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Ukraine war Update – May 23
Military and hard security developments
- Over the last 24 hours Russian forces have stepped up the intensity of attacks in multiple directions across the Donbas frontline, achieving some notable progress. Russian forces staged numerous attacks north and west of Popasna as they continue attempting to make progress along the key highways leading to Bakhmut in the west and Lysychansk in the north. The Ukrainians maintain that these have been largely unsuccessful, though Luhansk People’s Militia forces have claimed to have taken the villages of Zolote and Hirske, northeast of Popasna. If confirmed the taking of these villages would mark notable progress given their position along the Ukrainians’ pre-invasion defensive line and would apply additional pressure on the Severodonetsk salient further north.
- This morning, 20 May, Russian forces have furthermore renewed offensives in the direction of Vasylivka and Volodymyrivka to the northwest of Popasna, representing the deepest part of the building encirclement of the Severodonetsk salient. If Russian forces can maintain this momentum, it would indicate they have made a clear breakthrough into the Ukrainian lines, which could allow them to ultimately begin closing up the encirclement of Severdonetsk, particularly if renewed efforts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river to the north succeed in providing Russian forces with a foothold across the river. The Ukrainian General Staff has furthermore claimed that hundreds of Russian troops that had been withdrawn from the Kharkiv axis have been redeployed to the west of Donetsk city, underlining the reorientation of focus to the east, where the emerging breakthrough around Popasna will likely provide the most opportunities for further Russian advantages around the pre-invasion line of contact.
- In the Izyum direction, Russian forces have similarly launched numerous attacks southwest of the salient. The Ukrainian General Staff have claimed that Russian forces took heavy casualties during a failed assault on Velyka Komyshuvakha, southwest of the town – an odd choice of target considering the town lies due west of the Izyum salient and away from the concentration of effort around Severodonetsk and Slovyansk. Nevertheless, such attacks underline Russian forces continued determination to launch offensive operations from the Izyum salient, with the Ukrainian General Staff anticipating a resumption of more intensive assaults against Slovyansk, despite the loss of offensive capabilities in recent weeks.
- Long-range strikes and cross-border shelling continued this morning, with two explosions reported in the town of Malyn in Zhytomyr oblast, with no casualties. Kyiv oblast air defences also reportedly intercepted a Russian missile to the south of the capital city. Both incidents underline the enduring threat of long-range strikes to Northern and Western Ukraine, which seems to be increasing this week after a period of relative calm and infrequent attacks in contrast to earlier in the conflict.
- Ukraine’s Operational Command South accused Russian forces on 19 May of deliberately using their air defences to shoot down their own missiles to give the impression that Ukrainian forces are firing on civilians in the occupied region of Kherson. The accusations came just hours after the Russian National Defence Control Centre alleged that Ukrainian forces are preparing their own “provocations” in Sumy oblast. Russia accuses Ukrainian forces of readying “wandering mortar” attacks in the north-eastern town of Seredyna-Buda, whereby they will fire across the border into Russian territory from inside residential buildings in order to provoke counter-battery fire that subsequently strikes civilian homes. Such accusations on both sides underline the enduring threat to civilian life across the full breadth of the frontline, with further misinformation spread over the last 24 hours around the use of human shields.
- In the Western Ukrainian city of Kamyanets-Podilskyi in Khmelnytskyi oblast, numerous reports circulated yesterday that alleged Ukrainian forces have established bases and even firing positions inside a regional children’s tuberculosis sanatorium as well as the No.2 boarding school in the city. The mayor, Mykhailo Positko, has stated this is misinformation being spread by Russian forces, and given the location of the city is far from any frontline, it remains highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces would have done so in any case. However, as with the allegations of provocations in Seredyna-Buda and false-flag operations in Kherson above, the reports could indicate a laying of the groundwork to justify the targeting of civilian areas elsewhere along the frontline in the coming days and weeks. The clear uptick in accusations that Ukrainian forces are using human shields over the last 48 hours could be designed to obfuscate Russia’s own use of human shields and justify their intentions to target civilian areas more overtly moving forward.
- In the occupied region of Kherson, the Russian-installed governor, Volodymyr Saldo, has stated that the region will become a “subject of the Russian Federation”, stating that a budget for the civil-military administration has already been agreed. He maintained that Kherson would become part of Russia “soon” following reports and indications that a referendum on declaring a Kherson People’s Republic had been in preparation. Like other occupied regions, including Mariupol, it now appears more likely that an overt annexation will occur at some point. Nevertheless, Ukrainian resistance to the occupation continues, with reports of Ukrainian partisans successfully blowing up a Russian armoured train in the town of Melitopol, alongside the destruction of railway tracks and fuel tanks.
- Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya dismissed UN calls for the Russian Navy to end the blockade of the Northern Black Sea. Nebenzya blamed Western sanctions, rather than the blockade on Ukrainian grain exports, as the main driver of rising food prices and worsening global food insecurity. UN-led diplomatic efforts to negotiate the shipment of grain from Ukrainian ports, including Odesa, have proven abortive so far as Russia maintains a tight grip on the Black Sea coast despite recent setbacks and the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, the Moskva.
- According to Reuters, the US government are currently deciding how and when to provide the Ukrainians with advanced anti-ship missiles designed to nullify the Russian blockade. Unnamed US officials stated the Harpoon and Naval Strike Missile are being considered for transfer either directly or via a European ally. Such weapons systems, particularly the Harpoon, would provide Ukraine with a highly potent capability that would make Russian surface warships extremely vulnerable, and may have a deterrent effect that forces the Russian fleet to withdraw its largest vessels and thus ease the blockade.
- However, the Harpoon is a largely sea-based missile system, which poses a number of logistical challenges for their deployment by Ukrainian forces from land – the US is reportedly considering stripping a Harpoon launcher from a warship to supply to the Ukrainians on land. The prospect of supplying highly potent anti-ship missiles to Ukraine would represent another escalation flashpoint in the conflict, which in the event of the destruction of further Black Sea Fleet platforms would significantly increase the risk of Russian retaliation against a NATO warship. However, until such weapons are supplied, the Russian blockade will continue to disrupt Ukrainian food exports, driving up global food prices.
This morning’s attacks west of Popasna in the Donbas represent the clearest opportunity in recent weeks for Russian forces to breakthrough the Ukrainian lines and make tangible progress towards closing up the encirclement of the Severodonetsk salient. As such, this will be the key direction to watch in the coming days that will likely determine the timeframe for the key Russian operational objective of “liberating” the entirety of Luhansk oblast. Nevertheless, despite this new opportunity, Russian forces are continuing to face manpower shortages amid stalling fronts and repeated failures to make progress elsewhere, leading to increasing indications that Russia is conducting covert mobilisation both inside Russia and the occupied territories. Russian OSINT sources have reported multiple arson attacks between 5-18 May against military commissariats in Moscow oblast, as well as in Omsk, Volgograd, Ryazan, and Khanty-Mansi in Siberia. The Ukrainian General Staff have also claimed around 12 similar attacks against commissariats have occurred in the last five weeks. These are likely reflections of resistance to covert mobilisation efforts and we have seen a similar, but more violent, response in the Donbas that suggests mounting opposition to efforts to plug manpower gaps. The adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, has claimed that the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin has ordered elements of the police and auxiliary forces that had been stationed in the city to redeploy elsewhere in Donetsk oblast to respond to “riots” caused by an “internal struggle of political clans”. While it remains unclear what the causes of these riots and internal struggles are – with mounting infighting and competition between the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Militias a possible factor – covert mobilisation of the local population is likely the major factor given other indicators of anti-conscription protests identified in recent weeks. The continuation or potential escalation of arson attacks and protests, particularly those inside Russia, will thus be a key trend to watch in the coming weeks that could influence Moscow’s strategy for plugging manpower gaps and its increasing reliance on military ‘contractors’ as a thinly veiled substitution for conscripts.
- Around Izyum the Ukrainian General Staff reported largely unsuccessful Russian attacks on the town of Dovhenke, 30 kilometres south of Izyum. The settlement has remained a key target for Russian forces in recent weeks, which would likely provide Russia with room to manoeuvre to begin offensive operations along the key M-03 highway leading to Slovyansk, but progress has been very limited so far. If the Russians take the town in the coming days and weeks, it may be an indicator that renewed attacks along the M-03 will follow amid a wider push towards Slovyansk. In this respect, Russian forces have made some notable progress around the town of Lyman, to the northeast of Slovyansk, and appear to be surrounding the town on three sides. At present it appears that Russian forces are focusing on securing their flanks around the town, including by pushing into the village of Yarova to the north, before likely launching an assault on the town in the coming days. This would then open up opportunities for Russian forces to cross the Siverskyi Donets River and gain a foothold north of Slovyansk.
- North of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces have continued to push the Russians back in various areas, with the General Staff claiming Ukraine has taken control of Dementievka, 10 kilometres south of the Russian border, while fighting rages in Ternova, less than 5 kilometres from the border. Ukrainian forces appear to have crossed the Siverskyi Donets River close to the Russian border in the direction of Vovchansk, a key node in the Russian ground lines of communication connecting Belgorod to Izyum. However, it remains unclear whether Ukrainian forces have maintained a foothold on the eastern bank of the river as Russian forces concentrate on resisting further Ukrainian advances in this direction.
- On 18 May, Russian Deputy Prime Minister for Defence and the Space Industry Yury Borisov confirmed to a conference that Russian forces are utilising new generation laser weapons systems, including in Ukraine. Not much is known publicly about Russia’s laser weapons programmes, but Borisov has claimed that the system known as Peresvet is now widely deployed, which claims to be able to blind satellites in orbit. While the capability of such strategic weapons is largely untested and unknown, Borisov has also claimed that more tactical laser systems, including the Zadira system, have been successfully used in Ukraine to burn up and blind drones. The announcement came shortly after the widely celebrated first deployment of the BMPT “Terminator” urban warfare vehicle in Severodonetsk.
- The timing of these announcements following weeks of major setbacks in the Donbas is likely aimed at distracting critics and providing pro-war commentators with hope for new breakthroughs in the coming weeks. President Zelensky has however mocked the announcements by comparing them to Nazi Germany’s Wunderwaffen, which had been posited as war-winning weapons. Given the very limited number of BMPTs available to Russian forces and the largely untested capability of laser weapons, it does appear that greater emphasis on Russian technological prowess is aimed at mitigating or at least diverting attention away from the operational and tactical failures so far.
- Ukrainian Economy Minister Yullia Svyrydenko confirmed on 18 May that Poland will send 25,000 tons of gasoline to Ukraine, with delivery expected next week. The announcement underlines the likely scale of the fuel shortages currently affecting both civilian and military operations across the country, particularly as Russian long-range strikes continue to target fuel depots in Eastern Ukraine. The deliveries will alleviate some of these concerns in the short term, but the announcement highlights one of the unknowns around the current state of Ukrainian forces and whether chronic fuel shortages will continue to hamper military operations.
- Enduring domestic Russian criticism over the pace of offensive operations in the Donbas and questions over the overall competence of Russian forces has reportedly led to a new round of purges of top commanders. According to UK Defence Intelligence, Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel, the commander of the 1st Guards Tank Army (GTA), has been suspended over his failure to capture Kharkiv, north of which Ukrainian forces are continuing to push the Russians back. Similarly, Vice Admiral Igor Osipov has reportedly been relieved of his command of the Black Sea Fleet following the sinking of the Moskva last month. Such purges reflect the enduring culture of scape-goating amid the operational failures of Russian forces, which given the extremely rigid command and control structure of the Russian military will continue to detrimentally impact the lack of initiative on the ground as decision-making carries increased risks of personal culpability.
- On 18 May, the US formally reopened its embassy in Kyiv following the withdrawal from the city three months ago prior to the invasion. The move is the latest in a line of other countries that have reopened their Kyiv embassies and reflects the reduction in threat to the capital city compared to earlier in the war. Nevertheless, long-range strikes will remain an enduring threat for the duration of the conflict, including in the vicinity of Western embassies. In a wider development, President Zelensky has submitted a draft bill to the Rada requesting nationwide martial law be extended for 90 days after 24 May. It is likely to be approved and as such existing restrictions will continue.
- The Russian Ministry of Defence now claims that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the Azovstal works since 16 May. However, Russian forces have continued shelling some areas of the plant overnight indicating that some remnant Ukrainian force remain and have not yet surrendered. According to the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin the pockets of resistance includes high-ranking Ukrainian commanders. Additionally, in a telling development, Pushilin has claimed that pro-Russian forces intend to destroy the Azovstal works and rebuild Mariupol into a resort city. If this turns out to the be case, the move would deprive Mariupol of its strategic and economic importance as a major industrial centre, which arguably made it such a prize in the first place. With DNR officials acknowledging that the Russian attack has resulted in the destruction of 60% of the city’s structures to the extent that they cannot be rebuilt, the announcement is a clear indication of the level of destruction and inability or unwillingness of Russian authorities to rebuild.
- In a related development, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin stated on 18 May that Moscow intends to integrate the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, into the Russian grid which will sell electricity to Ukraine. The statement is perhaps the clearest yet from a Russian official that Moscow intends an independent Ukraine to exist in some form after the war, over which Russia will once again attempt to gain leverage and control over its energy market. Russian forces have in recent weeks begun digging in and building concrete defences across the southern axes, including around the nuclear plant situated in the town of Enerhodar. Reports of preparations for a referendum in the town reinforce the assessment that Russia intends to hold the area indefinitely.
In an interview with Dutch newspaper NRC on 18 May, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the four key goals that he considers would constitute a victory over Russia: the liberation of the occupied territories, including the Donbas and importantly Crimea; reparations from Russia; the trial of Russian war criminals; and European integration for Ukraine. While a compromise deal far short of these demands is likely if Kyiv wants the war to end at some point, given Russia’s obvious unwillingness to withdraw from Ukraine, Kuleba’s comments reflect a hardening of the Ukrainian position as peace negotiations all but stall. Similarly, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Presidential Administration and a member of Ukraine’s negotiating team, said on 19 May “do not offer us a ceasefire – it is impossible without the total withdrawal of Russian troops”. He also stated that Ukraine is not interested in a new Minsk and a return to war several years later, referring to the previous Minsk I and Minsk II peace processes that aimed, but ultimately failed, to end the 2014-2015 Donbas conflict. Both Kyiv and Moscow are clearly determined to continue fighting for the foreseeable future, and as such progress on peace negotiations is highly unlikely, particularly as pressure and expectations begin to build in Kyiv for Ukrainian forces to eventually go on the strategic offensive later this year. Indeed, CNN quoted unnamed NATO officials on 18 May as stating that the debate amongst NATO commanders and leaders has in recent weeks shifted to whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas. Unnamed NATO officials claimed that they believed this was possible, but despite Western weapons shipments and Russian operational setbacks, this would not be accomplished anytime soon. As Kyiv’s position on reclaiming the Donbas and Crimea hardens, it is clear that short of a compromise further down the line or a major breakthrough for either side on the battlefield, the war is set to protract well into the future as Kyiv’s war goals shift from the defence and national survival towards the offence and reclaiming all lost territories.
*Given that the Russian Battlegroups have suffered large losses in men and equipment, some down by at least a third, Russia has deployed around 9 T-72 BMPT, the urban fighting version of the T-72 of which only 20 have been built. T-72 BMPT (Ob’yekt 199) – Heavy convoy and close tank support vehicle (Boyevaya Mashina Podderzhki Tankov). All new turret armed with 2 30 mm 2A42 autocannons (500 rounds), 1 boxed 9M133 Kornet ATGM launcher on left-hand-side of weapons mount (4 rounds), AGS-17/30 30 mm grenade launchers and a 7.62 mm PKT MG (2,000 rounds). It be also fitted with either 2 7.62 mm PKT MGs or 30 mm AGS-17/30 as bow weapons and a 902A “Tucha” 81 mm smoke grenade launcher array. Features new fire control system with thermal sights and a ballistic computer and 3rd generation “Relikt” explosive reactive armour and “Kaktus” modular armour. It is equipped with Agat-MR passive and thermal night vision devices, an NBC detection and protection system, a crosswind sensor and parts of the KAZ “Shtora” active protection system. The vehicle can be fitted with either the KMT-8 or the EMT mine clearing system. It also has the engine from T-90A.
*The rotation of troops continues with some Brigades mixing paratroops with Wagner mercenaries given the continued losses, caused by death and stress; expect more conscripts to be deployed.
*The ground drying up has been a benefit to both Ukraine and Russia to increase penetrations. Russia is pushing towards taking Luhansk to prove its troops continue to advance.
- Russian forces continued to launch attacks across the full breadth of the Donbas frontline over the last 24 hours, but have achieved limited progress. The Ukrainian General Staff maintain that Russian efforts to increase pressure on the Severodonetsk salient saw unsuccessful attacks to the southeast of the city, though the Russians have taken a modest amount of ground north of Popasna as attacks continue to aim at securing the road connection north towards Lysychansk. Attacks west of Popasna in the direction of Bakhmut also continued, with the Luhansk People’s Militia claiming they had taken the village of Novozvanivka to the southwest of Popasna – however, it remains unclear at this stage whether Ukrainian forces are still fighting in the settlement. Russian aerial bombardments of Bakhmut have also continued, underlining Russian efforts to sustain pressure on Ukrainian forces along the key M-03 highway connecting Bakhmut to Slovyansk.
- Further north and west, the Ukrainian General Staff have reported that Russian forces continue to reconstitute in Izyum, where they are preparing to launch new offensives toward Slovyansk. Attacks around Lyman have also continued and made some ground as Russian forces close in on the town in a likely bid to eventually support renewed offensives against Slovyansk by supporting from the north. However, even if the Russians succeed in taking the town in the coming days and weeks, their new positions would still be separated from Slovyansk by the Siverkyi Donets. The river continues to pose a formidable natural defence which Ukrainian forces are utilising effectively elsewhere along the frontline, as last week’s failed Russian attack around Bilohorivka testifies.
- North of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to push Russian forces northeast of the city towards the border. Russian forces have over the last 24 hours focused on trying to repel Ukrainian attacks in the direction of Vovchansk, which remains a critical node in Russia’s ground lines of communication which are maintaining supplies between their forces in Izyum and Belgorod. While it remains unlikely that the Ukrainians would be able to push and take the town given it lies across the Siverskyi Donets River, by pushing the frontline closer to the border the Ukrainians will be able to bring it within conventional artillery range. As such, slowing or repelling the Ukrainian attack west of Vovchansk will be a key priority for Russian forces as they attempt to shore up their ground lines of communication ahead of any planned offensives out of Izyum to the south.
- The adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Rostislav Smirnov stated on television on 17 May that the Ukrainian military will launch a counteroffensive in the Donbas around mid-July. He stated that while the current military advantage remains with the Russians, increasing quantities of Western weaponry and mobilised reservists, together with mounting Russian equipment losses, will mean that the Ukrainian and Russian forces will soon be on more of a level playing field, after which Ukraine will launch new offensives. The successful Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv together with Russia’s continual slow progress in the Donbas are raising expectations in Kyiv that Ukrainian forces will at some point in the coming months be able to go on the strategic offensive. The current state of the Ukrainian Armed Forces remains unclear, particularly in relation to mounting fuel shortages and their own equipment losses, but if Russian offensives continue to stall, confidence and pressure is likely to grow in Kyiv that they should pivot to the offensive where possible.
- Following yesterday’s long-range strikes against Lviv and Chernihiv oblast, Russian forces have focused their attacks on targets closer to the frontlines over the last 24 hours. Russian forces struck the Dneister estuary bridge south of Odesa on 17 May, the fifth time that it has been targeted. Ukrainian officials have confirmed that the bridge is badly damaged and further strikes remain possible in a bid to prevent its repair and further limit supply routes for Western weapons coming from Romania. Elsewhere, Russian missiles hit residential infrastructure in Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk, with limited shelling also continuing along the border of Sumy oblast at various points.
- The Russian Foreign Ministry stated on 17 May that peace negotiations had stalled, alleging that the Ukrainian delegation had in fact withdrawn from the process. The Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko stated that no negotiations are ongoing at present, aligning with our own assessment that the prospect for any progress on a peace agreement remains extremely low given both sides remain determined to seek advantage on the battlefield. With further allegations of Russian war crimes and increasing evidence of draconian filtration methods being used in occupied territories, in particular Mariupol, it remains unlikely that both sides will enter into serious negotiations for the foreseeable future.
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent a 42-member team to Ukraine to investigate alleged war crimes. The deployment of the team represents that largest such investigation in the organisation’s history and comes as all indicators point to increasingly draconian filtration methods being utilised in occupied territory. Notably, a 21-year-old Russian soldier accused of war crimes and premeditated murder will appear before a Kyiv court today, 18 May, in one of the first such trials of alleged Russian war criminals. However, as such trials begin in Ukraine, Russia is set to launch its own war criminal tribunals following the surrender of Azov Regiment forces at the Azovstal works in Mariupol. The head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin has stated that a court will decide the fate of the Ukrainian forces that have surrendered, which will likely prefigure show trials of alleged neo-Nazis (see forecast below for more analysis).
- On 18 May the governments of Sweden and Finland formally handed in their application to join NATO to the Secretary General of the alliance Jens Stoltenberg. As the ratification process for membership requires unanimity amongst all member states, Turkey could yet delay or even block the move, though the latter remains unlikely given the overwhelming support for Sweden and Finland’s accession from all other member states. For further analysis on the implications of the move and the potential Russian response, see our earlier Alert. Turkey is expected to use its block as a leverage to re-enter the US F-35 Programme and obtain new and upgrade F-16s. The Turkish Foreign Minister met with the US Secetary of State on May 18th.
Since yesterday’s surrender of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, the Russian Ministry of Defence has claimed 694 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered over the last 24 hours, bringing the total since Monday 16 May to 959. It still remains unclear how many Ukrainians remain in Azovstal, but it now appears that the siege is over as Kyiv hopes for a prisoner exchange. The negotiated surrender was likely aimed at speeding up the declaration of Russian victory in Mariupol, particularly as domestic criticism of the competence of the war effort mounts following recent setbacks in the Donbas. However, rather than distracting critical voices, the move has triggered some anger amongst various Russian pro-war social media accounts. They have questioned the decision to negotiate rather than destroy the remaining forces in Azovstal, which Russian propaganda has repeatedly touted as neo-Nazis that will be crushed. Furthermore, Russian lawmakers have since doubled down on this anti-Azov Regiment rhetoric. The State Duma is now due to debate a motion that would ban the exchange of Russian prisoners of war for captured members of the Azov regiment. The Russian Supreme Court is also due to consider recognising the Azov Regiment as a terrorist organisation on 26 May. Such moves remain likely given the narrative around Azov neo-Nazis, with show trials of members of the Regiment increasingly likely in the coming weeks, particularly as trials of alleged Russian war criminals proceed in Ukraine. While the terms of the negotiated surrender are currently unknown, such rhetoric underlines the risk of Moscow reneging on the apparent prisoner exchange agreement to shore-up domestic hardliner support. Such a move would not only reduce the scope for future prisoner exchanges but would reinforce the diminishing likelihood of any progress towards peace negotiations being made for the foreseeable future.
- On 16 May, the Ukrainian General Staff confirmed that orders had been handed down to Ukrainian commanders in the besieged Azovstal works that they should prioritise “saving the lives of personnel”. This followed the Russian Ministry of Defence’s claim that an agreement had been reached to remove all wounded Ukrainian service personnel from the area, resulting in 53 wounded service personnel arriving in Russian-controlled Novoazovsk and around 200 others reportedly moved further north ahead of a possible prisoner exchange. The developments appear to mark the end of the 82-day siege of Mariupol. Ukrainian commanders have stated that the Mariupol garrison have completed their mission, which was namely to tie down Russian forces to prevent their redeployment to other fronts and thus slow the overall Russian offensive in the southeast.
- OSINT and other sources appear to confirm that Ukrainian wounded at least have indeed been removed on buses. However, it remains unconfirmed at this stage whether Ukrainian forces have surrendered and handed over control of Azovstal to Russian forces, with Russian sources indicating that individual Ukrainian units are negotiating their surrender on a more ad hoc basis overnight and this morning. Nevertheless, the fact that the commander of the Azov Regiment Denys Prokopenko confirmed that his unit had fulfilled its orders suggests the Ukrainians have ceased resisting and are at least preparing to surrender. When and if Ukrainian forces hand over control of the Azovstal works, it would mark a notable victory for Russian forces, representing the successful consolidation of the largest – and so far only – major city since the invasion.
- Further north on the Donbas front proper, Russian force have continued to launch attacks on various axes, but with little confirmed progress over the last 24 hours. Offensive operations have continued to target Lyman, Bakhmut and numerous settlements west and north of Donetsk city, all of which appear have been ineffective. Fighting has largely slowed south of Izyum, though unconfirmed reports indicate failed Russian assaults against the town of Dovhenke, due south of the town, where dug-in Ukrainian forces may have inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking Russian forces. Nevertheless, overall offensive operations out of the Izyum salient remain limited, with the Ukrainian General Staff claiming that elements of the Russian 20th Combined Arms Army (CAA) are reconstituting in the area in preparation for renewed offensives towards Slovyansk in the future.
- North of Kharkiv Ukrainian forces are continuing to push the Russians closer to the border in certain areas, particularly northwest and northeast of the city. The head of the Kharkiv Oblast Administration confirmed that Russian forces resumed artillery strikes against northern and eastern suburbs of Kharkiv, indicating Russian forces remain closer to the city in places due north. The deployment of some Russian units indicates an attempt to stall the Ukrainian attacks and consolidate their positions south of the border, though it remains unclear if Russian forces will withdraw behind the border given the relative exposure this would place on their ground lines of communication in Belgorod oblast.
- Russian force reportedly blew up an ammonium nitrate warehouse in Kharkiv oblast, though the local governor has stated that it does not pose a threat to the local population. While it underlines the enduring risk of the release of chemical hazards on the battlefield, it remains less likely that Russian forces are systematically targeting such depots and chemical plants in the area. In a related development, the Ukrainian nuclear power corporation Energoatom has stated that Russian forces have built concrete fortifications along the perimeter of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. Such reports align with wider indications that Russian forces are digging in along the southern axis west of the Dnieper river, indicating Russian intentions to hold the region over the longer term.
- Over the last 24 hours the Russians have launched a number of notable long-range strikes beyond the immediate frontline operational area. The first against Desna, northeast of Kyiv, has left at least 8 dead and represents one of the first major strikes against the region in recent weeks following the withdrawal from northern Ukraine last month.
- However, the most significant strikes took place in Lviv oblast, where Russian forces launched two waves of strikes from Belarusian airspace around midnight (local time), described by local mayors as one of the biggest such attacks since the invasion began. Missiles struck military infrastructure targets in the Yavoriv district, very close to the Polish border, though air defences reportedly intercepted three cruise missiles. The attack appears to be the most significant in the region since the strike on the Yavoriv International Centre for Peacekeeping and Security on 13 March. Such strikes underline continued Russian attempts to intercept Western weapons depots irrespective of their proximity to the frontline, underlining that all areas of Ukraine remain potential targets for long-range strikes.
- In the Russian occupied region of Kherson, unconfirmed reports indicate that the occupation authorities have introduced resident permits for the local population in order to restrict their movements. The reports align with wider indications that Russian occupation forces, including FSB and Rosvgardia troops, are enforcing increasingly draconian filtration methods in the occupied regions, including in Mariupol. According to the Ukrainian mayor’s office, Russian administrators are offering local residents of the city compensation for destroyed homes, around USD 6000, and killed relatives, around USD 33,000. However, this is only in exchange for false testimony claiming Ukrainian troops killed those relatives and destroyed said property. Given the extreme devastation in the city, such a compensation programme may prove successful, and underlines that Russian forces will continue to throw money into the occupation to spin the narrative that the Russian “liberation” of Mariupol has brought an end to Ukrainian atrocities.
- Nevertheless, there are further indications that infighting and disagreements between Russian occupying authorities and local Ukrainian collaborators are materialising in the occupied areas. The Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia Oblast Military Administration has reported that a well-known collaborator in the region has accused the Russian-installed governor of the oblast of stealing his “compensation”. Such petty disputes could yet have an impact on the effectiveness of the Russian occupation administration as corruption remains a defining and omnipresent issue in all areas. There are already other reports of significant Russian funds earmarked for the Donbas campaign going missing and not reaching troops or local administrators in the region – which could impact, for example, the Mariupol “compensation” programme.
- The Kremlin’s underestimation of the extent of corruption within the Russian Armed Forces played a major part in the discrepancy between their assessment of the theoretical combat effectiveness of their forces with the realities on the ground and the poor state of some Russian equipment. Alongside tactical and logistical issues, these realities have ultimately played a large role in so far preventing any major political objectives being reached in three months of fighting. As such, corruption is likely to remain a key factor during the Russian occupation, which will at once provide Russia opportunities to bribe local residents and collaborators, but also undermine their own operations given the scale of entrenched corruption within the Armed Forces. The reported injection of significant numbers of private military contractors and their folding into regular units (as reported in yesterday’s Alert) will likely only reinforce this trend in the months ahead as payment becomes an increasingly vital motivator and driver of combat effectiveness.
- For more strategic analysis and escalation outcomes to the current conflict in Ukraine, see our Scenario Planning and Projections report.
Amid the continued slow progress in the Donbas, setbacks north of Kharkiv and most importantly the defeat at the Siverskyi Donets crossing last week, criticism of the Russian war effort amongst pro-Russian sources has increased. Igor Strelkov (real name Igor Girkin), a former commander of Donetsk People’s Militia forces in 2014 and a well known pro-Russian hawk, has in particular emerged as a critic of the current military operation. Last week he accused Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu of “criminal negligence”, maintaining that without a change in strategy and more manpower, Russian forces could lose the battle for the Donbas. His latest criticisms published on 16 May maintain that Russian forces are unlikely to take the Donbas by the summer as Ukrainian forces are essentially dictating the battlefield and inflicting extremely high casualty rates on Russian forces for only tactical gains.
Unnamed Western military sources furthermore reported on 16 May that President Putin and Chief of the Defence Staff Valery Gerasimov are involved in tactical and operational decision making at the level of a colonel or brigadier. If such claims are understood in Russia, accusations of military incompetence could yet pose the most serious threat to government stability in the medium term – though in the case of Strelkov it remains unclear where he is, and whether he is in fact in Russia. Aligning with our previous assessments, pro-war hardliners continue to pose the biggest threat to the Russian regime in contrast to the largely nullified anti-war movement, although at present there are no indicators that a serious hard-line challenge to the Kremlin is materialising. The military situation in the Donbas would likely have to remain to bogged down and/or deteriorate significantly amid successful Ukrainian counteroffensives before a serious challenge materialises. However, it is a key escalatory and destabilising trend which we will continue to monitor in our Scenario Planning and Projections reporting.
- North of Kharkiv the Ukrainians have taken further ground north of the city, where Russian units are conducting a fighting withdrawal, rather than attempting to establish new defensive lines. Ukrainian forces have claimed to have reached the border at various points. As such, a broader Russian withdrawal across the border is increasingly likely as the Russians pivot eastwards to utilise the Siverskyi Donets River as a new natural defensive line that will protect their forces and ground lines of communications between Belgorod and their forces north of Izyum. Ukrainian forces report that units from the 1st Guards Tank Army have been redeployed northeast of Kharkiv around Vovchansk to assist in the withdrawal and establishment of new defensive lines. However, if the Ukrainians manage to push Russian forces back behind the border, newly consolidated Ukrainian positions will place increased pressure on Russia’s supply lines into Izyum, including from artillery and helicopter raids. This will likely force the relocation of the main operational base from Belgorod further east, from where it will be less vulnerable to Ukrainian forces and provide more secure lines of communication into the Donbas.
- The redeployment of components of the 1st Guards Tank Army has reinforced the assessment that offensive operations out of Izyum have largely stalled. Very little ground has been taken in recent weeks despite the concentration of forces here, and all indicators point to a likely refocusing of effort to the much more modest operational objective of a tactical encirclement of Severodonetsk further east, rather than a push to cut off Slovyansk from Izyum.
- Given this likely shift in focus, Russian forces continue to make slow progress in the east. Russian sources claim their forces have taken the town of Drobysheve, northwest of Lyman, indicating further but still slow progress towards Lyman, which would apply further pressure on Ukrainian forces east of the Siverskyi Donets river east of Slovyansk. Attacks have continued elsewhere along the frontline around the Severodonetsk salient, but more limited progress has been made over the weekend, with Russian forces continuing to tighten the perimeter around Severodonetsk city and attack north of Popasna, with the aim of pushing on to Lysychansk.
- There are increasing indications that Russian forces continue to experience significant manpower issues following heavy losses since the start of the invasion, which will continue to have a detrimental impact on offensive operations. The Ukrainian General Staff have claimed that around 2,500 Russian reservists are currently training in Belgorod, Voronezh, and Rostov oblasts, but such relatively small numbers are unlikely to sufficiently replace combat losses in the short term as the Kremlin gives no indication that it is preparing to move to a general mobilisation to offset losses.
- The General Staff maintain that some Russian units have lost up to 20% of their staffing in some areas. Satellite imagery published by Kyiv last week exposed the extent of losses during a failed Russian crossing of the Siverskyi Donets river, and while reports of limited covert mobilisation in Luhansk and Donetsk will provide some conscript replacements, such troops will be largely combat ineffective due to limited training. Of particular note, the Ukrainian General Staff have claimed that private military companies, likely the Wagner Group, are now forming combined units with regular Russian airborne forces. While unconfirmed at this stage, the possibility that Russians are diluting VDV airborne units would be stark illustration of the degradation of regular combat-effective units. Prior to the invasion the VDV in particular were considered Moscow’s most potent and capable units, but their reputation as elite forces has been undermined by numerous failed operations during the war. If true, such claims would reinforce our earlier assessments that short of a general mobilisation, Russian forces will rely more heavily on highly paid mercenaries to sustain offensive combat operations.
- The weather forecast for the next seven days in eastern Ukraine anticipates rain and cloud cover for much of the week, which will continue to delay the drying out of the ground in places and thus limit room for manoeuvre off road – which will largely prove detrimental to Russian offensive operations.
- On 16 May, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that Russia has nationalised a major factory previously belonging to French carmaker Renault. Sobyanin claimed that plant production will be refocused on reviving the historical Soviet-era Moskvitch car, though vowed to keep “most” of the Renault factory’s employees. Almost two months prior, the automaker suspended its operations and production at the plant, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nationalisation represents the first major transfer of private assets to Russian government control after officials threatened to nationalise Western businesses leaving the country. Despite the threats, many Western companies have continued to withdraw or suspend their Russian operations amid an increasingly hostile business environment. Consequently, the move is likely to pave the way for further Kremlin asset seizures or nationalisations in the coming weeks and months.
- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on 15 May that “Ukraine can win this war” given that Russian forces are not achieving their strategic objectives on the battlefield. Stoltenberg’s statement is the latest following a wider shift amongst Western supporters of Ukraine last month, with numerous officials including US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin seeing the potential for Ukrainian forces to significantly degrade Russian military capability. Such statements will only reinforce extremely high tensions between Russia and NATO, particularly as Sweden and Finland formally announced their respective intentions to apply for membership in the alliance on 15 May.
Finland and Sweden’s decision to apply for NATO membership marks an historic shift in European security and one which is a direct result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ratification of the respective NATO membership bids, when they are formally made this week, is likely to take time as all member states’ parliaments would need to support the motion. The timeframe for accession thus remains unclear at this stage, but would ordinarily likely take up to twelve months. However, a small number of NATO member states have raised concerns around the accession of Finland and Sweden. Turkey in particular has raised objections, stating it does not favourably view their bids given their governments’ alleged support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation. While a Turkish veto cannot be ruled out, it remains unlikely that Turkey would block Finland and Sweden’s accession indefinitely, but it could potentially delay the process. In the meantime, however, the announcements have predictably triggered Russian objections, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov describing the move as a “grave mistake” that will have “far-reaching consequences”. Ryabkov reiterated previous threats that Moscow will take “reciprocal steps” in response, though as before these remain vague and undefined and are likely to take the form of ‘military-technical’ measures such as aerial and naval incursions, cyber attacks and economic penalties. Moscow has already cut off electricity supplies to Finland on 14 May, but given around only 10 percent of the country’s overall electricity comes from Russia, it is unlikely to have a significant impact or result in electricity shortages. Nevertheless, Russia is clearly ramping up the rhetoric in response to the membership bids, though the options available to Russia to escalate remain limited given Russia’s overwhelming military commitment to Ukraine. British defence guarantees announced last week will furthermore go some way to mitigating the threat of an overt Russian hostile military action, particularly given the presence of numerous NATO member state troops in Finland as part of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) exercises. Nevertheless, ‘military-technical’ measures are likely in the coming weeks, with increased disinformation campaigns and intelligence operations aimed at disrupting the ratification process in NATO parliaments increasingly likely.
Russia: Renault factory nationalisation paves way for further Western business asset seizures. On 16 May, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced that Russia has nationalised a major factory previously belonging to French carmaker Renault. Sobyanin claimed that plant production will be refocused on reviving the historical Soviet-era Moskvitch car, though vowed to keep “most” of the Renault factory’s employees. Almost two months prior, the automaker suspended its operations and production at the plant, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The nationalisation represents the first major transfer of private assets to Russian government control after officials threatened to nationalise Western businesses leaving the country. Despite the threats, many Western companies have continued to withdraw or suspend their Russian operations amid an increasingly hostile business environment. Consequently, the move is likely to pave the way for further Kremlin asset seizures or nationalisations in the coming weeks and months.
Italy: Pro-Russian DDoS attacks against Western governments and organisations will remain a long-term threat amid protracted Ukraine conflict. On 13 May, the Italian Cyber Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) disclosed that critical government agencies in the country were targeted by “Slow HTTP” Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. While the CSIRT refrained from revealing further details, including the attackers’ identity, an investigation of the cloud-based instant messaging service Telegram found that the Pro-Russia group, Killnet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Killnet is a new threat actor that has supported Russia during its invasion of Ukraine. To this end, the Killnet follow-up statement stated that these attacks were “training” and that “the Italians and Spaniards are going to learn how to kill [Russian] people in Ukraine. Our legion is learning to kill your servers”, indicating that this activity is part of the group’s latest efforts to fulfil its pledge. Killnet stated in the Telegram post that further such attacks will be forthcoming. Accordingly, western government agencies and their private sector partners, such as defence or technology sector firms supporting Ukraine will face an elevated risk from malicious cyber activity, such as DDoS, in the coming weeks.
Germany: Ukraine-themed phishing campaigns represent a long-term threat amid Russia’s continued military operations in the Donbas. On 16 May, cyber security firm Malwarebytes disclosed that an unknown threat actor is targeting German-speaking individuals interested in the Ukraine conflict with malware. The campaign uses a cloned version of a Baden-Wurttemberg state’s website to distribute a malicious file that purports to offer up-to-date information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Once opened, the file drops a PowerShell Remote Access Trojan (RAT) that allows the threat actor to exfiltrate and upload files from the C2 server, load and execute malicious script, and execute specific commands. This campaign is indicative of cyber criminals’ growing utilisation of Ukraine-themed phishing lures to engage in malicious cyber activity. This represents the most notable campaign since Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) warned in early May that an unknown hacker was distributing data-stealing malware via similar phishing emails (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 10 May 2022). Further such phishing campaigns are highly likely to emerge, especially as Russia’s military activity in Eastern Ukraine persists in the coming months. Maintaining robust security protocols and providing frequent phishing training should help mitigate the threat posed by these campaigns.
- Hacktivist group Killnet has constituted one of the most active Pro-Russian cyber threat actors during this latest monitoring period. Its attacks, while largely aimed at causing disruptions to strategically and symbolically important targets in Italy, appear to have had limited or mixed success. Nevertheless, with the group warning that further disruptive cyber attacks are forthcoming, organisations either supporting the Ukrainian government – such as tech firms – and/or providing them with military or financial aid – such as Western government agencies – will be at a heightened risk of being targeted in the coming weeks.
- Pro-Ukraine hackers have continued to be highly active during this monitoring period, with the hacktivist collective Anonymous focusing its attacks predominately against Russian government agencies and their private sector partners. While further attacks are highly likely to emerge in the coming weeks, they are expected to remain low-level activity, such as DDoS, defacement, or data leaks, and cause minimal damage to Moscow’s military and government operations.
- Lastly, non-aligned hackers have also continued to utilise the Ukraine conflict to launch malicious cyber campaigns. These operations will likely remain financially focused and not aimed at supporting Moscow or Kyiv. Nevertheless, such cyber campaigns will likely continue to increase in frequency, especially as Russia’s military operations in Eastern Ukraine persist in the coming months.
Pro-Russian operations maintain pace; Western government and diplomatic entities to remain high profile targets.
- On 13-14 May, the Italian Cyber Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) disclosed that critical government agencies in the country as well as the Eurovision festival were targeted by Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. While the CSIRT refrained from revealing further details, including the attackers’ identity, an investigation of the cloud-based instant messaging service Telegram found that the Pro-Russia group, Killnet claimed responsibility for the attacks. Killnet is a new threat actor that has supported Russia during its invasion of Ukraine. To this end, the Killnet follow-up statement stated that these attacks were “training” and that “the Italians and Spaniards are going to learn how to kill [Russian] people in Ukraine. Our legion is learning to kill your servers”, indicating that this activity is part of the group’s latest efforts to fulfil its pledge.
- On 11 May, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance issued a joint cyber security advisory (SCA) highlighting threats targeting managed service providers (MSPs) and their customers. The SCA warned that malicious threat actors, including state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, would likely ramp up their campaign against ICT supply chains over the coming months. A compromised MSP would then allow hackers to access its customers’ network to conduct follow-on attacks, such as ransomware and cyber espionage, as evidenced by the Kaseya and the SolarWinds hack (see Sibylline Alert – 6 July 2021). Hackers linked to Russia, China and North Korea are the most active actors in supply chain attacks.
- On 10 May, Five Eyes Intelligence alliance, the European Union (EU), and Ukraine formally attributed the pre-invasion cyber attack on satellite communications provider Viasat to the Russian government. Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles claimed that the cyber attack caused “indiscriminate communication outages and disruptions across several public authorities, businesses, and users in Ukraine”, as well as tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine linked to wind turbines and internet providers.
Pro-Ukraine hackers continue data leak operations; Russia-linked state and private sectors entities remain vulnerable
- On 13 May, an alleged Anonymous-linked Twitter account claimed that the collective published 130 GB of sensitive information from Russian oil and gas firm SOCAR Energoresource on the whistle-blower site Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets). If officially confirmed, this incident would be indicative of the hacktivist collective’s 20 April claim that they have published 5.8 TB of Russian data via DDoSecrets since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
- On 10 May, a Twitter account purporting to represent the Anonymous hacktivist collective claimed that the group hacked Russian state-owned Port and Railways Projects Service of JSC UMMC and leaked over 106 GB of sensitive information on DDoSecrets. JSC has not published any official comments on the alleged hack, making it difficult to assess the full impact of this incident. Nevertheless, this alleged data leak appears to be consistent with pro-Ukraine hackers’ continued targeting of organisations and individuals critical to the Russian economy and/or with links to the Russian government.
- On 10 May, an Anonymous-linked Twitter account claimed that the collective rendered the Russian streaming platform RuTube inoperable via a targeted DDoS attack. RuTube claimed in a follow-up statement that the attack was aimed at preventing RuTube from showing Russia’s Victory Day Parades and celebration events online. RuTube claimed that this was the largest cyber attack in the company’s history. As of the time of writing, the Russian site is still loading slowly, with no clear indication as to when its services will be restored to full capacity.
Non-affiliated cyber criminals will continue to exploit the Ukraine conflict for malicious purposes
- On 16 May, cyber security firm Malwarebytes disclosed that an unknown threat actor is targeting German-speaking individuals interested in the Ukraine conflict with malware. The campaign uses a cloned version of a Baden-Wurttemberg state’s website to distribute a malicious file that purports to offer up-to-date information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Once opened, the file drops a PowerShell Remote Access Trojan (RAT) that allows the threat actor to exfiltrate and upload files from the C2 server, load and execute malicious script, and execute specific commands. This campaign is indicative of cyber criminals’ growing utilisation of Ukraine-themed phishing lures to engage in malicious cyber activity. This represents the most notable campaign since Ukraine’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-UA) warned in early May that an unknown hacker was distributing data-stealing malware via similar phishing emails (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 10 May 2022).
Pro-Russian cyber threat actors have continued to launch a steady number of low-level cyber attacks during this monitoring period. This activity has been primarily aimed at either gaining a foothold in organisations of interest’s infrastructure and/or causing disruptions to strategic or symbolic targets in the West. Most notably, Killnet’s campaigns against the Eurovision festival underscores that entities providing either financial, political and/or moral support to the Ukrainian government remain at a heightened risk of being targeted by pro-Russian cyber activity. With Killnet claiming in a follow-up Telegram message that further such attacks will be forthcoming, western government agencies, their private sector partners – such as defence or technology sector firms – and internationally recognised events, similar to the Eurovision, supporting Ukraine will face an elevated risk from malicious cyber activity, such as DDoS, in the coming weeks. While these attacks are unlikely to be as disruptive or destructive as the cyber attacks that Moscow launched against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure in the early stages of the invasion, they, nevertheless, are indicative of the sustained risk posed to Western businesses’ operations. Meanwhile, pro-Ukraine hackers, such as the IT Army of Ukraine and Anonymous, have continued to launch cyber attacks as a part of their #OpRussia campaign aimed at expressing their political grievances with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Anonymous and its affiliated groups have remained the most active groups in this conflict, with both Russian government agencies and their alleged private sector partners being compromised during this latest monitoring period. With the Ukraine conflict set to persist for the coming months, further pro-Kyiv cyber campaigns are highly likely to be launched as a part of these hackers’ efforts to protect Ukraine’s critical infrastructure from Russian intrusions and/or disrupt Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Such activity is expected to remain largely rudimentary – such as data leaks, defacement, or DDoS – and targeted against entities supporting the Russian government, such as transport and telecoms infrastructure. Such attacks will likely only have a minimal or temporary impact on their targets’ military and/or business operations.
European Union: Commission publishes plan to reduce reliance on Russian energy imports, improving energy security in the long term. On 18 May, the European Commission published a new proposal called REPowerEU committing 300bn EUR to green investments in order to end the bloc’s reliance on Russian energy imports by 2027. Nevertheless, the plan highlights that investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure also have to be increased to reduce reliance on Russian energy. The new plan aims to improve energy saving across the bloc, boost investment in renewables and diversify the EU’s oil and gas suppliers such as by importing more LNG from the United States and Canada. The proposed measures include making solar panels mandatory for both public and newly built residential buildings and reducing Russian gas imports by two-third by the end of this year. While the new measures will likely improve the EU’s energy security in the near to long term, it will also increase energy prices in the short to near term, further heightening threats to socio-economic health.
19 May 22. U.S. aims to arm Ukraine with advanced anti-ship missiles to fight Russian blockade.
The White House is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade, officials said, amid concerns more powerful weapons that could sink Russian warships would intensify the conflict.
Ukraine has made no secret it wants more advanced U.S. capabilities beyond its current inventory of artillery, Javelin and Stinger missiles, and other arms. Kyiv’s list, for example, includes missiles that could push the Russian navy away from its Black Sea ports, allowing the restart of shipments of grain and other agricultural products worldwide.
Current and former U.S. officials and congressional sources have cited roadblocks to sending longer range, more powerful weapons to Ukraine that include lengthy training requirements, difficulties maintaining equipment, or concerns U.S. weaponry could be captured by Russian forces, in addition to the fear of escalation.
But three U.S. officials and two congressional sources said two types of powerful anti-ship missiles, the Harpoon made by Boeing (BA.N) and the Naval Strike Missile made by Kongsberg (KOG.OL) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX.N) were in active consideration for either direct shipment to Ukraine, or through a transfer from a European ally that has the missiles.
In April, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to Portugal to provide the Ukrainian military with Harpoons, which have a range of up to almost 300 km.
But there are several issues keeping Ukraine from receiving the missiles. For one, there is limited availability of platforms to launch Harpoons from shore — a technically challenging solution according to several officials — as it is mostly a sea-based missile.
Two U.S. officials said the United States was working on potential solutions that included pulling a launcher off of a U.S. ship. Both missiles cost about $1.5 m per round, according to experts and industry executives.
About 20 Russian Navy vessels, including submarines, are in the Black Sea operational zone, the British defense ministry has said.
Bryan Clark, a naval expert at the Hudson Institute, said 12 to 24 anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon with ranges over 100 km would be enough to threaten Russian ships and could convince Moscow to lift the blockade. “If Putin persists, Ukraine could take out the largest Russian ships, since they have nowhere to hide in the Black Sea,” Clark said.
Russia has already suffered losses at sea, notably the sinking of the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.
WHO GOES FIRST?
A handful of countries would be willing to send Harpoons to Ukraine, the U.S. officials and the congressional sources said. But no one wants to be the first or only nation to do so, fearing reprisals from Russia if a ship is sunk with a Harpoon from their stockpile, the third U.S official said.
That U.S. official said one country is considering being the first to supply the missile to Ukraine. Once that “well stocked” nation commits to sending Harpoons, others might follow, the official said.
The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) can be launched from the Ukrainian coast and has a range of 250km. It also takes less than 14 days training to operate.
The sources said NSMs were viewed as less logistically difficult than Harpoons, because NATO allies could loan mobile ground launchers which are available, and warheads from Norway.
The first two U.S. officials and the congressional sources said the United States was trying to work out a way for Ukraine to obtain NSM and launchers from European allies.
The congressional sources said another option would be for Norway to donate NSMs to Ukraine, an idea supported by Norwegian members of parliament. The Norwegian Ministry of Defense declined to comment on what additional contributions of arms and defense equipment it may consider offering to Ukraine.
All weapons requests that have U.S. content such as Harpoons and NSMs would have to be approved by the U.S. State Department, which takes guidance from the White House.
Another weapon high on Ukraine’s shopping list are Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (MLRS) such as the M270 made by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) which can strike a target 70 or more kilometers away, a three-fold increase over many of their current howitzer rounds. read more
In recent weeks, the Biden administration decided instead to send M777 towed howitzers which could be deployed faster and shipped in larger quantities, the two U.S. officials said.
The two U.S. officials said the M270 or similar system like the M142 HIMARS would be considered for shipment to Ukraine once Congress passed a $40 bn supplemental funding bill that would authorize an additional $11 bn worth of Presidential Drawdown Authority. That lets the president authorize the transfer of excess weapons from U.S. stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency. (Source: Reuters)
19 May 22. Additional $100m in Howitzers, Tactical Vehicles, Radars Headed to Ukraine. The Pentagon announced today that another tranche of presidential drawdown support is headed to Ukraine. The latest package is worth $100 m and mostly includes more of the same items the U.S. has sent to Ukraine in the past.
Included in the latest package are 18 155 mm howitzers, 18 tactical vehicles to tow those howitzers, three AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars and additional field equipment and spare parts, said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby during an afternoon briefing today at the Pentagon.
“That stuff will start to flow very, very soon,” he said. “I cannot give you an exact date of when it’s all going to show up in Ukraine, but you can imagine having seen us do this in the past that we’re not going to sit on our hands. We’ll start flowing that stuff immediately.”
Since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, the U.S. has provided nearly $4 bn in security assistance to Ukraine, Kirby said.
Prior to the most current presidential drawdown package, the U.S. provided 90 155 mm howitzers to Ukraine, along with more than 200,000 artillery rounds. The U.S. has also provided over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, over 5,000 Javelin anti-armor systems and more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems.
The U.S. is not the only nation sending assistance to Ukraine, Kirby said, and the U.S. will continue to work with partner and allied nations to provide the Ukrainians with what is needed to defend their national sovereignty.
While parents struggle with a nationwide shortage of infant formula, U.S. Transportation Command is working with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration to support “Operation Fly Formula,” Kirby said.
“U.S. Transportation Command will leverage its partnership with commercial air carriers to contract and accelerate the importation of infant formula into the United States that meets our government’s health and safety standards,” he said. “The first step of that is … working with the interagency to identify locations where formula can be had overseas and then getting the right aircraft in place to bring that to the United States, and then of course working out the destinations.”
While he didn’t say when the first of those flights would happen, Kirby did say it appears unlikely it would be military, or “grey tail” aircraft that perform the work.
“We believe at this point that probably the most expeditious and, quite frankly, the most cost-efficient way to support this immediate need would be through commercial contract carriers,” Kirby said.
Kirby also pointed out that much of the security assistance going to Ukraine is traveling on commercial contract carriers rather than on U.S. military aircraft. (Source: US DoD)
20 May 22. ‘Hell’ in Ukraine’s Donbas as Russia piles on pressure, warns Zelenskiy.
- Donbas region is completely destroyed -Zelenskiy
- Group of Seven sends billions more to Ukraine
- U.S. Senate approves $40 bn in further aid
Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region, the focus of recent Russian offensives, has been destroyed, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said as some of the world’s richest countries pledged to bolster Kyiv with bns of dollars.
Since turning away from Ukraine’s capital, Russia is using massed artillery and armour to try to capture more territory in the Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
“The occupiers are trying to exert even more pressure. It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration,” Zelenskiy said in a late Thursday address.
“(There are) constant strikes on the Odesa region, on the cities of central Ukraine. The Donbas is completely destroyed,” he said.
Moscow calls its invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
As the invasion nears the three-month mark, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved nearly $40 bn in new aid for Ukraine, by far the largest U.S. aid package to date.
The Group of Seven rich nations also agreed to provide Ukraine with $18.4 bn. Ukraine said the money would speed up victory over Russia and was just as important as “the weapons you provide”.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters: “The message was, ‘We stand behind Ukraine. We’re going to pull together with the resources that they need to get through this.'”
The White House is working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade, officials said. read more
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using food as a weapon by holding “hostage” supplies for not just Ukrainians, but also ms around the world.
The war has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar.
In a further sign of Western action hurting the Russian economy, five foreign vice-presidents of Russia’s Rosneft have resigned because of EU sanctions forbidding European citizens or Russians living in the EU to work at the oil company, sources said.
The EU said it is looking into ways of using the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine, while the United States has not ruled out possibly placing sanctions on countries that purchase Russian oil.
But divisions within NATO have also been on show with Turkey opposed to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, a move that would reverse generations of military non-alignment in the biggest European security shake-up in decades.
Ankara accuses the two Nordic states of harbouring Kurdish militants, but U.S. President Joe Biden and European leaders said they were confident Turkey’s concerns could be addressed.
Biden, hosting Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the White House, told reporters: “I think we’re going to be OK.” read more
Niinisto said Finland would commit to Turkey’s security, adding: “We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it.”
The past week has seen Russia secure its biggest victory since the invasion began, with Kyiv announcing it had ordered its garrison in a steelworks in Mariupol to stand down, after a protracted siege.
Russian forces have, however, been pushed back this month from the outskirts of the second-largest city Kharkiv. Ukraine says it has recaptured 23 settlements near Kharkiv in the last two weeks.
In Mariupol, the ultimate outcome of the bloodiest battle in Europe for decades has remained unclear, with uncertainty over the fate of hundreds of Ukrainian defenders.
Moscow said on Thursday that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered so far, including 771 in the past 24 hours.
Ukrainian officials, who have sought a prisoner swap, had declined to comment, saying it could endanger rescue efforts.
Late on Thursday, Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy head of the Azov Regiment defending the steelworks, released an 18-second video in which he said he and other commanders were still on the territory of the plant.
“A certain operation is going on, the details of which I will not disclose,” he said.
The Switzerland-based International Committee of the Red Cross said it has registered hundreds of prisoners from the plant now held by Russia, but it has not given a precise number.
The leader of Russian-backed separatists in control of the area said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks.
The wounded were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were being treated well, he said.
19 May 22. Senate confirms defense official tasked with overseeing Ukraine aid logistics. The Senate on Wednesday confirmed a Defense Department official who will be tasked with overseeing the logistics of the sprawling, multifaceted effort to deliver military equipment to Ukraine, as it defends itself against a Russian invasion.
Senators voted 94-1 to confirm Christopher Lowman as the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment. Lowman most recently served as acting undersecretary of the Army until February, and President Joe Biden nominated him as the assistant secretary for sustainment in November.
The assistant secretary for sustainment oversees U.S. military logistics and material readiness, and also reports to the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, who is currently Bill LaPlante.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., repeatedly held up the nominations of Lowman and several others meant to fill roles at the Pentagon, citing the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hawley demanded that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resign over the exit alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
When Lowman’s home-state senator, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia, attempted to confirm him quickly on the Senate floor via unanimous consent in March, Hawley objected in a speech that focused on some of the most horrific scenes of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Kaine tried confirming Lowman once again via unanimous consent in April alongside a tranche of other Pentagon nominees, highlighting the assistant secretary for sustainment’s vital role in the ongoing effort to arm Ukraine.
“Given the fact that the United States is the key to pulling together the international effort to provide support to the Ukrainian defense force and given the fact that that mission depends upon having the best logistics in the world, why would we leave the chief logistics officials at the Pentagon position vacant in the middle of a war?” Kaine said.
This argument did not persuade Hawley, who once again blocked Kaine’s unanimous consent request. Hawley did not specifically address Lowman’s nomination, instead focusing his opposition to one of the other Defense Department nominees that Kaine had sought to confirm by unanimous consent in April: Ravi Chaudhary to serve as assistant secretary of the Air Force.
Hawley accused Chaudhary of proposing the use of artificial intelligence “to track members of the military, identify them as extremists and then have them expelled.”
Chaudhary first made the proposal last year in an op-ed for Foreign Policy News, but later said he regretted writing it after coming under intense Republican criticism for the idea during his Senate confirmation hearing in February.
Hawley was the lone senator on Wednesday to vote against Lowman. He was also one of 10 other Republican senators to cast a procedural vote on Monday against advancing a $40 bn supplemental funding package to provide additional military and economic aid to Ukraine.
Hawley said the bill is “not in America’s interests” as it “allows Europe to freeload” and “short-changes critical interests abroad.”
The bipartisan Ukraine aid bill is expected to easily pass the Senate in a floor vote slated for Thursday. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
19 May 22. Australia to send M113 APCs, additional Bushmasters to Ukraine. More than 30 additional armoured vehicles will be delivered to Ukraine as part of a new military support package from the Commonwealth government. Minister for Defence Peter Dutton has announced 14 M113 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and a further 20 Thales-built Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMVs) would be gifted to Ukraine in support of its ongoing resistance to Russian aggression.
This builds on the 20 Bushmasters, including two ambulance variants, initially delivered to Ukraine following a request from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, taking the total number of PMVs gifted to the country to 40.
The first tranche of Bushmasters were painted olive green to better suit Ukraine’s battlefield environment, with a Ukrainian flag painted on either side alongside “United with Ukraine” in English and Ukrainian while the ambulance variants will represent the standard Red Cross.
The vehicles were furnished with radio, GPS and “additional bolt-on armour”, with training of the systems conducted via video.
This latest government support package also includes the supply of three pallets of radiation monitoring equipment and personal protective equipment, arranged by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Additionally, Australia has committed to delivering 60 pallets of medical supplies donated by Australian citizens. The total value of this latest support package is approximately $60.9m, with the 14 APCs costing an estimated $12 m and the 20 PMVs $48.9m.
This takes the total value of Australia’s contribution to Ukraine’s resistance to $285m.
“The Australian government will continue to identify opportunities for further military assistance where it is able to provide a required capability to the Ukraine Armed Forces expeditiously,” Minister Dutton noted in a statement.
“Australia stands with the people of Ukraine, and again calls on Russia to cease its unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
The government has stated it will not disclose specific details of the package, or delivery arrangements, at the direct request of Ukrainian officials and other partners. (Source: Defence Connect)
18 May 22. Putin Arming Troops With Newest Weapons as Russia Struggles in Ukraine. Russia delivered new anti-aircraft missile systems and tanks to its troops in Ukraine this week as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military continues struggling in its war efforts.
The Russian state news agency TASS reported that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov announced during an educational forum on Wednesday that long-range S-500 anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile systems had started arriving to Russian forces within Ukraine. The air defense systems join new T-90M battle tanks that a defense manufacturer announced on Tuesday had recently been sent to Ukraine.
Along with not securing a quick, decisive victory like many experts had predicted, Russia has also lost ground in recent weeks that it had initially seized after beginning its invasion in late February. Russian troops are currently mostly confined to the eastern part of the country, which includes the Donbas region.
On Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense released a report that stated “Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule.” Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War reported on Monday that Russian troops in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine were “largely unsuccessful” with recent ground offensives.
With Russian forces continuing to struggle in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent more tanks and anti-aircraft defense systems to his troops.
“Today the troops have already begun receiving the systems that actually combine the functions of air and anti-missile defenses and these are S-500 weapons,” Borisov said during the “New Horizons” forum, according to TASS.
In describing the popularity of the S-500 system—which is dubbed “Prometheus”—on the global arms market, the deputy prime minister said, “As the saying goes, they sell like hotcakes.”
According to the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, Borisov also spoke at the forum of the Russian military using new “Zadira” combat laser systems in Ukraine. The outlet reported the Kremlin official said the laser systems were being used to destroy drones. (Source: News Now/https://www.newsweek.com/)
18 May 22. Russia sends notorious ‘Terminator’ armoured vehicle into Donbas battle. Move comes as Moscow unveils a new laser weapon that it claims can destroy satellites 1,500km above the Earth in five seconds
Vladimir Putin has deployed his “Terminator” military vehicles in Ukraine, as Russia throws everything in its arsenal at capturing the contested areas in the east.
The Russian president had held back on sending in the notorious BMPT tank support vehicle, nicknamed the Terminator because of its indestructibility – but in a sign of increasing frustration, the Kremlin has sent them to help troops fighting in Donbas.
Equipped with four anti-tank missile launchers, two 30mm cannons, two grenade launchers, a machine gun, the vehicle has a top speed of 36mph.
Its diverse suite of weapons allows the Terminator to destroy targets ranging from tanks, to infantry, as well as helicopters and low-flying aircraft. Using a tank chassis offers the protection found on tank hulls, as well as the off-road mobility of a fully-tracked vehicle.
The vehicles, sporting the letter V, a pro-war symbol in Russia, were filmed being driven by Moscow’s 90th tank division in Severodonetsk, a city on the frontline of the Donbas offensive.
It is unclear why that had not been deployed until now, but it is thought Russia is desperately looking for ways to relieve its beleaguered main army.
It came as Moscow unveiled a new laser weapon that it claims can destroy satellites 1,500km above the Earth in five seconds.
The Peresvet laser system is the most recent in a long line of weapons the Kremlin has “revealed”, many of which are never seen again outside research laboratories.
The system, designed to destroy drones and other aircraft, was first announced by Vladimir Putin in 2018 but has never been issued to military units.
However, on Wednesday Yury Borisov, Russia’s deputy prime minister and the Kremlin official in charge of military development, told a conference in Moscow that Peresvet was being widely deployed and could blind satellites up to 1,500km high. No evidence was given to back up the claim.
Russia is known for making grand announcements about military technology. The T-14 Armata tank, first seen in Moscow’s Victory Day parade in 2015 and said by Russia to be the best in the world, never went into mass production and has not been deployed in Ukraine.
In 2017, Colonel-General Oleg Salyukov, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s ground forces, said the T-14 Armata and Kurganets-25, an infantry fighting vehicle, were “in the final stages of development” – yet neither has been seen other than in parades or in trials.
Many armed forces around the world are experimenting with laser energy.
The Royal Navy’s Dragonfire system has been in production for a number of years, while Israel briefly fielded the Tactical High Energy Laser, used to shoot down rockets and artillery shells, before cancelling the project in 2005 for reasons of “bulkiness, high costs and poor anticipated results on the battlefield”.
Laser beams need clear air to work properly and are adversely impacted by bad weather. Fog, rain and snow can interfere with the lasers, which also need a huge amount of power to work.
Equipment to produce enough electricity to make the weapons viable is normally so big that the overall system is limited to static locations, reducing utility on the battlefield. However, it is possible that in future they will be able to protect military bases and other locations from drones.
The Russian test was said to have been conducted in Sarov, a closed town in the Nizhny Novgorod region once known as Arzamas-16 because it was so secret, which is a centre of Moscow’s nuclear weapons research. (Source: Daily Telegraph)
18 May 22. France to increase weapon deliveries to Ukraine. France has also delivered more than 800 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the launch of the Russian invasion.
France is set to increase weapon deliveries to Ukraine to help the latter in the wake of Russian aggression.
According to the Elysee presidential office in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron held a telephone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
During the call, President Macron committed that arms deliveries from France will continue and will ‘increase in intensity’ in the following days.
Besides military aid, France will continue sending humanitarian support to the embattled nation.
Last week, France, a Nato member, delivered 13 additional relief vehicles to Ukraine. It has sent more than 800 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the launch of the Russian invasion on 24 February this year.
The two presidents also talked regarding security guarantees that France may offer Ukraine as part of an international agreement.
A senior German government official told Reuters that the finance ministers from the G7 countries are planning to offer a €15bn ($15.8bn) aid package to Ukraine. The aid will help Kyiv’s finances as revenue collection collapsed in the country.
Nato deputy secretary general Mircea Geoană also conducted a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) to discuss military support for Ukraine.
“The Deputy Secretary General and EU ministers exchanged views on the Russian aggression against Ukraine and discussed additional ways to further support Ukraine, including by providing military assistance. The Minister of Defence of Ukraine, Oleksiy Reznikov, joined the meeting via video conference,” the statement said.
Ukraine has started deploying US-supplied M-777 Howitzers at front lines to increase its fire power. The Howitzers have a maximum firing range of 24.7km, with unassisted rounds, and 30km with rocket-assisted rounds. (Source: army-technology.com)
16 May 22. Vladimir Putin has signalled Russia will tolerate Finland and Sweden joining Nato but warned that the Kremlin would respond if the alliance installed military bases or equipment in either country. Putin said on Monday that the proposed Nato enlargement posed “no direct threat for Russia”, according to the news agency Interfax. He added that he had “no problems” with either Finland or Sweden. Speaking on a day that Sweden formally announced its membership application while acknowledging it would remain “vulnerable” before joining, the Russian president warned that “expanding military infrastructure on to this territory would provoke a response from us [ . . .] based on the threats they create for us”. His comments appeared to indicate the Kremlin could live with Finnish and Swedish Nato membership provided the military alliance did not dispatch arms or troops to the two countries — as it did in the Baltic states and Poland in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sweden has repeatedly said it does not want Nato military bases on its soil or to host nuclear missiles. Finland is thought to be unlikely to want either but said on Sunday that it would not set conditions before its membership. The proposed Nato expansion highlights the extent to which Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has transformed the geopolitical map of Europe. It will double the alliance’s frontier with Russia and in Sweden’s case breaks with two centuries of neutrality. On Monday Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson formally announced her country’s membership bid. She did so with centre-right opposition leader Ulf Kristersson, in a sign of unity ahead of parliamentary elections in September. (Source: FT.com)
15 May 22. Neutral Switzerland leans closer to NATO in response to Russia. Switzerland’s fabled neutral status is about to face its biggest test in decades, with the defence ministry tilting closer to Western military powers in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The defence ministry is drawing up a report on security options that include joint military exercises with NATO countries and “backfilling” munitions, Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss defence ministry told Reuters.
The details of the policy options under discussion in the government have not been previously reported.
“Ultimately, there could be changes in the way neutrality is interpreted,” Pulli said in an interview last week. On a trip to Washington this week, Defence Minister Viola Amherd said Switzerland should work more closely with the U.S.-led military alliance, but not join it, Swiss media reported.
Neutrality, which kept Switzerland out of both world wars during the 20th century, was not an objective in itself, but was intended to increase Swiss security, Pulli said.
Other options include high-level and regular meetings between Swiss and NATO commanders and politicians, she said.
Moving so much closer to the alliance would mark a departure from the carefully nurtured tradition of not taking sides that its supporters say helped Switzerland prosper peacefully and maintain a special role as intermediary, including during the West’s standoff with the Soviet Union.
The idea of full membership of NATO has been discussed, but whereas Sweden and Finland – countries that also have a history of neutrality – are on the verge of joining, Pulli said the report was unlikely to recommend Switzerland take that step.
The report is due to be completed by the end of September when it will go to the Swiss cabinet for consideration.
It will be submitted to parliament for discussion and serve as a basis for possible decisions on the future direction of Swiss security policy. The report itself will not be submitted to a vote.
The defence ministry will also contribute to a broader study being prepared by the foreign ministry. That project will look at the adoption of sanctions, weapons, munitions exports and the relationship with NATO from a neutrality perspective, the foreign ministry said.
UKRAINE REVIVES SWISS NEUTRALITY DEBATE
Switzerland nation has not fought in an international war since 1815, when it adopted neutrality at the Congress of Vienna which ended the French Revolutionary Wars.
The 1907 Hague Convention establishes Switzerland will not take part in international armed conflicts, favour warring parties with troops or armaments, or make its territory available to the warring sides.
Neutrality, included in the constitution, does allow Switzerland the right to self defence and scope on how to interpret the political aspects of the concept not covered by the legal definition.
It was last updated in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to allow a foreign policy based on cooperation with other countries in areas like humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
The Ukraine conflict has revived the debate, now centered on the government’s decisions to impose sanctions on Russia but to stop short of allowing the re-export of Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine. read more
“There is a lot of uneasiness that Switzerland cannot contribute more to help Ukraine,” Pulli said.
Backfilling – where Switzerland supplies munitions to other countries to replace those sent to Ukraine – is another potential measure, Pulli said, in a shift from the government’s policy until now, although direct supply is likely a step too far.
President Ignazio Cassis has ruled out arms deliveries to third countries in support of Ukraine, but, possibly showing a more expansive view of the issue, he has also said that neutrality is not a “dogma” and that failure to respond with sanctions “would have played into the hands of the aggressor.”
GROWING SUPPORT FOR NATO
Switzerland already has some ties to NATO, while last year it decided to buy Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-35A fighters which are being purchased or already used by some NATO members. read more
Switzerland “cannot join any alliance because of neutrality. But we can work together and the systems we are buying are a good basis for that,” defence minister Amherd told broadcaster SRF.
The measures under consideration would be a significant move closer for a country that did not join the United Nations until 2002 and produces many of its own weapons.
Vladimir Khokhlov, spokesman for the Russian embassy in Bern, said such measures would amount to a radical change of policy for Switzerland. Moscow would “not be able to ignore” an eventual renunciation of neutrality, which would have consequences, Khokhlov said. He did not provide further details.
The Swiss military favours greater cooperation with NATO as a way to strengthen national defence, while public opinion has undergone a sea-change since the Ukraine invasion.
More than half of respondents – 56% – supported increased ties with NATO, a recent poll found – well above the 37% average in recent years.
Support for actually joining the treaty remains a minority view, but has grown significantly. The April poll by Sotomo showed 33% of Swiss people supported joining the alliance, higher than the 21% long term view in a separate study by ETH university in Zurich.
“Clearly the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed a lot of minds. This is seen an attack on our western democratic values,” said Michael Hermann of Sotomo.
Thierry Burkart, leader of the right-of-centre Liberal Democratic Party, part of the governing coalition, described a “seismic shift” in how people feel about neutrality.
Neutrality “has to be flexible,” he told Reuters.
“Before Ukraine, some people thought there would never be another conventional war in Europe,” he said, adding that some had advocated for disbanding the army. “The Ukraine conflict shows we cannot be complacent.”
Burkart said he supported higher military spending and a closer relationship with NATO, but not full membership.
However, Peter Keller, general secretary of the far right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) told Reuters a closer relationship with NATO was incompatible with neutrality.
The SVP is also part of the governing coalition and is the biggest party in the Swiss lower house of parliament.
“There is no reason to change this successful foreign policy maxim. It has brought peace and prosperity to the people,” Keller said.
The defence ministry disagrees. During her visit to Washington, Amherd said the framework of the neutrality law “allows us to work more closely together with NATO and also with our European partners,” Tagesanzeiger newspaper reported. (Source: Reuters)
17 May 22. Ukrainian troops evacuate from Mariupol, ceding control to Russia.
- Ukrainian soldiers, many wounded, bussed to Russian-held towns
- ‘Defenders of Mariupol are heroes of our time’- Ukraine military
- Putin says he sees no threat from Finland, Sweden joining NATO
- Explosions hit Lviv, fighting reported in numerous areas
Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.
The evacuation of hundreds of fighters, many wounded, to Russian-held towns, likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.
“The ‘Mariupol’ garrison has fulfilled its combat mission,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement.
“The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel … Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” it added.
Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Anna Malyar said 53 injured troops from the steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 km (20 miles) to the east, while another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.
About 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant. Ukraine’s military said efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.
“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an early morning address. “There are severely wounded ones among them. They’re receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive.”
Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. In one, marked with Z like many Russian military vehicles in Ukraine, men were stacked on stretchers on three levels. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
HEAVY SHELLING REPORTED
Ukrainian fighters in recent days have driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east, having earlier held the capital Kyiv and its surrounds.
But fierce fighting and shelling continued across a broad area of the country’s east.
Zelenskiy’s office said on Tuesday the entire front line around Donetsk is under constant massive shelling, while in the northern region of Chernihiv, a missile strike on the village of Desna killed and wounded an unspecified number of people.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russian forces were reinforcing and preparing to renew their offensive near Slovyansk and Drobysheve, southeast of the strategic town of Izyum, having suffered losses elsewhere.
Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. One missile hit a military facility but there were no casualties, according to Zelenskiy’s office.
A village in Russia’s western province of Kursk bordering Ukraine came under Ukrainian fire on Tuesday, regional Governor Roman Starovoit said. Three houses and a school were hit but there were no injuries, he said.
Russian border guards returned fire to quell the shooting from large-calibre weapons on the border village of Alekseyevka, Starovoit wrote on messaging app Telegram.
Reuters could not immediately confirm details of battleground accounts.
Moscow calls its nearly three-month-old invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
PUTIN CLIMBDOWN OVER NATO
Zelenskiy planned to speak to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macro on Tuesday, his office said.
Russia has faced massive sanctions for its actions in Ukraine, but EU foreign ministers failed on Monday to pressure Hungary to lift its veto of a proposed oil embargo. r
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said he is open to the idea of seizing Russian state assets to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction.
McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) became one of the biggest global brands to exit Russia, laying out plans to sell all its restaurants after operating in the country for more than 30 years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Monday to climb down from threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.
“As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states – none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said. r
The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia’s security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.
Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moved weapons or troops forward.
Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO’s treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all. Finland and Sweden’s plans, however, hit a snag when NATO member Turkey’s president said he would not approve either bid. (Source: Reuters)
17 May 22. ATN, Corp., an industry leader in innovative optics for civilians, law enforcement, and the military, remains committed to providing support to Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy. With the conflict now ravaging into its second month and much of the population displaced, ATN has partnered with the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (GSMSG), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing medical relief to communities in conflict zones, austere environments, and disaster areas around the world.
“Every partner we engage in our commitment to support the Ukrainian people in their fight for democracy provides another bullet in our weapon to remove the Russian threat from Ukraine,” Marc Vayn, founder of ATN Corp, stated. “GSMSG is an elite global medical and surgical team that can provide the type of front-line and field-care and medical training the Ukrainian people and troops desperately need. ATN thermal products are now being used as part of GSMSG’s operational security protocol.”
“Not only does our partnership with GSMSG help Ukrainians, but GSMSG supports elite US veterans with medical experience to apply their battle-field skill-set to serve others in critical need,” James Munn, CEO of ATN and former US Army Veteran, added.
GSMSG was founded in 2015 by Dr. Aaron Epstein, MD, MA, as a means to provide high-quality care to victims of ISIS in the Iraq conflict. Starting with a handful of dedicated physicians and surgeons, GSMSG has grown to include over 1,500 US Special Operations veterans and medical professionals offering full-spectrum training and medical care to host nation partners in conflict zones and austere areas. Within hours of the Ukrainian invasion, GSMSG began mobilization of its teams and within days had a dozen team members on the ground with operational and medical experience. Team members have continued to cycle in country and to date, nearly 40 GSMSG professionals in Ukraine have included special operations veterans trained by the Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare, Air Force Special Operations Command, Joint Special Operations Command, and Joint Medical Augmentation Unit, along with the highest quality medical professionals and experts in their fields.
“GSMSG was the first US surgical team to arrive in Ukraine when the conflict broke out, and we are still present and supporting our Ukrainian partners,” Dr. Epstein explained. “In nearly two months, we have trained hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in tactical combat casualty care, along with over 4,000 civilians. In addition, we also provide train-the-trainer programs to further the instruction in other Ukrainian communities. To date, we have trained more Ukrainian troops and civilians, than any other international organization.”
In addition to providing medical training, GSMSG has also provided Ukrainian EMS command with procedures for mass decontamination in case of a chemical weapons incident, and translated the US Army tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) All Service Members (ASM) course into native Ukrainian and distributed to the Ukrainian forces and population.
For more information about ATN and to see the full details of ATN’s products, visit www.atncorp.com or call 1- 800-910-2862, Monday through Friday, from 7:00 AM to 4:30 PM PST. You can also find ATN on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.
16 May 22. Howitzers Proving Very Effective Against Russians, DOD Official Says. The 155 mm M777 towed howitzers supplied by the U.S. and other types supplied by ally and partner nations to Ukraine are having a big impact on the battlefield, a senior Defense Department official said at a Pentagon press briefing today.
“You’re already seeing the Ukrainians being willing to go on the counteroffensive in the Donbas. They are taking back some towns that the Russians have taken in the past,” the official said.
For example, the Ukrainians are pushing Russian forces to the east and to the north of Kharkiv, Ukraine, the official said.
“We do believe that the howitzers … are having an impact, particularly in Kharkiv. Now is that the only reason? I don’t think we would go that far to say that, but we do believe that the systems they’re getting — not just the U.S. systems but the systems from other countries — are absolutely helping them regain some momentum and to take back some territory,” the official said.
Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III had a conversation with Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. Reznikov told Austin that 74 of the 90 M777 artillery cannons that the U.S. supplied Ukraine are forward in the fight, providing long-range, indirect fire capability, the official said, noting that the tubes are being used not only in the Kharkiv area but elsewhere in the Donbas.
Currently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has committed about 80% of his total battalion tactical groups to Ukraine. “And there’s no question that of that 80%, he has lost quite a bit,” the official said.
Putin still has a total of 140-plus BTG available to him, with 10 operational in Ukraine. The ones not in Ukraine do not appear to be near the periphery of Ukraine, the official noted.
On the Ukrainian side, they still have a majority of their combat power available to them, the official said.
“That is not to say that losses are not being sustained on both sides. They are, both in terms of forces but also in terms of equipment and weapon systems. It’s a real gunfight in the Donbas, literally, with artillery being exchanged every single day and the Russians to fly airstrikes, the official said.
About six of those airstrikes hit a military training facility in Lviv, Ukraine, with minimal damage. It seems likely that those missiles could have been fired from submarines in the Black Sea, the official said. (Source: US DoD)
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