January 7, 2015
Anton Mardasov for News-Front.info
Translated from Russian by J. Hawk
Ukrainian president Pyotr Poroshenko visited the Zhitomir region after the New Year to transfer, with great pomp and circumstance, over 100 pieces of military equipment to the assembled military commanders. They included Pion heavy self-propelled artillery with range of up to 47km, two Mig-29 fighters, and two Su-27 fighters.
A detailed list of delivered equipment was not given to the media. But one can assume that they included wholly Ukrainian BTR-4 APCs built in Kharkov. Possibly a few examples of the decent Oplot main battle tanks, likewise built there. But the Oplots are being delivered at a trickle, which means one can hardly expect a major reinforcement.
Judging by the photographs that appeared on January 5 on the internet, it would appear that the military also received some 5.56mm Fort-221 rifles which recently went into production in Ukraine for its special operations troops. Though that was not a particularly difficult task, since the Fort-221 is an exact copy of the Israeli TAR-21 Tavor.
Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced as early as last fall that it would purchase 500 of these rifles. So evidently it did. But what do 500 of even the best rifles amount to in an endless war like this?
“In the last 30 days we transferred over 400 pieces of equipment to the armed forces. They were all built in Ukroboronprom facilities which are now working in three shifts. All enterprises are ensuring continuous supply of parts and spares, and have provided training. The equipment will ensure the successful completion of military operations” said Poroshenko.
Ukrainian president acknowledged that Kiev is using the ceasefire to accomplish a hurried re-equipment of its army. And now, according to Poroshenko, its combat abilities have been fully re-established. But what does that even mean? It means that, even in the best-case scenario, that the Ukrainian army has regained the condition it had at the time Yanukovych fled Ukraine. But that was not enough to allow the Ukrainian military to achieve even a single significant victory! So why should it be otherwise now?
Still, the Ukrainian president surely has a few reasons to feel satisfied. After all, very recently, by Poroshenko’s own admission, the army’s state of equipment was even worse: “As of September 5 we had only 20% of equipment left.” To translate from the civilian lingo, forgivable for the “chocolate baron”, to military lingo, the army had only 20% of its authorized full-strength equipment left in service. The rest perished, mainly at Ilovaysk, Debaltsevo, Saur-Mogila…And hundreds of other places where the Ukrainian military futilely tried, during the entire summer, to score victories.
Inspired by his own performance, Poroshenko expressed the wild hope that 2015 will be a “year of victory” for Ukraine. And we know over whom.
But this begs several questions: how did the Ukrainian army manage to replenish the depleted stocks of armored vehicles after the battles in the south-east? How was it able to repair fighter aircraft, if Ukraine must be experiencing severe problems with import substitution after breaking off cooperation with Russia? And, the main question, will Kiev throw the new and restored weaponry against the Donbass militia?
A leading expert from the Center of Military-Political Studies of the Moscow State Institute of International Studies, Doctor of Political Science Mikhail Aleksandrov, notes:
“Ukraine did not and does not manufacture fighters or combat helicopters. It did not and does not produce parts for these machines. I doubt that Ukraine managed to obtain these parts from Russia during the ceasefire. Although one cannot fully rule it out, since black marketeers operate in Russia too. But it is more likely that Ukrainians scraped the proverbial bottom of the barrel and, cannibalizing equipment for parts, were able to restore a small number of aircraft. But they can’t do this forever.
However, when it comes to armored vehicles, Ukraine has significant production capacities. For example, the Malyshev plant in Kharkov, the Kiev, Lvov, and Zhitomir armored vehicle repair facilities are all able to conduct certain repairs and even manufacture new equipment. In other words, Ukraine can continuously repair its own armored vehicles.
Moreover, at the time of the break-up of USSR Ukraine received three very strong military districts of the second strategic echelon (the Transcarpathian, Odessa, and Kiev), which contained large quantities of weapons and equipment. At that time Ukraine was the fourth largest “tank power”, after the United States, Russia, and China. So they have a nearly inexhaustible store of spare parts.
“When it comes to conflict escalation, Poroshenko made a few militant statements, thus revealing that Kiev is readying for battle. So the tactic of endless ceasefires only gave the enemy an opportunity to replenish its own forces. And one now can expect an even stronger attack against the Donbass.”
“In the spring Kiev can renew the offensive, assuming it cannot impose its terms on Novorossia during winter.”
“Of course, the Donbass militia was not sitting on its hands while Ukraine was rebuilding its army. They have created a centralized chain of command, and overhauled a significant proportion of its equipment. All of this points to a renewal of military conflict, and on a higher level fo intensity. So the future looks rather bleak.”
“We have to keep in mind that Ukraine is not manufacturing any new weapons,” notes the deputy director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis Aleksandr Khramchikhin. “They are just using up their Soviet-era stores, which were huge at the time of Soviet break-up. And, in spite of all Ukraine’s problems, these stores remain sizable. That’s the equipment we saw at Zhitomir: everything that was stored is now being frantically restored and brought back to combat readiness. And, naturally, some equipment is being cannibalized to restore the rest.”
“The same applies to aviation. But Ukraine has more armored vehicles than aircraft and helicopters by an order of magnitude. Its industry can deliver hundreds of tanks to the army, but only pairs of fighters. Ukraine has no other sources of resupply. And those plants which Poroshenko describes as working on three shifts are trying to restore Soviet-era equipment into a more or less combat-ready shape.”
“As to the resumption of combat operations, it depends on many economic and political factors. In Ukraine, as well as in Russia, on the Donbass, in the West. So it is difficult to predict at the moment.”
Military expert Viktor Myasnikov reminds us that the fighter base in Belbek, when it still belonged to the Ukrainian air force, had about 45 Mig-29 fighters and 4 L-29 jet trainers. But of those no more than four were flyable. The rest were “mothballed.”
“Ukraine received all of its equipment from USSR. Therefore all of this equipment is at least 25 years old. Much of it remained in storage facilities without servicing, since in the last few years Ukraine tried to save money on everything. So we are not talking about taking equipment out of mothballs but rather a full rebuilding. Therefore any claims concerning the combat readiness and power of the Ukrainian army are simply bravado and nothing more.”
“If there is one thing that works well in that country, it’s propaganda. Ukraine transformed itself into a giant box into which only Kiev-filtered information is sent. As a result the population receives the impression of Ukraine as a great power which can take apart the supposedly collapsing Russia with its bare hands.”
“Unfortunately, many Ukrainians believe this. Just as they believe that they are not fighting against its own people but against Russia. And effectively repulsing attacks known only to themselves.”
I am inclined to agree with the more “bearish” assessments noted above. If the Ukrainian defense industry were capable of building or restoring hundreds of armored vehicles, Poroshenko would not have missed an opportunity to photograph themselves in front of them. Therefore the equipment situation is far more bleak than Poroshenko would have everyone believe. Even the reconstruction of equipment can be problematic. Theft of metals was endemic in Ukraine in the last couple of decades, therefore the armored vehicles stored under open sky with little or no security were likely stripped for parts. And it’s not as if Ukraine can manufacture every last major subcomponent of these armored vehicles. Many of them would have had to come from Russia, as in the case of parts for fighters and helicopters. Which no doubt are not forthcoming. The shortage of equipment may be part of the reason why there are doubts concerning the advisability of the waves of mobilization planned for 2015. What is the point of calling up 200,000 reservists and drafting 40,000 recruits if there is no equipment for them? Hence the renewal of interest in a small, volunteer force, the only one that Ukraine still has enough equipment for.
However, if the army is weaker, more demoralized, than a year ago, and is losing troops to desertion every day, it creates a window of opportunity for the extremist “volunteer battalions” which are much stronger than they were a year ago, and which can accuse the current government of betraying the country and the army (the “stab in the back” used so effectively in Germany of the 1920s and the 1930s). Their leaders surely must realize that eventually the Ukrainian army will recover from its current crisis and by then will be a more formidable obstacle to a seizure of power. The recent statements by Semenchenko and the various Right Sector commanders suggest they are at least toying with the idea of striking while the Ukrainian army and police are in a weakened state.