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Russia and Ukraine are receiving new weaponry that could shape the war

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ukrainians, Russians and independent analysts are all suggesting the war in Ukraine may escalate soon. One reason they think that is that both countries are receiving new weapons from their allies. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been covering this war all along. He's on the line. Greg, good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: When we talk about new weapons from allies, of course, we include NATO allies announcing a large weapons package for Ukraine. How is that likely to affect the war?

MYRE: Right. So the U.S. and NATO allies announced in Germany last week what appears to be the biggest single package since the war began. And the focus is really on two key areas. The first is more air defense, which Ukraine needs to guard against these persistent Russian missile strikes against the electricity grid. And the second part of this is really armored vehicles. The U.S. alone says it's going to send more than 500 of them. This would be crucial for Ukraine to carry out a ground offensive. And as we've heard, Ukraine has been pleading for tanks, says it needs a couple hundred. Britain agreed last week to send about a dozen or so. But the U.S. and Germany, who have the best tanks in the world, have not agreed to send them yet, though it's still under debate.

INSKEEP: Nonetheless, the Ukrainians are getting more weapons. The Russians seem to be gathering up weapons from North Korea. What's going on?

MYRE: Yeah, the White House says that Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent trains to North Korea in November. They were loaded with weapons and ammunition and then had to travel thousands of miles to be delivered to Russian fighters in Ukraine. Now, I spoke about this with Doug Lute. He's a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who also served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO. Now, he noted all the speculation that we've heard about Western support for Ukraine possibly waning over time, but that hasn't happened. He pointed that 50 countries took part in these talks in Germany last week, where they supported Ukraine and pledged all these additional weapons.

DOUGLAS LUTE: And at the same time, on whom is Putin relying for support? North Korea, OK, with a couple trains of ammunition - right? - and Iran, by way of sort of Home Depot-quality drones. I mean, the contrast here is really sharp.

MYRE: And Lute adds that this is just one of several trend lines currently pointing in Ukraine's favor.

INSKEEP: We should just note, though, more weapons, more ammunition could change the war, but could also just lead to a World War I kind of stalemate where millions of shells are fired across the lines. Is there anything on the horizon that would more certainly change the trajectory of the war?

MYRE: Well, without trying to see the future with crystal clear vision, we are hearing from Ukrainians and Russians, as you noted, that they're likely to launch a new offensive as we get toward the end of winter or early spring. And in particular, we're hearing that we should keep an eye on Crimea, the peninsula at the southern tip of Ukraine.

INSKEEP: What makes that such a vital place?

MYRE: Well, you know, the Russians seized Ukraine - Crimea back at the beginning of the war in 2014. They're well-entrenched there. But if Ukraine could cut off supply lines to Crimea, even if they don't attack Crimea directly, it would leave Russian forces very, very vulnerable.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks so much.

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

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre
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.