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A “drawdown” refers the method of procurement here; these are weapons and ammunition to be sent from existing U.S. military stockpiles. We’ll replace those supplies over time; in the meantime, Ukraine gets the things they most need, and a lot of it, and Congress doesn’t need to bicker about any of it because the commander of U.S. military forces, President Joe Biden, can authorize it on his own say-so.
There was a lot of gnashing of teeth, early in the war, on whether NATO countries could assist in Ukraine’s defense at all. The first Russian soldier killed by a NATO-manufactured munition would, went the theory, provide all the pretext needed for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to declare that NATO was fighting against him, upon which Russia would attack NATO’s eastern flank and things could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict.
Now? Now the Biden administration can throw a billion dollars worth of new weapons and ammo Ukraine’s way and nobody’s saying a peep about possible Russian retaliation. The Russian army is being shredded daily by HIMARS-launched rockets with U.S. markings; video of NATO-provided anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets permanently decommissioning their targets is omnipresent. There’s been no wider war, and there’s no hint of one.
Without taking sides in that debate, it’s worth taking a small step back to recognize just how dramatically the situation has changed and where we stand now. There’s zero fear that a billion dollars worth of U.S. offensive weaponry will provoke a military response from Russia elsewhere in Europe, and that’s largely because the prevailing wisdom now has flipped on its head. It’s not that Russia might not want to retaliate militarily. It doesn’t appear they can. Russia’s campaign in Ukraine has revealed its army and air force to be held together with possibly-stolen duct tape, and NATO countries appear to now be quite confident in their defenses.
As the United States announced a $1 billion resupply of Ukrainian forces, with an increasing focus on HIMARS as key tools in the Ukrainian arsenal:
… Russian airlines are now stripping their aircraft for parts in a bid to keep their operations running.
Now for the news on the ground, and there’s two big developments today. The Pentagon is now confirming that the United States has indeed been supplying AGM-88 HARM missiles to Ukraine, ending speculation as to whether Russia had faked a picture of a destroyed HARM that recently surfaced.
A HARM is a quarter-million-dollar missile designed for homing in and destroying radar systems, and would be of exceptional value to Ukraine in destroying Russian anti-aircraft batteries—something that we’ve indeed been seeing more of. Now that we know AGM-88s have been making it into Ukraine unannounced, that mystery becomes less mysterious. We still don’t know how Ukraine is launching the things, but Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl was a bit cheeky in telling CNN that the missiles were sent as part of previously authorized drawdowns:
“He pointed to the spare parts for Mig-29s that the US helped send into Ukraine to keep the Soviet-era fighter jets flying,” reports CNN.
Ah. So there were some spare parts for Mig-29s involved here. Got it.
That brings us to the last and most significant big development for the day: Crimea. Explosions rocked Novofedorivka Airbase in Crimea, over 200km from the nearest Ukrainian-held territory. Big explosions. And the usual Russian defense, a claim that their own incompetent soldiers just keep exploding their own ammunition depots on a now-regular basis, isn’t going to be operative on this one:
This either means that Ukraine now has missiles capable of precision strikes at ranges of 200km or longer or that Russia’s defenses in Crimea are so porous that Ukraine was able to smuggle drones within striking distance of the base. It probably ain’t the second.
And continuing the theme of both American and Ukrainian commanders being pretty damn smug about these things:
So we’ve got another missile mystery on our hands, but probably not for long.
Striking Russian airfields in Crimea, far from the frontlines, is a very big deal that could considerably shake those southern battlefields. Russian commanders are probably flipping their lids on this one, and for good reason. If Biden’s shipments are, for example, devoted to expanding Ukraine’s ability to do that, things are indeed “just warming up.”