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Sensemaker: Dying for weapons

Sensemaker: Dying for weapons

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Lord Geidt became Boris Johnson’s second ethics advisor to resign in 18 months.
  • Brazilian police found what are thought to be the bodies of the activist Bruno Pereira and the journalist Dom Phillips.
  • Anti-Rwanda riots broke out in the Congolese border city of Goma as Rwanda prepares to host next week’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

Dying for weapons

Ukraine is holding back Putin’s army in the Donbas with roughly a tenth of his firepower. Imagine what it could do if evenly matched in terms of military hardware. That is what Ukraine’s leaders are asking the West to do – imagine, and donate.

Yesterday there was progress.

  • The US announced a military aid package worth $1 billion (newly assembled but funded from an existing $40 billion pot) including radios, night vision equipment, anti-ship missiles and $160 million for training – identified as a key reason for delay in getting new weapons systems to the battlefield.
  • Other Nato members made new pledges, including 10 howitzer barrels from Canada, Russian-made helicopters from Slovakia, artillery from Poland and the Netherlands and three multiple-launch rocket systems from Germany.

Today there could be more: Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron and Mario Draghi of Germany, France and Italy respectively travelled to Kyiv for the first time since the invasion, having said they wouldn’t go without something important to announce – although that something could involve EU membership rather than weapons.

Meanwhile, the race to get weapons to the front is existential for Ukraine.

Why weapons supply matters. This is now an artillery war, and Russia has 10-15 times more artillery pieces than Ukraine. Ukrainian troops often know the precise coordinates of their targets but cannot fire back because they can’t shoot far enough. 

Russia uses artillery “en masse and unfortunately has a tenfold fire superiority”, says General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

“We are losing in terms of artillery. Everything now depends on what [the West] gives us”, Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence tells the Guardian. “We have almost used up all of our ammunition.” 

The shortfall. The West is already supplying weapons to Ukraine and has promised much more, but will that be anywhere near enough?

The short answer is no:

Money. The $40 billion in military aid approved last month by Congress is by far the biggest funding promise by a Ukrainian ally but only $15 billion of it will be spent on “defence operations and maintenance” and the weapons will take time to be delivered. The rest will be used for economic and humanitarian aid

MLRS. Multiple launch rocket systems – more accurate and longer-range than conventional artillery – are potential game-changers. But Ukraine needs many times more than promised. The US, UK and Germany have so far promised 10 individual MLRS units between them. “But we need at least 5 regiments [of these systems],” Petro Pyatakov, an artillery expert, tells the Ukrinform agency. “One regiment consists of three divisions, one division has at least 12 items, 12 multiplied by three is 36. So you can calculate: to make a real influence, we need at least 180 MLRS.” 

Artillery. Ukraine’s massive requirements in terms of conventional artillery were recently spelled out to the WaPo by Oleksandr Danylyuk, a senior government adviser. Key points:

  • The Russians are using long-range artillery, often without any response because the Ukrainian army simply lacks enough guns. 
  • Where it does have artillery, it doesn’t have enough: Russia is firing as many as 50,000 rounds a day into Ukrainian positions, and the Ukrainians can only hit back with around 5,000 to 6,000 rounds a day.
  • The US has promised to deliver 220,000 rounds of ammunition — enough to match Russian firepower for about four days.  

The ask. General Zaluzhnyi, the C-in-C, and Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defence minister, want to a) radically ramp up supply and b) switch to Nato-grade hardware. Resnikov recently itemised Ukraine’s goals as follows:

• obtain a significant amount of Nato-type MLRS units with ammunition;

• completely replace existing Soviet-type weapons with Nato systems and ammunition;

• agree with partners a strategy to switch from supplying hardware alone to supplying integrated units ready for combat; 

• ensure the supply of hundreds of heavy armoured vehicles, without which effective counterattack is impossible; and

• obtain enough fighter jets and anti-aircraft and missile defence systems to protect Ukraine’s skies.

“Ukraine desperately needs heavy weapons, and very fast,” Reznikov says. “We have proved that, unlike many others, we do not fear the Kremlin. But as a country we cannot afford to be losing our best sons and daughters.”

Last week Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior presidential advisor, published a list of what Ukraine’s army needs right now. The contrast with what it already has is striking: 

  • 1000 155 mm calibre howitzers (vs 160+ pledged and/or delivered so far)
  • 300 MLRS (vs 50+)
  • 500 tanks (vs 270)
  • 2000 armoured vehicles (vs 120+)
  • 1000 drones (vs 140+)

President Zelensky recently said Ukraine needs modern missile defence systems to counter the 2600 missiles Russia has fired at Ukrainian targets in the last 3 months.

The strategic response. Western unity is fraying, today’s visit by European leaders notwithstanding:

  • Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics warn that Russia is not to be trusted and say a ceasefire would let Russia regroup and launch more attacks.
  • Italy and Hungary have called for a quick ceasefire nonetheless.
  • Germany and France have so far vowed to prevent Putin winning rather than to help defeat him.
  • US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has said he wants Russia “weakened” while President Joe Biden has called for Putin to be prosecuted for war crimes. 
  • The UK’s Boris Johnson says Kyiv must not be strong-armed into accepting a bad peace deal and that Ukraine “must-win”.

“We need to act,” Zelensky told Germany’s ZDF on Monday. “Time plays into the hands of Russia, not us. It is painful to lose people, but we will lose everything if we lose this war to Russia.” Not for the first time, he stressed that if Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there.


Rate rise
The US Federal Reserve announced its biggest interest rate rise since 1994 and signalled another equally dramatic increase later this year as central bankers the world over scramble to tame an inflation surge that most of them, not long ago, were calling transitory. The Fed raised its base rate by 0.75 percentage points and its chairman, Jay Powell, said another increase of 0.5 to 0.75 points was likely at its next policy meeting. Forecasters reckon US base rates could be at 3.4 per cent by the end of the year. US inflation is running at a 40-year high and keeps resisting efforts to tame it, making central bankers look complacent. The higher rates are expected to cool hiring and push US unemployment to 4.1 per cent. Does anyone remember when 5 per cent unemployment was considered full employment?


Bulgarian split
Six months ago Bulgarians could contemplate a brave new outlook under a young, liberal, pro-EU, Harvard-educated prime minister committed to stamping out corruption. Now, not so much. It’s only a matter of time, RFE/RL reports, until Kiril Petkov’s government collapses following the withdrawal of Slavi Trifonov’s ITN party (ITN for “there is such a people”) from his coalition. The split is basically about Russia and the war. Petkov has sided unequivocally with Ukraine, banning Russia’s foreign minister from Bulgarian airspace and refusing to pay for Russian gas in rubles. ITN wants a “more balanced approach”, which can be roughly translated as lurching back towards Bulgaria’s traditional position as the closest thing Russia has to a friend in the EU. Money talks. Unity frays (see also above).


“Throttling” by Apple
A commercially-funded class-action lawsuit filed in the UK is seeking nearly a billion dollars from Apple for allegedly “throttling” its own smartphones with power management software to limit their performance. Two points to note: this is an opt-out lawsuit, meaning you don’t have to do anything to benefit from it if it succeeds and you qualify. And it’s not on a hiding to nothing. A similar suit in the US in 2020 was settled for $500 million. Techcrunch says up to 25 million UK iPhone users with models from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone X including the iPhone SE could have been affected by the throttling. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Rwanda grounded
The Independent has spoken to two of the asylum-seekers forced to board Tuesday’s Rwanda-bound deportation flight from the UK before it was cancelled, and they were not happy. One said he was handcuffed, forced to the floor of the plane and felt “like I was going to die”. Another said of the 90-minute drive to the military airport that he felt as if he was going to be executed: “I had finally felt safe when I arrived in the UK… I knew it was a democratic country and now I know that is a lie… What crime have I committed to be treated like this?” Priti Patel, the home secretary is steaming ahead with the scheme despite the European Court of Human Rights’ late intervention that led to its cancellation. Boris Johnson even  – briefly – proposed backing out of the European Convention of Human Rights to help things along. But in a tense media round this morning Dominic Raab seemed to quash that idea and was less than completely confident a flight to Rwanda would happen by the end of the year. To remember: the ECHR underpins the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

What Jimmy Carter knew
In July 1977, when President Carter had been in office for only seven months, a memo on fossil fuel-induced global warming landed on his desk. Written by his chief science advisor, Frank Press, it warned of catastrophic climate change, rising average temperatures and falling crop yields and as a result of soaring CO2 emissions. Carter was already paying attention – he installed solar panels at the White House and urged Congress to find and fund “unconventional” energy sources. But he served only one term and Reagan removed the panels when he took over. Exxon’s scientists had reached similar conclusions about climate change by the early ‘80s but the result was decades of obfuscation by their employer. Hats off to the Guardian for a tantalising ‘what if’. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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