17,000 Anti-Tank Weapons In Six Days: How NATO Is Arming Ukraine To Slow Down The Russian Invasion
The idea behind the rapid supply of anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian forces is to exhaust Russian forces and inflict damage on the Kremlin war machine before it is able to take control of large swaths of Ukrainian territory.
In six days, the United States and its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have supplied over 17,000 anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion of their country.
Cargo planes carrying these weapons from the US and different parts of Europe have been landing in Poland and Romania — countries neighbouring Ukraine, from where the weapons are pushed into the war-torn country through the land border.
These weapons have been delivered at a speed and urgency not seen before. In August 2021, when the US had approved a $60 million military aid package for Ukraine, it took the Pentagon three months to complete the arms transfers. But when a $350 million aid package was given a go-ahead on 26 February, 70 per cent of the transfer was completed in five days.
The first weapons started reaching Ukraine's borders within 48 hours after the US President approved the $350 million aid package.
To transfer these weapons to the Ukrainian border, NATO has created over half a dozen staging bases, mostly in Poland and Romania.
The weapons, mostly from pre-positioned military stockpiles, are being rolled into C-17s transport aircraft and brought to these staging bases. From there, they are pushed into the Ukrainian border and transported to units fighting on the ground in different parts of the country.
Russian forces, who have been caught in the intense fighting around major Ukrainian cities, including capital Kyiv, have so far not interdicted these supply lines, but military experts believe it is only a matter of time before they turn their attention towards them. As Russia gains more ground in Ukraine, the transfer of these weapons will become difficult.
The shoulder-fired missiles transferred to Ukraine include American FIM-92 Stinger and FGM-148 Javelin, Polish Grom-M or Piorun, Germany's Soviet-era Strela that belonged to the now-defunct East German military.
Ukrainian forces have experience using some of these weapons.
In 2018, when Ukraine was fighting Russian-backed rebels in the eastern parts of the county, it had received Javelins through the US State Department’s Foreign Military Financing programme. Later, the country purchased additional Javelins that arrived in 2020.
On 24 February, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Defence Minister had made a direct plea to the US to supply anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles through Poland.
“We need as much Stinger [anti-aircraft] and anti-tank weapons as possible,” Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov had said.
These man-portable weapons are helping stall the Russian advance on the ground. Equipped with these weapons, Ukrainian soldiers are targeting miles-long convoys of Russian armour and supply trucks moving towards major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv.
“All of us have been tremendously impressed by how effectively the Ukrainian armed forces have been using the equipment that we’ve provided them,” Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the Pentagon, has been quoted by various US-based media outlets as saying. “Kremlin watchers have also been surprised by this, and how they have slowed the Russian advance and performed extremely well on the battlefield," she has said.
Ukraine is using shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defence systems, to shoot down low-flying Russian helicopters and fighters. The video below, which shows one such instance, has now become one of the most shared media related to the conflict in Ukraine. It purportedly shows one of Russia's Hind attack helicopters, which can be seen flying low, being shot down by Ukrainian forces.
Lt Dmitry Kovalensky, a soldier in a Russian tank unit who was recently captured by the Ukrainians, has told western media that his convoy was hit by shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles on a road near Sumy, a city in northeastern Ukraine which has witnessed intense fighting.
“The whole column burned,” he said.
Lt Yevgeny Yarantsev, a Ukrainian officer, told the media that troops under his command were being organised into "small, nimble units that can sneak up on and ambush the lumbering columns of Russian tanks".
“They have a lot of tanks, we have a lot of anti-tank weapons,” he said, adding, “in the open field, it will be even. It’s easier to fight in the city.”
Experts believe the idea is to exhaust Russian forces and inflict damage on the Kremlin war machine before it is able to take control of large swaths of Ukrainian territory. Slowing down the Russian invasion with the use of these tactical weapons is one way of achieving this aim, they say.
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