As one-year of Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches, West promises tanks, Russia places troops at border

As the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 approaches, the conflict shows little sign of stopping.

Tanks for Ukraine

One of the latest updates in arms deals for Ukraine is the approval of tanks to be sent from Western countries. Pierre Meilhan of CNN explained that Western countries will deliver 321 tanks to Ukraine as of Jan. 27, including promises of 31 M1 Abrams tanks from the U.S., 14 Leopard 2 A6s from Germany, 14 Challenger 2 Tanks from the UK, and “some” Leopard 2s from Poland. This is followed by news Saturday that Portugal will join the arms support, with Reuters reporting that Portugal’s prime minister Antonio Costa promised to send an unknown number of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Meilhan notes that other countries like Spain, Norway, and the Netherlands are considering similar measures.

President Biden said the tanks will be useful in countering “Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield,” as Ukrainian troops need to increase the maneuverability and ability to “deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.” The tanks will be accompanied by training and repair equipment. According to the Department of Defense, the Abrams tanks are “the most capable tanks in the world.”

It is unknown when any of the tanks will arrive in Ukraine, making this a race against time.

Cyberattacks Continue

A key forum of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been in the cybersecurity realm. Russia has launched numerous cyberattacks on Ukrainian systems. According to Reuters, Ukrainian official Yuriy Schygol confirmed that “Ukraine had been hit by 2,194 cyberattacks in 2022, with 1,655 of those coming after Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion.” Schygol said Russia is to blame for most of the attacks, noting that often, Russian hackers don’t even bother to hide their affiliation and are either a part of the Russian military or funded by Russia’s Federal Security Service.

Of note is a recent attack on Jan. 27. AJ Vicens of Cyberscoop wrote that the recent attack, dubbed “Sandworm,” is “‘a new data wiping malware’” with unique capabilities as it didn’t re-use code from previous attacks. He furthers that Sandworm was “‘focused on a specific target’ in the public sector,” but that there isn’t yet visibility on the impact of this latest attack.

Upgrades to Ukraine’s Anti-Aircraft Systems

Another recent move in arms sharing includes a new anti-aircraft system to upgrade Ukraine's current one. Xiaofei Xu of CNN explained that France and Italy’s defense ministers are planning on sending the SAMP/T-MAMBA air defense system to Ukraine in the spring, which is described as “the best long-range European anti-missile system.” It has the ability to “target drones, missiles, and fighter jets” and will be paired with the Thales GM200 system also recently purchased by Ukraine.

This system upgrade is essential given the importance of the air domain in the Russia-Ukraine war. Greg Myre of NPR explains that the countries have near daily fights in the air, but that the conflict is uniquely reliant on missiles and drones instead of piloted aircraft. He notes that this is due to the affordability and ease of drones, paired with the early losses Russia took when they relied on piloted aircraft earlier in the conflict.

Problematically, Myre explained, the current Ukrainian air defense system has a limited number of defense missiles, meaning every drone shot down is a missile used from a dwindling supply. In the future, this could open things up for Russia to return to fighter jets in the air domain without a risk of being shot down, making these air defense systems from France and Italy essential for Ukraine.

Russia-Ukraine POW Exchange

Russia and Ukraine conducted the latest in a series of prisoner-of-war exchanges last Saturday. According to the Associated Press, officials from both countries reported that “dozens of Russian and Ukrainian prisoners of war have returned home following a prisoner swap.” They added that this included 116 Ukrainians who were captured in battles over Mariupol, the Kherson region, and Bakhmut, as well as 63 Russian troops including “‘special category’ prisoners whose release was secured following mediation by the United Arab Emirates.”

This follows previous prisoner exchanges in December and January. This follows promises by Ukraine to return "all our people" and that this won’t be the last exchange between Russia and Ukraine to fulfill that goal.

Russia troops buildup

Analysts warn that Russia is likely gearing up for another offensive around the time of the one-year anniversary of the conflict. Jonathan Yerushalmy of the Guardian reported that Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said “Russia is planning a major offensive to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine on 24 February.” This is sooner than other analysts had previously predicted. Raf Sanchez of NBC News noted that Western analysts long predicted a spring offensive, “with the Kremlin eager to seize the initiative after a grinding winter that was preceded by months of battlefield setbacks and domestic criticism.”

The accelerated timeline is due to new Russian troop buildup at the border, which Reznikov numbers at 500,000, around 200,000 more than the 300,000 soldiers conscripted in September 2022. Based on recent increases in struggles defending the front lines, he anticipates the attack would be in the east or south of the country, where there has been recent heavy fighting and rising offensive operations. Brady Knox of the Washington Examiner added that, based on infrastructural reorganization and expelling local residents in the region, the Institute for the Study of War predicts action around the Luhansk region with the intent of taking the Donbas region.