Foreign Policy Blogs

Closing The Skies

Ukrainian Farmer Proactively Takes Abandoned Russian TOR-M2 Anti-Aircraft vehicle


The debate of the day is being highlighted by Ukrainian President Zelinsky’s direct and open communications with semi-supportive world leaders over the next few days while he addresses their legislative bodies, and in turn, their citizenry. While Ukraine’s Armed Forces and locals taking up arms have fought hard and have done a measurable amount of damage to Russian Armour, the situation on the ground has notably changed due to their effective resistance. The importation of anti-tank weaponry has been incredibly effective for close in combat and has made invading cities an assured kill box for Russian tanks and support vehicles. In turn, Russia, who faced similar obstacles in the earlier Chechen conflicts, have resorted to tactics they saw as effective in later Chechen conflicts by using long range artillery and missile systems to punish towns, cities and the remaining population. Russia has essentially been trying to put in a siege of all major cities in Ukraine in range of their artillery systems.

Ukraine has only a few options in bringing an end to this conflict on their end and that of their allies, but friendly gestures will not save more lives. If Western Allies do not help immediately to Displace Russia’s military funding, defend the skies over Ukraine from artillery strikes on their populations, and create disarray in Russia’s artillery units, then the only outcome will result in close in combat with anti-tank rockets as a last resort.

The most stark policy development lately has been the lack of effort from European and other Western countries to displace Russian oil and gas in their economies. Partial restrictions, especially from oil and gas producing nations, in the importation of Russian products is partially contributing to continued violence. While European countries are closely tied to Russian oil and gas imports, the refusal of North American oil and gas to immediately increase production and actively displace Russian oil and gas for Europe is indirectly funding hundreds of Russian tanks and missiles. By allowing a large and consistent funding source to Russia, you are allowing the war to continue. It is not a solution to displace Russian energy products with oil and gas from conflict zones and those that have themselves created refugee crises of hundreds of thousands of people, or who shell civilians themselves. Ignoring violence will result in another future war. It is simply displacing violence, not oil.

The recent debate on the importation of MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine and its resulting failure injected a great blow to the confidence Ukraine has in the support it has been receiving from abroad. The request Ukraine has asked for, to help close the skies over the country to Russian attacks, may only have one effective solution. Ukrainian jets have been targeted by S-400 anti-aircraft systems based in Belarus that has caused a tremendous amount of damage. Most likely the sophistication of the S-400 and its long range would render Ukrainian responses in the air mute. While Starstreak, Stinger and Igla MANPADS is an incredibly powerful low level defense for Ukraine, the need for systems that can target high flying aircraft and incoming cruise missiles and artillery is needed to blunt the siege on Ukrainian cities.

While the ability to ship items to Ukraine through its Western borders is still open, Ukraine’s allies who are not willing to implement a no-fly zone should rapidly implement a missile umbrella over major populations centres. It has been demonstrated that even older Soviet era systems like the SA-8 and SA-13 have stood up to aircraft like the SU-25, and MANPADS have even destroyed modern aircraft like the Russian SU-34. Older and very effective systems that are known to the Ukrainian forces should be pushed into the country immediately as their effectiveness in numbers is a game changer. With more modern systems possessed by Ukraine like the SA-11 and SA-15, additional systems should be given to Ukraine supported by Western systems that operate in a similar fashion. SA-15 type systems are designed to target cruise missiles and other artillery, and any system that can stop a Russian barrage may make a Russian siege a futile exercise.

The intense response by Ukraine has pushed the tactics of Russia’s invasion into one where Russian Armed Forces have decided to preserve themselves by using their artillery systems to bombard targets before sending forces in to take over major metropolitan areas. The result of using artillery shells and multiple launch rocket systems is what is creating a human rights disaster as those weapons are not precise and are used to destroy large sections of the city as was the case in Grozny during the Chechen wars. While only used on a few occasions, Ukraine needs long range counter artillery battery systems like an MLRS, or Katyusha type artillery and systems like the SS-21 Tochka and SS-23 Oka to respond to Russian artillery units surrounding major cities. While drones have committed some impressive attacks, surprisingly without being shot down, they can also provide a firing solution to counter artillery while focusing in on valuable targets. The lack of effective Russian air cover over their units also means that sending combat capable drones to Ukraine would likely help tremendously, as Russian Armour and mobile air defense have been lost to drone attacks by Ukraine. Even the most modern systems like the S-400 would not be able to defend against a swarm of drones and could act to deplete the missile site of missiles against human pilots if needed.

It appears to be the case that the most modern and impressive of Russia’s military equipment was designed not solely to support the local army, but to encourage sales of their military technology abroad. Newer systems that have seldom been used in real combat are not working as planned possibly, and the best equipment is so few in numbers that it is not being used on the battlefield. While T-90 tanks have been destroyed by anti-tank rockets, a tank designed to protect its crew with high tech systems against such equipment, the majority of the tanks are upgraded T-72 tanks, followed by other Soviet era equipment that one would have thought would have been scrapped or sold abroad by the 2020s. The most modern of systems are Russian designed anti-air systems like the S-400, as the Soviet Union was designed more to defend against invasion as to not repeat the past during the Second World War. That technology however is still effective, and Ukraine possessed many older systems that have shot down modern Russian aircraft.

Ukraine was always the best and first line of defense against NATO during the Cold War, and the Soviet Union planned their defense and accompanying technologies out for generations. Forces in the Ukraine SSR were the tip of the spear for defending the Soviet Union, and much of that Cold War defense technology works incredibly well to this day. Russia’s armed forces are linked to their Soviet heritage, and is the best defensive force in the world. It was never going to be easy invading Ukraine, at a point one of the best defensive forces in the world with the best defensive force in the world. Ukraine was the site of some of the biggest Soviet victories against the Germans in the Second World War. For the Soviets, Ukraine was created to defend a future attack.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration