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Ukraine war latest: Zaluzhnyi confirms downing of Russian A-50 spy plane, IL-22 command aircraft

by Alexander Khrebet and The Kyiv Independent news desk January 15, 2024 11:08 PM 6 min read
Russian airborne early warning and control aircraft Beriev A-50U on March 10, 2017. (Sergey Lutsenko/Wikimedia Commons)
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Key developments on Jan. 15:

  • Zaluzhnyi reports Ukraine downed Russian A-50 plane and IL-22 command aircraft
  • Zelensky says Switzerland agrees to host Global Peace Summit
  • Canada shares draft plan for security assurances for Ukraine
  • Military intelligence reports North Korea supplying 122 mm, 152 mm shells to Russia
  • Russia reportedly mobilizes around 30,000 men monthly

The Ukrainian Air Force destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 spy aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne control center, Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi reported on Jan. 15.

The announcement comes a day after Ukrainian media outlets reported on the downing of a Russian A-50 plane over the Azov Sea, citing an unnamed source in the Ukrainian military.

“I thank the Air Force for a perfectly planned and executed operation in the Pryazovia region,” Zaluzhnyi said.

He didn't specify other details, but according to media reports, the A-50 plane was shot down after the taking off in the Kyrylivka area of Zaporizhzhia Oblast at 9:10 p.m. local time.

Russia's A-50 aircraft provides several critical functions for the ongoing war in Ukraine, such as detecting air defense systems, guided missiles, and coordinating targets for Russian fighter jets. Russia only possesses nine of these planes.

Ukraine has destroyed at least seven Russian aircraft since December, a landmark military achievement for the country and a significant blow to Russia. The sharp uptick in downing planes in recent weeks emerges as a bright spot for Ukraine amid a lack of progress on the battlefield.

The A-50 alone reportedly costs $330 million, and although estimates vary, Western sources say that Russia has fewer than 10 in its fleet. Belarusian partisans attacked another A-50 aircraft at an airbase near Minsk in February 2023, causing an unknown amount of damage.

Russia's supply of the Il-22 plane is not extensive either. During the short-lived rebellion of the late Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner mercenary group in June 2023, the mutineers reportedly shot down an Il-22 and six Russian military helicopters. At the time, the U.K. Defense Ministry said that Russia only had 12 such aircraft.

Both the A-50 and Il-22 are important Russian assets in the air. The A-50 provides several critical functions for the ongoing war in Ukraine, such as detecting air defense systems, guided missiles, and coordinating targets for Russian fighter jets.

It is unclear how the planes were brought down, but Ukraine received several pieces of advanced air defense systems in 2023, including Patriots from the U.S., which some analysts have reportedly alleged could have been responsible.

Security, peace for Ukraine

Canada has sent a draft of its plans for security assurances for Ukraine, said Natalka Cmoc, the Canadian ambassador to Ukraine, in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda published on Jan. 15.

Ukraine's efforts to gain security guarantees from its Western allies have picked up speed since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The Group of Seven (G7) members presented their long-term security commitments for Ukraine at the NATO summit in Vilnius last July, which entailed explicit and long-lasting obligations, as well as bolstering Ukraine's ability to resist Russian aggression.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bilateral security agreement on Jan. 12, which Zelensky characterized as “unprecedented.” It was the first of the G7 commitments to be finalized.

Cmoc said the document contained Canada's plan for “security assurances,” not “guarantees.”

Canada has already pledged long-term assistance to Ukraine, she said, adding that the document finalizes such a commitment on paper.

It is still a draft, and Cmoc said more detailed negotiations are upcoming in the following weeks.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky met his Swiss counterpart, Viola Amherd, the leaders of both chambers of the Swiss parliament, and other parliamentary leaders during his visit to Switzerland on Jan. 15.

Zelensky said the two leaders agreed to start preparations for holding the Global Peace Summit at the level of state leaders in Switzerland.

A part of the preparations for the summit was a meeting of international advisors on Ukraine's peace formula held in Davos on Jan. 14.

The 10 different parts of Ukraine’s peace plan have been discussed with 10 working groups at the national security advisors level. Switzerland, in particular, has been involved in working groups on nuclear safety, food security, and the war's end.

Military intelligence says North Korea supplying Russia with 122 mm, 152 mm shells

North Korea has supplied Russia with around one million rounds of ammunition, mainly made up of 122 mm and 152 mm artillery shells, Vadym Skibitskyi, a representative of Ukraine's Military Intelligence (HUR), said in an interview with RBC Ukraine on Jan. 15.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui arrived in Russia on Jan. 15 as the two countries foster closer relations, including in weapon supply cooperation.

The ammunition deliveries took place “throughout the fall,” according to Ukrainian intelligence. A South Korean lawmaker reported in November 2023 that North Korea had sent over a million artillery shells to Russia, citing what South Korean intelligence officials had told him.

“This is precisely the deficit that Moscow has in terms of projectiles, and it cannot cover at the expense of its own production,” Skibitskyi said.

Information about North Korea's supply of ballistic missiles to Ukraine is still being collected and assessed, Skibitskyi said.

The interview was referring to the news that Moscow has deployed North Korean-supplied ballistic missiles in attacks against Ukraine earlier in January.

Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin said on Jan. 11 that investigators have gathered preliminary evidence that Russia used a North Korean missile against the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Jan. 2.

“The results of preliminary scientific and technical examination confirm that the missile launched against central Kharkiv on Jan. 2 is a short-range missile produced in North Korea,” Kostin said.

South Korea also warned on Jan. 11 that its northern neighbor may also sell Russia new types of tactical guided missiles as the two countries strengthen their military cooperation.

South Korea: Ukraine ‘test site’ for North Korean nuclear missiles
UN delegates spoke out against Russia’s use of North Korean ballistic missiles in its war against Ukraine at a Security Council meeting on Jan. 10.

Russia mobilizes 30,000 soldiers monthly

Russia is mobilizing around 30,000 people every month, or around 1,000-1,100 recruits daily, Vadym Skibitsky, deputy chief of Ukraine's military intelligence agency, said in an interview with RBC-Ukraine published on Jan. 15.

The main factor motivating men to join the military is the pay, according to Skibitsky. He said that while the salary level may vary, those fighting in Ukraine make around $1,700-1,900 a month.

“Russian prisoners of war frankly admit that they joined the army because they are paid, citing mortgages, families, and so on. And this motive is currently the main one for those people who voluntarily go for mobilization, sign contracts, and fight,” Skibitsky said.

Skibitsky said that those driven to join the army for financial reasons are primarily from Russia’s regions where salaries are low and there are higher levels of unemployment.

As of early January, more than 460,000 Russian soldiers are deployed across occupied Ukrainian territories, according to HUR estimates.

Skibitsky noted that Russia's mobilization efforts are less aggressive than in October-December 2022, but that it has “all the conditions” to increase it “at any time.” National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksii Danilov warned that Russia may begin another mass mobilization after the 2024 Russian presidential election on March 17.

“To create a powerful strategic reserve, they really need to mobilize — that's for sure. Will Putin dare to do this? Not before the election, probably not. And then we'll see. It is too early to talk about this now,” Skibitsky said.

The U.K. Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Jan. 15 that a claim by Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s deputy chair of the security council, that 500,000 people had joined the Russian Armed Forces in 2020 was “highly likely substantially inflated.”

The report also said that it is “highly likely that Russian military recruitment to sustain the war has disproportionately drawn from impoverished and rural regional communities."

Ukrainians in Russia fear mobilization: ‘If conscripted, I will shoot Russians and surrender’
Editor’s note: The names of the people interviewed by the Kyiv Independent for this story have been changed to protect their identity as they have shared sensitive information that could place them and their families in danger. When Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced partial mobilization,…
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