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Pentagon leaks are a reality check to Ukrainian ambitions

Ukrainian soldiers prepare BM-21 Grad rockets to be launched in Bakhmut, Donetsk. Credit: Getty

April 19, 2023 - 10:00am

The recent Pentagon leaks have confirmed what many already suspected — that Ukraine is facing a much more uphill struggle than the Western narrative would have us believe. They have revealed, in particular, severe “deficiencies” in Ukraine’s munition supplies. The country’s units are burning through artillery ammunition at such a lightning-fast pace — some 7,700 shells per day, or roughly one every six seconds, according to a Ukrainian source — that they are outrunning Western manufacturing capacity and have even begun to ration shells. Meanwhile, the Russian military is said to be firing about 20,000 artillery rounds a day — three times as much. 

But most alarming is the critical state of Ukraine’s Soviet-era S-300 and Buk air defence systems, which make up 89% of its protection against Russian fighter jets and bombers. According to one of the leaked documents, Ukraine risks running out of missiles and ammunition for such systems — now produced almost exclusively in Russia — within weeks. This would leave Ukraine’s vital sites and infrastructure dangerously exposed to Russian air power. The NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) and IRIS-T air defence batteries supplied by the US, Norway, Canada and Germany are also apparently running low on ammunition. 

What this means, according to another document, is that Kyiv’s much-vaunted spring counteroffensive — aimed at retaking Russian-occupied areas (potentially including Crimea) — risks falling “well short” of its goals. The potency of entrenched Russian defences coupled with “enduring Ukrainian deficiencies in training and munitions supplies probably will strain progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive”, the document says. A likely consequence of the looming air defence crisis is that Ukraine will lose its ability to mass ground forces near the front lines. 

In order to support the counteroffensive, earlier this month the Biden administration announced that it would send additional air defence interceptors and munitions as part of a $2.6 billion aid package. The latest air defence technology supplied by NATO includes the US-made Patriot PAC-3 and the Italian-French Aster 30 SAMP/T surface-to-air missile systems, but these are fairly new, meaning that the stocks of ammunition produced for them so far are relatively small, and with the risk of Western production capacity continuing to be outstripped. The Pentagon buys only 230 PAC-3 interceptors a year, while France and Italy have recently signed contracts for the production of 700 Aster missiles which will be delivered in the coming years. 

It’s therefore unlikely that these systems will be enough to decisively tilt the balance in favour of Ukraine in the coming counteroffensive. Meanwhile, there have been rumours of growing rifts between Kyiv and Washington over military strategy — with the Americans worrying that Ukraine is expending so much manpower and ammunition in Bakhmut that it could sap their ability to mount a counteroffensive in the spring. 

Indeed, according to Politico, “the US has been clear with Kyiv that it cannot fund Ukraine indefinitely at this level. Though backing Ukraine has largely been a bipartisan effort, a small but growing number of Republicans have begun to voice skepticism about the use of American treasure to support Kyiv without an end in sight to a distant war.” And, of course, policy toward Ukraine is likely to change significantly should the Republicans win the White House in the 2024 election. 

It seems to be finally dawning on Western commentators that the odds of Ukraine achieving its aim of retaking Crimea and the Donbas, and fully expelling Russian forces, are slim. Continuing to fuel this delusion of a total victory means allowing the destruction and bloodshed to continue to no avail. Ultimately, as Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan write in Foreign Affairs, there is only one way this war ends: through diplomatic negotiations involving Ukrainian territorial concessions in exchange for credible security guarantees. Anyone who claims otherwise is not doing Ukraine any favours.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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Sayantani Gupta Jafa
SG
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
1 year ago

Thanks for the balanced analysis contrary to much of the rabid propaganda being seen even on Unherd by “committed” Deep State journalists.

Gorka Sillero
GS
Gorka Sillero
1 year ago

guessing we are ignoring here the Russian Deep State

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

The Conspiracy is everywhere!

Gorka Sillero
GS
Gorka Sillero
1 year ago

guessing we are ignoring here the Russian Deep State

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

The Conspiracy is everywhere!

Sayantani Gupta Jafa
SG
Sayantani Gupta Jafa
1 year ago

Thanks for the balanced analysis contrary to much of the rabid propaganda being seen even on Unherd by “committed” Deep State journalists.

Edit Szegedi
ES
Edit Szegedi
1 year ago

“credible security guarantees” – from Russia?

Edit Szegedi
ES
Edit Szegedi
1 year ago

“credible security guarantees” – from Russia?

Jeffrey Mushens
JM
Jeffrey Mushens
1 year ago

What territorial concessions? What credible security guarantees? If Russia invaded again, would the West intervene and go to war with Russia? If not, then you are urging Ukraine to cede territory for no purpose other than giving Russia time and space to re-arm and prepare properly for the next time.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
1 year ago

Exactly. One keeps reading this policy papers and it is nothing more than wishful thinking without any firm proposals as to how we achieve these goals.
Ukraine had security guarantees from all major players.
Did it help?

Fran Martinez
FM
Fran Martinez
1 year ago

If Russia can prepare during that time, why cannot Ukraine slso prepare? Or does time flow differently in different countries?

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Maintaining any army is expensive. They figure better to decisively defeat Russia now, than fund a huge army for the next decade or two.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Maintaining any army is expensive. They figure better to decisively defeat Russia now, than fund a huge army for the next decade or two.

Brian Villanueva
BV
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

I guess is depends on what you think Russia’s goals are.
If Putin is seeking a buffer between Russia and NATO, then territorial concessions and an agreement for Finlandization of Ukraine makes complete sense (although now that Finland is joining NATO we might have to retire that term).
However, if you think Putin is trying to recreate the Tsarist Russian empire, obviously ceding territory does not.
In either case though, I do not see how the United States being the continued driver and primary military supplier of the Western response make any sense at all. If Russia wants to rebuild its empire, that sounds like a problem Europe should take the lead on solving.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

The “Russian World” is just a euphemism for the Tsarist/Soviet empire. That’s now being propagated in every Russian school from kindergarten to university.
It’s rather obvious that a neo-Tsarist empire is Putin’s goal. His abortive Eurasian Economic Union was his first failed attempt.
The situation in Kazakstan and other FSU nations exemplifies what Putin and most of Russia’s elderly fear. The Kazaks are renaming their cities with Kazak names. He knows that soon Chinese and American influences will soon overwhelm what’s left of the Russian World.
Including in Russia itself.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

The “Russian World” is just a euphemism for the Tsarist/Soviet empire. That’s now being propagated in every Russian school from kindergarten to university.
It’s rather obvious that a neo-Tsarist empire is Putin’s goal. His abortive Eurasian Economic Union was his first failed attempt.
The situation in Kazakstan and other FSU nations exemplifies what Putin and most of Russia’s elderly fear. The Kazaks are renaming their cities with Kazak names. He knows that soon Chinese and American influences will soon overwhelm what’s left of the Russian World.
Including in Russia itself.

Andrew F
AF
Andrew F
1 year ago

Exactly. One keeps reading this policy papers and it is nothing more than wishful thinking without any firm proposals as to how we achieve these goals.
Ukraine had security guarantees from all major players.
Did it help?

Fran Martinez
FM
Fran Martinez
1 year ago

If Russia can prepare during that time, why cannot Ukraine slso prepare? Or does time flow differently in different countries?

Brian Villanueva
BV
Brian Villanueva
1 year ago

I guess is depends on what you think Russia’s goals are.
If Putin is seeking a buffer between Russia and NATO, then territorial concessions and an agreement for Finlandization of Ukraine makes complete sense (although now that Finland is joining NATO we might have to retire that term).
However, if you think Putin is trying to recreate the Tsarist Russian empire, obviously ceding territory does not.
In either case though, I do not see how the United States being the continued driver and primary military supplier of the Western response make any sense at all. If Russia wants to rebuild its empire, that sounds like a problem Europe should take the lead on solving.

Jeffrey Mushens
JM
Jeffrey Mushens
1 year ago

What territorial concessions? What credible security guarantees? If Russia invaded again, would the West intervene and go to war with Russia? If not, then you are urging Ukraine to cede territory for no purpose other than giving Russia time and space to re-arm and prepare properly for the next time.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

What credible security guarantees are we talking about? Providing Ukraine with the nuclear missiles they gave up in exchange for guarantees? Lethal and irremovable explosive devices attached to Putin and the Senior Russian military leadership that could be triggered in the event of any fresh incursions into Ukrainian territory? In the medieval period hostages of the rulers close relatives often were provided as guarantees of peaceful intent. Any other suggestions to provide credibility to any guarantees?

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

What credible security guarantees are we talking about? Providing Ukraine with the nuclear missiles they gave up in exchange for guarantees? Lethal and irremovable explosive devices attached to Putin and the Senior Russian military leadership that could be triggered in the event of any fresh incursions into Ukrainian territory? In the medieval period hostages of the rulers close relatives often were provided as guarantees of peaceful intent. Any other suggestions to provide credibility to any guarantees?

Erin Taylor
ET
Erin Taylor
1 year ago

Thank you for this. MSM is spending its time focusing on the leaker rather than the leaks. Of course there’s an alternative to fighting, and, sure, it takes diplomacy and negotiation and trust building. Our current world leaders foster distrust, division and hatred to fatten the arms manufacturers and to foster economic growth. This is an insane and tragically immature way for humans to behave on a small planet. How about being inspired by the possibility of peaceful solutions and ways of being that contribute to the beauty of our precious world, not to its destruction.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Erin Taylor

Just how do you trust a leader who swore he wasn’t going to invade–and then invaded?
What guarantee would anyone have that he wouldn’t try it again?

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Erin Taylor

Just how do you trust a leader who swore he wasn’t going to invade–and then invaded?
What guarantee would anyone have that he wouldn’t try it again?

Erin Taylor
ET
Erin Taylor
1 year ago

Thank you for this. MSM is spending its time focusing on the leaker rather than the leaks. Of course there’s an alternative to fighting, and, sure, it takes diplomacy and negotiation and trust building. Our current world leaders foster distrust, division and hatred to fatten the arms manufacturers and to foster economic growth. This is an insane and tragically immature way for humans to behave on a small planet. How about being inspired by the possibility of peaceful solutions and ways of being that contribute to the beauty of our precious world, not to its destruction.

Alex Carnegie
AC
Alex Carnegie
1 year ago

Plus ca change. The western inability to produce adequate artillery shells etc in a crisis is a challenge encountered before. After shortages during WW1, the government recognised that the private sector would never invest in “surge capacity” so kept a series of Royal Ordnance factories ticking over for this purpose. These proved invaluable in 1938-41. Unfortunately, the Tories / Treasury destroyed this capacity in the 1980s.

Alex Carnegie
AC
Alex Carnegie
1 year ago

Plus ca change. The western inability to produce adequate artillery shells etc in a crisis is a challenge encountered before. After shortages during WW1, the government recognised that the private sector would never invest in “surge capacity” so kept a series of Royal Ordnance factories ticking over for this purpose. These proved invaluable in 1938-41. Unfortunately, the Tories / Treasury destroyed this capacity in the 1980s.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

My question is this. If Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than the US and others can produce it, isn’t it quite likely the Russians are having the same problem? Fazi doesn’t give us any statistics for the other side. Granted, any assessment of Russian supply lines would be educated guesses at best, but it would give context to this issue. It’s obvious that Ukraine, a much smaller country, would have a manpower disadvantage, but it’s hard to believe that Ukraine with all of Europe and the US behind it would run out of ammunition and weaponry before Russia would, except in cases of Russian made weapons as Fazi mentioned. Surely Russia by itself can’t outproduce the entire transatlantic alliance? If that’s the case, it’s a much bigger problem than whatever happens in Ukraine. Even if the Chinese are secretly supplying arms to Russia, and there’s little evidence of that, shouldn’t we be just a little bit concerned that our principal geopolitical foes can outproduce us to this extent?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
james elliott
JE
james elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Uhmm……. yes. It does seem wildly improbable that Russia could vastly outproduce Europe and US.

Of course, it may just be possible that Fazi doesn’t have any idea of what he is talking.

It would not be out of character.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Yes, it is often suggested by apologists for Putin’s invasion that this is a proxy war between Russia and the West. If so it is certainly worrying if the entire NATO alliance is unable to keep pace with Russian armaments production. Russia was said to have an economy no larger than Italy – how come they can now outproduce the whole of Western Europe and the US? Is this journalism or propaganda?

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

The US is ramping production rapidly which is not too rapid. They seem concerned that Taiwan might be next and the cupboard is somewhat bare. Don’t discount the possibility of a massive increase if the threat gets clearer.

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

The US is ramping production rapidly which is not too rapid. They seem concerned that Taiwan might be next and the cupboard is somewhat bare. Don’t discount the possibility of a massive increase if the threat gets clearer.

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

As I understand it, Russia is having supply issues itself asking for shells from N Korea, etc. They were blasting away to demolish apartment buildings and other non-military assets but have recently slowed considerably. Whether Ukraine is running out of air defense is unsure. The Russians don’t seem eager to use manned aircraft within range. When they do try they seem to lose the plane and, more importantly, the pilot.

james elliott
JE
james elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Uhmm……. yes. It does seem wildly improbable that Russia could vastly outproduce Europe and US.

Of course, it may just be possible that Fazi doesn’t have any idea of what he is talking.

It would not be out of character.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Yes, it is often suggested by apologists for Putin’s invasion that this is a proxy war between Russia and the West. If so it is certainly worrying if the entire NATO alliance is unable to keep pace with Russian armaments production. Russia was said to have an economy no larger than Italy – how come they can now outproduce the whole of Western Europe and the US? Is this journalism or propaganda?

Hardee Hodges
HH
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

As I understand it, Russia is having supply issues itself asking for shells from N Korea, etc. They were blasting away to demolish apartment buildings and other non-military assets but have recently slowed considerably. Whether Ukraine is running out of air defense is unsure. The Russians don’t seem eager to use manned aircraft within range. When they do try they seem to lose the plane and, more importantly, the pilot.

Steve Jolly
SJ
Steve Jolly
1 year ago

My question is this. If Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than the US and others can produce it, isn’t it quite likely the Russians are having the same problem? Fazi doesn’t give us any statistics for the other side. Granted, any assessment of Russian supply lines would be educated guesses at best, but it would give context to this issue. It’s obvious that Ukraine, a much smaller country, would have a manpower disadvantage, but it’s hard to believe that Ukraine with all of Europe and the US behind it would run out of ammunition and weaponry before Russia would, except in cases of Russian made weapons as Fazi mentioned. Surely Russia by itself can’t outproduce the entire transatlantic alliance? If that’s the case, it’s a much bigger problem than whatever happens in Ukraine. Even if the Chinese are secretly supplying arms to Russia, and there’s little evidence of that, shouldn’t we be just a little bit concerned that our principal geopolitical foes can outproduce us to this extent?

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Jolly
Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

” … in exchange for credible security guarantees”
From who? Russia? Are you mad?
You do not waste time negotiating with Russians.
In the late 1940’s, Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and sociologist, predicted that the Americans and the British would make a mess of their diplomacy with the Russians, because they would assume that Russians are gentlemen, and that they would not make agreements which they would have no intention of carrying out.
What you can’t believe,” Myrdal said, “is what every Swede knows in his bones. The Russian culture is not a gentleman culture.”
See blog:
https://ayenaw.com/2022/07/23/negotiating-with-russia-is-a-liberal-delusion/

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

” … in exchange for credible security guarantees”
From who? Russia? Are you mad?
You do not waste time negotiating with Russians.
In the late 1940’s, Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and sociologist, predicted that the Americans and the British would make a mess of their diplomacy with the Russians, because they would assume that Russians are gentlemen, and that they would not make agreements which they would have no intention of carrying out.
What you can’t believe,” Myrdal said, “is what every Swede knows in his bones. The Russian culture is not a gentleman culture.”
See blog:
https://ayenaw.com/2022/07/23/negotiating-with-russia-is-a-liberal-delusion/

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

Looking at only one side of the hill is the best way to lose a war, as Fazi’s myopic view demonstrates.
Attacking a single objective for eight months with almost zero success is the best way to sap any army’s morale. Yet that’s exactly what Putin has been doing. That mostly untrained Russian mobiks will be willing to fight to the last man in their trenches is also debatable.
Fazi neglects another small detail: Putin spent almost all of his cruise missiles on fruitless efforts to freeze Ukrainians. Those should have been used to destroy the railways and other military facilities. Russia will never have so many again. Indeed, Ukraine is again exporting electricity.
Meanwhile the Patriots are coming, a far more sophisticated SAM than the Buk or S-300.
Indeed, Fazi’s whole argument hinges on conditions remaining the same over the coming months, as they have been over the winter. But a successful Ukrainian offensive will decisively change the dynamic.
Most significant, Fazi seems totally unaware that it is the unexpected that decides most wars. And the side that manages to bring that off usually wins.
So far, only one side that has consistently done that in this war:
Ukraine.

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan
martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

Looking at only one side of the hill is the best way to lose a war, as Fazi’s myopic view demonstrates.
Attacking a single objective for eight months with almost zero success is the best way to sap any army’s morale. Yet that’s exactly what Putin has been doing. That mostly untrained Russian mobiks will be willing to fight to the last man in their trenches is also debatable.
Fazi neglects another small detail: Putin spent almost all of his cruise missiles on fruitless efforts to freeze Ukrainians. Those should have been used to destroy the railways and other military facilities. Russia will never have so many again. Indeed, Ukraine is again exporting electricity.
Meanwhile the Patriots are coming, a far more sophisticated SAM than the Buk or S-300.
Indeed, Fazi’s whole argument hinges on conditions remaining the same over the coming months, as they have been over the winter. But a successful Ukrainian offensive will decisively change the dynamic.
Most significant, Fazi seems totally unaware that it is the unexpected that decides most wars. And the side that manages to bring that off usually wins.
So far, only one side that has consistently done that in this war:
Ukraine.

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan
Coralie Palmer
CP
Coralie Palmer
1 year ago

‘Credible security guarantees’. From Russia. What planet is this twit on?

Coralie Palmer
CP
Coralie Palmer
1 year ago

‘Credible security guarantees’. From Russia. What planet is this twit on?

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

“than the Western narrative would have us believe.”
Straw man piffle.
For weeks, the W media I read, including the DT, has been telling me of Wagner successes and Ukrainians being pushed back.
It’s been gloomy news, for weeks.
Don’t you read the papers? 

Gorka Sillero
GS
Gorka Sillero
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

he is obviously spreading a different narrative, not his clearly. A little bit like Greenwald and his adoration for Russian human rights record

Gorka Sillero
GS
Gorka Sillero
1 year ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

he is obviously spreading a different narrative, not his clearly. A little bit like Greenwald and his adoration for Russian human rights record

Frank McCusker
FM
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

“than the Western narrative would have us believe.”
Straw man piffle.
For weeks, the W media I read, including the DT, has been telling me of Wagner successes and Ukrainians being pushed back.
It’s been gloomy news, for weeks.
Don’t you read the papers? 

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

This is all Fazi’s moonshine.
He presupposes that the West has a power that we don’t possess: to stop the war by somehow putting pressure on Ukraine.
But even if we stopped all arms shipments, Ukrainians would never stop fighting. They know that Putin’s goal is their elimination. He puts in the starkest terms: if Ukraine continues to exist, it’s the end of Russia. Indeed, Russian TV now openly encourages the annihilation of Ukraine, and anyone who IDs as Ukrainian.
Given their history with Russia, I don’t see Ukrainians laying down their arms until they either win, or most of them are dead. They know the stakes, even if we don’t.

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan
martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago

This is all Fazi’s moonshine.
He presupposes that the West has a power that we don’t possess: to stop the war by somehow putting pressure on Ukraine.
But even if we stopped all arms shipments, Ukrainians would never stop fighting. They know that Putin’s goal is their elimination. He puts in the starkest terms: if Ukraine continues to exist, it’s the end of Russia. Indeed, Russian TV now openly encourages the annihilation of Ukraine, and anyone who IDs as Ukrainian.
Given their history with Russia, I don’t see Ukrainians laying down their arms until they either win, or most of them are dead. They know the stakes, even if we don’t.

Last edited 1 year ago by martin logan
Ben Jones
BJ
Ben Jones
1 year ago

Ah, Fazi’s a military expert now too, I see.

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Why read Luttwak, who’s studied it for decades, when Fazi just reads a few news clippings–and sees through the whole western MSM conspiracy?

martin logan
ML
martin logan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Why read Luttwak, who’s studied it for decades, when Fazi just reads a few news clippings–and sees through the whole western MSM conspiracy?

Ben Jones
BJ
Ben Jones
1 year ago

Ah, Fazi’s a military expert now too, I see.