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UKRAINE UPDATE: 15 FEBRUARY 2023

US pushes allies for more air defence weapons; Reznikov appoints three new deputies in defence shake-up

US pushes allies for more air defence weapons; Reznikov appoints three new deputies in defence shake-up
United States Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (left) and Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley attend a press conference at the end of the meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group as part of a Nato Council of Defence Ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Stephanie Lecocq)

The US will push for Ukraine’s allies to deliver more air defence capabilities, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, as Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov appointed three deputies in a shake-up aimed at quelling accusations of corruption.

Speaking as Nato defence chiefs meeting in Brussels discussed weapons deliveries, including tanks and ammunition for Kyiv, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia still had “a substantial number of aircraft” left in its arsenal.

The ministers are also looking at spending targets, as allies may agree as soon as this summer to spend a minimum of 2% of their economic output on defence, a slight shift from their previous goal.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov appointed three deputies in a shake-up aimed at quelling accusations of corruption, stepping up an effort to placate Western donors delivering cash and weapons to fight Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Key developments

On the ground

Russian forces continued their offensive, focusing on Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, according to Ukraine’s armed forces general staff.

The Institute for the Study of War said that Russian forces made marginal territorial gains near Bakhmut and continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk region.

The Russian army also unsuccessfully attacked Ukrainian positions in western Zaporizhzhia while continuing to fortify positions in the region.

Ukraine needs more air defence help, says Austin

Austin said Western allies haven’t given Ukraine enough air defence systems and the US would press for more, given the threat posed by Russia’s air force.

“It’s not enough and we’re gonna keep pushing until we get more because that threat is out there,” Austin told a news conference, when asked about the flow of air defences to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. 

“We do know that Russia has a substantial number of aircraft in its inventory and a lot of capability left.”

Austin spoke alongside General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the sidelines of a Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting in Brussels.

A top Ukrainian demand has been for increasingly advanced air defence systems, from shoulder-fired Stinger missiles at the start of the war to Patriot missile interceptors in recent months.

Spain to deploy anti-air battery in Estonia

Spain will send a NASAMS anti-aircraft unit in April to defend Estonia’s main military base in Tapa for four months, the Estonian Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The Spanish weapons system will fill a gap as Estonia finalises the procurement of its own air defence system and the “short-term solution” with Spain could later become a “rotational” framework akin to the Baltic Air Policing mission.

 

 

 

Russia seeks to jeopardise water supply, says Ukrainian premier

Russia has opened sluices at the Kakhovska heating power dam, seeking to reduce water supply from the Dnipro River, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said during a government meeting in Kyiv.

This threatens to leave 70% of the towns and villages along the Dnipro without water supply, as well as endangering the safety of the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which needs water for cooling, he said.

Shmyhal said Ukraine expected to get more than $2-billion from the US, World Bank and other international donors in February. Ukraine began talks with the International Monetary Fund mission on the new monitoring programme on Monday in Warsaw, Poland.

Russia faces years of headwinds from sanctions, says EU

EU sanctions are “biting hard” and are contributing to a sustained economic recession in Russia despite record high energy prices last year, European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference.

“Economic headwinds are likely to persist for years to come,” he said. The commission is monitoring the implementation of sanctions closely to ensure their success, he said.

Romania sends jets over unidentified object

Romania scrambled fighter jets after the Air Force detected a small-sized aerial target, similar to a weather balloon, flying at about 11,000 metres in the southeastern part of the country, the Defence Ministry said.

However, the two MiG-21 fighter jets weren’t able to confirm the presence of any object once in the area, where they remained for 30 minutes before returning to base.

US Treasury targets banks with Russia ties

A US law passed after Russia invaded Ukraine has given a boost to a flawed Treasury Department programme that lawyers claimed deterred whistle-blowers from providing tips on the role of banks in sanctions and anti-money laundering violations.

As a result, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has gotten more than 100 whistle-blower submissions over a three-week period this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The agency fielded just 100 tips in the programme’s first two years and made no payments to whistle-blowers.

Moldova temporarily closes airspace 

Moldova temporarily closed its airspace on Tuesday, according to national airline Air Moldova, which didn’t give a reason for the restrictions.

The airline said in a Facebook statement that it was waiting for flights to resume, but that there would be disruptions to its flight schedule.

Kyiv said last week that rockets fired from Russian ships in the Black Sea traversed Moldova before hitting targets in western Ukraine.

On Monday, Moldova’s president called for heightened security and “maximum vigilance” after she cited fresh intelligence detailing Russian attempts to destabilise the country and overthrow her government.

Read more: Moldovan leader accuses Russia of ouster plot in security push

Ukraine’s Reznikov picks new deputies after graft scandal 

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he picked three new deputies to strengthen his team after a graft scandal shook his ministry.

Reznikov nominated Oleksandr Pavlyuk, who was commanding forces to protect Kyiv when Russia launched its invasion last February, according to his post on Facebook. Pavlyuk was also a commander of Ukrainian troops in Donbas, where Russia stoked a military conflict nearly nine years ago.

The defence minister said he also tapped Vitaliy Deynega, an IT specialist who set up a charity in 2014 to help rebuild the Ukrainian army, and Andriy Shevchenko, the former Ukrainian ambassador to Canada.

Germany questions state of Polish battle tanks

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius questioned Poland’s contribution to an international coalition sending Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, suggesting the nation’s older A4 models were not in good enough condition to be deployed.

Germany has promised 14 Leopard A6 battle tanks and Portugal three, and additional commitments of the more modern version are currently not under discussion among allies, Pistorius told reporters in Brussels. 

Poland is taking the lead on supplying the older A4 model, but the condition of its tanks is “nothing to write home about, to put it diplomatically”, he said.

Nato chief says focus on Sweden, Finland’s swift accession 

The main question for Nato is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together, but whether they join as soon as possible, the alliance chief, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters when asked how Nato would respond if Turkey ratified only Finland, but not Sweden’s accession.

Stoltenberg said the Nordic countries were increasingly integrating into Nato, and added, “I’m confident that both will become full members and working hard to get them ratified as soon as possible.”

EU to propose joint funds to procure ammunition

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he’d present the bloc’s foreign ministers with a proposal to use the European Peace Facility to jointly procure ammunition for Ukraine when they meet in Brussels on Monday.

Speaking to reporters ahead of meetings at Nato, Borrell said the EPF “could perfectly mobilise its resources in a more common way” than it currently does as an inter-governmental fund to refund member states that buy weapons for Ukraine.

Germany will produce new ammunition for the Gepard anti-aircraft tanks it has delivered to Ukraine.

This was of utmost importance for the anti-aircraft defence in Ukraine, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said ahead of the Nato defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Dutch jets intercept Russian planes near Polish border 

Dutch fighter jets intercepted three Russian planes near Polish airspace, according to a statement from the Dutch defence ministry on Monday. Two F-35s identified and escorted the Russian jets coming from Kaliningrad, before handing over to Nato partners.

Ewa Zlotnicka, a spokesperson for the Polish Armed Forces Operational Command, said the nation’s airspace wasn’t breached by Russian jets, which were flying over international waters.

“Each such incident should be interpreted as Russian provocation and their number has slightly increased during the last months,” she said.

US ‘concerned’ over alleged Russian coup plan in Moldova

Russia’s alleged plan to overthrow the government in Moldova is deeply concerning, according to a top Biden administration spokesman, as it fits President Vladimir Putin’s “playbook”. However, the US hasn’t seen independent assessments verifying the coup reports, he added.

“Deeply concerning reports. Certainly not outside the bounds of Russian behaviour,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday. 

“I don’t know independent confirmation, but we’re certainly not questioning their capacity,” adding that it’s “a page right out of his playbook”.

The comments came after Moldovan President Maia Sandu accused Moscow of trying to destabilise the country and overthrow her government by using foreign military experts and pro-Russian forces to trigger violent domestic protests. 

Russia has regularly denied meddling in Moldovan affairs.

 

 

 

Nato chief says fighter planes not ‘urgent’

Fighter jets are “not the most urgent issue” now, but are part of ongoing discussions about weapons deliveries to Ukraine, Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of meetings of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group and the alliance’s defence ministers in Brussels.

Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren told reporters that any decision on sending fighter jets would take time, after Ukraine requested F-16s.

“This is a complex weapons system and we have to debate this with our partners, including the US,” she said, adding that the Dutch government would have to take into account feasibility as well as the consequence of sending jets.

Ukraine needs up to $48bn in funding this year, says IMF 

Ukraine needs between $40-billion and $48-billion of funding this year for its economy to function, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) told a conference in Dubai.

The fund is working on a programme with Ukraine and has been supporting it in running a “war economy”, said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. The US and European Union are involved.

“I am full of admiration for the Ukrainian authorities,” she said. She described hearing sirens and Ukrainian officials run for cover during their virtual meetings with the Washington-based lender.

Nato struggles to meet spending goals as it eyes new target

Nato countries are aiming to refine their defence spending targets by their next summit in Vilnius in July. Jens Stoltenberg has said that 2% of gross domestic product should be a floor, not a ceiling.

Nato countries have pledged to spend more on defence following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, but many nations — including Luxembourg, Canada and Italy — are still struggling to comply with the old guideline. DM

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