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Tipsheet

Here's How Fast Our Military Aid Package Flowed Into Ukraine, But the Easy Part Is Over

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

The Ukrainians are holding out, but for how much longer? If the supply lines are not targeted by the Russians, the flow of arms can continue to reach the hands of Ukrainian defenders. Right now, Russian troops are bogged down. That massive 40-mile-long convoy hasn’t moved in days. Russian tanks are running out of gas. So far, they haven’t gained air superiority. And they’re dying by the fistful over there. In a week, more Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine than during our entire war and occupation of Iraq. It’s a total fiasco, but Russia’s military does overpower that of Ukraine. To counter that, scores of ordinary civilians have answered the call to arms. Virtually the entire population has been mustered and if Russia does gain ground, they pay for it with body bags. 

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So, how fast are we re-arming the Ukrainians who are having ammunition issues in some parts of the country? Very fast actually. It’s light years faster than an initial $60 million package that was approved months ago. In less than a week, almost 75 percent of a $350 million arms package Biden signed off on was delivered. Good news, but the easy phase is now over (via NYT):

In less than a week, the United States and NATO have pushed more than 17,000 antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, over the borders of Poland and Romania, unloading them from giant military cargo planes so they can make the trip by land to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and other major cities. So far, Russian forces have been so preoccupied in other parts of the country that they have not targeted the arms supply lines, but few think that can last.

But those are only the most visible contributions. Hidden away on bases around Eastern Europe, forces from United States Cyber Command known as “cybermission teams” are in place to interfere with Russia’s digital attacks and communications — but measuring their success rate is difficult, officials say.

In Washington and Germany, intelligence officials race to merge satellite photographs with electronic intercepts of Russian military units, strip them of hints of how they were gathered, and beam them to Ukrainian military units within an hour or two. As he tries to stay out of the hands of Russian forces in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine travels with encrypted communications equipment, provided by the Americans, that can put him into a secure call with President Biden. Mr. Zelensky used it Saturday night for a 35-minute call with his American counterpart on what more the U.S. can do in its effort to keep Ukraine alive without entering into direct combat on the ground, in the air or in cyberspace with Russian forces.

Mr. Zelensky welcomed the help so far, but repeated the criticism that he has made in public — that the aid was wildly insufficient to the task ahead. He asked for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a shutdown of all Russian energy exports and a fresh supply of fighter jets.

[…]

To understand the warp-speed nature of the arms transfers underway now, consider this: A $60 million arms package to Ukraine that the U.S. announced last August was not completed until November, the Pentagon said.

But when the president approved $350 million in military aid on Feb. 26 — nearly six times larger — 70 percent of it was delivered in five days. The speed was considered essential, officials said, because the equipment — including anti-tank weapons — had to make it through western Ukraine before Russian air and ground forces started attacking the shipments. As Russia takes more territory inside the country, it is expected to become more and more difficult to distribute weapons to Ukrainian troops.

Within 48 hours of Mr. Biden approving the transfer of weapons from U.S. military stockpiles on Feb. 26, the first shipments, largely from Germany, were arriving at airfields near Ukraine’s border, officials said.

The military was able to push those shipments forward quickly by tapping into pre-positioned military stockpiles ready to roll onto Air Force C-17 transport planes and other cargo aircraft, and flying them to about half a dozen staging bases in neighboring countries, chiefly in Poland and Romania.

Still, the resupply effort faces stiff logistical and operational challenges.

“The window for doing easy stuff to help the Ukrainians has closed,” said Maj. Gen. Michael S. Repass, a former commander of U.S. Special Operations forces in Europe.

U.S. officials say Ukrainian leaders have told them that American and other allied weaponry is making a difference on the battlefield. Ukrainian soldiers armed with shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missiles have several times in the past week attacked a miles long convoy of Russian armor and supply trucks, helping stall the Russian ground advance as it bears down on Kyiv, Pentagon officials said. Some of the vehicles are being abandoned, officials said, because Russian troops fear sitting in the convoy when fuel-supply tanks are being targeted by the Ukrainians, setting off fireballs.

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Keeping that convoy from moving is a top priority because we all know its main objective will probably be to finish encircling Kyiv. The Ukrainians have performed better than expected, brilliantly actually in the wake of an all-out assault by Russian forces. They’re holding on when everyone thought Russian flags would be flying over every major city by this point. Yet, with airports damaged in Russian airstrikes, how can fighter jets from Poland be effective? We’ve green-lit that move. Can they even be transported safely as Russian jets roam the skies? It’s a wait-and-see game, with Ukraine still defying all the odds but for how much longer. 

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