a bugbear since the process first began.
The new online system, once introduced, should make the mobilization quicker and more efficient, with anyone enlisted being provided with an electronic summons. Once anyone who has received their papers in this way fails to appear at the required military enlistment office, they will be automatically banned from traveling outside Russia.
The draft system has been generally chaotic since its roll-out last year, although it’s thought that more than 300,000 former soldiers and ex-conscripts have been called up since it was launched in support of the war in Ukraine.
Referring to the recent leak of Pentagon documents, Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine’s senior presidential adviser, has said that his country needs more long-range weapons and “less contemplation on leaks,” to help turn the tables against the Russians.
“If we had time, we could watch the [Russian Federation] fall apart and its ‘elites’ devour each other. But we don’t have it, as our people are dying,” Podolyak said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The long-range weapons that Ukraine needs apparently include missiles for its Soviet-era S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, which have helped Ukrainian air defenses play a critical role in keeping Russian aircraft at bay since the start of the invasion.
According to a report in the New York Times, the documents suggest that without an influx of new munitions for its air defense systems in particular, Ukraine may no longer be able to deny air superiority to the Russians.
In one of the documents, dated February 23, it is apparently claimed that missiles for Ukraine’s S-300 SAM systems will all be expended by May 2, based on the current usage rate.
Following our report yesterday on the use of ad-hoc armor in the form of metal grids atop vehicles to try and defeat Ukrainian drone attacks, the following additional examples of ‘cope cage’ armor have come to our attention, on both a Russian tank and a Ukrainian self-propelled gun:
Ukraine's Defense Minister is outright threatening a big attack on the Black Sea Fleet by using some undisclosed means that would rival the sinking of Russia's flagship, the Moskva:
The Russian Navy Ropucha II class landing ship Novocherkassk, damaged in an apparent Ukrainian attack on the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, southeast Ukraine, in March last year, has been seen in dry dock in Sevastopol for the first time since the incident.
The same attack likely led to the complete destruction of the Project 1171 Alligator class landing ship Saratov, after an explosion and fire on board, while the Novocherkassk, together with sister vessel Tsesar Kunikov, were seen departing the port soon after, at least one of them also on fire. There have been claims made that the Ukrainian Armed Forces launched an attack on the Saratov, potentially using one of their Tochka (SS-21 Scarab) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), but there’s so far no evidence to confirm exactly what led to the inferno on the vessel.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when we have more news to report about Ukraine.
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