Ben Morgan – Russian air offensive failing, NATO aid increasing and US aid impasse edging closer to resolution


The ground campaign may be static but last week the skies over Ukraine were busy. Likewise, in Europe and the US important discussions about the war were taking place.  On Wednesday, President Biden met with congressional leaders to negotiate a deal to deliver the White House’s ‘national security supplemental package,’ and a deal appears to be close. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer described the meeting as ‘productive’ and the release of another $61.4 billion of US aid to Ukraine may be imminent.  

The next day, Sergei Lavrov Russia’s Foreign Minister spoke strongly to the world re-stating Russia’s objectives, blaming the West for the war and threatening that the longer the war progresses the less reasonable a peace settlement will be.  This type of statement is an attempt to paint a picture of Russian confidence. By presenting this narrative, Russia hopes to win the information battle reinforcing public opinion in Russia and influencing voters and politicians in the countries supporting Ukraine. Bluster designed to create uncertainty about a Ukrainian victory and divide electorates in the democracies supporting Ukraine.  Regardless of Lavrov, the war continues and this week NATO countries committed more support as the skies over Ukraine were the focus of both sides’ military operations. 


European military aid 

“We need a warfighting transformation of NATO,” Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of NATO’s military committee told a meeting of European defence ministers in Brussels last week.  Admiral Bauer’s comments reflect a wider trend within the alliance.  The aid impasse in the US forces Europe to reassess its traditional security relationship with the US.  After World War Two, the US guaranteed European security allowing the war-ravaged continent to rebuild by reducing the economic strain of Cold War defence budgets. This trend continued and the US consistently contributes the ‘lion’s share’ of the cost of defending Europe. This policy strengthens the US’s international hegemony, maintains its military industrial complex and stabilises the European continent for profitable trade.  However, post-Trump this relationship is more tenuous as American isolationists seek to withdraw from these historic arrangements. Last week the possibility of Trump’s election increased and the world is coming to terms with the uncertainty that this would create.    

It appears that Europe is starting to grasp this situation and increase its support for Ukraine.  Last year, the European Union failed to deliver on a commitment to provide one million artillery shells by the end of 2023. Last week European Union Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton confirmed that the remainder would be delivered early this year and that European production is increasing and will soon match US production, about one million shells per annuum.  Breton also announced a 100-billion-euro, European Defence Investment Programme to increase European defence industry capacity.  

Additionally, even though about 70 billion euros of European aid are currently held up by Hungarian opposition, recent weeks have seen European nations making large bi-lateral commitments. The UK announcing a 2.5-billion-pound agreement. Estonia committed 1.2 billion euros and that it would directly contribute .25% of its GDP directly to Ukraine for the next four years.  Latvia pledged helicopters, drones and artillery. In February, French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to visit Ukraine and expected to commit more aid including long-range SCALP missiles.  

In the first column of 2024, we predicted that European and US aid would increase because these allies face a stark choice; either commit resources to Ukraine now, or face the threat of years of ongoing Russian aggression. Europe is mobilising and is it likely that the US will follow suit soon President Biden aiming to mitigate the risk of Trump being elected.

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The air war over Ukraine 

In the air over Ukraine, both sides continue to trade blows using aircraft, drones and missiles.  Russia’s bombing offensive continues with regular attacks across Ukraine. However, reports indicate that this winter’s campaign is less effective. Civilians are more prepared and resilient limiting the impact of Russian attacks.  Additionally, Ukraine has ‘hardened’ its power grid meaning that attacks are less damaging and power for lighting and heating is restored more quickly than during last winter’s campaign. 

Ukraine continues to strike back, its drones and missiles successfully attacking Russian infrastructure. On Thursday, Ukrainian drones hit a St Petersburg oil facility. A strike, Ukraine told Reuters is the start of a new campaign targeting this important part of Russia.  The area around St Petersburg has a large concentration of military and civilian infra-structure including oil industry sites. Later in the week, Ukraine struck another oil depot in Klintsy, directly north of Kyiv and about 70km from the Ukrainian border. Attacks demonstrating Ukraine’s technical capability and undermining the credibility of the Russian government.  The cancelation of Orthodox Epiphany services in Belgorod on Friday 19th is an example of the effectiveness of Ukraine’s bombing offensive.  Belgorod is a key Russian staging area for the war and has suffered regular Ukrainian air attacks that are now demonstrably affecting the day-to-day activities of the city. 

Russian tactics are evolving though, attacks using different combinations of weapon systems (drones, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles) and surprising approach routes to confuse air defence command and control. Ukraine’s air defence network is relatively successful preventing most Russian missiles from reaching their targets, particularly near major cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv.  This success is likely to be the reason Russian attacks are spreading across the country hitting smaller towns and cities.  Ukraine’s key weakness is its supply chain.  Missiles like Patriot are enormously effective and Russia does not have a missile system able to beat it, but supplies of this missile are running low so Ukraine will be carefully preserving their remaining stocks. 


Russia loses important command and control aircraft 

Ukraine’s biggest military successes this week are successful attacks on two Russian airborne command and control planes, a Beriev A-50 and an Ilyushin22. The planes have large radars that can monitor the battlefield and the airspace above it; identifying and tracking Ukrainian helicopters, aircraft, drones and missiles.  The planes are used to coordinate Russian responses, guiding intercepting fighters or prioritising which targets ground-based air defences should attack, and in what order.  Public source information indicates that the A-50’s radar has a range of 650km, allowing one aircraft to monitor the situation deep into Ukrainian airspace. Additionally, planes like this can be used to jam enemy missiles guidance or enemy radio communication or to gather electronic intelligence. 

Performing these important roles requires sophisticated and expensive electronics so these planes are costly and rare.  Before the war Russia was estimated to operate about nine Illuysion 22 and half a dozen of the larger and more capable Beriev A-50s.  Another Beriev A-50 was damaged in a drone attack on Machulishchy airbase, near Minsk in Belarus during February 2023.   Any Russian airborne command and control plane is a high priority target for Ukraine. 


‘Patriot Traps’ 

Successfully, attacking an airborne command and control plane is difficult because they have a high level of situational awareness or the ability to detect attacking missiles and fighters. Then they can take steps to defend themselves, for instance directing friendly fighter planes to defend them or using very sophisticated jamming capabilities to neutralise attackers.  Therefore, shooting them down is difficult and takes some planning.  In the milblogger community there is debate about how these attacks were executed, and the consensus is that the Ukrainians are using their long-range and advanced Patriot missile systems aggressively to snipe at important targets.  Ukraine creates tactical situations that draw key Russian aircraft close to the border, where they can be engaged by Patriot batteries brought forwards secretly. Moving Patriot batteries close to the frontline is a risky tactic because they are vulnerable to Russian attack but the tactic seems to be paying dividends. The Sukhoi 34s shot down two weeks ago near the Dnipro River may be another example of the ‘Patriot Trap’ tactic being used.  

The Beriev A-50 was shot down over the Sea of Azov, near Crimea. Two weeks ago, we discussed Ukraine’s activity around the Dnipro River, Kherson and Crimea stating the “we should expect to see Crimea remain a focus of Ukrainian operations.  Already this month, Ukraine has attacked air-defence radar and command positions in Crimea including at Saky airbase, Yevpatoria and Sevastopol.  A focus of operations that may suggest Ukraine is preparing for more and bigger attacks on the peninsular.” (See Ukraine – Lessons from 2023 and what to expect in 2024).  It is possible that the attacks on Russian land-based air defence systems in Crimea forced Russia to deploy its airborne command and control planes into this area, where one was successfully engaged by a Patriot. If this is the case it is likely that Crimea and Kherson will continue to be a focus for any air war of attrition.  Ukraine slowly destroying Russian air defence capabilities, making Crimea vulnerable and, drawing other assets into the area, where they can be destroyed allowing Ukraine to attack other targets. 



While the ground war slows down during winter both sides are focussed on air operations.  Bombing each other’s infrastructure. Ukraine using its superior technology and tactics to attrit key Russian assets.  This campaign is likely to be part of wider air war plans, building up to the arrival of F 16s in the middle of the year.  Reducing Russia’s air borne command and control capability and its air defence network in Kherson and Crimea will contribute to a more impactful introduction of the new fighters.  Keep watching the air battle.

Europe’s continued and increasing commitment to supporting Ukraine does not bode well for Russia.  American politics have proven to be easier for Russia to destabilise and influence, meaning that into the future US support may become tenuous forcing Europe to shoulder the burden of supporting Ukraine.  Europe the economic and military muscle to defeat Russia, if it is mobilised and directed effectively.  Steps that it looks like Europe is starting to take. 



Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack


    • Yep, this is why this nearly two year old war is over. Oh wait. Russia, forever failing – someone must have changed the meaning of “failure” and we here just haven’t got this update yet.

      • The same argument could be made for why the Russian invasion didn’t manage to capture Kyiv etc in the first few weeks and Russia (like Ukraine) now find themselves bogged down in a stalemate with no end in sight.

        • This is really simple. They were not looking to capture Kiev. Apparently, one needs hundreds of thousands of troops to capture a city of this size. Russia didn’t have that many troops at that time, let alone on the road to Kiev. Kiev was a ploy, a show, an attempt to get Ukraine around the negotiation table. It was a ploy that was working until we, led by beloved Boris, throttled this chance for a quick end to this conflict. The rest is tragic.

          • The Germans captured Belgrade in 1941 with 6 soldiers and a tourist.

            “Capture of Belgrade
            In April 1941, Klingenberg was with SS troops taking part in the invasion of Yugoslavia. Klingenberg disobeyed orders, and decided to reconnoiter Belgrade, with his units far ahead of the main German army. Finding a boat, he crossed the river, with the intention of ferrying a sizable force across; however, the boat sank, and he was left with just six men. Klingenberg then encountered some Yugoslav troops who had captured a drunken German tourist, and captured them.

            On the 11th April, after a number of firefights the six Germans, having sustained no casualties but capturing a number of Yugoslav soldiers, made it to the centre of Belgrade with the tourist and their prisoners. There they raised a German flag. The Mayor came out to meet them, after Klingenberg bluffed, telling him there was an incoming artillery barrage and an impending Luftwaffe attack. The Mayor and some garrison troops surrendered the city to them on 12 April.

            At this point a few more of Klingenberg’s men arrived the same way he had, and made a show of their presence, pretending that there was more of them than there were.[3] [4][5] The German army eventually arrived, dumbfounded at the situation, having made a complex plan to take the city that was no longer needed, and was expected to cost thousands of lives.[1][2][6] A few days later Yugoslavia surrendered.[1][2] Klingenberg was awarded the Knight’s Cross for capturing the city, in effect capturing Belgrade with just himself, his six soldiers and the tourist.”


            • If only the above circumstance was typical, but it isn’t, hence this point is meaningless. Doubly so given that Russia never set out to take Kiev…..

              • Unless you were sitting around the table with the Russian military command you have no idea what their plans are.

                Personally I find it difficult to believe that they would push on Kyiv without having any plan on taking it but then I wasn’t sitting around the table either.

              • Russian military brass, just like every other military, hold press engagements on the regular. Not to mention the fact that Putin expressed at the start, the purpose of the SMO. Even Trev here, below, manged to get a seat around the planning table also….

          • Total BS AO. You can delude yourself about Putin not wanting to take Kyiv. Fools rush in ….
            You are not convincing anybody.
            Remember the enormous armoured column heading for … Kyiv. Far more than a feint. What happened to this armoured column? It was routed by Ukrainian forces. Keep deluding yourself AO.

      • Putin’s Puskis failed in the 1st week.
        And catastrophicly so. No decapitation of the leadership and take over the country for poor ol’ Pooty. Everything else thereafter has been mere face saving. Nothing more.

        • Well, for a country that can’t fight off a cold, what on earth led you to believe that they were ever going to take over Ukraine, or at the very lest, usurp its leadership? Whose been getting into your antlers?

          Likewise, what is there to face save when we are talking about poor Pooty and the Puskis, whom, again, can’t fight off a cold. Nearly two years into this conflict and poor Pooty and the Puskis (name of a band if I ever herd of one) are giving your understanding of them, the cold shoulder!

  1. It’s only a matter of time before the Kerch bridge is bombed definitively, and the Southwestern Russian flank crumbles.

    Nato needs to be debating the options for occupying Moscow and installing a tutelary government as was done for Nazi Germany. Germany was a success, and Russia, absent its corruption and militant nationalist fantasists, could be one as well.

      • That’s a good point James. A crucial issue has been the lack of ongoing talks around nuclear disarmament between the powers.

        There is a lack of clear balance that is dangerous. Recent US missile tests have failed, the Minuteman are aged and need a next gen. Russia’s response to the US delivery and defense superiority a decade ago included hypersonic delivery that cannot be stopped. NATO expansion east is a massive escalation of first strike capability, Russian response is automated response.
        The temptation is to think first strike is possible.

        It pains me to credit Kissinger and Brezhnev but they fostered SALT during their era. Today’s elites have no such awareness or vision.

    • Alright, let’s debate those options.
      Option (1) Gandalf plus the ring of power
      Option (2) Professor Dumbledore plus Harry Potter
      Option (3) Some sort of Marvel / D.C. team up with The Avenger plus Superman and Batman.

  2. Russia has certainly taken a lot of big hits lately. Not mentioned was that Ukrainian grain exports are back in full swing using the Black Sea and other routes. At the same time Russian oil and gas exports and revenues have plummeted. The respective economic implications of this may mean Russia can not afford to drag out this war for years. Europe starting to step up to the plate re aid is good news whereas the election of Trump to the White House would be a boost to Russian hopes. Not withstanding the possibility of the latter plenty of commentators seem confident a deal for $US61.4 billion aid to Ukraine will pass pre US elections as there is a majority that want the deal done in the house. Currently many just do not like the way it is currently structured to be voted on and negotiations on how to get around this are ongoing. (Politicians are despicable people as demonstrated by dithering & silly games in the US costing lives of an ally. Speaker Johnson is the quintessential slimy politician)

  3. Russia is failing when measured against their original stated objectives. However they are occupying about 17% of Ukraine. Whether they manage to conquer the entire Donbass, depose the Kiev government etc, remains to be be seen. At the moment that is looking unlikely. IMO Russia longer term will struggle to hold what they are currently occupying especially if extra long range missiles become available to Ukraine.

    • Yes quite likely Sam. But NO amount of money is going to “win” this for Ukraine/Nato.
      Russia is too strong and always has been. The poor Ukies are getting dealt too by a much stronger
      country. This needs to stop and the orange man is the one to do it.

  4. The war met not be won on the battlefield. Instead there could be insurrection in Russia. It has already started in Bashkortostan bearing in mind that the Bashkirs have lost a disproportionate number of war dead compared with European Russians. And now there is a state of emergency in Novosibirsk over massive failures of heating and electricity. Putin is fighting a war to the detriment of his own people.

    • So PhuD, the USA is currently facing a constitutional crisis with lawfare against one presidential candidate, the other is senile. There were riots across the country over race issues. The blue states hate the red states and vice versa. Civil war is a distinct possibility, the national debt is u payable. There is no competitive industrial base, the infrastructure is aged and failing. And you, an academic, supposedly intelligent rant about Russia. Lord have mercy, save us from fools.

      • A risible comment NJ. Keep up the insults. You did not address Russia’s internal problems at all. Is this a tacit admission that Putin is indeed in trouble?
        Will the people of Russia vote for a president who has lowered their living standards by starting a war that is a personal vanity project? There is mounting opposition against the war. I listen to Russians who care about their country. There are many who are waiting for the despot Putin to fall.

        • Keep on waiting PhuD. Your face will be a picture of pain when your neocon mates do an Afghanistan act leaving your neoNazi mates to face the music. You should head over to Banderastan to help out Zhelensky, I hear he’s calling for cannon fodder, getting so short he’d even take you.


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