By Reuters, published by Ottawa Citizen and Rappler.com, Fox News plus BBC
Washington – The United States and Nato are shipping weapons into Ukraine at break-neck speed, including highly sensitive items such as shoulder-fired missiles called Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) that can take down aircraft.
The Western arms deliveries, another one of which is expected to arrive in the coming hours, have been vital to enabling Ukrainians to fight the invading Russians forces far more effectively and fiercely than US intelligence expected.
But moving those amounts of weaponry into the largest conflict in Europe since World War Two carries with it risks that some could fall into the wrong hands — a possibility the West has considered.
“Frankly, we believe that risk is worth taking right now because the Ukrainians are fighting so skillfully with the tools at their disposal and they’re using them so creatively,” a senior US defence official said on Friday when asked about that danger.
Highly portable missiles such as Stinger surface-to-air missiles — which are a type of MANPAD — can help win wars, but in the past they have also been lost, sold, or wound up in the arsenals of extremist groups.
For example, hundreds of Stingers supplied by the United States were seen as key to helping mujahideen rebels drive Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in a conflict that spanned the 1980s and 1990s.
In a Pentagon-financed study in 2019, the RAND Corp. think-tank estimated that upwards of 60 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970s, killing more than 1,000 civilians. As of 2019, 57 non-state armed groups were confirmed to possess or suspected to possess MANPADS.
Russia was “far and away the single largest exporter of MANPADS,” RAND Corp. said, with more than 10,000 systems sold between 2010 and 2018 to countries including Iraq, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Qatar, and Libya.
So far, Russia has not targeted Western weapons convoys headed into Ukraine and the senior US defence official said the United States had not seen any Western-supplied inventory falling into Russian hands.
But that could change.
At a Friday meeting of Russia’s Security Council, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu talked about potential future seizures of Western-made Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stingers. They should be handed to Russian-backed forces in the breakaway Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly backed the idea.
“As to the delivery of arms, especially Western-made ones which have fallen into the hands of the Russian army – of course I support the possibility of giving these to the military units of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics,” Putin said.
“Please do this,” Putin told Shoigu.
Conflict raged near Kyiv today, March 12, and Ukrainian officials said heavy shelling and threats of Russian air attacks were endangering attempted evacuations of desperate civilians from encircled towns and cities elsewhere.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia was sending in new troops after Ukrainian forces had put 31 of its battalion tactical groups out of action in what he called Russia’s largest army losses in decades. He gave no details and it was not possible to verify either statement.
Zelenskiy also said he had spoken to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron about pressuring Russia to release the mayor of the city of Melitopol, who Ukraine says was kidnapped on Friday by Russian forces.
More than 2,000 residents of Melitopol, which is now under Russian control, protested outside the city administration building to demand the release of the mayor, Ivan Fedorov, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said.
It’s a figure the BBC cannot independently verify.
Western sources estimated on Friday that around 6,000 Russian troops have also been killed in that period.
He also claims that around 500-600 Russian troops surrendered to Ukrainian forces on Friday.
Earlier, Zelensky warned Russian troops it “is not possible to occupy heads and minds” of people and the occupation of cities and towns will only be “temporary, not forever. I am confident of that”.
A call between Scholz, Macron and Putin was underway, the French presidency said. Russia has not commented on the fate of Fedorov, who Ukrainian officials said was kidnapped by Russian forces on false accusations of terrorism.
Zelenskiy said his country could not stop fighting but was upholding a ceasefire around an agreed humanitarian corridor out of the southern port of Mariupol, which has been under an almost two-week siege, and called on Russia to do the same.
Moscow has previously blamed Kyiv for failed evacuations.
Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in an operation that has been near universally condemned around the world and that has drawn tough Western sanctions on Russia.
The bombardment has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv, Sumy and some other areas today.
But the governor of the Kyiv region said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks were continuing during evacuation attempts and the Donetsk region’s governor said constant shelling was complicating bringing aid into Mariupol.
The UN humanitarian office said conditions in Mariupol were grim.
“There are reports of looting and violent confrontations among civilians over what little basic supplies remain in the city,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
“Medicines for life-threatening illnesses are quickly running out, hospitals are only partially functioning, and the food and water are in short supply.”
An adviser to the Ukrainian presidency said earlier that 79 evacuation buses and two trucks with humanitarian cargo had left for Sumy today. Buses and trucks also left Zaporizhzhia for Mariupol, a video released by the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration on social media showed.
At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said in an online statement on Friday. It was not possible to verify casualty figures.
“I want to help them. It’s as simple as that,” the Canadian man, only identified as Wali to protect his family’s safety, told CBC. “I have to help because there are people here being bombarded just because they want to be European and not Russian.”
Wali is a former sniper with the Royal Canadian 22nd Regiment who previously fought in the Afghanistan War. He has a kill distance of over two miles, according to the Mirror, and is known as one of the world’s most deadly snipers.
He crossed into Ukraine on March 1 along with three other former Canadian soldiers after Zelenskyy called on foreigners to join the war against Russia’s invasion.
“They were so happy to have us,” Wali told the CBC of the people who greeted the former soldiers with hugs as they entered Ukraine. “It’s like we were friends right away.”
Wali, 40, has a young family and works as a civilian computer programmer. He said the “hardest part” of making the decision to join the war was missing his son’s first birthday.
“A week ago, I was still programming stuff,” he said. “Now I’m grabbing anti-tank missiles in a warehouse to kill real people. … That’s my reality right now.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier this week that more than 20,000 people across dozens of countries have traveled to Ukraine to fight.
Top: A US instructor trains Ukrainian soldiers for the use of M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (SMAW-D) missiles at the Yavoriv military training ground, close to Lviv, western Ukraine, on Sunday. Photo: AP/Ukrainian Defence Ministry Press Service ad published Fox News
First insert: Local residents work among remains of a residential building destroyed by shelling, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine on March 2, 2022. Photo: Reuters /Viacheslav Ratynskyi and published by Fox News
Second insert: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy updating reporters in Kyiv on the state of the war today, Mar. 12, 2022.. Photo: BBC
Third insert: Known simply as ‘Wali,’ the former Canadian Armed Forces veteran has been living in Ukraine since March 2. Photo by Facebook and published by Ottawa Citizen
Home Page: Desperate new attempts to evacuate civilians from towns and villages around Kyiv are under way. Photo: Reuters and published by BBC