The White House on Thursday once again urged Congressional Republicans to end their hold on a proposed package that would provide tens of billions of dollars of desperately needed military aid to Ukraine.
"It's stunning that we've gotten to this point and that Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin a gift. The greatest gift that Putin could hope for," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. She was referring to a move by Senate Republicans on Wednesday to block a $106 billion supplemental national security spending bill that includes $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine.
"And so they are playing chicken with our national security," Jean-Pierre added. "That's what we are seeing here and history will remember them harshly."
A top Ukrainian official on Thursday vowed to keep fighting despite political gridlock in the U.S.
"Regardless of who, where and how they voted in any country in the world, we will not stop defending our country, we will not give up a single piece of our land and we will not forgive anyone killed or injured," Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter Thursday morning. "We will focus, draw conclusions, reload our weapons and continue to destroy the Russian monster."
The Defense Forces of Ukraine, he added, "are and remain our best guarantor of security, a reliable insurance against the threat of becoming hostages to the volatile political situation and failure to fulfill our international security commitments."
“We will focus, draw conclusions, reload our weapons and continue to destroy the Russian monster,” he added.
Russia's spy boss meanwhile, said on Thursday that continued support for Ukraine is a drain on America.
“Ukraine will turn into a ‘black hole’ absorbing more and more resources and people,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), said in an article in the SVR’s house journal, The Intelligence Operative, CNBC reported.
“Ultimately, the U.S. risks creating a ‘second Vietnam’ for itself, and every new American administration will have to try to deal with it.”
The comments by Danilov and Naryshkin came hours after Republicans blocked the Biden Administration's supplemental spending request that also includes military aid for Israel, funds to boost competition with China in the Indo-Pacific, as well as security along the U.S. border with Mexico. However, Republicans halted a key Senate procedural vote over demands for new restrictions to bolster U.S. border security. A vote to move forward on the measure failed 49-51. It needed 60 votes to advance.
The vote came despite a passionate appeal by President Joe Biden.
"If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there," Biden said earlier in the day. "It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going. He’s made that pretty clear. If Putin attacks a NATO ally... well, we’ve committed as a NATO member that we’d defend every inch of NATO territory. Then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops... "
"Make no mistake," Biden added. "Today’s vote is going to be long remembered. And history is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause...Any disruption in our ability to supply Ukraine clearly strengthens Putin’s position. We’ve run out of money to be able to do that, in terms of authorization."
Biden’s statements drew a sharp rebuke from Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov.
“In an attempt to add fuel to the fire of the Ukrainian proxy war local authorities have finally lost touch with reality, easily discussing the likelihood of a direct clash between the armed forces of our countries’” Antonov said on Telegram. “This kind of provocative rhetoric is unacceptable for a responsible nuclear state.”
“Let me emphasize: Washington and insatiable U.S. military-industrial complex are direct beneficiaries of the bloodshed in Ukraine. The 52nd of weapons allocated today for the needs of the deranged neo-Nazis in Kyiv proves it. It is time for local authorities to come to their senses and stop wreaking chaos all over the world just to save American hegemony from fading out?"
The Senate vote came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, at the Pentagon.
"As I said in Kyiv, the United States stands with Ukraine as you fight back against the Kremlin's aggression and cruelty," Austin said. "Ukraine has taken back more than half the territory grabbed by Russia since its unprovoked invasion began in February 2022. So we will stand with Ukraine for the long haul. I'm confident that our allies and partners will be there as well."
Austin also discussed the significance of the Ukraine Defense Industrial Base Conference (UDIBC). The two-day conference, co-hosted by the White House, Commerce and Defense Departments, brings together U.S. and Ukrainian industry and government representatives to discuss ideas that could bolster Ukraine's defense industrial base.
"We discussed ways to strengthen partnerships among Ukraine and the U.S. defense industry," Austin said. "This just underscores America's commitment to a free and sovereign Ukraine — one that can defend itself today and deter further Russian aggression in the future."
In addition, Austin announced the 52nd Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) package of aid to Ukraine. The capabilities in this package, valued at up to $175 million, include:
- AIM-9M and AIM-7 missiles for air defense;
- Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
- 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds;
- High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
- Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
- Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems;
- More than 4 million rounds of small arms ammunition;
- Vehicles to tow and haul equipment;
- Demolitions munitions for obstacle clearing;
- Equipment to protect critical national infrastructure;
- Spare parts, maintenance, and other ancillary equipment.
As part of the UDIBC process, the White House announced a four-point plan to help increase Ukraine's ability build its defense industry that includes the DoD and industry partners providing Ukraine "with technical data to start local production of some of the FrankenSAM projects that seek to enable Ukraine’s legacy air defense systems by integrating certain Western munitions. Parallel production of these systems in Ukraine and the United States will allow for faster fielding and enable Ukraine to contribute significantly to the sustainment of its air defense systems."
You can read more about the FrankenSAM project in our deep dive here.
During the closed-door UDIBC, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry (MoD) presented a long list of military hardware it is seeking, according to Reuters.
In addition to asking for more Abrams tanks, 155mm artillery shells and longer-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missile variants as they have in the past, Ukraine made some surprise requests. The list includes F-18 Hornet multi-role fighters, AH-64E Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, C-17A Globemaster III cargo jets, C-130 Super Hercules cargo planes, three types of drones made by General Atomics including the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and the erminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system.
Ukraine's latest aid request came even as allies are not living up to previous committments.
European Union (EU) countries have placed orders for only 60,000 artillery shells under an EU scheme to help get 1 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine by next spring, according to Reuters, citing people familiar with the figures.
The scheme was a centerpiece of an EU initiative to ramp up the supply of vital 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine, allowing countries to place orders with industry through contracts negotiated by the bloc's European Defence Agency (EDA).
Together, those schemes have yielded some 480,000 munitions, according to the EU - less than half of the target, with about four months to go.
The particularly small volume of orders for the scheme at the heart of the program highlights bigger struggles that the EU is facing in trying to hit the target.
As The Washington Post noted Monday, South Korea had massive quantities of the U.S.-provided munitions, but its laws prohibited sending weapons to war zones. The Pentagon calculated that about 330,000 155mm shells could be transferred by air and sea within 41 days if Seoul could be persuaded.
Senior administration officials had been speaking with counterparts in Seoul, who were receptive as long as the provision was indirect. The shells began to flow at the beginning of the year, eventually making South Korea a larger supplier of artillery ammunition for Ukraine than all European nations combined. The Post story, however, does not give a total tally of how many South Korean 155mm shells were provided to Ukraine.
The political infighting in Washington and failure of allies to live up to previous aid commitments are clearly bad omens for Ukraine. With its counteroffensive bogged down in a frozen slog and the prospect of a new, far less-friendly American administration on the horizon, Kyiv has good reason to worry about how much assistance it can continue to expect from its friends.
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
On the battlefield, there has been little change in territory as Russia continues to put pressure on Ukrainian forces across the front lines, but particularly in and around Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast.
Despite a heavy Russian push, Ukraine has managed to regain some important tactical positions near the Avdiivka Coke plant. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Moscow’s 2nd Western Military District Court convicted two Russian air defense officers for negligence for failing to prevent a Ukrainian strike on Russian territory in April 2022, likely to set an example to improve discipline across the Russian military.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and western Zaporizhia Oblast and advanced near Avdiivka.
- The Russian State Duma will reportedly consider a bill allowing Russian conscripts to serve in the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) Border Service.
The Times of London was recently given a sneak peek at uncrewed surface vessels belonging to the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR). A commander of their USV unit showcased a couple of their USV variants, including a new mine-laying variant.
Among the USVs displayed at a undisclosed base on the Dnipro River were "the bulkier black hulls of the next generation of drones, packing heavier warheads that can send mines into the path of unsuspecting vessels before returning to base intact," the Times of London reported. "Although his sea drones are assembled entirely in Ukraine, it is clear they have benefited from Western technology.”
“A Starlink-style satellite receiver is positioned on the back, relaying the feed from its two cameras to a military intelligence unit that has close bonds with both British and US intelligence. A 300hp engine propels it at up to 45mph as it attacks, with a cruise speed of 25mph giving it a range of about 250 miles.”
The publication offered no other details, but noted that in August 2022, “Britain donated six unmanned undersea autonomous mine-hunting vehicles to Ukraine — advanced technology that may yet be replicated in submerged attack drones,” the publication said.
The Times of London story also offered new details about a November Ukrainian USV attack on two landing ships docked at a Russian Navy base in Chornomorske, in western Crimea. You can read more about that in our initial report here:
The GUR USV unit commander explained "how the drones crept into port at dawn, avoiding anti-submarine nets to find the right angle of attack," the publication reported. "The Russians saw them and fired machine guns at the low, narrow silhouettes. But the spray of bullets missed their targets when the drones accelerated. More Russian gunners opened up with heavy caliber weapons but two of the drones struck a Shark and a Serna-class landing craft while a third exploded into the dock. The ships sank, taking an armored personnel carrier with them to the bottom of the Black Sea."
“They knew we were coming,” the GUR commander said. “But they couldn’t do anything about it. The joy was incredible. It was my life’s goal to sink a Russian ship and we sank two of them at once. And as far as I know, no one had ever done this before anywhere. Now we have a new goal — to sink something bigger.”
As we have written about extensively, Ukraine unleashed its drone boat campaign against Russian naval assets in October 2022 with a massive attack on Sevastopol.
There has been a constant series of attacks since then on a variety of targets. Here are just a few examples of many in Ukraine's ongoing maritime campaign:
There was an a strike on a Russian Navy intelligence ship Ivan Khurs deep in the Black Sea in May, the July attack on the Kerch Bridge and in August, the Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak was struck by a Ukrainian USV near Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. That's some 70 miles southeast of the Kerch Bridge and roughly 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores.
In August, the Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak was struck by a Ukrainian USV near Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, roughly 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores. You can see a video of that attack below.
Some wives of Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are not too happy with the absence of their husbands and are not shy about making that known.
As if Ukraine didn’t have enough to worry about after 652 days of full-scale invasion by Russia, a month-long trucker’s protest in Poland is causing huge logistic problems on the front lines. Now the Ukrainian railroad industry is trying to circumvent that to get badly needed materiel delivered to troops.
Four Russian soldiers have been charged with war crimes against an American who was living in Ukraine during the Russian invasion, according to court documents unsealed in federal court in Virginia.
The victim, who is not identified in the records, was not a combatant.
The case against Russian soldiers marks the first time the US government has used a decades-old law aimed to prosecute those who commit war crimes against American citizens, according to CNN.
Attorney General Merrick Garland called the charges “an important step towards accountability for the illegal war in Ukraine.”
“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Garland said at a press conference Wednesday. “That is why the Justice Department has filed the first ever charges under the US war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen.”
According to the indictment, the Russian soldiers violently abducted the American from his home in the Ukrainian village of Mylove. The soldiers allegedly beat and tortured the American in a Russian military compound, where he was held for 10 days in April 2022.
The alleged torture included stripping the American naked, tying his hands behind his back and beating him with their fists, feet and the stocks of their guns. They were photographed during the torture, as well.
The American was allegedly tortured by the four defendants and other unnamed co-defendants during at least two interrogation sessions.
Two of the defendants accused of war crimes against an American in Ukraine were commanding officers of the Russian Armed Forces, while the other two were lower-ranking members in the Russian army, according to the indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The head of an independent anti-corruption organization is claiming that Russia has recruited over 100,000 convicts from penal colonies to fight in Ukraine since the war began in February 2022, Newsweek reported Tuesday.
That figure, which The War Zone cannot independently verify, was provided by Russian dissident-in-exile Vladimir Osechkin, who is the head of the Gulagu.net anti-corruption project, a prisoners' rights group. He is believed to have a vast network of informants inside Russia's prison system.
As we previously reported, the recruitment of Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine was kicked off by then-Wagner Private Military Corp. head Yevgeny Prigozhin in the late summer of 2022. It was later taken over by the Russian Defense Ministry after Prigozhin’s death in an August airplane crash.
Osechkin told Newsweek that in 2022 more than 49,500 prisoners were recruited nationwide by the Wagner Group, and so far in 2023, the Russian Defense Ministry has hired more that 52,000 convicts to fight in Ukraine.
Vyacheslav Kovalskiy, the Ukrainian sniper who claims to hold the world’s sniping distance record, was profiled by The Wall Street Journal.
On Nov. 18, he and his spotter set up positions across the river from a Russian military base in the Kherson region of east Ukraine and after lying still for hours in freezing weather, Kovalskiy aimed at a Russian soldier about 2.5 miles away and pulled the trigger.
The bullet took around nine seconds to reach its target, who doubled up and fell, according to a video of the shot reviewed by the Journal.
Kovalskiy’s shot hit around 12,470 feet, around a third longer than the Golden Gate Bridge. That distance would break a record of 11,600 feet set in 2017 by a member of the Canadian Special Forces in Iraq.
Kovalskiy used a sniper rifle called the Lord of the Horizon, of which there are about 10 in the world, according to the Journal.
Yuriy Chornomorets, a former sniper of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) who now volunteers with the military, previously told The Kyiv Post that the record shot was a hybrid steroid caliber 12.7 x 114 HL round. It consists of a Soviet 14.5 x 114 cartridge sleeve and a NATO .50 caliber Browning Machine Gun bullet.
Ilya Kyva, a former member of Ukraine's parliament who defected to Russia, was assassinated in Moscow Wednesday in an operation carried out by the Ukrainian security service, SBU, Ukraine sources with direct knowledge of the operation told Financial Times reporter Christopher Miller.
Little remains of the Donetsk Oblast city of Marinka, once home to 10,000. Fought over for nearly a decade now, it has been largely reduced to rubble, as you can see in this video below.
A Swedish-supplied Stridsvagn 122 (Leopard 2A5) was seen in service with the Ukrainian 21st Mechanized Brigade.
Breaching vehicles may not be as popular as tanks, but as Ukraine continues to work through dense Russian mine fields, they are of utmost importance. Like this German Pionierpanzer 2A1 Dachs engineering vehicle, seen in the video below in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The crew of this Russian Mi-8 derivative apparently had no luck chasing down Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels (USV). The undated video below shows the Russians first trying to hit the USVs with unguided rockets. Then, failing that, they let loose with a machine gun mounted inside the cockpit.
The Russians were much more successful, however, with one of its Lancet drones, which continue to wreak havoc with Ukrainian equipment, in this case a Czech ShKH vz. 77 DANA 152mm self-propelled howitzer.
A Russian Lancet also reportedly damaged a Ukrainian 5N39 ST-68U 3D radar system (NATO designation Tin Shield).
The Ukrainian Karymat Telegram channel posted a wild video showing Ukrainian troops surviving a strike by a Russian First Person View (FPV) drone somewhere in the east.
“The driver, next to whom the FPV hit, miraculously survived,” Karymat said. “Other soldiers were not injured.”
The Russian UAV Technician Telegram channel said Ukraine has started using fixed-wing drones as “kamikaze aircraft at the front line positions, which is completely uncharacteristic for this type of weapon. Either they have problems with drones, which is unlikely, or a large number of this type of weapons have appeared.”
Two Ukrainian combat nurses talked about their ordeal escaping from Mariupol, walking nearly 170 miles after as the city was surrounded by Russian troops in March 2022.
And finally, kittens continue to be a comfort creature for Ukrainian troops.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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