A new video shows Ukrainian soldiers training with British NLAW anti-tank weapons for the first time.
The drills in Lviv region come as Russia continues to tighten its military noose around Ukraine while officially denying any intention to invade.
But one close Vladimir Putin ally claimed it would take a maximum 48 hours to invade Ukraine because Kyiv is so outnumbered.
‘Representatives of the British training mission in Ukraine introduced our military to the performance characteristics and features of the use of light anti-tank weapons provided by international partners,’ said Kyiv’s armed forces.
A Ukrainian service member fires a next generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) supplied by Britain during drills at Ukraine’s International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv in the Lviv region, Ukraine yesterday
Russian army’s self-propelled howitzers fire during military drills near Orenburg in the Urals, Russia, last month
The NLAW hand-held guided missile launcher is seen as having an excellent guidance system that provides a high probability of destroying a moving target with the first shot.
Ukraine also has US Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and its own anti-tank systems and armed drones.
New videos show heavy Russian military equipment continuing to arrive in Belarus – to the north of Ukraine, and annexed Crimea, to the south.
Major military hardware is also seen in new social media footage recorded in Rostov and Voronezh regions to the east of Ukraine.
Another video highlights 12 Russian Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile systems to Belarus ostensibly for joint military exercises.
Members of the Ukrainian army training to use British NLAW anti-tank missiles at the Yavorovsky training ground
The NLAW hand-held guided missile launcher is seen as having an excellent guidance system that provides a high probability of destroying a moving target with the first shot
Russian military vehicles were spotted in Rechitsa, Belarus. President Putin moved thousands of soldiers and surface-to-air missiles to Belarus – where they could launch attacks on Ukraine
Ukraine now estimates Russia’s manpower is up to 130,000, with the US claiming it has sufficient firepower to attempt a partial or complete invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said: ‘Now we are observing units that include some 112,000 people, and it’s about 130,000 with the naval and aviation components.
‘In April 2021, the combat component that Russia was transferring comprised 126,000 people. So, the numbers are proportionate. The reaction is not proportionate.’
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday: ‘While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability.’
He warned of provocations such as a ‘false flag operation’ to trigger Russian intervention.
A close Putin ally Konstantin Malofeev – who runs an investment group and a staunchly pro-Kremlin media – told Znak media that it would take two days to control Ukraine.
‘Open military conflict between Russia and Ukraine cannot be a war, or, at least, a long-term war, because the difference in military potential is so big that there can be only an operation for forcing the peace,’ he said.
‘It will take 48 hours maximum, and we cannot talk about different fronts.’
He claimed that Ukraine was currently under the sway of US and British – ‘Anglo-Saxon’ – secret services .
‘The invasion has already happened,’ he said.
‘American and British special services already are Ukrainian territory.
‘We know that Canadian special forces have arrived in Ukraine.
‘Therefore we can expect provocations on the border with DPR (pro-Moscow rebel-held Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk Peoples’ Republic).
‘Perhaps, these won’t be Ukrainians but Anglo-Saxon special forces, who organise these provocations, because Americans and British are ready to take on the Russians, until the last Ukrainian falls.’
He claimed: ‘We consider Ukraine as a country temporarily occupied by the Anglo-Saxon special services, in which there is no sovereign power, which is completely under the control of these special services.
‘So, we are not talking with the Ukrainian authorities, but with the collective West.
‘For this reason, negotiations are not taking place in Kyiv, but in Geneva, in Brussels, where it is necessary to talk with the owners of the current Kyiv regime….
‘Yes, they don’t even want to contact them.
‘Let’s see if their masters will be ready to make peace without shedding the blood of Ukrainians and Russians, or they will drag the Ukrainians into this crazy and suicidal conflict.’
Malofeef has denied Western claims of previous destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.
In the Baltic, Russian staged exegetic launch drills against ‘aggressor ships’ with Bastion mobile coastal missile systems.
A top US general has called the force build-up on Ukraine’s border the biggest since the Cold War and could ‘result in a significant amount of casualties’ if they were all unleashed.
Speaking at a press briefing at the Pentagon yesterday, Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley told reporters Russia’s conflict with Ukraine feels ‘larger in scale’ than tensions in recent years.
He said: ‘It does feel different in terms of what we’ve seen in the past of Russian exercises, et cetera.
General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers questions from reporters. He has called the force build-up on Ukraine’s border the biggest since the Cold War
A Russian military vehicle prepares to drive off a railway platforms after arrival in Belarus. In a phone call next week the Prime Minister is expected to demand the Kremlin ‘steps back’ from the brink of war in eastern Europe
Troops disembark from a Chinese military helicopter during joint war games held by Russia and China held in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwestern China last August
Russian rocket launchers fire during military drills near Orenburg in the Urals, Russia last month. General Milley added that while it’s not definite that Russia will go through with an attack, the consequences of offensive action could be devastating
‘This is larger in scale and scope and the massing of forces than anything we have seen in recent memory, and I think you’d have to go back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude.
‘They do annual exercises and we watch those closely but this is different.’
General Milley added that while it’s not definite that Russia will go through with an attack, the consequences of offensive action could be devastating.
He said: ‘We don’t think final decisions have been made to conduct any sort of offensive operation into Ukraine by the Russians, and we firmly believe there’s still room for a diplomatic outcome here.
Having said that, given the type of forces that are arrayed – the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces – all of it packaged together, if that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and would result in a significant amount of casualties.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured) accused the West and Washington in particular of creating a ‘panic’ around the border tensions
Drills in Lviv. The Kremlin wants Ukraine to be excluded from ever joining the Nato security alliance, plus a withdrawal of western troops from eastern Europe
‘And you can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible.
‘And it’s not necessary, and we think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here.’
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III also added that there is a concern about Putin’s ‘range of options’ beyond an invasion.
He said: ‘In terms of whether or not he has enough forces to conduct a full-scale invasion, you heard the chairman say earlier that he’s got north of 100,000 troops in the border region.
‘That gives him a number of options, and what he’s done as he’s continued to move troops and resources into the region is increase his options.
‘And so we won’t predict where his decisions will take him, but we remain concerned about the range of options that he could pursue, and we’ll stay focused on this problem set.’
Secretary Austin also urged Putin to ‘do the right thing’, adding: ‘There’s no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict.
‘He can choose to deescalate, he can order his troops away, he can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.’
Meanwhile Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky accused the West and Washington in particular of creating a ‘panic’ around the border tensions, as he insisted there are no ‘tanks in the streets’, blaming media portrayals of the situations for stirring up hysteria.
In a press briefing with foreign media he yesterday said the current situation, while containing the possibility of escalation, is not ‘more tense than before’, CGTN reports.
He added: ‘We don’t need this panic.’
Boris Johnson is set to issue a direct warning to Putin about the consequences of invading Ukraine.
In a phone call next week the Prime Minister is expected to demand the Kremlin ‘steps back’ from the brink of war in eastern Europe.
Mr Johnson will warn Mr Putin of the unprecedented economic sanctions that will be imposed should he send tens of thousands of troops across the border into his pro-Western neighbour.
And on Monday, government sources said last night, the Foreign Office will announce a tough crackdown on Russian money flowing through the UK.
The development came as President Putin moved thousands of soldiers and surface-to-air missiles to Belarus – where they could launch attacks on Ukraine.
Last night a Downing Street spokesman said Mr Johnson was ‘determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed’.
An announcement on sending additional British military resources to former eastern bloc states and Soviet republics is expected early next week. But the Government will first target Russia’s strategic and financial interests in the UK following heavy criticism.
Vladimir Putin pictured last September. Boris Johnson is set to issue a direct warning to the Russian president about the consequences of invading Ukraine
US diplomatic sources yesterday questioned how effective sanctions could be against oligarchs who support Mr Putin given the estimated £70billion of Russian ‘dirty money’ in London, which officials have dubbed ‘Moscow-on-Thames’.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace are expected to visit Moscow in the coming weeks as Britain continues to spearhead diplomatic and military efforts to support Ukraine, following its provision last week of 2,000 anti-tank weapons.
On Monday the UK will also join discussions at the United Nations Security Council in New York in a bid to apply further pressure on Russia to commit itself to an exclusively peaceful approach to solving the Ukrainian crisis.
In a phone call with French leader Emmanuel Macron yesterday, Mr Putin said the West had ‘ignored’ Moscow’s security concerns over Nato expansion and Ukraine.
The Kremlin wants Ukraine to be excluded from ever joining the Nato security alliance, plus a withdrawal of western troops from eastern Europe.
A Kremlin spokesman insisted the West’s stance left little room for compromise – but Russia would not start a war.
In a series of tit-for-tat developments yesterday, Russia sent thousands of soldiers and missiles to Belarus while Nato pledged more troops would head East.
Moscow sent troops and hardware on the pretext of holding military exercises next month. But Nato is concerned the men and machinery will be within striking distance of Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
US sources claim Russia is stepping up war plans by shipping blood supplies and other medical materials to the frontline.
What are Putin’s options beyond an offensive attack?
With more than 100,000 Russian troops positioned around Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be preparing to launch an invasion.
As the US warns Russia against taking action and pushes for a ‘diplomatic solution’, Russia denies it’s preparing to invade and Putin’s intentions remain a mystery.
Russia, which is seeking a pledge that NATO won’t expand to include Ukraine, could exercise a myriad of options beyond a full scale attack which could affect Ukraine and global relations differently.
Here are just some of them:
SOMETHING SHORT OF A FULL-SCALE INVASION
In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. That year it also started arming rebels in the eastern region known as the Donbas, starting a low-boiling conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.
Many Russia watchers speculate that the recent buildup of Russian troops and naval forces is the next chapter in a larger effort to chip away at Ukraine, perhaps taking advantage as the US and its allies in Europe are distracted by Covid and other issues. Possible scenarios include providing additional support to the Russia-backed rebels or launching a limited invasion, just enough to destabilize Zelensky and usher in a pro-Kremlin leader.
Stopping short of a full-scale invasion would give Russia more time to get more forces in place and test the commitment of the US and its allies to the punishing sanctions promised by Biden, says retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army forces in Europe.
Russia is a major player in global energy, the third-largest oil producer after the US and Saudi Arabia, and the source of about 40% of the natural gas used in Europe. It is also a major exporter of wheat, particularly to developing nations. Any move to cut the flow of energy could be painful to Europe in winter with gas and oil prices already high. Similarly, rising food prices are a problem around the world.
Putin has some economic leverage, but there’s no indication he would use it and it could end up hurting Russia in the long run, says Edward Fishman, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
Any move by Russia to cut off gas shipments would push European nations to find alternative sources for the future. ‘It’s a weapon you can only use once,’ he said. ‘You do that once and you lose that leverage forever.’ The Biden administration is already working with Qatar and other suppliers to replace Russian gas if needed.
There’s no doubt Russia has the capability to conduct significant cyberattacks in Ukraine and around the world, and would almost certainly do so again as part of any operation against its neighbour.
The Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement agencies on January 23 that Russia would consider initiating a cyberattack on the US, including possible actions against critical infrastructure, if it perceived the response to an invasion of Ukraine ‘threatened its long-term national security.’
Russia is the suspected culprit in a 2015 hack against the Ukraine power grid. Hackers this month temporarily shut down government websites in Ukraine, underscoring how cybersecurity remains a pivotal concern in the standoff with Russia. ‘Whatever the size and scale and nature of their ground and air attacks, cyber will be a big part of anything they do,’ warns Hodges.
The risk to the world is that hostile activity against Ukraine could spread, as the cyberattack known as notPetya did to devastating effect in 2017. The downside to Russia is the US and other nations have the power to retaliate, as Biden warned Putin in June. ‘He knows there are consequences,’ Biden said.
THE CHINA FACTOR
China isn’t a direct player in the standoff over Ukraine, but it plays a role. Observers have warned that Moscow could respond to Washington’s rejection of its security demands by bolstering military ties with China. Russia and China have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea.
US officials have said they don’t think Russia would launch an invasion as President Xi Jinping presides over the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
‘The Chinese are not going to be pleased if their Olympics are disrupted by war,’ Gorenburg said. Putin plans to travel to Beijing to attend the opening of the games, as U.S. and European leaders sit it out to protest human rights abuses.
One theory among Russia watchers is that China is intently following the US and European response over Ukraine to gauge what might happen if it were to move against Taiwan.
Hodges sees that as a risk. ‘If we, with our combined diplomatic and economic power plus military power, cannot stop the president of the Russian Federation from doing something that is so obviously illegal and wrong and aggressive then I don’t think President Xi is going to be too impressed with anything that we say about Taiwan or the South China Sea.’
A RUSSIAN BUILDUP IN LATIN AMERICA
Senior Russian officials have warned that Moscow could deploy troops or military assets to Cuba and Venezuela. The threats are vague, though Russia does have close ties to both countries as well as Nicaragua.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed the idea, and experts in the region and around the world view it as a strategy that probably wouldn’t accomplish much, other than to divert Russian forces needed elsewhere, and thus is unlikely to happen.
A more likely scenario is that Russia steps up its already extensive propaganda and misinformation efforts to sharpen divisions in Latin America and elsewhere, including the United States.
A DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the standoff ends in an invasion. While the Biden administration said it would not concede to Russia’s security demands, there still seems to be some room for diplomacy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that the US response ‘gives hope for the start of a serious conversation on secondary questions.’
France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia have agreed to sit down for talks in two weeks, an effort aimed at reviving a 2015 agreement to ease the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Some fear this complicates efforts by the US and NATO to show a united front against Russia.
A stand-down may be good for the world but could come at a cost for Putin, Russian journalist Yulia Latynina warned in a New York Times essay on Friday.
She said the Russian president may have used his troop buildup as a bluff, hoping to compel the U.S. and Europe to relinquish any intention of closer ties to Ukraine.
‘Instead of trapping the United States, Mr. Putin has trapped himself,’ she wrote. ‘Caught between armed conflict and a humiliating retreat, he is now seeing his room for maneuver dwindling to nothing.’