YAVORIV, Ukraine – With television cameras rolling, a Ukrainian soldier lifted a US-made missile launcher over his shoulder and pressed a red button. The rocket sped off and blew a target – a pile of tires – to smithereens.
For more than two months after Russia began building up its military near Ukraine last fall, the US has been silent about military aid to Kyiv, admitting only to sending weapons that were long scheduled for delivery.
That has changed now. American cargo planes carrying weapons and ammunition are openly arriving at Kyiv’s Borispol airport. And the Ukrainian military wants to show the media these newly delivered weapons at a military training area.
Over the past two weeks, seven US cargo planes carrying a total of about 585 tons of military support have landed in Kyiv. After newest plane arrived, on Thursday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, posted on Twitter, “this is not the end! To be continued!”
Along with ammunition for small arms, the planes have also delivered a significant number of missiles to Ukraine. These include Javelin anti-tank missiles that the United States has supplied to Ukraine since 2018.
It also includes an American-made man-portable missile that can blow up sandbag fortifications and partially destroy buried bunkers. On Friday, Ukrainian soldiers fired 10 so-called “bunker breakers” to international media, including a Japanese television crew.
To critics of Ukraine’s arming policy, the weapon may seem provocative. In Ukraine, almost half of the respondents poll published Wednesday said they believe Western weapons will deter Russia, but a third said they think it will do the opposite – provoking an attack. The Russian government opposed the arms transfers, and Germany firmly opposed them.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to believe that such arms exports can turn the military imbalance,” said Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, during a visit to Kyiv on Monday.
Maria Zolkina, a political analyst at the Organization for Democratic Initiatives, said Ukraine’s policy of publicly displaying new weapons added to their value as a deterrent. Media events will help “destroy the myth that an unprotected Ukraine is an easy adversary for Russia,” she said.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said the arms shipments would strengthen Ukraine’s power in dealing with Russia.
“The stronger Ukraine is, the lower the risk of Russian aggression,” he said in a video conference with journalists this week. “The more defensive weapons we have today, the less likely we are to need to use them.”
The United States is not the only country that has equipped Ukraine with flights starting last month. The UK has sent about 2,000 light anti-tank missiles. With the approval of the United States, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia said they will move Stinger anti-aircraft missile, filling the void in Ukraine’s weak air defense system. Poland also said it would send anti-aircraft missiles.
At the American bunker bombardment demonstration, only Ukrainian soldiers handled the weapons. They underwent a three-day course taught by instructors from the 53rd Infantry Brigade of the Florida National Guard. The American stood aside, refusing to appear in front of the camera.
The launch tube and rocket weigh about 15 pounds and look like a small, green log. As a rocket was fired, the commotion disturbed the dishes on the picnic table to provide snacks for visiting journalists. Ukrainian soldiers cheered when the missile hit the target, the tire burst and exploded in a flash of red.
“It’s very simple, it’s just a device,” said Ivan, a 25-year-old Ukrainian sergeant now trained in how to fire the new missile, who declined to give his last name for security reasons. Soldiers also covered their faces with sunshades to protect their identities.
But the training itself is simple, says Ivan. “Boys or girls of any age can shoot. It’s like an iPhone.”
Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting in Kyiv.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/world/europe/ukraine-american-missile-demonstration.html Ukraine demonstrates new US weapons, in a signal to Russia