by Austin Bay
April 13, 2022
My column last week ended with this paragraph: "A half-dozen NATO nations are sending Ukraine several hundred tanks, most Cold War Russian relics but serviceable. New air defense systems will arrive, perhaps MiG-29s? End result: Ukraine will have an offensive capacity."
Boiled down to the weakness it is, the Biden administration continues to deny Ukraine a squadron of Polish MiG-29s and makes two arguments: providing the planes would be provocative and the planes aren't of real use.
These arguments combine detached academicism and Beltway cowardice -- two arrogant and fatal characteristics the Bidenites displayed during the Afghanistan debacle.
Provocative? Putin already rattles his nuclear saber. His nuke threats prove he's shaken, and he knows global help for Ukraine will lead to a humiliating Russian defeat.
The MiGs are of use. MiG-29s are primarily counter-air aircraft designed to combat enemy planes. However, their presence in and over Ukraine definitely complicates Russian air and ground operations and demonstrates NATO resolve. The last seven weeks of combat have revealed systemic deficiencies in the Russian military's ability to coordinate land combat, air operations and -- most definitely -- air and ground joint operations. The MiGs will vex the Russian Air Force.
Ignore the media geniuses who now declare tanks are dead. They aren't. Twenty-first century main battle tanks are fast, armored, heavily armed and mobile offensive weapons -- if you've got the soldiers who know how to use them and the combined-arms offensive system to support them.
NATO has those troops. The U.S., Britain and France can pull off "the armor show" of tanks, armored infantry, attack helicopters and the air support envelope. Poland is building a comparable force. During the Cold War, West Germany excelled at the armor-air ballet. It'll take now-chastened "greennik"/peacenik Germany two years to get enough panzers and close-air support aircraft to start rebuilding.
But back to the immediate hell -- Russia's looming offensive in eastern Ukraine.
StrategyPage.com reported on April 5 that after its Kyiv defeat the Kremlin's strategy changed. Retreating troops and reserves headed for the Donbas (eastern Ukraine) to conduct a new offensive. Alas, the redeployed troops "...are not confident or eager to take on the numerous, determined and effective Ukrainian defenders." StrategyPage noted the Russians had "launched an offensive in Donbas at the same time (Russian) troops were moving towards Kyiv..." Those forces in the Donbas "hit a solid wall of defenses."
The StrategyPage report indicates Russia doesn't have a credible second echelon to conduct an effective Donbas offensive. Russia can't replace losses. "On paper Russia had thousands of fully armed and equipped tanks and other armored vehicles in reserve for quickly replacing combat losses. Not surprisingly those reserve vehicles were often in bad shape, having been poorly maintained by conscripts and larcenous civilians who made a lot of money by taking key items from these vehicles and selling them on the black market."
Ukrainian morale and fighting edge matter. These human factors, supplied with Javelin anti-tank missiles and short-range anti-aircraft missiles, smashed the Russian drive on Kyiv.
Big point: the Donbas has been a frozen war for eight years and it isn't likely to change.
This is a script for an agonizing war of attrition -- lots of dead civilians and soldiers. Destroyed cities. Devastated economies.
Ukraine needs the offensive capability to liberate the Donbas and threaten Russian control of Crimea.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows it. On April 11 he asked South Korea for weapons. It's a reasonable request given South Korea's technical excellence but also a narrative warfare stroke since South Korea withstood a communist dictatorship's invasion and has now blossomed as a global economic powerhouse.
A day earlier CBS News asked Zelenskyy what Ukraine needed. His reply: ""Weapons, number one... They (free nations) have to supply weapons to Ukraine as if they were defending themselves and their own people. They need to understand this: If they don't speed up, it will be very hard for us to hold on against this pressure."
There will be a Russian onslaught. But it's time to arm Ukraine with the offensive weapons to launch the war-winning counterstroke.