Reports in the Greek media suggest that the country is preparing to transfer to Ukraine much-needed S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. Unusually for a NATO member, Greece has fairly significant stocks of Soviet-era and Russian-made air defense systems, some of which it has now apparently agreed to hand over to Kyiv.
The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported the news of the apparent transfer, which could also eventually include other old Soviet-made equipment from Greek stocks, including examples of the Tor and Osa short-range mobile air defense systems, and potentially also ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns.
The newspaper reports that Greece gave the go-ahead for the S-300 transfer as a condition of the United States approving the sale of F-35A stealth fighters to Athens. Last Friday, it was confirmed that the U.S. State Department had approved the possible Foreign Military Sale to Greece of 40 F-35s plus related equipment for an estimated cost of $8.6 billion.
Ukraine began the current conflict with an estimated 250 launchers for the S-300P (SA-10 Grumble) long-range surface-to-air missile. These have been depleted through Russian attacks but, just as crucially, stocks of the missiles that arm them have reportedly been running very low for some time now, an issue we have addressed in the past.
Based on visual evidence, Ukraine has primarily fielded S-300PS systems in the conflict. These were first introduced by the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s and are based on the 8x8 MAZ-7910 truck chassis. This provides much-improved mobility compared with earlier towed S-300 systems.
Though the S-300PS system can fire various different kinds of interceptors, the 5V55R missile, which features semi-active radar homing (SARH) terminal guidance, is the main type available to Ukraine and has a stated maximum range of 56 miles and can hit targets at high altitudes. Until the arrival of the U.S.-supplied Patriot, the S-300 was the most potent long-range air defense system available to Ukraine.
As well as the S-300PS, Ukraine also employs much smaller numbers of the S-300V1 (SA-12 Gladiator/Giant). This is carried on tracked transport-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles, for improved cross-country mobility and also differs in having an inbuilt anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability.
With a long-stated requirement for new and additional air defense systems, the Ukrainian S-300 inventory has received a token boost in the past, with the supply of a system from Slovakia, in the form of a single battery of the improved S-300PMU. This was delivered back in April 2022.
However, Bulgaria has refused to supply its one complete S-300PMU system.
As for Greece, the only other current NATO operator, this country received 12 S-300PMU-1 systems, an improved version of the S-300PMU that, among other things, features an updated 30N6E radar and has the ability to fire 48N6 interceptors. The 48N6, variants of which have stated maximum ranges between 90 and 160 miles, uses a so-called track-via-missile (TVM) guidance system that blends radio command guidance with semi-active radar homing in the terminal phase of flight. This alone would provide a major advantage over the dwindling stocks of earlier S-300 missiles used by Ukraine.
Greece's S-300s have attracted allies to train against them over the years, especially Israel, which faces similar threat systems in Syria and Iran.
Previously, Greece had been reluctant to provide its still-capable S-300PMU-1 systems to Ukraine, but it appears that the promise of fifth-generation fighters from the U.S. government may finally have led to a change of heart.
Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.
With Ukraine keeping up its campaign of long-range drone attacks directed against Russian energy infrastructure, Moscow is reportedly now considering much stricter flight restrictions over these facilities. Reuters reports that Russia’s Vedomosti newspaper today outlined proposals that would help protect energy infrastructure, although Russia’s energy ministry has not yet formally commented on the issue.
According to Vedomosti, the new plan would prevent aircraft flying over energy infrastructure unless they were military aircraft tasked with defending these facilities, or if they were carrying important Russian officials or visiting foreign officials. At the same time, these aircraft would require “special permission” to operate in the designated zones.
Establishing such zones would not prevent Ukraine from launching attacks in the first place, but it would mean that Russian air defenses could operate with fewer restrictions and be better able to tackle the threat of one-way attack drones. On the other hand, there is a big question as to whether Russia has anything like the capacity to establish anything more than token air defense zones over a few key energy infrastructure nodes. Already, Russian air defenses are being stretched by the demands of the war in Ukraine as well as the need to protect local military infrastructure, key cities, and more.
Today saw the latest Ukrainian drone attack launched against a Russian energy target, in this case, the Slavneft-Yanos oil refinery in the city of Yaroslavl, northeast of Moscow. Regional governor Mikhail Yevrayev confirmed the attempted raid, but Russia claimed to have defeated the drones, including by using electronic warfare equipment.
Previous Ukrainian attacks have been more effective, however.
On January 21, the Russian energy company Novatek was forced to suspend some of its operations at the Ust-Luga complex, located on the Gulf of Finland, about 110 miles west of St. Petersburg, after a drone attack started a fire there. You can read more about this attack and its implications here.
Two days before that, a drone attack struck an oil depot in Russia’s western region of Bryansk, bordering Ukraine, starting a major fire.
A day before that, on January 18, another Russian Baltic Sea oil terminal came under drone attack, during a raid directed against St. Petersburg, but Russian officials claimed it was unsuccessful. You can read more about that attack here.
Overall, Ukraine has kept up a regular tempo of drone attacks against Russian energy infrastructure since the start of the year.
As well as providing an effective means of ‘bringing the war home’ to Russia, Ukraine’s long-range drone strikes offer an alternative means of fighting back as the situation along the front lines continues to stagnate, for both sides. For Ukraine, in particular, the situation on the battlefield is also made more difficult by long-running delays in securing financial and military assistance from its Western allies.
On the battlefield, Russia claims that its forces have taken control of the village of Tabaivka in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in the east of the country. While the Russian Ministry of Defense originally made the claim, it has been denied by Ukrainian authorities.
Speaking on national TV, Volodymyr Fityo, the head of communications for Ukraine’s ground forces, said: “This does not correspond to reality. There are battles taking place near this locality.”
In a recent CNN report, Ukrainian officials warned that Russia is now conducting offensive operations along much of the front line, as Ukraine’s military struggles to hold its positions as its stocks of ammunition begin to run low.
While statements such as these are also engineered to help free up the funding logjam in Washington, it is meanwhile clear that especially heavy fighting is taking place in the Kharkiv region. In particular, reports identify a strip of land where the regions of Kharkiv and Luhansk meet.
As well as Tabaiivka, this area includes the nearby village of Krokhmalne, from where Ukrainian forces recently withdrew, under continued Russian pressure. Ukraine said those troops subsequently assumed more advantageous defensive positions on higher ground.
Recently, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that its troops had faced down 13 attacks in the area: around Krokhmalne, in Tabaiivka to the northwest of the village, and in Stelmakhivka to the south.
“The enemy is focusing on a large number of artillery attacks, trying to advance,” a spokesperson for Land Forces Command told Ukrainian television about the situation near Krokhmalne.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian forces also say they are facing increased pressure from the Russians further southeast in the area around Bakhmut, which was the scene of intense fighting last winter.
“The enemy is amassing forces… they assault every day,” Sergeant Oles Maliarevych of the 92nd Separate Brigade told Ukrainian television.
Maliarevych also brought up the growing threat posed by drones, pointing out that Russia now operates considerably more drones than Ukraine.
As part of the effort to make up the drone shortfall, Ukraine is increasingly calling upon civilians to build first-person-view (FPV) type drones at home.
Case in point, the artist-jeweler Violetta Oliynyk, who is seen below making FPV drones, after she learned how to assemble them via the Victory Drones and “Drone in every home” initiatives.
The target of this FPV drone apparently had an extremely narrow escape, after the drone became embedded in the windscreen of the vehicle in which they were traveling. The vehicle is a UAZ-452 4x4 off-road van, better known as a Bukhanka, a type that has repeatedly come under FPV drone attack in recent months.
Reportedly recently returned to service after a long period in storage, this Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter wears new nose art, in the form of a ‘sharkmouth.’ Another photo of the same jet shows it armed with a U.S.-supplied AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) for the defense suppression mission.
More flamboyantly painted Ukrainian Air Force assets in the next tweet, with a Su-24 Fencer strike aircraft armed with a French-supplied SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missile. The weapon carries the slogan, in French, “De Paris avec amour, Rachysty, allez en enfer,” meaning ‘From Paris with love, fascist Russia, go to hell.’ The aircraft, meanwhile, has yellow (and likely also blue) identification panels applied, to reduce the chance of friendly fire incidents, and some kind of nose art on the forward fuselage.
Prospects of a new round of European Union aid for Ukraine appear to have improved, with Hungary reportedly signaling that it is now open to approving the $54-billion package.
Balázs Orbán, chief political aide to the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (no relation), said that Hungary is open to using the European Union budget for the proposed Ukrainian aid package, Reuters reports. Balázs Orbán said that Hungary sent a proposal to the European Union in Brussels over the weekend.
“Brussels is using blackmail against Hungary like there’s no tomorrow, despite the fact that we have proposed a compromise,” Orbán said on X, in response to a report in the Financial Times suggesting that the European Union has drawn up a secret plan to sabotage Hungary’s economy if it decides to again block the support package for Ukraine.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has repeatedly criticized the European Union’s support for Kyiv and has attempted to maintain relations with Moscow since the launch of the all-our Russian invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.
In December, the Hungarian leader blocked a revision of the European Union budget that included Ukraine aid. Hungary has also held up Sweden’s application for NATO membership.
As President Joe Biden pushes Congress to approve $61 billion in new aid to Ukraine, the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg has said that U.S. military funding for Kyiv also has a major deterrent effect on China.
Speaking yesterday during a visit to Washington, Stoltenberg said: “What matters is that Ukraine gets continued support, because we need to realize that this is closely watched in Beijing.”
The NATO secretary general is in the United States to drum up support in Congress for continued funding for Ukraine. In particular, the funding has been held up by Republican lawmakers who demand changes in U.S. border control policy in exchange for their approval of aid for Ukraine.
Stoltenberg’s U.S. visit comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again warns that the European Union alone will almost certainly not be able to support Ukraine financially and militarily if the United States significantly reduces its contributions.
A recent intelligence report from the U.K. Ministry of Defence claims that growing resistance to Russian mobilization efforts is leading to a spike in arson attacks on enlistment offices in that country.
The attacks, the U.K. Ministry of Defence believes, are “highly likely due to a greater sense of dissatisfaction with the war among the Russian population.”
Since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, there have been 220 recorded attacks on Russian military enlistment offices, 113 of those taking place in the last six months.
The weekend saw another wave of Russian drone and missile attacks against targets in Ukraine, as the winter airstrike offensive continues.
There were reports of civilian and critical infrastructure being struck across Ukraine, although no initial reports of casualties.
The Ukrainian Air Force said on the Telegram messaging app that Russia attacked the central Poltava region with two ballistic missiles fired from the Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) short-range ballistic missile system, while three S-300 series surface-to-air missiles were used to hit ground targets in the Donetsk region in the east.
A Shahed-136 drone downed in Ukraine reportedly features several modifications intended to make it harder to intercept, including purported low-observable measures. The black-painted Shaheds have been noted in use for several weeks now, reportedly with a new type of foam coating that is supposed to reduce their radar signature. The black color scheme is designed to make the Shaheds harder for air defense operators to spot at night and may also have some radar-evading properties. The drone shown is also claimed to be armed with a thermobaric warhead, which would increase lethality against certain target types.
The Russian drone in the next video is a ZALA 421, a small surveillance type that is seen being successfully engaged by an unidentified Western-supplied ground-based air defense system. The drone remains intact enough to deploy its recovery parachute after having been intercepted by the Ukrainian missile.
German drone manufacturer Quantum-Systems has begun to deliver 100 examples of its Trinity drones to Ukraine.
The drones will primarily be used for surveillance, including battle damage assessment.
Typical of the Trinity series is the Trinity Pro, which offers a maximum flight time of 90 minutes, a maximum area coverage of 1,700 acres, and a range under remote control guidance of up to 4.6 miles from the operator.
Another example of Ukrainian defense innovation next, with an unidentified explosive device that has been modified, apparently in the field, for additional destructive effect. The small device, perhaps intended for carriage by FPV drone, has been wrapped with the cutting chain from a chainsaw, intended to fragment once it detonates.
Something else that might not have been expected to be seen on the battlefield is the Russian RBU-6000 naval rocket launcher. With a shortage of more suitable weapons and a likely surplus of these naval weapons, the anti-submarine system has been adapted for land-based use, with the launcher mounted on a Ural-4320 6x6 truck chassis.
Developed in the 1950s, the RBU-6000 has a 12-tube launcher and is typically used to propel unguided rocket-powered depth charges. While it remains unclear what kind of payload is launched in its land-based modification, the basic depth charge carries a high-explosive warhead weighing around 50 pounds.
Ukraine’s security service says that it has uncovered a major corruption scheme relating to the country’s purchase of mortar shells, vital ammunition needed to maintain the fight against Russia.
According to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), officials from the defense ministry conspired with employees from the Lviv Arsenal, a major arms supplier, in the scheme. This allegedly saw the embezzlement of around $40 million that was supposed to buy 100,000 mortar shells in the fall of 2022.
While Ukraine’s defense ministry appears to have delivered nearly all of the funds to the Lviv Arsenal, the SBU says that the ammunition was never delivered. Instead, it says some of the funds had been transferred to foreign bank accounts, including in the Balkans.
Five people have been charged, with one person detained trying to cross the Ukrainian border, according to a report from CNN.
“The Ministry of Defence continues to fight uncompromisingly against those who embezzle from weapons procurement. We have no place for corrupt officials,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Dmytro Klymenkov said in a statement Saturday.
Corruption has been a major hurdle in the way of Kyiv’s efforts to join both NATO and the European Union. In the past, this has led to the dismissal of all officials in charge of regional military recruitment centers and it also cost the job of then-Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
Claims continue to be made by both sides in the wake of the apparent shootdown of a Russian military Il-76 Candid transport aircraft in the Belgorod region in the west of the country, bordering Ukraine, last week.
A Ukrainian military intelligence official told CNN that they have evidence indicating that only five bodies were moved from the crash site to a nearby morgue. This is at odds with Moscow’s claim that there were 74 people on board, all of whom were killed. These allegedly comprised 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, six crew members, and three additional personnel.
While Moscow says the aircraft was transporting Ukrainian prisoners of war, Ukrainian sources claim that it was carrying Russian missiles to be used in strikes on Ukraine.
Russia has so far offered little in the way of visual evidence to suggest that large numbers of PoWs were on board the aircraft, although it has now released a video that it claims shows the prisoners being transported to the Il-76 by bus, at the military airbase of Chkalovsky in the Moscow region.
That’s it for now.
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