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Despite help from the U.S., Ukraine says it's outgunned by Russia

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. is supplying billions of dollars' worth of weapons to help Ukraine fight the Russian invasion. Ukraine still says it's outgunned, and Kyiv continues to plead for more. The U.S. is now planning to send long-range rockets, but it will take weeks before they can be used on the battlefield. We're joined this morning by NPR's Tom Bowman, who covers the Pentagon, and Greg Myre, who's reporting from the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. Good morning to you both.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hello, Rachel.

MARTIN: I'm going to start with you, Greg. Are the Ukrainians still at a military disadvantage here?

MYRE: Yes, they absolutely are. The Russians just have much more firepower in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, which has really been the focal point of the battle the past few weeks. The Russians have around 90% of the city, and they've just been taking it using very traditional and brutal tactics - nonstop, long-range artillery fire, just pulverizing the city. The Ukrainians have been putting up a good fight, but they say it's very difficult because they're taking this incoming Russian artillery around the clock and just can't match that firepower. I spoke about this with Ukraine's military spokesman, Oleksandr Motuzianyk.

OLEKSANDR MOTUZIANYK: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MYRE: So he's saying the Russians have many more men and firepower, particularly in the hot spots. First and foremost, we need long-range artillery, he says. Give us weapons. The rest will be done by our soldiers.

MARTIN: I mean, it sounds like at least some of that's coming, right, Tom? I mean, we noted the Pentagon is ready to send these long-range rocket systems?

BOWMAN: Yeah, that's right. Well, these long-range artillery systems - four of them will be coming, but not for probably a month or so. That's because training the Ukrainian soldiers on this more sophisticated system comes first. Now, Rachel, these rocket systems have pods that can shoot the rocket anywhere from 40 to 50 miles. And that allows Ukrainians to fire from a safe distance and go after Russian artillery and also rear areas, maybe hitting command-and-control locations, weapons and fuel depots. These rockets are very precise, satellite-guided and can travel more than twice as far as the hundred or so Howitzers the Ukrainians receive from the U.S. Now, the British are also training Ukrainians on long-range rocket systems. They'll provide three of them. And they're desperately needed, as we've heard, to push back the Russian advance. So you could see these rockets start to make a difference sometime this summer.

MARTIN: So, Greg, I remember talk about how Poland was well-positioned to give fighter jets to Ukraine because they were the Soviet-made jets that Ukrainian pilots already knew how to operate. Can Ukrainians actually use these weapons? I mean, we heard Tom nod to the fact that they do need training. I mean, how much?

MYRE: Yeah, well, the Ukrainians are very tech-savvy, and they've adapted very, very quickly to a number of new weapons systems. Tom just mentioned these Howitzers. They do require a lot of maintenance. With constant use, they can overheat. They need special oil to stay lubricated. And so some of this information and equipment may not be making it to the front lines in every case. Also, we are hearing some reports that some of the instructions for weapons are coming only in English, not in Ukrainian. Soldiers have to use Google Translate or even watch YouTube videos to understand exactly how to use and maintain them. We've heard problems with night-vision goggles. Ukrainians were using ordinary batteries when they need lithium batteries. So they're doing very well, but it's just very challenging to get all this information to all the front-line troops.

MARTIN: I mean, Tom, is the Pentagon taking all that into account when it thinks about training?

BOWMAN: Yeah, they are. You know, and the Pentagon is doing that by also speeding up the training in Germany in some of these systems like the rocket artillery I mentioned. It usually takes a number of months. So they've whittled down that to three or four weeks, selecting Ukrainians already familiar with artillery, for example. Same with the Howitzers - not only training them how to shoot but, again, maintaining them. So far, they've trained hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers on the Howitzers. And more, of course, will be needed. The challenge here, Rachel, unlike in places like Iraq or Afghanistan - you had U.S. - where you had U.S.-trained - they trained local forces, but they had U.S. trainers or contractors on the ground. You don't have that here. But again, there's an urgency to move as quickly as possible because Russian forces are making some headway in the east. Ukraine's losing a lot of soldiers every day.

MARTIN: Tom, the war's just over a hundred days old. I mean, are there conversations within the Pentagon about how this ends?

BOWMAN: You know, there are discussions privately. And the discussion now is mostly in articles and opinion pieces, some saying Ukraine must be willing to give up some of its territory in a settlement. And I asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about that recently and how it all ends. This is what he said.

LLOYD AUSTIN: I think this is Ukraine's fight. It's not the United States' fight. We are doing everything that we can to make sure that we are supporting them in their effort to defend their sovereign territory. The rest of the international community is doing the same.

BOWMAN: But listen; as this fight goes on for weeks and likely many more months, I think you may see pressure building for Ukraine to accept something short of what they hope for, which is at least preinvasion borders.

MARTIN: And, Greg, I'll give you the last word. What do Ukrainian officials say about the endgame?

MYRE: Well, Ukrainians really aren't ready to talk compromise right now. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he believes the war will end diplomatically, but he says an agreement will only come after there's been decisive fighting on the battlefield. He also says a deal will have to be approved by a referendum in Ukraine.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Myre reporting from Kyiv and NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks to you both.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.