Twitter is filled with videos and images of Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other equipment captured by Ukraine over the past 10 months of full-on war.
Those images often depict the equipment - colloquially referred to as “trophies” - being used by Ukrainian troops. But Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that due to several factors, Ukraine is struggling to put some of that equipment back into the fight.
Using a captured Russian BMP-3 as a jumping-off point for its story, The Washington Post reported that it, and other captured equipment, is “stuck in hangars like the one at this repair site as brigades struggle to find the parts needed to repair them. The unit here, a maintenance battalion for the 14th Separate Mechanized Brigade, has been unable to find the parts it needs for the BMP-3.”
Speaking about that particular vehicle, the commander of one maintenance squadron told the newspaper that it’s “obvious it should be fighting the enemy and not sitting in a hangar.”
Chief among the challenges Ukraine faces in restoring captured equipment is a lack of spare parts and a centralized spare parts database that disparate units can use to find those parts in vehicles captured by other units. Ongoing power shortages are also affecting repair facilities, as is a Ukrainian proclivity to 'hoard' war bounty.
“A press officer for the 14th Brigade, the only brigade that has fought on all major front lines in the country since the start of Russia’s invasion, joked that it’s in the Ukrainian nature to collect and hoard prized possessions,” the Post reported. “It’s not always as easy as merely asking another brigade for its identical trophy tank or vehicle.”
According to the Oryxspioenkop open source intelligence site that uses photographs to verify destroyed and captured weapons on both sides of this conflict, there have been 64 BMP-3 variants captured by Ukraine. The actual number is likely significantly greater, but these are visually confirmed. All told, Ukraine has captured more than 2,000 tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons since Feb. 24, according to Oryxspioenkop.
But even with all these challenges, repairing the equipment provided by the U.S. and its allies can sometimes be even more difficult.
“The weapons that are coming from the U.S., they are mostly coming from stockpiles, so they are not new,” said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine. Sending damaged weapons to Poland “is a huge delay and a big frustration for the Ukrainian military,” Kaleniuk told the newspaper.
Aside from armor and other big weapons systems, Ukraine has captured a lot of small arms and kit as well, much of it apparently first put into use by Russians decades ago.
None of this should be a surprise, however, as Ukraine is now operating the most diverse arsenal of weaponry on the planet, with a mix of legacy Soviet-era and locally developed gear, new materiel donated by its allies, and other weapons captured on the battlefield and regenerated for use. Just the complex supply chain tied to each item, often running through different countries, is daunting to even comprehend. Just how long some of the equipment, especially unfamiliar systems, can be sustained after it is worn-down in the field has long been up for debate.
Before we go into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Frigid temperatures pushing above freezing in many places across the battlefield have turned fighting into a muddy, bloody slog in recent days, making advances for both sides even more difficult. And, as has been the case for a while, the most difficult fighting remains in and around Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast. In Luhansk Oblast, there are indications that Ukraine is advancing toward Kreminna as fighting continues along the P-66 Highway area running to Svatove. Russians appear to be making a push in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, which could be the scene of any Ukrainian attempt to liberate the Crimean peninsula, occupied by Russia since 2014.
On Monday, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate, reiterated Kyiv's Crimean desires.
"Crimea will be returned in a combined way: both by force and diplomacy," he told the Ukrainian Liga news agency. "But nothing will happen without force. Our units will go there with weapons in their hands."
Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely concerned over the lack of support for his war in Ukraine among elites and may be setting information conditions for the nationalization of their property.
- Ukrainian intelligence reported that a Wagner Group-linked Russian officer was appointed commander of the Russian Western Military District (WMD).
- Ukrainian strikes on legitimate military targets far in the Russian rear continue to be points of neuralgia for the Russian milblogger community.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian troops are fighting near Kreminna.
- Russian sources claimed that Russian forces made limited gains northeast of Bakhmut.
- Russian forces continued ground attacks on the western outskirts of Donetsk City.
- Ukrainian military officials indicated that Russian forces may be concentrating some unspecified forces for offensive or demonstration operations in Zaporizhia Oblast, and that Russian forces are attempting to conduct small-scale reconnaissance-in-force operations to reach right-bank Kherson Oblast.
- Russia is continuing efforts to consolidate control of occupied territories in Ukraine through the manipulation of citizenship procedures.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was open to peace talks with Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday apparently decided to play 'bad cop,' issuing a stern ultimatum, according to The Independent.
“Our proposals for the demilitarisation and denazification of the territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security emanating from there, including our new lands, are well known to the enemy,” state news agency TASS quoted Lavrov as saying.
“The point is simple: Fulfill them for your own good. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army.”
Lavrov's ultimatum wasn't the wackiest thing to come out of Russia. Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and Putin's right-hand man, issued a pre-New Year's Eve list of predictions for 2023. It includes such prophesies as "The Fourth Reich will be created, encompassing the territory of Germany and its satellites, i.e., Poland, the Baltic states, Czechia, Slovakia, the Kiev Republic, and other outcasts" and that "Civil war will break out in the US," with "California. and Texas becoming independent states as a result. Texas and Mexico will form an allied state. Elon Musk’ll win the presidential election in a number of states which, after the new Civil War’s end, will have been given to the GOP."
If you want to be amused, do yourself a favor and read the entire thread.
We have frequently reported on the evolution of Russian-Iranian military cooperation efforts since the all-out war began. On Christmas Day, Amichai Stein, a journalist with the Israeli Kan new agency, said Israeli officials have told Western diplomats they fear that Russia will support Iran's nascent nuclear program in exchange for weapons.
But Budanov, the head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate, downplayed some expected Russian-Iranian cooperation, telling The New York Times that Tehran's anticipated supply of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) is unlikely to happen any time soon.
“Iran is not hurrying to do this, for understandable reasons, because as soon as Russia fires the first missiles the sanctions pressure will grow” on Iran, Budanov said.
That comment represents a big difference from what he told The War Zone in October about Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar SRBMs arriving sometime in Russia's arsenal by November.
Last week, we told you that the Ukrainian soldiers will be given "several months" of training on a Patriot air defense battery that the U.S. will provide. On Monday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba "revealed" to The Associated Press "that the U.S. government had made a special plan to get the Patriot missile battery ready to be operational in the country in less than six months. Usually, the training takes up to a year."
The Pentagon on Tuesday declined to comment, deferring questions from The War Zone to the comments made last week by a senior U.S. defense official that it would take Ukrainian troops "several months" to be trained on the system. It can take even more than a year for a new U.S. air defense artillery soldier to go through a wide range of training that includes how to function as one of about 65 soldiers in a Patriot battery, David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, told The War Zone Tuesday. But he said the timeline suggested by Kuleba certainly is workable for an experienced Ukrainian air defense soldier.
On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that three soldiers were killed, but no aircraft were damaged during a Ukrainian drone attack on the Engels Air Base. On Tuesday, however, Ukrainian journalist Vladimir Zolkin said that five Tu-95MS Bear-H bombers were damaged in the raid, along with 43 Russian soldiers killed or injured. The War Zone could not independently verify those claims.
Ukraine's mobile fire teams have played a big role in defending the skies. Al Jazeera recently spoke with one of those units. Some of those troops talked about the challenges of trying to take down Iranian-provided Shahed-136 and -131 drones. Though highly visible, slow-moving and noisy, they give off a very small heat and radar signature, making it difficult for Ukraine's air defense systems to lock onto.
Ukraine isn't just defending against drones, it is also using them to great effect. This video shows one such drone apparently chasing down and hitting a Russian BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV).
Such strikes are part of a wide array of attack vectors the Ukrainian National Guard's Omega unit displayed in this video compilation, which shows it using Stugna-P and Javelin missiles, as well as loitering munitions, on Russian positions and armored vehicles.
That attack apparently took place in the Andiivka area in Donetsk Oblast. Here is a slightly different view.
Usually, videos emerging on social media showing drones'-eye views are bad news for those on the ground. But not as bad as it could be for these Russian troops seen in a drone video provided by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD) surrendering instead of getting blown up.
Despite repeated Russian attacks on their power grid, Ukrainians still manage to find a way to carry on.
If you wanted to get a sense of what it is like for Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, check out this video, which shows a few soldiers running for cover in a bombed out apartment complex.
The surreal nature of that fight extends beyond the boundaries of that city, as you can see in this video. Watch for the close-up view of Ukrainian helicopters in action.
There is a good reason why both sides employ "shoot-and-scoot" tactics when launching attacks. This video, of a Ukrainian MT-12 Rapira anti-tank gun, mounted on an MT-LB chassis shows why. Listen for the sound of incoming rounds at the end.
Ukrainian troops apparently really like their French-donated LRU/M270A1 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS). In the case of these troops, even more than the U.S.-provided M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which fire the same munitions, but have wheels instead of tracks.
If you ever wanted to see a pilot's view of a large-caliber unguided rocket being launched, check out these images, from a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 Frogfoot.
More Russian tanks may be on the way, seen in this video which claims to show some heading west from Siberia by train.
So far, Russia has lost at least more than 1,500 tanks, as visually confirmed by Oryxspioenkop. On Tuesday, Ukraine's Defense Ministry posted a compilation of Russian tanks being destroyed.
And finally, while Ukraine has received a lot of credit for battlefield improvisation, it appears Russia too is finding alternate means of protecting its troops and equipment. In this case, the innovation is apparently stackable counterweights from U.S. tractor-maker John Deere being used as improvised armor. Which is very likely a completely useless innovation. We reached out to John Deere for comment and will update this story with any response the company provides.
That's it for now. We will update this story when there is anything major to add.
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