After weeks of demanding more heavy weapons to face the new phase of the Russian invasion of its territory, Ukraine began to receive part of what was promised by NATO, the western military alliance. It’s nothing like a game-changer on the pitch, but it could provoke reactions in Moscow.
This Friday (8), reports emerged that Kiev is receiving long-distance, armored anti-aircraft systems, artillery pieces, rocket launchers and even tanks from at least two of its neighbors who also operate former Soviet war material, a legacy from the time in that they all came under the communist umbrella of the Warsaw Pact.
The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger, said this Friday (8) that his country has donated the Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft systems to the neighboring country. “The donation does not mean that the Slovak Republic is taking part in the conflict,” he said.
In 1989, in the throes of the communist empire led by the Soviet Union, the then ally Czechoslovakia received from Moscow a regiment of the S-300 in its PMU export version, with four launchers. When the Czech and Slovak republics split in 1993, the latter inherited the system.
This model is older, being able to reach aircraft up to 90 km. The Russians operate versions that can shoot down targets up to 400 km, but in the context of the destruction of the six batteries that the Ukrainians had until the beginning of the war, it is better than nothing. NATO, of which Slovakia is a part, will install American Patriot systems to fill the country’s lack of air defense.
Reuters reported, without naming the source of the information, that the Czech Republic shipped at least five T-72 tanks, five BMP-1 infantry tanks, heavy mortars and multiple rocket launchers in recent weeks to the neighbor. The country operates 30 older versions of the Soviet T-72 and had 89 in stock.
None of this will change the course of the war, of course, given the widespread destruction of armored vehicles on both sides, but it does show some commitment from the West that could generate noise in the Kremlin, which until now has more or less overlooked the small but lethal weapons sent to Kiev.
On Thursday (7), the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, had said generically that the members of the alliance were supplying heavy material to the Ukrainians, after a new complaint from the government in Kiev.
The fear expressed by Chancellor Dmitro Kuleba concerns the expected Russian offensive to capture the rest of the historic Donbass region in the east of the country. Today, separatists who have dominated the easternmost part of the territory since 2014 have expanded their control with Russian support to almost all of Lugansk province and perhaps 60% of Donetsk.
In the latter, in the Ukrainian portion, is the city of Kramatorsk, target of the controversial attack on a train station this Friday.
Since its initial offensive was faltered by planning errors and Ukrainian resistance, Moscow has altered plans and withdrew the bulk of its forces from the northeastern region of the country, around the capital Kiev. He announced that he would focus, in the new phase of the war, on completing control of the Donbass — in fact, the alleged motive for the invasion.
Since last week, Ukraine has been asking for heavier equipment, as the battle there will require the use of mechanized forces, in addition to the predictable air support that the Russians will use — hence the need for the S-300 and shorter-range systems such as the Strela. that the Czechs also donated, according to Reuters.
Chancellor Dmitro Kuleba drew this yesterday while speaking to Stoltenberg and other ministers from NATO countries. The point so far is that the West has limited itself to providing effective portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, which have worked very well to hold off Russian tank advances in ambush.
But a concentrated and coordinated action, with artillery barrages, missiles, air support and intrusion of tanks and infantry, needs to find something similar in front of it. Unless the amounts of material are much higher than those reported, which is possible, Ukraine will have a big problem in Donbass.
The point is that NATO fears offending Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has suggested he would use nuclear weapons to deal with anyone trying to get involved in the conflict. For this reason, the Polish suggestion to send MiG-29 fighter jets to the neighbor was vetoed by the US, the alliance’s leaders, as well as the request for the Westerners to try to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine – which could amount to the declaration of the Third World War.