Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that Ukraine does not have enough materiel to contest the battlefield initiative. Zelensky stated during an interview aired on April 6 that Ukrainian forces currently do not have enough ammunition to initiate and sustain future counteroffensive operations and reiterated that Ukrainian forces are currently using drones to partially compensate for artillery ammunition shortages across the theater.

Zelensky stressed that Ukraine must conduct countermeasures to deprive Russian forces of the ability to prepare and conduct significant offensive efforts and not only rely on defensive operations. Zelensky stated that striking Russian force concentrations is one such countermeasure but that Ukrainian forces lack long-range weapons to strike Russian force concentrations and other targets necessary to undermine Russian operations.

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Senior Ukrainian officials have long called for timely and sustained Western military assistance that would enable Ukraine to conduct both defensive and counteroffensive operations when the timing is optimal for Ukraine to undertake such efforts, as opposed to having materiel shortages constrain Ukraine’s ability to plan and execute operations and losing opportunities to exploit Russian weaknesses.

Zelensky recently stated that delays in security assistance forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia, and Ukrainian officials have warned that Ukraine cannot plan either a successful counteroffensive or defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive.

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ISW continues to assess that shortages in Western military assistance have forced Ukrainian forces to husband materiel, and

Zelensky’s statement suggests that Ukrainian forces are now having to make difficult decisions about prioritizing certain aspects of its defense over constraining Russian military capabilities or preparing for counteroffensive operations.

The New York Times similarly reported on April 5 that Ukrainian forces are close to running out of some types of munitions and that Ukrainian officials have observed a five-to-one Russian artillery advantage throughout the frontline. Ukrainian soldiers reportedly told the New York Times that Ukrainian forces currently have enough cluster munitions that are effective at repelling Russian infantry assaults but are low on high-explosive artillery shells needed to repel mechanized assaults.

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Zelensky stressed that additional Western security assistance is necessary for Ukrainian forces to effectively defend Ukraine’s airspace against the intensified Russian strike campaign and increased Russian aviation operations along the frontline. Zelensky stated that Ukraine will need an additional 25 Patriot air defense systems, likely meaning launchers, to extend full air defense coverage to all of Ukraine’s territory.

Zelensky warned that if Russian forces sustain the tempo of their current missile and drone strikes then Ukraine will likely lack the air defense missile stocks needed to protect Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure.

Russian forces appear to be exploiting Ukraine’s already degraded air defense umbrella in an attempt to collapse Ukraine’s energy grid, likely in an effort to constrain Ukraine’s long-term defense industrial capacity.

Russian missile and drone strikes have consistently pressured Ukraine’s limited air defense and have forced Ukraine to make tough decisions about providing air defense coverage between large population centers in the rear and active areas of the frontline.

Sparse and inconsistent air defense coverage along the front has likely facilitated Russia’s intensification of guided and unguided glide bomb strikes, which Russian forces used to tactical effect in their seizure of Avdiivka in mid-February 2024.

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Zelensky stated that the previous downing of Russian aircraft has temporarily constrained glide bomb strikes and that Russian forces are now conducting glide bomb strikes from further away, increasing the need for long-range air defense systems.

Zelensky cautioned that the arrival of all promised F-16 fighter jets from Ukraine’s Western partners in 2024 will provide Ukraine with only 10 percent of the fighter aircraft Ukraine would need to completely defeat Russian aviation and restore Ukraine’s ability to operate effectively in the air domain.

Zelensky stated that Ukraine will need a combination of air defense systems and fighter aircraft to combat the Russian aviation threat, namely, to prevent the Russian use of KAB guided glide bombs. He also added that Ukraine is currently developing new weapons to defend against Russian KAB guided glide bombs as part of this combined air defense.

The further degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella would not only limit Ukraine’s ability to protect critical elements of its war effort in the rear but would also likely afford Russian aviation prolonged secure operation along the frontline. Such security would allow Russian forces to significantly increase glide bomb strikes at scale and possibly even allow Russian forces to conduct routine large-scale aviation operations against near rear Ukrainian logistics and cities to devastating effect.

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Western security assistance that allows Ukraine to establish a robust combined air defense system will enable Ukraine to protect its cities while providing air defense to potentially operationally significant defensive and counteroffensive operations.

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