Poland’s latest offer of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets for Ukraine could see the much-needed aircraft delivered in the next four to six weeks, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed today. While actually signing the jets over to Kyiv may be easier said than done, judging by past experiences, it’s notable that the issue has now progressed from the respective defense ministries to the head of the Polish government.
Morawiecki’s pledge, which he made at a news conference today, follows a statement from Slovakian Minister of Defense Jaroslav Nad last Thursday, in which he confirmed that his Polish counterpart had told him at a European Union meeting the previous day that Warsaw would agree to a joint process to transfer MiG-29s to Ukraine. As well as Poland and Slovakia, Bulgaria also possesses Fulcrum stocks within NATO, although the Slovakian aircraft were stood down from duty last year.
The announcement today on a potential timeline for getting MiGs to Ukraine is significant in that it suggests that an agreement over a joint transfer program could well be taking shape. Poland’s proposal would involve a ‘coalition’ of countries — presumably drawn from at least some of Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia — sending MiG-29s to Ukraine.
If this coalition takes shape, Poland would “certainly not” deliver more than 14 of the jets, around 28 of which serve with the Polish Air Force today. That was confirmed last week by Pawel Szrot, head of the president’s office in Warsaw. Losing less than half of the Polish MiG-29s would have a much-reduced effect on overall capabilities than losing the entire fleet and the imminent arrival of South Korea-made FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft would further temper the cutback, although they are not a direct replacement.
This is not the first time the idea of delivering Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine has been proposed. Spurred by long-running demands from the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian Air Force for new fighter equipment, Poland last year announced a plan to transfer its entire fleet of these Fulcrums to the U.S. government, which could then pass them on to Ukraine. At the same time, Poland requested the U.S. government provide sufficient numbers of other fighter jets to make up for the loss of the MiGs.
That earlier plan was derailed by the U.S. Department of Defense, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby declaring that “the prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” and that “it is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”
The new Polish proposal, which involved a coalition of countries, may stand a better chance of success. If so, it would follow the broad pattern established by the transfer to Ukraine of modern Western main battle tanks and Patriot air defense systems, among other advanced systems. Like fighter jets, those items had previously been considered too provocative to include in arms transfers for Ukraine, although the momentum of multiple countries pledging to supply them in a coordinated fashion ultimately yielded tangible results for Ukraine.
The question of how the fighter jets would actually get to Ukraine remains, but it seems likely they would have to be trucked in, or brought by rail, either of which would require their partial disassembly, before being reassembled once in Ukraine.
NATO’s former Warsaw Pact members in Eastern Europe have been prominent in supporting Ukraine, so it’s perhaps no surprise that there is movement here now regarding supplying fighter jets. And while the MiG-29 might not be a modern Western fighter of the kind that Ukraine would most like to receive, the fact that the Fulcrum is already used by the Ukrainian Air Force would make its integration far easier and much more immediate.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Drawing upon accounts from serving members of the military and unnamed officials in Western governments, a recent report from The Washington Post states that Ukraine may have suffered as many as 120,000 killed and wounded during the conflict, compared to 200,000 on the Russian side.
The fate of the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut, and its environs, in eastern Ukraine, has been discussed repeatedly of late, with growing concerns that the cost to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in terms of soldiers and equipment is simply too high to justify its arguable strategic value. In Bakhmut alone, there are accounts of Ukrainian casualties running as high as an estimated 100-200 a day. Again, this still dwarfs claimed Russian losses, with Ukrainian officials saying that one Ukrainian is killed for every seven Russians. Western officials have estimated total Russian casualties in Bakhmut at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000.
Painting a generally pessimistic picture of Ukraine’s prospects in the fighting yet to come, The Washington Post article also points to claimed deficiencies in Western training programs, which it says are failing to train new soldiers fast enough. At the same time, it claims that many of the junior officers who have been training over the last nine months have already been killed in action.
As to the situation in Bakhmut in particular, fierce fighting is currently ongoing around the center of the city, as Russian and Ukrainian forces attempt to take control there. Since early February, Russian forces have made slow but clear progress toward taking the center of the city. Reports now indicate that Russian forces are closing in on the city from the north, east, and south. Meanwhile, the only road still available to Ukrainian forces, in the west, is under Russian artillery fire.
Despite the seemingly bleak situation for the defenders, Ukrainian officials are continuing to present the fighting for Bakhmut in the context of a broader strategy.
“It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off,” said Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces. “[Ukrainian soldiers are] inflicting the heaviest possible losses, sparing neither themselves nor the enemy,” he added.
For Ukrainian commanders, the fighting for Bakhmut, whether ultimately successful or not, should buy them time to enable the launch of a large-scale spring offensive. At the same time, it’s clear that Ukrainian forces are inflicting heavy losses on the Russians and tying up significant forces that could be deployed elsewhere.
In its latest analysis of the conflict, the Institute for The Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based research group and think tank, says that Russian forces have made “marginal” gains in several parts of Ukraine. In particular, ISW highlights progress made by the Russians northeast of Kupyansk in the eastern Kharkiv Oblast but notes that efforts to tighten their grip on Bakhmut have been less successful.
Exactly what might happen next in the fighting for Bakhmut is uncertain, but there are various scenarios that are being put forward by analysts and commentators. According to pro-Russian military bloggers associated with the Wagner Group, that paramilitary organization may be planning to extend its flank west of Bakhmut and meet up with the Siversky Donetsk-Donbas water canal to create an “artificial operational encirclement.”
Those same sources also warn that Kyiv’s forces could be preparing a counterattack, meanwhile, pointing to a supposed build-up of Ukrainian troops and equipment that could be intended to first break Wagner’s grip on the city, followed by a broader offensive among the entire front line.
Continuing on the topic of the Wagner Group, Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of its parliament, has backed an amendment intended to punish those found guilty of discrediting “volunteer” groups fighting in Ukraine, like Wagner. Notoriously, Wagner has made use of both mercenary fighters as well as soldier conscripts drafted from the Russian prison system.
This kind of legislation would extend the kinds of protections currently provided to the Russian regular forces to paramilitary organizations like Wagner. Anyone now found to be guilty of “discrediting” the Russian Army can receive a prison sentence of up to five years. Sentences as long as 15 years can be given to those individuals judged to have knowingly spread false information about the military.
In related news, the Lithuanian parliament today voted unanimously to designate the Wagner Group as “a terrorist organization,” accusing it of “systematic, serious crimes of aggression” in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk in the north of Donetsk Oblast, in eastern Ukraine, has been particularly heavy hit in recent Russian attacks. Taking to his Telegram channel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that one person had been killed and three injured in Kramatorsk this morning.
“Kramatorsk. A Russian missile hit the city center. Six high-rise buildings were damaged. At least three people were injured. One person died. My condolences to the family! Rescue operations are still ongoing. The evil state continues to fight against the civilian population. Destroying life and leaving nothing human. Every strike that takes an innocent life must result in a lawful and just sentence that punishes murder. It will definitely be that way.”
Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, provided a similar account of the attack on Kramatorsk, citing regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. The same broadcaster also reported explosions in the city of Kherson, on the north bank of the Dnieper River. Russian forces are occupying the area south of the river, which is one of the regions of Ukraine that the Kremlin has claimed to annex.
Also in the Kherson region, a shadowy partisan group, Atesh, claims to have killed the deputy head of the military administration of Nova Kakhovka, a port city on the east bank of the Dnieper River, just after midnight on Monday.
Atesh (meaning fire) is active in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as in the territory of Russia, and is understood to be made up of Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and Russians.
In a post to the group’s Telegram, Atesh claims to have detonated a bomb killing the official as he approached his car outside a cafe on Pobedy Avenue. The group added that no civilians were injured. As yet, these claims have not been verified, but they point to the continued threat posed to Russian officials in the territories that it has claimed to have annexed by armed resistance groups of this kind.
Other Russian attacks have been reported today in the Odesa region, in southwestern Ukraine, where Russia apparently used tactical aircraft to launch missiles. Ukraine’s Operational Command South claimed that the Russian missiles were engaged over the sea by Ukrainian air defenses, but that debris damaged a kindergarten and several private houses. No casualties were reported.
In the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, meanwhile, which is occupied by Russian forces, the “acting governor” told Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS that forces there were preparing for a likely Ukrainian attack.
“We have all regiments, all divisions complete,” Yevgeny Balitsky told TASS. “We are waiting for the enemy because by and large, we know that there is a strike group in the Zaporizhzhia region, respectively, we are strengthening our positions, waiting for the enemy to attack. Now all military operations are concentrated in the area of Vuhledar and Bakhmut, therefore, it is calm in our direction for the time being. And we are preparing for any provocative action by the enemy.”
The tweet below includes a photo from Vuhledar that purports to show documents found on a Russian officer captured by Ukrainian forces. The notes include mention of an alarming loss rate in the offensive, with only 16 soldiers from a force of 100 returning from one particular mission on March 1.
In the Kharkiv region, the local governor, Oleh Synyehubov, reported this morning that one civilian was killed when their car was hit in Vovchansk, as a result of Russian military action.
Synyehubov wrote: “The enemy continues to shell civilians and civilian infrastructure of Vovchansk. Unfortunately, people die. Today, around 10 am, during the shelling of the city, an enemy projectile hit a civilian car. A 55-year-old woman who was in it died on the spot.”
Also in the Kharkiv region, an extraordinary story has emerged concerning a Russian soldier who reportedly hid out for about six months before being arrested by the Ukrainian authorities. The soldier, whose name has not been revealed, is said to be a 42-year-old serviceman from Moscow who served with the 27th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade.
According to reports, the Russian soldier became separated from his unit as they fled a Ukrainian counteroffensive last September.
Exactly how he managed to evade capture for so long is unclear, although he is understood to have worn civilian clothes and hid in abandoned buildings once the Russians had retreated.
The soldier was taken into custody yesterday in the course of a police patrol around villages in the Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi area.
Overall, official Ukrainian Ministry of Defense figures for the last 24 hours put the number of Russian troops killed at over 700. The ministry also claims that its forces have destroyed 10 tanks, 15 armored combat vehicles, 16 pieces of artillery, and 11 drones over the same period.
Nataliya Humenyuk, head of the Joint Coordination Press Center of the Southern Defense Forces, provided specific figures for recent fighting around the islands of the Dnieper River delta. According to Humenyuk, over the past day, Ukrainian forces destroyed eight units of equipment and killed 14 Russian soldiers here.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine says that more than 100 Russian attacks along the front line have been repelled and also reports five Russian rocket strikes against civil infrastructure in Sumy and Donetsk that resulted in deaths and injuries among civilians. The Russian Air Force carried out 35 airstrikes and 76 rocket salvo attacks, according to the same source.
For their part, Ukrainian forces carried out 10 airstrikes on Russian forces, and hit five concentration areas with artillery, along with three ammunition warehouses and four communications systems.
As ever, these claims have not been independently verified.
In its latest publicly available intelligence briefing, the U.K. Ministry of Defense stresses the problems that the Russian military has been facing in terms of ammunition shortages, a factor that has been brought up repeatedly in the fighting for Bakhmut. It also notes that “defense manufacturing capacity is a key vulnerability” in Russia’s ability to effectively wage war in Ukraine.
“In recent weeks, Russian artillery ammunition shortages have likely worsened to the extent that extremely punitive shell-rationing is in force on many parts of the front,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense claims. “This has almost certainly been a key reason why no Russian formation has recently been able to generate operationally significant offensive action.”
One unintended outcome of the full-scale invasion, as far as Moscow is concerned, has been to drive both Finland and Sweden, both formerly neutral, toward NATO membership.
Speaking today, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he considered it now more likely that Finland would join the military alliance first, but reiterated that Swedish membership of NATO was only a matter of time.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year, with the only major obstacle so far being resistance from Turkey, which claims that both the Nordic countries harbor members of what it considers terrorist groups. Talks on both countries joining the alliance resumed in Brussels last week.
Earlier this month, reports emerged of Soviet-era BTR-50 tracked armored personnel carriers having been deployed in Ukraine recently. The BTR-50, which first entered Soviet service in 1954, is one of several antiquated fighting vehicles to appear in Russian hands on the battlefield, with others including the T-62 tank that began to be returned to frontline service last year. Now, photos of the BTR-50 have begun to emerge, as seen in the tweet below.
Somewhat more modern than the BTR-50 is the French-made AMX-10RC heavy armored car, supplied to Ukraine, which you can read more about here. Previous reports about the AMX-10RC already being committed to the fighting seem to have been erroneous, but we do now, at least, have some videos showing Ukrainian crews training on the armored cars. The date and location of the footage are unconfirmed, although at last one of the videos seems to have been taken in a training area in France.
Another recent training program has involved Ukrainian tank crews getting to grips with the Spanish Army Leopard 2A4 main battle tank in Zaragoza. Reportedly, the one-month training program is now complete, with 55 Ukrainian personnel having taken part, comprising 40 tank crews and 15 maintenance specialists.
After the AMX-10RC, France could be poised to supply Ukraine with AMX-10P infantry fighting vehicles, according to unconfirmed reports. The similar designation reflects some commonality between the vehicles in terms of transmission and chassis components, with the AMX-10P being a tracked and amphibious IFV in a broadly similar category to the U.S. M113 or the German Marder.
We also got a more detailed look at the highly unusual Ukrainian mobile aid station, the “Ark,” apparently based on chassis components from old Soviet-era BTR-series wheeled armored personnel carriers, that we profiled for the first time in November last year. It is unclear if the vehicle, intended for use by volunteer combat medics, has already assisted on the battlefield, although the video suggests that the innovative vehicle is still under test.
Other new equipment set to be provided to Ukraine includes a pair of Alkmaar class minehunters, the Dutch members of the Cold War-era Tripartite class that was jointly developed by the navies of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov today confirmed that his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, had approved the transfer of the two 600-ton vessels to the Ukrainian Navy.
Although undated, the following video is also well worth a look, not only for its depiction of the kind of trench warfare that characterizes much of the fighting in eastern Ukraine but also for a relatively rare sight of the U.K.-supplied Spartan armored personnel carrier in combat.
We will update this story if there is anything major to add until our next new update is published.
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