Through each new international pledge of military aid to Ukraine, one question was always left largely unspoken: How? How are NATO nations and other international Ukrainian allies going to get the pledged support into a country currently being overrun with Russian troops? It is one thing to pledge hundreds of anti-tank missiles; It is quite another to distribute them throughout the at-war nation so that those missiles make it to every local frontline that needs them.
Most of those world dreams appear to have evaporated quite rapidly, and the most consequential reason is showing on each new map of Russian advances. Ukraine isn’t being overrun with Russian military forces: Russian advances have been held in the north to border incursions advancing to Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv, and in the south to areas around occupied Crimea.
The center of the country remains firmly in Ukrainian hands, and the western part of the nation remains largely untouched. Russian forces appear too focused on their own supply problems, protecting tenuous supply corridors being picked away at by Ukrainian territorial defense throughout, and on repealing Ukrainian military counterattacks that Russia’s alleged military strategists did not appear to even take into account. While Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin appears to be pressuring Belarus’ own autocrat into widening the war by attacking Ukraine’s western flank, Belarus appears wary of a NATO response, and has so far declined.
All of that means that the anti-armor missiles and other key defensive weapons being shipped in large quantities across the border from Poland can be received and distributed with little to no Russian harassment. Russia isn’t a position to militarily intervene, and that’s likely to be putting Putin into a rage. Russian military losses are not easily replaceable; If Russia had the spare manpower or machines to throw into the now-stagnating effort, it would be doing so.
Ukrainians, however, can expend all the anti-tank missiles they like in their harassments of Russian convoys. Replacements are being driven across the border and distributed to territorial defenders every day.
Moscow’s frustration is now being more evident with new missile strikes. On Sunday, Pentagon spokesperson Jon Kirby told ABC that missile strikes on a military training ground in Lviv were the third such strike into western Ukraine “in just the last couple of days.” Such training grounds would be logical places for mass distribution of new weapons, and stopping those deliveries is sure to be one of Russia’s top military objectives in the coming days and weeks. They are, however, in no real position to do so.
Missile strikes on training centers may do damage, but distribution points can be moved elsewhere. Satellite images can be used to hunt down new sites, but Russian specialists may well make errors. And most of these defensive weapons are small enough, along with ammunition resupplies, that they can be moved through roads in the largely un-harassed center of Ukraine inside trunks or inside any commercial vehicle available for the task; Harassing Ukraine’s oft-invisible supply lines are not, at this point, within the capabilities of Russia’s air power.
Russian military jets have seen little success against Ukrainian air defenses, and crossing into the country’s western edge would only escalate the dangers. Missile strikes may be the only practical means to attack resupply points in Lviv, but even those weapons may not be as numerous as Russia has claimed them to be. Or have the exact Russian generals have long claimed.
That lack of accuracy may now add to the risks of a wider war. The target of Russia’s missile strikes was a training site just 10km from the Polish border. If Russia escalates air strikes in and around Lviv, it would take only one errant weapon to cross the border into Poland itself. Such an attack could well trigger NATO international conditions—and would almost certainly do so if the “errant” strike was repeated. Stalling the weapons shipments now regularly crossing the Polish border may be of vital consequence to the Russian officers now desperate to keep their heads attached and their blood unpoisoned, but it represents yet another high-risk move for a Russian military that has seen most such gambles collapse in failure.