The U.S. Department of Defense said on January 23 that the situation in Ukraine remains largely static, but there are bloody battles as Russian forces try to take Bakhmut and Ukrainian forces continue offensives against the Russian position near Kreminna.
A senior defense official detailed the results of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group held last week at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III convened the eighth version of the group, “which featured very productive discussions among senior defense leaders from nearly 50 allies and partner nations,” the official said.
At the end of the meeting on Friday, Austin was able to discuss the largest tally of donations since the inception of the Contact Group in April 2022. The official said this is a tangible demonstration of solidarity against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The United States also announced a $2.5 billion assistance package for Ukraine that features more Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Stryker armored personnel carriers, more ammunition and more missiles. “Multiple nations announced similar significant support to include Germany and Netherlands contributions of Patriot missile air defense capabilities, Canada’s procurement of a [National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System] and the United Kingdom’s donation of Challenger 2 tanks,” the official said.
The official highlighted Germany’s contribution of Marder infantry fighting vehicles. France is supplying AMX-10 light tanks and Sweden is donating CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers. Denmark and Estonia are also donating howitzers to the Ukrainian defense, and Latvia is supplying machine guns and unmanned aerial systems. Lithuania is donating helicopters and many European nations are also stepping forward to train the Ukrainian military on these new capabilities.
“The security assistance donations constitute a variety of lethal capabilities from a multitude of countries, which again underscores the international community’s continued support for Ukraine’s immediate needs on the battlefield,” the official said. “Secretary Austin said in his opening remarks at the Contact Group, Russia is attempting to regroup, recruit and reequip. So, this is not a moment to slow down when it comes to supporting Ukraine and their defense.”
Russia is sending in replacements for units that have been heavily attritted especially in the Bakhmut area, where the Russian military and its mercenaries have had particularly heavy casualties. “A key aspect is, despite these increased numbers in terms of replacements, reinforcements, there is not a significant enhancement in terms of the training of those forces,” the official said. “So again, ill-equipped, ill-trained, rushed to the battlefield.”
The official said that over the full scope of the battlefield, Russia has pushed “tens of thousands” of troops into the fight.
The official would not guess Russian casualties but did reiterate Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s estimate of “well over 100,000 casualties” in the Russian forces since the war began in February 2022.
Nuclear security concerns
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi informed President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on January 19 about the expanding and intensifying activities of the IAEA to help Ukraine ensure nuclear safety and security at its nuclear facilities during the military conflict, with several permanent IAEA expert missions established across the country this week.
They also continued their discussions on a proposal by Director General Grossi to set up a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, triggering deepening nuclear safety and security concerns.
The Director General stressed that the zone is essential for preventing a severe nuclear accident and said he would press ahead with his efforts to make it happen as soon as possible.
“Everybody agrees that the plant – located on the frontline in an active combat area – needs to be protected, but these are very complex negotiations. I will not stop until the much-needed zone is a reality. I will continue my intensive consultations with both Ukraine and the Russian Federation in the coming days and weeks,” he said.
“This major nuclear power plant continues to face daily dangers. Our team there continues to hear explosions close to the site, including two on Thursday,” he added.
In Kyiv, the Director General also met with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, with whom he had agreed in December to establish permanent IAEA nuclear safety and security expert teams at all of Ukraine’s NPPs and the Chernobyl site.
That plan was implemented this week with IAEA flag-raising ceremonies attended by Director General Grossi at the South Ukraine and Rivne NPPs, and the Chernobyl site. Two IAEA experts are now continuously staying at each of these three facilities to provide technical support and assistance, assess the plants’ equipment and other needs and report about the situation to IAEA headquarters and the world.
“Across Ukraine – from north to south – this week has seen a major expansion in the IAEA’s on-the-ground support for the country’s efforts to prevent a severe nuclear accident during the war. At Ukraine’s request, the IAEA flag is now flying at these important nuclear facilities. For the first time, we will have our top experts permanently present at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants as well as the Chernobyl site. Their vital work will help reduce the very real nuclear dangers the country is facing,” Director General Grossi said.
In the next few days, an IAEA expert team will also be stationed at the Khmelnitsky NPP. The IAEA has been present at the Zaporizhzhya NPP since September 1.
With IAEA teams permanently present at all of Ukraine’s NPPs and the Chornobyl site, the Agency will have at least 11 nuclear safety and security experts simultaneously in the country, an unprecedented undertaking by the organization.
“We are determined to do everything in our power to reduce the risk of a nuclear catastrophe during this tragic war. This week was an important step forward in our efforts in this regard. But the work is far from over. The IAEA is here to stay, for as long as we are needed,” Director General Grossi said.