Russian army spetsnaz in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine
OMINOUS RUSSIAN BUILD-UP IN UKRAINE
Currently more than 7,000 Russian troops are deployed inside Ukraine, along with more than 100 tanks, including 40 advanced T-90s.
The Russians also have some 400 armored vehicles and 150 self-propelled artillery and multiple rocket launchers in the eastern Ukraine.
Near the border, Russian forces have 40,000 troops, 350 to 450 tanks, 1,000 infantry vehicles and 800 self-propelled artillery and rocket launchers.
Additionally, Moscow has air-assault units and helicopter gunships near Ukraine and large numbers of both strategic and tactical warplanes, including Tu-22 Backfires, Tu-95 Bears, Tu-160s Blackjack bombers along with strike squadrons of Su-34 and Su-24 jet fighters.
Missile forces within striking distance of Ukraine include several battalions of SS-21 and SS-26 short-range missiles believed to be equipped with cluster munitions and thermobaric warheads.
NATO commander Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said in Kiev last week that Russian forces inside eastern Ukraine were helping arm and train separatist rebels.
The White House, however, is continuing to delay the dispatch of urgently needed U.S. weapons to the Ukrainian military. Kiev’s forces suffered major losses during Russia’s last offensive against the eastern part of the country in August.
According to defense officials, White House national security adviser Susan Rice repeatedly turned down Ukrainian appeals for arms because of concerns the shipments would appear escalatory.
The Ukrainian government has asked the U.S. military to provide TOW-2 anti-tank missiles, and shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missiles to counter Russian tanks, many of which are equipped with reactive armor that explodes outward when struck, thus preventing Ukraine’s current anti-tank forces from taking out the armor.
Asked about sending U.S. arms to Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that reviewing arms requests from Kiev is “an ongoing process.”
“It is something that we continue to consider in the interagency, not just here at the Defense Department,” Adm. Kirby said. “There is an ongoing interagency review process of Ukrainian requests for military assistance. Right now the focus of that remains on the nonlethal side.”
Adm. Kirby suggested U.S. arms would escalate the conflict. “We have to be mindful that in meeting requests, that we don’t do anything that makes the situation worse or more tense or escalates the tensions already in the region, and I think that’s really where the focus is with respect to considering that request for stuff,” he said.
National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh declined to say why TOW-2s and Javelins are not being sent. In an email to Inside the Ring he said the White House is “constantly assessing and reassessing our policies” toward Ukrainian arms requests.
“We continue to believe that there is no military resolution to the crisis,” he said. “Therefore, our focus from the outset of the crisis has been on supporting Ukraine and on pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
U.S. support so far has included $116 million in security aid, all of it of the nonlethal sort — body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, de-mining equipment, patrol boats and other equipment.
Phillip Karber, a former Pentagon official who has traveled several times to Ukraine in recent months to study its armed forces’ needs, said the Ukrainians need western arms.
“The administration has been cautious, concerned about escalation, but moving in the right direction with respect to assisting Ukraine,” Mr. Karber, a Georgetown professor and Pentagon adviser during the Reagan administration, said in an email.
“Russia is building offensive ‘military options,’ and we need to help Ukraine offset those options with lethal defensive weaponry like — mobile [Humvees], dual-warhead Javelin and TOW II anti-tank guided missiles, high altitude reconnaissance UAVs, and long-range counter-battery radar to offset Russian deployment of heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers into the Donbas area,” Mr. Karber said.