Ukraine update: Russian ambassador calls for genocide as U.S. buys grain to stave off food crisis

Ukraine update: Russian ambassador calls for genocide as U.S. buys grain to stave off food crisis

Ukraine’s position as one of the largest providers of exported grain has generated fears from the outset that Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion would lead to food shortages in countries around the world. Those fears haven’t been helped by scenes of fields in the east of Ukraine pitted by thousands of artillery strikes, or news of farmers in the north dying after striking mines left behind by withdrawing Russian forces.

Despite all this, and the distraction of towing away captured Russian military hardware, Ukrainian farmers have continued to bring in a crop … only to have it stolen away in many cases. Just this week, two ships full of misappropriated Ukrainian grain reportedly went to Russian puppet state Syria. Ukrainian grain continues to flow out of Ukraine both on Russian ships and by rail, as Russia conducts its policies of looting on an industrial scale.

However, despite this, and despite attacks by Russia on Ukrainian ports, the Black Sea Grain Initiative that was signed back on July 22 is having an effect. The first ship left Odesa on August 1, and as of this week 27 ships of Ukrainian grain have reached the joint inspection team in Turkish waters.

This week, the United States announced that it will obtain 150,000 tons of Ukrainian grain in a $68 million purchase by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The food will go to the U.N. World Food Program, and from there will likely be targeted to countries on the Horn of Africa, where 22 million people are currently experiencing “food instability” in part because of drought related to the man-made climate crisis. This is just a portion of the $4.8B that the U.S. has sent to the World Food Program this year, and expectations are that this purchase will not the last.

That 150,000 tons isn’t even 1% of the grain that Ukraine exported in the year before the Russian invasion, and with the total grain exported expected to be down by half this year, there is still a danger of severe food shortages in areas that are dependent on this grain. 

But Russia has a solution to that hunger crisis … fewer Ukrainians. As Russian missiles continued to strike residential areas of Ukrainian cities on Friday night, a prominent Russian official made clear that the wholesale slaughter of civilians in this war was a feature, not a bug.

Russian officials tweets in favor of Ukrainian genocide

The tweet came in response to a post from Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy thanking the United States for an aid package that President Joe Biden announced on Friday. The central feature of that package is expected to be additional ammunition for the weapon systems that have been sent so far. However, it will also expected to include long duration ScanEagle drones, and 105mm mortars for use in close range combat. This package brings the total of U.S. aid to Ukraine since the invasion began to $10.6 billion.

The call for genocide from Ambassador Ulyanov is especially striking because of his position. Ulyanov is the permanent ambassador for Russia to a number of international organizations and is on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. When it comes to things like working with the IAEA for possible inspections of the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ulyanov is part of the group that makes the decision about whether and how such inspections take place.

In case you’re concerned, no, Ulyanov has not been suspended from Twitter. Instead he’s still on there, defending his statement and saying that attempts to brand his post as a call for genocide are “outrageous,” “dirty methods,” and a “sneaky interpretation.”

European Aid to Ukraine In Decline

Even as the U.S. announces a new plan for sending more equipment and ammo to Ukraine, there’s a concern that such announcements seem to be disappearing. The Ukraine Support Tracker updated by the Kiel Institute, indicates that overall European contributions to Ukraine have been on a more or less steady decline since April, and that in recent weeks the support has all but “dried up.”

The flow of new international support for Ukraine has dried up in July. No large EU country like Germany, France or Italy, has made significant new pledges. However, the gap between committed and disbursed aid has narrowed.

That last sentence may be the key to the first, as well as the reason that you’re not seeing an increase in Ukrainian calls for additional contributions. Many of the systems that were being sent to Ukraine took some time to prepare and dispatch. Some were older systems in need of servicing. Some were new systems were countries involved wanted to strip out some of their own communications or sensor tech. Some were complex systems that required Ukrainian troops to travel outside their country for training. Some simply took a long time because the distance between approving a system and getting it onto a train can sometimes be longer than, say, the distance from Berlin to Lviv.

Some of this may be just clearing the bottlenecks in both donor countries and at the Ukrainian border. Then there are big decisions to be made about how and where to deploy this equipment. When something like HIMARS or other long-range MLRS and artillery systems comes in, there’s little doubt that Ukraine wants to get it close enough to the front line to be effective. However, for example, Ukraine has now been sent large number of at least six different armored troop transports. Even where they are similar, like U.S. M113 to mostly similar to M113AS4 APCs from Australia and to the M113-dervived YPR-765 from the Netherlands, there are issues. All of these systems are part of the same “family,” but they have different electronics, different weaponry, even different engines. At the same time, Ukraine is facing questions like how best to integrate two dozen M109A3GN SPGs from Norway with dozens more Caesar SPGs from France and a handful of Dutch Panzerhaubitze 2000NL. Those guns can all fire the same shells, but that’s about it when it comes to shared parts. 

As kos talked about way back at the beginning of the war, there was always a danger of loving Ukraine to death by drowning it in a flood of incompatible systems that generate logistical chains and training demands so high that they more than offset any gain. It took a few weeks of the invasion before both U.S. and Europe became convinced that Ukraine was going to be around long enough to justify sending new and unfamiliar systems, but once that hurdle was crossed … boy, did it get crossed. The demands on Ukraine right now in terms of integrating what’s been sent in a way that makes for an effective fighting force is extremely high, and there are still literally thousands of Ukrainian forces outside Ukraine at the moment being trained on the use of everything from guns to planes. Logistics is not easy, and the last thing Ukraine needs is for nations to start piling up boxes of still more complex and at least partially incompatible systems.

The biggest thing that Ukraine needs at the moment is probably the simplest: Ammunition. If Russia is pumping out artillery shells at World War II levels, which they are, Ukraine needs to be able to respond. Maybe not in the same numbers, but appropriately and effectively. Russia has millions of shells stockpiled, and they are not afraid to burn them.

The U.S. and the rest of NATO have fewer, because NATO never had an artillery-based strategy. But until Ukraine is able to stop Russia from using it’s One Strategy of “hit it with artillery until it’s rubble, then advance across the rubble,” Ukraine has to be able to go toe-to-toe. Keeping the shells moving is probably the critical task at the moment.

Still, there are some countries that are getting seriously called out on their failures, both in terms of promises made and promises kept. For example, this Oryx article on Belgium is scathing. 

While many NATO member states have duly answered Ukraine’s call to supply it with heavy weaponry, for other countries President Zelensky’s plight has offered a stark realization what decades of defense cuts have come to. For no country is this true more than for Belgium, which in March 2022 had to come to the painful conclusion that it had no heavy weaponry to send from its own stocks. This staggering feat is the result of years of chronic underfunding that had eroded the Belgian Army to the point it could not even pay to operate man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) any longer, leaving an entire army without any form of ground-based air defenses. 

Right now, the flow of systems and ammunition into Ukraine is not a crisis. But if the failure to provide more support continues into September, there could definitely be a crisis ahead.

The Mystery Weapon of Crimea

On Friday night, Ukraine seemed to overfly multiple areas of Crimea with drones, triggering a response from air defense guns and missiles. That included areas as far south as Sevastopol, and as far east as the bridge at Kerch. The fact that these appeared to be single drones, and that there was no evidence any of them tried to fire a missile or drop any explosives, would suggest these flights were more in the nature of “feeling out” Russian defenses for possible action in the near future.

However, something very much has been striking targets—from air bases to electrical stations—deep in Crimea, and hundreds of kilometers from known Ukrainian firing positions. Russia has thrown up check points in Crimea and has been conducting frantic searches under the assumption that partisans may be behind some of these explosions, like the one that took out a ammunition depot south of Dzhankoi, but it’s clear that something else is behind the strikes that hit air bases farther south near Simferopol.

Recent video has indicated that Ukraine already has some of the longer range high precision Excalibur shells for the M777 howitzer.

#Ukraine: Possibly the first video of the American M982 Excalibur in action: as claimed, guided shells fired from a M777A2 howitzer were used in #Kherson Oblast. We can see two entrenched Russian Kamaz-63501AT artillery trucks and a dugout being destroyed with precise fire.

— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) August 18, 2022

But while those may well have been responsible for some of the strikes on bridges and other targets in the Kherson region, they have a limit of around 70km. That’s not nearly enough to account for all those planes left in wreckage in central Crimea. And while every explosion in Ukraine these days seems to bring a shout of “It’s HIMARS O’clock!” the truth is that standard HIMARS rockets can’t come anywhere close to the necessary range.

Unless, that is, those standard rockets have been replaced by something else.

I have now verified the geolocation done by @brt30495 of this video that appears to show an ATACMS loaded HIMARS in Ukraine. It is confirmed to be in Ukraine. I cropped the video and will not be sharing the location for OPSEC purposes.

— Oliver Alexander (@OAlexanderDK) August 19, 2022

That flat plate on the end of the HIMARS system in the video is a little suspicious, because the U.S. has covers for ATACMS that mimic the standard “pod” of six rockets in order to make it hard for enemies to mark these longer-range threats.

ATACMS pods have a façade that is designed to mimic the six-pack pods specifically for OPSEC to make them harder to differentiate.

— Evan Stenger (@TheMalcore) August 19, 2022

There are also claims that Ukraine is using HIMARS with some as yet unannounced rockets that have ranges up to 210km. None of this is clear. But then, clearing up what is going on in Crimea is not in the Ukrainian military’s best interest. Right now, it’s a mystery. And that mystery is creating just the meme they want.

Popular meme acknowledging range of whatever is hitting Crimea

Whatever it is, it’s certainly having the desire effect.

NEW: Western intelligence official just told reporters attack on Saky airfield in Crimea by Ukraine ‘put more than half of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet naval aviation combat jets out of use. The Russian system is busy seeking to allocate blame for the debacle.’

— Emma Burrows (@EJ_Burrows) August 19, 2022

Russia finally gets that long-delayed parade in Kyiv

Russians finally have their military parade in downtown Kyiv. Yet, there’s a catch…

— Oleksiy Sorokin (@mrsorokaa) August 20, 2022

Saturday, Aug 20, 2022 · 6:34:24 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

This is another ammunition depot going up at Chornobaivka, just west of Kherson. You may remember this location because just a few weeks ago, it was the site where Ukraine took out a major Russian command center. Or you may remember it as the site of the Kherson International Airport, where Russia had to remove surviving helicopters after Ukraine executed a successful strike.

So clearly this was the perfect place to store ammo.

Chornobaevka, near Kherson. Now.#Kherson #Ukraine

— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) August 20, 2022

Saturday, Aug 20, 2022 · 6:38:37 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

No. This is not the launch of a spaceship. This is another russian tank reaching the finish line. Shot by #UAarmy

— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) August 20, 2022

Saturday, Aug 20, 2022 · 2:46:29 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin just published the official list of what’s in this aid package.

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