In Other News – The Importance of Continuing Western Support for Ukraine – 7/28/2022

July 28, 2022

The effectiveness of high-precision weapons for Ukraine has shown the importance of continuing Western support to the war effort against Russian aggression. In the ongoing battle between Ukraine and Russia, American-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (“HIMARS”) are proving to be a game changer given the significance of precision weaponry on the urban battlefield. Honed during years of fighting in Iraq, HIMARS are designed for precision strikes in urban environments. Since their introduction in Ukraine, their range and accuracy have forced the Russian military to move ammunition and supply depots further from the fighting, resulting in logistical issues. HIMARS were reportedly used last week to strategically target a key bridge in southern Ukraine’s occupied Kherson to prevent the Russian military from using that bridge to resupply increasingly isolated troops and to move additional troops into the area to meet Ukraine’s counter-offensive. While Ukraine has relatively few HIMARS, these small, mobile, and accurate missile systems have proven to be effective and are changing the war on the ground as, so far, Russia does not appear to have an answer for them. Other Eastern European countries have taken notice, and Poland, Latvia and Estonia are actively looking to buy hundreds of HIMARS to bolster their own defenses; Lithuania is also expected to make a request.

In addition to launch systems, drones – particularly the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, but also Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aircraft systems from the United States – are playing a significant role in Ukraine’s defense. Drones showed their myriad value early on, providing an outgunned Ukrainian military valuable intelligence on Russian positions, enabling them to target their more limited resources more effectively. In support of Ukraine’s war effort, global citizens have organized “dronations” to donate commercial weapons to Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, Putin wants more drones as well and is reported to have recently requested a supply from Iran. He also suggested to Turkish President Erdogan that they build a Baykar drone factory in Russia. The CEO of Baykar has stated that the company supports Ukrainian sovereignty and would never support Russia. When he heard of the dronations, the Turkish drone maker offered to supply Ukraine drones for free and asked that the money raised be spent on humanitarian assistance.

While technical weapons will be essential to Ukraine’s continued military efforts, this week President Zelenskyy re-emphasized the necessity of continued support from democratic nations. With a nod to the early days of the invasion and to current signs of public war-weariness, Zelenskyy reminded the West that the war is a fight for shared values and the joint security of the world. The regrouping of NATO and democratic allies and the continued efforts of the EU to limit purchases of Russian energy are part of the larger effort to stand-up against a nation that has denied another’s sovereignty, and with it, its democracy.

Finally, as to prove Zelensky’s point, Russia continues to attack any semblance of democratic activism within its own borders, and regularly penalizes and threatens those who question the war effort. Despite this, Russian citizens are increasingly using privacy tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow anonymous access to foreign websites and restricted media. According to analysts, VPN services were downloaded to mobile devices in Russia more than 12 million times in the first weeks of July. This is a marked increase from January, when VPN apps were downloaded approximately 2 million times. While it’s unclear exactly what the Russians are reading or if this will impact political mobilization in Russia, technology has found another way through Putin’s defenses.