Just arrived in Warsaw from latest visit to Ukraine — the situation is now going critical there.
Yesterday, for five hours I had the opportunity to review a unit-by-unit assessment of remaining manpower & weaponry for each Ukrainian Brigade and independent Battalion in the entire Army and Interior troops.
From Luhansk in the east to Mariupol in the south, the Ukrainian Army has now thrown every Brigade they have into the fight trying to hold the current line of engagement:
* Due to the cumulative effects of heavy losses and near continuous combat since the 5 SEP ceasefire, their Brigades are now little more than Battalions in strength;
• Two-thirds of their Border Guard and volunteer battalions are now engaged in direct combat, and virtually all of these units are now depleted to company strength, several nothing more than platoons;
• To replace tank and armored vehicle losses, they have been bringing out of storage 1970s/80s vehicles, hastily restored, but many of these only last a few hours till they breakdown;
• The old T-64 tanks, dispersed in small packets to provide a modicum of support to static infantry who have no effective anti-tank weapons against Russian reactive armor, are no match for the newer model Russian and Proxy T-72s and are being destroyed at an alarming rate;
• Ukrainian artillery, the primary means of off-setting defensive weaknesses, is starting to run low in ammunition and their self-propelled howitzers, used as emergency direct-fire substitutes for the lack of effective anti-tank weapons are taking staggering losses;
• Outside the Donbas, there are only three-four battalions screening the entire eastern border with Russia. Likewise a similar number covering the southern coast and Crimean approaches;
• There is NO reserve left — the 1st Armored, 17th Armored & 95th Air Assault Brigades are all now committed and at less than 2/3 strength.
BOTTOM LINE: IF the new ceasefire does not hold or without immediate external reinforcement of effective anti-tank weapons, several major sectors of the front will be broken open, with many defending units in their static positions by-passed, and the Ukrainian Army defeated in detail.
To be honest, I am shocked at how seriously their posture has deteriorated just within the last month — far more dramatically than the gains made by the Russian Winter Offensive would suggest in terms of loss of territory.
Without some type of relief, the Ukrainian Army could cease to be an effective force within a month.
Available options to address the situation are getting fewer by the day. Nevertheless, there are at least two remaining options to get them help without direct US delivery of lethal weapons. BUT both options would require US consent, and that would have to be forthcoming very quickly.
OPTION 1 — Pakistan has, under the table, offered Ukraine 500 TOW-II launchers (man-portable version) and 8,000 TOW-II missiles. These could start coming by the end of FEB at a rate of about 100 launchers delivered a week.
However, Pakistan will not make these deliveries without US approval; moreover they will not even request that approval unless they have informal assurance that it would be approved.
Frankly, the TOW-II has a number of merits relative to the much discussed Javelin — it\s six inch tandem-warhead will penetrate the reactive armor on Russian supplied tanks, it’s 5km range (vs. 4km for Javelin) provides deeper overwatch and allows the defender to conduct a mobile defense (reducing the danger of being overrun and outflanked), the missiles are cheaper per round, and the training is simpler than Javelin.
Also, it is worth noting that the TOW-II system has been distributed around the world to many more countries than Javelin and has not been given the hyper symbolism of the latter, thus making their introduction into Ukraine less a US issue.
OPTION 2 — Poland has several battalion sets of well maintained T-72 tanks, plus several hundred SP 122mm guns, and SP-122 howitzers (along with copious amounts of artillery ammunition for both) that they are willing to start sending to Ukraine IF quietly given a quite nod from the US and promise that they would subsequently receive help from us in getting weaponry standardized with NATO (such as the 155mm NATO howitzer). Again, that flow could begin by the end of the month and would have very low visibility because their systems are virtually undistinguishable from those of Ukraine.
Both of those are violable options that could add months to the staying power of Ukrainian forces as well as give the other side an incentive to honor their ceasefire commitments. BUT, either would require the US sending a quite nod of endorsement to the potential donor countries.
Time has run out.
Without immediate help, it is my opinion that the Ukrainian Army could face prospect of collapse within 30 days, and if the damn breaks, events will move swiftly thereafter.
Obviously, I am, and have long been, an advocate of more robust US support, but that is now becoming irrelevant to the danger described above.
Thus, given the possibility and prospect of an imminent Ukrainian defensive collapse, the Administration and NATO needs to start preparing for the following consequences:
* Potential Russian exploitation of a front collapse with further offensive movement toward Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, and opening a land corridor to Crimea;
• A large surge of refugees (in the millions) flowing from the Oblasts east of the Dnepr;
• Likely fall of the Poroshenko government;
• High political angst among the northern NATO front line states (Poles and Balts);
• Subtle shift toward Moscow by the southern NATO front line states (Hungry, Bulgaria and even Romania).
There is not a lot we can do about the above consequences, but starting to get ready for them is better than being caught flat footed a month from now.
PS Other than to you (and Wes Clark), I am only sending versions of this pessimistic and personal assessment to Amb. Pyatt, UnderSecState Gottemoeller, and the JCS J-2.