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Ukraine Update – June 06.
Military and hard security developments
- As anticipated, it appears that Ukrainian forces have continued withdrawing from Severodonetsk as the Russian assault continues to take ground in the city centre. The head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Haidai has stated that as of today, 1 June, Russian forces are now in control of around 70 percent of the city. Fighting nevertheless continues in the city centre as Ukrainian units appear to withdraw across the Siverskyi Donets River into the much more defensible city of Lysychansk.
- The Ukrainian General Staff have furthermore confirmed that heavy fighting continues around the village of Toshkivka, due south of Severodonetsk. Ukrainian forces late last week retook the strategic village, which lies on the western bank of the Siverskyi Donets and guards the approaches to the P-66 highway, which runs north to Lysychansk. If and when the Ukrainian withdrawal from Severodonetsk is completed in the coming days, and Russian forces consolidate control over the entire town, the Russians will likely begin concentrating on the area around Toshkivka and the building mini-encirclement around Zolote to the south of the village. Indeed, the Russian operational manoeuvre group pushing the Popasna spearhead has over the last 24 hours focused its assaults to the northeast and east of the spearhead, likely designed to support Russian forces around Zolote, though not much confirmed progress has been made.
- By taking Toshkivka and pushing towards the P-66 highway, Russian forces will be able to threaten Lysychansk from the south, rather than solely from Severodonetsk to the east. Any assaults against Lysychansk from Severodonetsk would require contested crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River. Given previous Russian failures to ford the river and Lysychansk’s much more favourable defensive position, this would risk serious Russian losses. As such, the retaking of Toshkivka will remain a key Russian objective in the coming days to facilitate a more cost-effective assault on Lysychansk.
- Conflicting reports have emerged over the last 12 hours as to where the current frontline is around Lyman, following the Russian capture of the town last week. Russian sources have claimed that their forces have seized control of the critical road through the village of Raihorodok, which crosses the Siverskyi Donets River and connects Lyman to the city of Slovyansk to the southwest. However, satellite footage published this morning suggests that fighting may still be ongoing on the eastern bank of the river, and that the bridge across the river remains standing. It remains likely that Ukrainian forces would endeavour to blow the bridge if they had withdrawn from the eastern bank, in order to slow the advance towards Slovyansk. However, given these conflicting reports it currently remains unclear whether Russian forces have succeeded in crossing the river and begun an assault on Raihorodok, which would place Slovyansk under increasing pressure in the coming days.
- Along the Kherson-Mykolaiv axis, Ukrainian forces have continued to make modest progress during their limited counteroffensive in the area. The Ukrainian General Staff have not yet confirmed whether Ukrainian forces have regained control over Davydiv Brid, a settlement that crosses the Inhulets River. However, OSINT sources indicate that Russian forces may have withdrawn from the area on 31 May, following the destruction of the town’s bridge. Given the Russian focus on the Donbas, this axis remains arguably Russia’s most vulnerable frontline, which Ukrainian forces will continue to probe for opportunities to push the Russians back, such as that materialising around Davydiv Brid.
- Nevertheless, Russian forces continue to entrench themselves along this axis, with the head of the military administration of Kryvyi Rih, Oleksandr Vilkul, stating on 1 June that the Russians are building defensive fortifications in northern Kherson oblast, as well as mining the Inhulets River, all in anticipation of further Ukrainian counteroffensives. However, while the Russian focus on the Donbas has left this axis relatively more vulnerable, Ukrainian forces are also under considerable, and growing, pressure given the assault on the Severodonetsk salient. As a result, resources will be limited along this axis for both sides over the short term at least. This could undermine the Ukrainian forces’ ability to sustain large-scale counteroffensives in the area in the coming days and weeks, as the 3-1 attack-defence ratio will place the onus on Ukrainian forces to marshal sufficient combat power to build momentum and breakthrough Russian defences.
- Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated on 1 June that Moscow considers the US decision to supply Ukraine with advanced rocket systems as increasing the risk of a “direct confrontation”. Ryabkov in particular singled out the planned provision of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). However, Washington has provided assurances that US-provided missiles will not be used to strike Russia. This will be accomplished namely by limiting the ammunition provided to versions with maximum ranges of 80 kilometres, rather than other versions capable of striking targets up to 300 kilometres away, which would naturally pose more of a threat to Russian territory. President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered similar assurances on 31 May by stating that Ukraine will not use US-provided systems to strike Russian territory. Nevertheless, these pledges have done little to ease tensions, with Ryabkov stating that assurances around “self-restraint are useless”.
- In line with this increase in tensions, the Russian Ministry of Defence have made a flurry of announcements confirming various military tests following the US announcement, clearly aimed at bolstering Russia’s strategic deterrence in response. Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are today, 1 June, taking part in drills in the Ivanovo region in Western Russia, involving over 1,000 servicemen training with Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. The Russian Navy has also claimed a successful test launch of its new Tsirkon hypersonic ship-launched cruise missile, with an attendant announcement that the newest Project 22350 frigate (Admiral Gorshkov-class) will enter the Northern Fleet before the end of this year, and will become the first full-time carrier of the Tsirkon hypersonic missile. The timing of all these announcements is unlikely to be coincidental and is designed to showcase Russian strategic and sub-strategic capabilities in response to escalating Western support for Ukraine.
On 31 May the US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that the US supports a peace plan presented by Italy earlier this month. The Italian proposals include a four-stage process aimed at ending the war in Ukraine, including: a ceasefire and a demilitarisation of the frontline under United Nations supervision; bilateral and international negotiations on the status of Ukraine, including its neutrality and its relationship with NATO and the European Union; a Russo-Ukrainian agreement on the status of Crimea and the Donbas; as well as a multilateral framework agreement on the security architecture of Europe. While the Italian peace plan is the highest profile to be proposed thus far, it remains highly unlikely that either side would entertain such terms in the coming months, especially as both Kyiv and Moscow continue to seek battlefield advantage and strengthen their negotiating positions. In a related development, however, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi stated during a press conference on 1 June that all large European Union states, apart from Italy, are opposed to giving Ukraine candidate member status. Later this month, the European Commission is expected to publish its opinion on whether to grant Ukraine candidate member status – a central priority for Kyiv. However, Draghi’s statement together with other recent comments by EU leaders, particularly those of French President Emmanuel Macron who has repeatedly watered down expectations, indicate that there is no consensus within the European Council. Looking ahead, June will thus be an important point in ascertaining Ukraine’s EU trajectory. It will also prove a key test of EU cohesion in its Ukraine policy and indeed a test of Kyiv’s relations with Brussels, which would likely sour if the likely decision is made to delay any progress on EU membership indefinitely.
Russia: State measures to mitigate sanctions impact on business leaders will increase government control over key sectors. On 31 May, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that Russian companies under Western sanctions will be legally exempt from electing boards of directors and to allow some board members to retain their powers without re-election. The measure is reportedly aimed at stimulating business activity and to address the struggles of public joint-stock companies in electing board members who have been sanctioned. The move is likely to bolster state control over key industries as the war in Ukraine progresses, with the Kremlin looking to shield itself from the impact of Western sanctions. Meanwhile, Mishustin also proposed to extend measures allowing companies to re-purchase their shares on the stock exchange. This extension will support companies in artificially boosting their value, in a likely bid to mitigate the risks of Russia’s volatile stock market, though this will be largely ineffective in the possible event of a stock market crash in the coming months.
- The direct Russian assault on Severodonetsk has continued to intensify over the last 24 hours, with Russian forces making fairly rapid gains in parts of the city. The head of the city’s military administration Oleksandr Stryuk has today, 31 May, confirmed that Russian troops are now in possession of around half of the city. The rapidity with which the Russians have managed to make ground in the city over the last 72 hours seems to indicate that the Ukrainians do not intend to defend Severodonetsk indefinitely.
- Additionally, unconfirmed reports have emerged claiming that the Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi has given orders for a phased withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Severdonetsk to Lysychansk in order to preserve the combat effectiveness of their troops. Such an order has yet to be confirmed by the Ukrainian General Staff at time of writing. However, it would align with our own assessment in recent weeks that a strengthening of the defensive line at Lysychansk, along the Siverskyi Donets River, would be to the advantage of the Ukrainian defence, rather than committing significant forces to defending Severodonetsk, which remains on the wrong side of the river and as such will be at increased risk of being cut off. This assessment is further supported by the progress Russian forces have made since the assault began over the weekend. When one compares Russian assaults against other major urban areas during this war, the assault on Severodonetsk is making the quickest progress of the war. This progress supports the assessment that the Ukrainians have already begun a phased withdrawal and are not planning to commit significant forces and resources to the town’s defence.
- Russian forces have also continued to make steady progress in consolidating their hold over the northern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River around Lyman. Yesterday, 30 May, DNR forces claimed they had captured the villages of Dibrova and Karavan, both to the south of Lyman, though the latter lies close to the strategic rail and road crossing across the river near Raihorodok. Unconfirmed reports emerging overnight have indicated that fighting has reached Raihorodok, though it remains unclear whether the Russians have succeeded in crossing the river, or indeed whether the Ukrainians have plans to blow the bridges to slow the Russian advance.
- Limited Russian attacks southeast of Izyum also continued over the last 24 hours, but as has been the case in recent weeks they made no notable progress in any direction, including the latest failed assault on the village of Dovhenke. Such operations to the southeast of Izyum remain largely probing attacks and reconnaissance operations, likely in preparation for a more concerted effort in the coming weeks to advance along the M-03 highway to Slovyansk to support Russian forces around Lyman further east. While such an objective remains unlikely in the short term, overnight missile strikes against Slovyansk underline increasing pressure on the city and the surrounding area.
- Further south around the Popasna salient, Russian forces have continued attacking to the north and west in an attempt to make further progress in closing the Severodonetsk cauldron. The Ukrainian General Staff this morning, 31 May, confirmed that Russian assaults continue around the villages of Zolote, Komyshuvakha, Nyrkove, Berestove and Pokrovske, underlining Russian efforts to push the frontline towards the key T-1302 and P-66 highways towards Lysychansk. Russian forces are also counterattacking Ukrainian forces around the village of Toshkivka, which was retaken by Ukrainians over the weekend. However, despite the continued assaults along these axes, there have been few confirmed Russian advances in the area over the last 24 hours.
- Along the Mykolaiv-Kherson axis in southern Ukraine, Russian forces have continued efforts to resist the limited Ukrainian counteroffensive over the last few days. Reports indicate that the Ukrainians have made no further gains over the last 48 hours, with Russian forces focusing on pushing back a Ukrainian bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Inhulets River following attacks around the villages of Lozove and Bilohirka. A key bridge over the Inhulets has now reportedly been destroyed in Davydiv Brid, which will hinder Ukrainian reinforcements from being able to support the bridgehead on the eastern bank of the river. As such, if the Russians manage to push the Ukrainians back across the river, this will strengthen their defensive line along this axis, using the river as a natural barrier against future Ukrainian counteroffensives.
- On 30 May, European Union member states have approved the proposed sixth sanctions package that includes a partial embargo on Russian oil despite weeks of opposition by the Hungarian government. Agreement on the oil measures has remained highly uncertain given Budapest’s resistance, but the EU has succeeded in building a consensus by providing Hungary key concessions. The new sanctions package bans the seaborne import of Russian oil and petroleum, but oil imported through pipelines will remain exempt from the ban temporarily for an unclear timeframe. The exemption aims to provide enough time for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to find alternative suppliers and mitigate the economic impact of the energy shift. The ban in its current form would phase out 90 percent of Russian oil imports from the European market, increasing policy risks for companies heavily reliant on crude. However, the move sets to cost the Kremlin up to USD 10 bn per year in lost export revenue, increasing the importance of China and India to plug this gap given most other Asian markets are currently incapable of processing the type of crude exported to Europe. Nevertheless, the shift has already taken place, with Asia overtaking Europe as the largest buyer of Russian oil for the first time last month, and record volumes of crude now directed to China and India.
- US President Joe Biden stated on 30 May that the US will not send “rocket systems that strike into Russia”, without specifying any particular weapon system that had been ruled out. The US is currently considering providing Ukraine with Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), which are capable of launching ballistic missiles at targets hundreds of kilometres away. However, Biden’s comments indicate that the US is now placing conditions upon how such systems are used, reiterating our assessment that any MLRS systems utilised by the Ukrainian Armed Forces will likely be armed with conventional tactical munitions with much shorter ranges. As such, the White House has ruled out any weapons systems with long-range strike capabilities outside of battlefield use. This will likely alleviate tensions that the initial announcement of possible MLRS transfers had triggered inside Russia.
- However, with the Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov confirming over the weekend that Ukraine had begun receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark, the type of Western weaponry being provided to Ukraine is clearly increasing in terms of offensive capability. Harpoon missiles will in particular provide the Ukrainians with advanced anti-ship capabilities that, if deployed successfully and in sufficient numbers, could pose a serious threat to the Black Sea Fleet and thus the current blockade of Odesa.
Following a phone call on 30 May between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has claimed that Zelensky expressed his desire to hold talks with Vladimir Putin. Zelensky has previously indicated that he would only entertain discussions with Putin himself directly, though Putin remains highly unlikely to agree to this at present given the situation on the ground and Kyiv’s hardening positioning on refusing to consider ceding any territory. Nevertheless, with Erdogan also holding a telephone call with Putin on 30 May, Turkey continues to facilitate indirect communication between the two leaders, with Erdogan reiterating his offer to hold peace negotiations in Istanbul. Following the calls, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is now scheduled to visit Turkey alongside a military delegation on 8 June, though it remains unlikely that he will meet his Ukrainian counterparts there as wider peace talks between the two sides have remained stalled for weeks. Turkey’s role as the most active and important broker in the conflict has been reinforced by their role in overseeing the Turkish Straits, with Erdogan reportedly discussing with Zelensky options for facilitating grain shipments through the Black Sea. It remains unclear whether Turkey will be able to facilitate any direct or indirect meetings between Zelensky and Putin in the weeks and months ahead, or whether it intends to offer serious proposals to facilitate an easing of the Russian blockade of the Black Sea. Given the Danish provision of advanced Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, it will likely be in Russia’s interests to work with Turkey in the coming weeks to agree an informal maritime agreement to ease the blockade. Their recent offer to facilitate maritime corridors in exchange for sanctions relief confirms Moscow’s interest in a negotiated resolution to the issue. And while that proposal has been rejected, a Turkish facilitated agreement on the Black Sea could serve both parties for varying reasons. For the Ukrainians it would enable the export of grain and the easing of the blockade of their southern coast. But for the Russians, it would mitigate the likelihood of Ukraine relying solely on unilateral military capabilities, namely the Harpoon missile, to degrade the Russian blockade. This would ultimately threaten the remaining Russian surface fleet in the Black Sea – something the Russian leadership will be extremely cognizant of avoiding following the embarrassing sinking of the Moskva earlier in the war.
- Over the weekend Russian forces began direct assaults on the city of Severodonetsk, as predicted. Heavy fighting is now taking place deeper inside the city after Russian forces consolidated their positions at both the city’s northeast and southeast outskirts. The Russians have now clearly committed significant resources into a frontal assault despite the fact that the wider encirclement of the salient has not yet been achieved, meaning Ukrainian ground lines of communication remain open, though under increasing artillery pressure. While Russian progress in the city is likely to be slow given the urban environment, the head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration Serhiy Haidai stated on 27 May that in order to avoid Ukrainian forces becoming encircled, they may have to leave the city. This underlines the importance of Russian operations to the west and south, where the Russians will aim to close the cauldron and cut off the remaining Ukrainian forces.
- Ukrainian forces claimed on 29 May to have retaken the town of Toshkivka directly south of Severodonetsk. This limited counteroffensive will likely undermine Russian progress in tightening the cauldron further south, where Russian and LNR forces had been steadily forming a mini encirclement around the town of Zolote last week. If LNR forces are being pushed back around Toshkivka, more pressure will likely be placed on the Russian operational manoeuvre group in the Popasna spearhead to support offensives around Zolote, potentially distracting the group from making further progress to the north and west of the spearhead.
- Indeed, over the weekend the Russians made few confirmed advances in this direction, though further progress is expected this week. The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed last night, 29 May, that fighting continues around the villages of Volodymyrivka, Vasylivka, Komyshuvakha and Myronivka. However, Russian forces have made no further progress towards cutting off the T-1302 highway connecting Bakhmut to Lysychansk-Severodonetsk, nor the M-03 highway connecting Svitlodarsk to Slovyansk via Bakhmut. Cutting off these key ground lines of communications will remain a key target for Russian forces this week, particularly as the Russian assault against Severodonetsk city itself has already begun.
- Further to the north, Russian forces have continued launching probing attacks southeast of Izyum, but made no progress over the weekend. In their morning briefing on 30 May, the Ukrainian General Staff maintained that Russian forces are regrouping around Izyum and holding a squadron of Ka-52 helicopters in reserve to resume offensive operations against Slovyansk in the coming days. However, it remains to be seen whether a concerted effort will materialise in this direction given the clear concentration of effort further east around Severodonetsk.
- Forces out of Izyum are more likely to support Russian operations around Lyman, which following the taking of the city last week have continued consolidating their position north of the Siverskyi Donets River. Furthermore, the General Staff have confirmed today, 30 May, that the Russians have rebuilt the railway bridge near the city of Kupyansk due north of Izyum that had previously been destroyed. Given the Russian military’s significant reliance upon railway logistics, the rebuilt bridge will boost Russian resupply efforts to their forces around Izyum, which could ultimately support a renewed offensive. While a push on Slovyansk remains possible, Russian forces are more likely to aim at crossing the river towards Siversk, southeast of Lyman along the T-0513 highway. An assault against Siversk would likely have the most tactical value in terms of closing the gap around the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk salient. But the splitting of Russian artillery strikes and probing attacks in multiple directions around Lyman indicates Russian forces could renew offensive action in any direction.
- In the southern axis, Ukrainian forces launched a limited counteroffensive along the Mykolaiv-Kherson border on 27 May. Russian forces have been digging in across this front over the last few weeks – clearly in anticipation of just such a counterattack. The Ukrainian General Staff claimed that Ukrainian forces had attacked the villages of Andriivka, Lozove and Bilohirka over the weekend, all of which remain on the east bank of the Ingrets River, which had up until then formed the natural frontline in the area. While it appears Ukrainian forces had succeeded in crossing the river, the General Staff stated yesterday, 29 May, that the Russians were committing numerous reinforcements to reclaim the lost positions, indicating the area remains heavily contested. Nevertheless, while the Russians are now on the defensive along the Mykolaiv-Kherson axis, it remains unlikely that Ukrainian forces will be able to retake significant areas of territory in the short term given the construction of multiple tiers of Russian defences along the frontline over recent weeks.
- Along the Zaporizhzhia frontline further east, Russian forces have continued to consolidate their defensive positions and have brought up further reinforcements to Vasylivka from Melitipol, including T-62s. The deployment of T-62 tanks along the Zaporizhzhia front may actually be designed to free up more modern equipment for redeployment along other fronts where offensive operations are ongoing or are in preparation. Oleksandr Starukh, the head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Administration, has posited that the T-62s will be deployed at stationary firing positions aimed at shoring up defences along the front, rather than being committed to an offensive action against Zaporizhzhia. This would be a logical use of the more obsolete (and thus vulnerable) T-62s to support defensive rather than offensive operations. However, the overall losses of modern equipment incurred by Russian forces could yet mean that they will be forced to commit such outdated equipment to offensive operations due to increasing shortages of more modern and capable platforms.
- Ahead of the upcoming EU Summit on 30-31 May, EU ambassadors met on 29 May in a final attempt to forge an agreement on the latest sanctions package against Russia, including an oil embargo. Following the meeting, it remains unlikely that member states will agree on the proposal that would ban the import of Russian oil via the sea while exempting imports through pipelines to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. EU diplomats are scheduled to hold last minute talks today, 30 May, in a final bid to break the deadlock ahead of the summit. However, it remains unlikely that a consensus will emerge on more severe sanctions, with a leaked draft indicating that exemptions for pipeline crude deliveries is being considered. While it is possible that member states would introduce a blanket oil embargo on Russia on a unilateral basis, the lack of an EU-level agreement will reduce policy risks to energy companies in the near term, but will also mitigate any potential impact on Russian revenues in the medium term.
- Recent economic data indicates that Moscow maintains healthy reserves despite increased spending and Western sanctions. Data from May showed that after subtracting public debt, total reserves were at a USD 187 bn surplus, more than twice the reserves required for Russia to safeguard its currency stability. Meanwhile, Moscow has earned approximately USD 100 bn from high commodity prices, particularly oil exports, during the first quarter of 2022. In a related development, Moscow reached a new three-year agreement with Serbia for supplies of natural gas on 29 May. In combination with the lack of EU consensus on the issue, Moscow will therefire continue receiving payments from numerous EU and non-EU states for over the next few months, with high commodity prices likely to support the stability of Russia’s currency and wider economy. However, supply chain disruptions and a considerable reduction in critical imports amid international isolation will exacerbate Russia’s economic challenges in the coming months, compounded by the enduring threat of a sovereign default next month.
On 29 May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the “liberation” of the Donbas as an “unconditional priority” for Moscow, while stating that “other Ukrainian territories should decide their own future”. Speaking to French TF1 television, Lavrov’s statements underline the reduction in Russian war goals, at least in the short to medium term, to focus on conquering both Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. His comments regarding “other Ukrainian territories” applied to regions currently under Russian occupation, namely Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, though whether their decision refers to a referendum on independence or annexation into Russia remains unclear. While this ambiguity is likely intentional, the critical response from some Russian hardliners indicates uneasiness and resistance to the apparent reduction in Russian war aims in Ukraine. For example, the influential ex-DNR commander Igor Strelkov criticised Lavrov’s statement for not mentioning the original “denazification” and “demilitarisation” aims of the war, nor the other Ukrainian oblasts that are not under Russian occupation. Strelkov argues that Lavrov’s statement is symptomatic of the Kremlin’s failure to commit sufficient resources to the war in order to capitalise on tactical victories, including those materialising around Severodonetsk; something he argues will make overall defeat in the war more likely. The arguments of Strelkov and other hardliners remain a growing critical voice amongst ultranationalist and pro-war factions in Russia. While they are at this stage unlikely to translate into serious opposition to the Kremlin, particularly if Russian forces make further progress in the Donbas in the coming weeks, their analysis of the military realities on the ground align more closely with our own and wider Western assessments of the current poor performance of Russian forces. As such, even if Russian forces succeed in closing the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk encirclement and take the remaining 5% of Luhansk territory, serious questions remain over Russia’s ability to capitalise on this victory thereafter, and translate that tactical victory into a wider operational and strategic one. Growing shortages of manpower, equipment losses and significant losses in their junior officer corps will likely limit the opportunity for Russian forces to continue the offensive thereafter without a major strategic pause; thus allowing Ukrainian forces to strengthen defences in Donetsk oblast. If this proves to be the case, Strelkov and other hardliners’ scrutiny of the discrepancy between marginal tactical victories and heavy manpower and equipment losses without adequate replacements will likely gain more and more attention inside Russia.
European Union: Agreement on Russian oil ban unlikely at summit, reducing policy risks for energy companies. EU Ambassadors have met on 29 May in a final attempt to forge an agreement on the latest sanctions package against Russia, including the oil embargo, ahead of the upcoming EU Summit on 30-31 May. Following the meeting of ambassadors on Sunday, it remains unlikely that member states will agree on a proposal that would ban the import of Russian oil via sea, although it would exempt imports through pipelines to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. As such, it is likely that member states will only adopt a sanctions package more limited in scope while they are also set to announce an EU package of loans to support Ukraine’s recovery. While it is possible that member states would introduce oil embargoes on Russia individually, the lack of an EU-level agreement will reduce policy risks to energy companies in the near term.
Georgia: Suspension of South Ossetia referendum will reduce political volatility in the near-term. On 30 May, the recently-elected de facto leader of Georgia’s separatist region of South Ossetia, Alan Gagloyev, announced the suspension of plans to hold a referendum on joining Russia on 17 July. Gagloyev reported that consultations with Moscow relating to further integration remain underway, however, highlighting legal consequences of a referendum as among a range of issues being discussed. Former leader, Anatoly Bibilov, had signed the decree on holding the referendum on 13 May. Amid the heightened risk of political volatility, Georgia had condemned the move, declaring that results would be illegitimate. As such, the recent suspension of the referendum will alleviate the risk of domestic destabilisation in Georgia in the coming months. However, ongoing consultations with the Kremlin indicate that a new, later date for the referendum could be launched once key integration issues are resolved.
Denmark, Netherlands: Russian gas deliveries to be halted, increasing energy security risks. On 30 May, gas companies in the Netherlands and Denmark warned that natural gas deliveries from Russia could be halted after some companies refused to pay for the deliveries in roubles. Russia has already halted gas deliveries to Poland, Bulgarian and Finland for their refusal to pay in roubles. Only 15 percent of Dutch gas consumption is based on Russian imports, and the government has already proposed to eliminate Russian imports from its energy mix to reduce dependence. The Danish Energy Agency has also said that Russia’s halting of gas exports would only have a limited impact on the country’s energy security and that Danish energy companies will be able to buy gas from the European market. Russia is likely to halt gas supplies to Denmark and the Netherlands today. Despite Danish Government confidence, it is likely energy insecurity will nevertheless increase in these countries in the near term, negatively impacting socio-economic health.
European Union: Partial oil embargo adopted, elevating policy risks for energy companies. On 30 May, European Union member states approved the proposed sixth sanctions package including the partial embargo on Russian oil despite weeks of opposition by the Hungarian government. The new sanctions package bans the seaborne import of Russian oil and petroleum. Oil imported through pipelines will remain exempt from the ban temporarily. The exemption aims to provide enough time for Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia enough time to find alternative suppliers. Separately, Germany and Poland have promised to halt their oil imports through the Northern Druzhba pipeline. The ban in its current form would phase out 90 percent of Russian oil imports from the European market, increasing policy risks for companies heavily reliant on crude while elevating energy security risks across the bloc, except for the countries exempted from the ban.
Italy: Pro-Russia cyber attacks against Western organisations will remain a persistent threat amid Moscow’s continued military offensives in Ukraine. On 29 May, the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) warned about a heightened risk of Italy-based organisations being targeted by Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. CSIRT claimed that “there continue to be signs and threats of imminent attacks” against both public and private sector entities from the Pro-Russian hacktivist group Killnet. This warning follows the hacktivist group’s Telegram post on 24 May calling for 3,000 “cyber fighters” to launch disruptive attacks against strategic targets as part of its “Operation Panopticon”. Such posts are Killnet’s latest efforts to fulfil its pledge to aid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine by targeting countries supporting Kyiv and the latest since it launched “Slow HTTP” DDoS attacks against Italian government agencies in mid-May (see Sibylline Cyber Daily Analytical Update – 16 May 2022). While pro-Kyiv hacking groups, including Anonymous Italy, have responded to these attacks by targeting Killnet members, such retaliations are unlikely to significantly deter future pro-Russian attacks. Instead, there is a heightened risk of the two sides’ escalating tit-for-tat cyber conflict resulting in further Europe-based critical entities, such as telecoms, being targeted by disruptive cyber attacks in the coming weeks.
- Pro-Russian cyber threat actors have continued to engage in malicious activities during this monitoring period. State-linked actors have predominately engaged in misinformation/disinformation campaigns aimed at limiting foreign nation-states’ capacity to provide Ukraine with either financial or military aid. In contrast, pro-Russian hacktivist groups have continued to ramp up their disruptive activity against Western countries perceived to be aiding Kyiv. While the risk of “cyber spillover” incidents emerging in the coming months remains low, Killnet’s growing tit-for-tat cyber conflict with Anonymous will heighten the risk of Western organisations being targeted as “collateral damage”.
- Pro-Ukraine hackers have remained highly active during this monitoring period, with the hacktivist collective Anonymous continuing to target Russia-based organisations and government agencies. The attacks launched by these groups are expected to remain comprised of rudimentary activities, such as DDoS, defacement, or data leaks, and cause minimal operational disruptions or damages.
Pro-Russian operations maintain pace; State-linked actors and hacktivists continue to focus on European targets supporting Ukraine
- On 29 May, the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) warned about a heightened risk of Italy-based organisations being targeted by Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. CSIRT claimed that “there continue to be signs and threats of imminent attacks” against both public and private sector entities from the Pro-Russian hacktivist group Killnet. This warning follows the hacktivist group’s Telegram post on 24 May calling for 3,000 “cyber fighters” to launch disruptive attacks against strategic targets as part of its “Operation Panopticon”. Such posts are Killnet’s latest efforts to fulfil its pledge to aid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine by targeting countries supporting Kyiv and the latest since it launched “Slow HTTP” DDoS attacks against Italian government agencies in mid-May (see Sibylline Cyber Daily Analytical Update – 16 May 2022).
- On 25 May, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) disclosed that the Russian state-linked hacking group ColdRiver is likely responsible for a website allegedly leaking emails between prominent Brexit politicians. The leaked emails purport that hard-line pro-Brexit figures – such as former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove – conspired to remove then British Prime Minister Theresa May and replace her with current Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the EU withdrawal negotiations in 2019 because of Johnson’s firmer stance. If the authenticity of these emails is officially confirmed, this would constitute the latest Russia-linked leak since UK-US trade documents were leaked before the 2019 UK general election to influence the vote.
Pro-Ukraine hackers continue data leak operations; tit-for-tat cyber conflict with Killnet will heighten risk of “collateral damage”
- On 31 May, industry reports claimed that several subgroups of the Anonymous hacktivist group hacked and leaked emails from the Russian metallurgical and investment firm Metprom Group via the whistleblower site Distributed Denial-of-Secrets (DDoSecrets). Analysis of the data trove is still ongoing, making it difficult to assess the veracity of the group’s claims, the potential impact this incident could have on Metprom Group’s operations, and whether any of its clients’ data was also leaked. If officially confirmed, this incident would be indicative of the Anonymous collective’s 27 April claim that they have “hacked and released nearly 10 m Russian files and emails” since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
- On 29 May, a Twitter account allegedly linked to the Anonymous collective’s subgroup “Spid3r” claimed that the hackers took several Belarusian government websites offline. While details of this incident are limited, including the attackers’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), the cyber attacks are reported to have affected entities such as Belarus’ Education Ministry, the National Center of Legal Information, and the Ministry of Justice. Spid3r claimed that the attacks were launched in response to Minsk’s cyber and military support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
- On 28 May, a Twitter account claiming to be linked to Anonymous claimed that the collective’s affiliate group Doomsec hacked and defaced the website Zakon. Zakon is a social media site used by Russian lawyers and legal professionals to discuss, amongst other things, legal events, bills, and foreign laws. The Anonymous account claimed that the group compromised Zakon’s website because the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was monitoring “every Russian and anyone who visited the site”. As such, this incident is indicative of the ongoing trend of Anonymous hackers targeting entities in order to inflict reputational damage to either the Russian government or its intelligence agencies.
- On 26 May, a Twitter account allegedly linked to the Anonymous hacktivist collective claimed that it hacked the Russian travel and tour website “Hot Tours”. In addition, the group also defaced the site’s homepage with an anti-Moscow message that says “rise up people against Putin”. Further details about this campaign are limited, making it difficult to assess the extent of disruption caused by this incident. Nevertheless, the hack is indicative of Anonymous’ claim on 29 May that the collective has defaced nearly 65 Russian sites as a part of its “OpRussia” campaign aimed at countering Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.
- On 26 May, an alleged Anonymous-linked Twitter account claimed that the collective exfiltrated 10.6 MB of sensitive information from the Russian grain supply firm “Grain Business” and leaked it online. The alleged Anonymous hacker did not disclose what type of information was included in this data leak. It is therefore difficult to assess whether this incident will negatively impact the firm’s ability to produce and export gain products. Before the war, Russia was one of the world’s largest grain exporters. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed in May that the country is expecting a record-high harvest of 130 m tonnes in 2022. Russia continues to export its grain products despite the effects of Western sanctions.
Pro-Russian hacking groups have continued to engage in a myriad of nefarious cyber operations during this latest monitoring period. The activity launched by these groups differed notably depending on whether the hackers are state-sponsored or hacktivists. For example, although the aim of Russian APT group ColdRiver’s misinformation campaign is unclear, there is a high likelihood that it is attempting to sow unrest amongst the UK populace and limit Whitehall’s capacity to provide either financial or military assistance to Kyiv during its conflict with Russia. Such activity underscores the growing trend of Russian state-linked hackers targeting organisations and countries not directly involved in the Ukraine conflict but could potentially present a threat to its military operations in the country. Given that Western countries’ support of Kyiv is unlikely to diminish in the immediate future, it is highly likely that further such campaigns will be launched amid Moscow’s protracted conflict in Ukraine. Europe-based government agencies or organisations engaged in economic, defence, or foreign policy-related activities will constitute the most likely targets for these operations. In contrast, the threat posed by pro-Russian hacktivist groups has continued to increase in recent weeks, with the CSIRT’s warning regarding Killnet posing the most immediate concern for Western businesses. While it is unclear how successful Killnet’s Telegram campaign has been, the group’s ability to gather 3,000 “cyber fighters” could significantly increase its capacity to compromise Western targets of strategic interest, such as government agencies and/or critical infrastructure operators. While pro-Kyiv hackers, such as Anonymous Italy, have responded to Killnet’s hostilities by targeting Killnet members, such retaliatory activity is unlikely to deter future pro-Russian cyber attacks. Instead, the two sides’ growing tit-for-tat cyber conflict will heighten the risk of Western firms being targeted as “collateral damage”. While this threat does extend to all sectors, Europe-based critical infrastructure operators, including telecoms or energy sector firms, will constitute the most at-risk for these attacks.
Pro-Ukraine hackers, such as the IT Army of Ukraine and Anonymous, have also continued to launch cyber attacks as a part of their #OpRussia campaign aimed at expressing their political grievances with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As in previous weeks, Anonymous and its affiliated hackers have remained the most active actors in this conflict. An alleged member of the group shared a screenshot from software firm Imperva’s dashboard, which claimed that cyber attacks against Russia increased by 55 percent compared to the previous week. Similarly, the Anonymous member also claimed that Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky’s dashboard listed Russia as the “most cyber attacked country on the planet”. While neither source provided any follow-up information about these trends, a likely explanation for this increase is pro-Kyiv hackers’ consistent targeting of Russia-based organisations and government agencies since the start of the Ukraine conflict in February. With Moscow’s military operations in Ukraine unlikely to desist in the coming weeks, there is a high likelihood of further nefarious activity by pro-Kyiv hackers to express their grievances over Russia’s invasion. Such activity is expected to remain largely rudimentary – such as data leaks, defacement, or DDoS – and will cause limited or temporary operational disruptions.
This week, EU leaders agreed to impose a new sanctions package that will block over two-thirds of Russian oil imports by sea. While a notable expansion of existing European sanctions, EU leaders exempted the import of Russian pipeline oil from the package amid Hungary’s hardline stance against the motion, after Budapest pushed for concessions to ease the cost of a transition from Russian oil. Russia currently supplies 27% of the EU’s oil demands, but sanctions will limit this to 10-11%, representing around USD 10 bn in lost revenue a year for the Kremlin. Over the coming months and years, this and new sanctions will continue to pose a significant blow to Russia’s long-term energy-dominated economy. While reputational and legal issues are set to limit Western companies’ exposure to the Russian market over the long term, European states will now have to look to other sources of oil, including the US or Saudi Arabia, to shore-up oil supplies. However, the prospect of a rapid European divestment away from Russian gas is by contrast highly unlikely, with many European leaders confirming this week that a gas embargo will not form part of the next round of sanctions. On 29 May, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced his government had secured an “extremely favourable” natural gas deal with Russia. Despite threats of fines for sanctions violations from the EU, US and UK, Serbia’s prioritisation of national economic and political interests reflects the individual challenges European countries face amid heightened energy security concerns. Serbia’s reluctance to impose sanctions and refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion will also likely harm the country’s EU integration process, and underpins enduring Russian influence in Central Europe despite the war in Ukraine.
In other developments, some members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus (OPEC+) have this week indicated that they are considering suspending Russia from an oil production deal amid international sanctions. Notably, however, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, indicated Russia will remain a member of the extended grouping, though it remains to be seen whether a consensus on the core members will emerge in the coming weeks on Russia’s membership. OPEC+ consists of 23 oil-exporting countries (including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, among others) and regulates oil supplies to set the price of oil on the world market. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman stated that politics should remain out of OPEC+, and has opted for a neutral stance towards the war. Comments suggest that although the EU, US and UK have implemented tough sanctions on Russia, there is demand from the rest of the international community for business as usual as far as energy quotas and production are concerned. Nevertheless, if OPEC suspend Russia from the current quota restrictions, this would enable major exporters, including Saudi Arabia, to increase their own oil production, which could begin to bring oil prices down in the coming months. In a related development, this week Shell revealed it will develop the Crux gas field offshore Australia for around USD 2.5 bn in partnership with SGH Energy in 2023. Once constructed, Crux is predicted to distribute its first gas supplies in 2027. The move aims to provide Asia with more secure gas supplies as Western sanctions on Russia make it harder for countries to sustainably receive gas. While the Crux gas field will eventually alleviate gas supply concerns across Asia and potentially reduce the cost of gas across the region, it will not have an impact on Asia’s immediate energy security needs as the Russo-Ukrainian war will continue to drive energy volatility for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, while the Crux gas field aims at offering more sustainable gas supplies for the region, the process of shipping gas supplies from the Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility will be costly. As such, these longer term and potentially more costly Western alternatives may do little to mitigate Asian nations’ reluctance to shift away from coal to cleaner gas alternatives, particularly as Moscow is clearly pivoting its long-term gas strategy away from Europe towards Asian markets. (Source: Sibylline)
04 June 22. Ukraine says its troops have pushed back Russian advance in eastern city.
- Ukraine says retakes territory in Sievierodonetsk
- Putin blames West for grain price surge
- Ukrainian official says Putin still seeks to subdue country
- U.N., Russia discuss Ukraine grain exports
SIEVIERODONETSK, Ukraine, June 4 (Reuters) – Ukraine said it had recaptured a chunk of the factory city of Sievierodonetsk, the focus of a Russian offensive to take the eastern Donbas region, and could hold it for up to two weeks as fighting raged on Saturday.
Sergiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, told national television on Friday that Ukrainian troops had retaken 20% of the territory they had lost in Sievierodonetsk.
It was “not realistic” that the city would fall in the next two weeks even though Russian reinforcements were being deployed, he said.
“As soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run,” said Gaidai.
His claim of Ukrainian advances could not immediately be verified. Reuters reached Sievierodonetsk on Thursday and was able to verify that Ukrainians still held part of the city.
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday Russia had reinforced its troops and had used artillery to conduct “assault operations” in the city. But it said Russian forces had retreated after failed attempts to advance in the nearby town of Bakhmut and cut off access to Sievierodonetsk.
Gaidai said in a social media post that four people were killed in Russian attacks in the region on Friday, including a mother and a child.
In Ukraine’s southern Odesa region on Saturday morning, a missile hit an agricultural storage unit, wounding two people, the regional administration’s spokesman wrote on Telegram.
Two people died and at least two were injured in Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure in the northeastern Kharkiv region on Friday, Ukraine’s Interfax reported, citing emergency services.
The war in Ukraine marked its 100th day on Friday. Tens of thousands have died, millions have been uprooted from their homes and the global economy disrupted since Moscow’s forces were driven back from Kyiv in the first weeks of the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied on Friday that Moscow was preventing Ukrainian ports from exporting grain, blaming rising global food prices on the West.
“We are now seeing attempts to shift the responsibility for what is happening on the world food market, the emerging problems in this market, onto Russia,” he said on national television.
He said the best solution would be for Western sanctions on Russia’s ally Belarus to be lifted and for Ukraine to export grain through that country. r
Ukrainian officials are counting on advanced missile systems that the United States and Britain recently pledged to swing the war in their favour, and Ukrainian troops have already begun training on them.
While Ukraine’s resistance has forced Putin to narrow his immediate goal to conquering the entire Donbas region, Ukrainian officials said he remains intent on subduing the whole country.
“Putin’s main goal is the destruction of Ukraine. He is not backing down from his goals, despite the fact that Ukraine won the first stage of this full-scale war,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told national television on Friday.
A Russian government spokesman said “certain results have been achieved” in the war and Moscow will continue its military operations until all goals are met.
REUTERS JOURNALISTS WOUNDED
Two Reuters journalists were injured and a driver killed on Friday after their vehicle came under fire as they tried to reach Sievierodonetsk from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Russian soldiers also attempted to advance towards Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets River from Sievierodonetsk, but were stopped, Ukraine’s military general staff said.
In neighbouring Donetsk province, Russian troops were just 15 km (9 miles) outside the city of Sloviansk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters.
Donetsk will not fall quickly but needs more weapons to keep the attackers at bay, Kyrylenko said.
Moscow says the Western weapons will pour “fuel on the fire,” but will not change the course of what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of dangerous nationalists.
Russia controls around a fifth of the country, about half of that seized in 2014 and the rest captured since launching its invasion on Feb. 24.
For both sides, the massive Russian assault in the east in recent weeks has been one of the deadliest phases of the war, with Ukraine saying it is losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day.
Moscow has made slow but steady progress, squeezing Ukrainian forces inside a pocket in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, but failing to encircle them.
Kyiv hopes the Russian advance will drain Moscow’s forces enough for Ukraine to recapture territory in months to come.
The war has had a devastating impact on the global economy, especially for poor food-importing countries. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading sources of grain and cooking oil, but those supplies were cut off by the closure of its Black Sea ports, with more than 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos.
United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths on Friday ended two days of “frank and constructive discussions” with Russian officials in Moscow on facilitating exports of Ukraine grain from Black Sea ports, a U.N. spokesman said. r
The talks came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tries to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertiliser exports.
Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blockading the ports, which Ukraine has mined to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. Putin blames Western sanctions. (Source: Reuters)
01 June 22. Russia-Ukraine latest news: UK will send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine. Britain will reportedly send multiple launch rocket systems, capable of striking targets as far away as some 49 miles, to assist Ukraine in its defence against Russia.
The M270B1 launchers will offer a “significant boost in capability for the Ukrainian forces,” a statement from the British Foreign Office, reported by CNN, said.
Ukrainian troops will be trained in the UK on how to use the launchers, to ensure their effectiveness is maximised.
The move has been “coordinated closely” with the United States and comes after President Joe Biden agreed to supply Ukraine with a small number of the medium-range M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars).
“The UK stands with Ukraine and has taken a leading role in supplying its heroic troops with the vital weapons they need to defend their country,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday.
“As Russian’s tactics change, so must our support to Ukraine. These highly capable multiple-launch rocket systems will enable our Ukrainian friends to better protect themselves against Russia’s brutal use of long-range artillery, which Putin’s forces have used indiscriminately to flatten cities.” (Source: Daily Telegraph)
02 June 22. Sweden to supply more military aid including anti-ship missiles to Ukraine. Sweden will provide Ukraine with more economic aid and military equipment, including anti-ship missiles, rifles and anti-tank weapons, Finance Minister Mikael Damberg and Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said on Thursday.
“The proposals that are submitted (to parliament) mean that allocated funds for the central government budget will increase by SEK 1.0 bn ($102 m) in 2022,” the Nordic country’s finance ministry said in a statement.
“In solidarity with Ukraine, and as part of the international response to Russia’s actions, the government sees a continuing need to support Ukraine,” it said.
Sweden in February announced it would send military materiel including 5,000 anti-tank weapons, helmets and body armour to Ukraine, and in March announced it would send another 5,000 anti-tank weapons. ($1 = 9.7963 Swedish crowns) (Source: Reuters)
01 June 22. U.S. plans to sell armed drones to Ukraine in coming days -sources. The Biden administration plans to sell Ukraine four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones that can be armed with Hellfire missiles for battlefield use against Russia, three people familiar with the situation said.
The sale of the General Atomics-made drones could still be blocked by Congress, the sources said, adding that there is also a risk of a last minute policy reversal that could scuttle the plan, which has been under review at the Pentagon for several weeks.
Ukraine has been using several types of smaller shorter range unmanned aerial systems against Russian forces that invaded the country in late February. They include the AeroVironment (AVAV.O) RQ-20 Puma AE, and the Turkish Bayraktar-TB2.
But the Gray Eagle represents a leap in technology because it can fly up to 30 or more hours depending on its mission and can gather huge amounts of data for intelligence purposes. Gray Eagles, the Army’s version of the more widely known Predator drone, can also carry up to eight powerful Hellfire missiles.
The sale is significant because it puts an advanced reusable U.S. system capable of multiple deep strikes on the battlefield against Russia for the first time.
The administration of President Joe Biden intends to notify Congress of the potential sale to Ukraine in the coming days with a public announcement expected after that, a U.S. official said.
A White House spokesperson referred inquiries to the Pentagon and a Pentagon spokesperson said there was “nothing to announce.”
Money from the recently passed $40 bn Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has been set aside to fund both the possible sale and the training needed for the drones, the U.S. official and one of the people familiar said.
“Generally the MQ-1C is a much larger aircraft with a max take-off weight around three times that of the Bayraktar-TB2, with commensurate advantages in payload capacity, range, and endurance,” said drone expert Dan Gettinger with the Vertical Flight Society.
The MQ-1C is also compatible with a greater variety of munitions than the Bayraktar-TB2. The Ukrainian Bayraktars are equipped with 22 kg (48 pound) Turkish-made MAM-L missiles, around half the weight of a Hellfire.
Training on the UAV system made by General Atomics usually takes months, Gettinger said, but a notional plan to train experienced Ukrainian maintainers and operators in a handful of weeks has been proposed in recent weeks, the sources said.
Arming the drones with Hellfire missiles will be done via a future Presidential Drawdown Authority once training on the drones has been completed, the U.S. official and one of the sources said.
Up until an announcement on Wednesday that Ukraine would get four HIMARS rocket systems, the Pentagon has stressed that smaller systems such as Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which allies are shipping to Ukraine via truck near-daily, are most useful.
Raytheon Technologies (RTX.N) and Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) jointly produce Javelins, while Raytheon makes Stingers. (Source: Google/Reuters)
01 June 22. Germany to supply modern IRIS-T air defence system to Ukraine. Germany will supply Ukraine with the IRIS-T modern air defence and radar systems, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, stepping up arms deliveries amid criticism that Berlin is not doing enough to help Kyiv in its fight against Russia.
“The government has decided that we will send the IRIS-T system – the most modern system that Germany currently possesses,” the German chancellor told parliament.
The IRIS-T missiles have been developed together with other NATO nations, according to Scholz, who said Berlin will be “sending more weapons” to Ukraine.
He said Germany will also supply Ukraine with radar systems to help locate enemy artillery.
Under heavy pressure over the last weeks, Scholz’s government has agreed to send heavy weapons, including self-propelled howitzers and Leopard tanks, to Ukraine.
“We have been delivering continuously since the beginning of the war,” Scholz said, pointing to more than 15 m rounds of ammunition, 100,000 hand grenades and about 5,000 anti-tank mines sent to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on February 24.
Germany has already agreed to deals with Greece and Czech Republic for Athens and Prague to send Soviet-era military equipment to Ukraine in exchange for more modern weapons from Berlin.
The announcement comes as Ukrainian forces are battling advancing Russian troops in the eastern industrial region of the Donbas.
Following a series of setbacks in the weeks after their invasion, Russian troops switched their focus to the Donbas region, planning to capture the parts of the region not already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk, which is key to Moscow’s efforts to quickly complete the capture of the industrial Donbas region, the mayor told The Associated Press news agency.
Russian forces seized most of Severodonetsk by Wednesday. Fierce fighting was under way as Russian forces want to take full control of the city.
Military analysts have said the battles in the Donbas are a race against time: the Kremlin is hoping for a victory before more Western arms arrive to bolster Ukraine’s defences.
The West is hoping to tilt the balance.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday the United States will provide Ukraine with the more advanced rocket systems that its leaders have asked for. In an essay published in The New York Times, Biden said the rocket systems will enable Ukraine “to more precisely strike key targets”.
Biden had said on Monday that the US would not send Ukrain (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Al Jazzerah)
02 June 22. Turkey’s Baykar donates drone for Ukraine after Lithuanian crowdfunder. Manufacturer Baykar and Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency will donate a Bayraktar TB2 advanced combat drone to Lithuania for transfer to Ukraine, after Lithuanians crowdfunded nearly 6 m euros to buy it, Lithuania’s defence ministry said on Thursday.
Baykar will deliver the drone in a few weeks. It will be painted in the colours of the Lithuanian and Ukrainian flags, according to the ministry, which had said last week it would arrange to buy the craft.
“We came to Turkey to agree on conditions for the drone purchase, but they prepared the most pleasant surprise possible for us,” Deputy Defence Minister Vilius Semaska said in a statement.
Baykar confirmed its donation in a Twitter post that included photographs of Semaska with a drone at its premises.
“The people of Lithuania have honorably raised funds to buy a Bayraktar TB2 for Ukraine. Upon learning this, Baykar will gift a Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania free of charge and asks those funds go to Ukraine for humanitarian aid,” the company said.
Hundreds of people chipped in to buy the drone for Ukraine as a show of solidarity in its war against Russia, which also once ruled Lithuania.
A total of 5.9m euros ($6.2m) was raised in just 5-1/2 days, mostly in small donations, according to Laisves TV, the Lithuanian internet broadcaster that launched the drive.
About 1.5m euros ($1.6m) of the funds raised will be used to pay for armaments for the drone, the defence ministry said, with the rest used for other help for Ukraine.
Kyiv has previously bought dozens of the TB2 drones, which have proven effective in recent years against Russian forces and their allies in conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Ankara, which has good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, is not among NATO members that have sent heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Lithuania is also looking to purchase a Bayraktar or a similar drone for its own military, Semaska told Reuters. “We are looking into a TB2 but it could also be a TB3 or another drone armed with missiles,” he said. ($1 = 0.9335 euros) (Source: Google/Reuters)
01 June 22. Fact Sheet on U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine. The United States has committed approximately $5.3bn in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $4.6bn since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24.
On June 1, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $700 m, tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs for today’s fight. This authorization is the eleventh drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.
United States security assistance committed to Ukraine includes:
- Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
- Over 6,500 Javelin anti-armor systems;
- Over 20,000 other anti-armor systems;
- Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- 108 155mm Howitzers and over 220,000 155mm artillery rounds;
- 90 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm Howitzers;
- 15 Tactical Vehicles to recover equipment;
- High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and ammunition;
- 20 Mi-17 helicopters;
- Hundreds of Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles;
- 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers;
- Over 7,000 small arms;
- Over 50,000,000 rounds of small arms ammunition;
- 75,000 sets of body armor and helmets;
- 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- Laser-guided rocket systems;
- Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems;
- Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels;
- 22 counter-artillery radars;
- Four counter-mortar radars;
- Four air surveillance radars;
- M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions;
- C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing;
- Tactical secure communications systems;
- Night vision devices, thermal imagery systems, optics, and laser rangefinders;
- Commercial satellite imagery services;
- Explosive ordnance disposal protective gear;
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear protective equipment;
- Medical supplies to include first aid kits;
- Electronic jamming equipment;
- Field equipment and spare parts.
The United States also continues to work with its Allies and partners to identify and provide Ukraine with additional capabilities to defend itself. (Source: US DoD)
01 June 22. $700m in Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine.
Attributed to Pentagon Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Media) Todd Breasseale:
Today, June 1, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $700 m, tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs for today’s fight. This authorization is the eleventh drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.
Capabilities in this package include:
- High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and ammunition;
- Five counter-artillery radars;
- Two air surveillance radars;
- 1,000 Javelins and 50 Command Launch Units;
- 6,000 anti-armor weapons;
- 15,000 155mm artillery rounds;
- Four Mi-17 helicopters;
- 15 tactical vehicles;
- Spare parts and equipment.
The United States has now committed approximately $5.3bn in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $4.6bn since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $7.3bn in security assistance to Ukraine.
The United States also continues to work with its Allies and partners to identify and provide Ukraine with capabilities to meet its evolving battlefield requirements. (Source: US DoD)
01 June 22. Russia Forcing Changes to NATO Strategic Concepts.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization continues to change even as it defends the 30 nations of the alliance, Ambassador Julianne Smith, U.S. permanent representative to NATO, told the Defense Writers’ Group today.
Smith spoke about the challenges from Russia due to that country’s unprovoked war on Ukraine and the upcoming NATO Summit in Madrid.
Her discussion reinforced the changes in the alliance as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — the biggest being that the 30 member nations speak with one voice in opposing the Russian invasion.
President Joe Biden will attend the Madrid Summit and discuss a range of issues with the leaders of the other NATO allies beginning June 28.
Even before the Russian invasion, the Madrid Summit was poised to be a game-changer for the alliance. The summit crown jewel was to be the agreement on a new strategic concept for the alliance. Much has changed since the last time NATO leaders approved a strategic concept in 2010.
“Even before February 24, there was a deep appreciation across the alliance that the language on Russia from 2010 was sorely outdated and needed a significant upgrade and needed to reflect the current environment,” Smith said. “There was also an appreciation that China, for the first time, needed to be part of the strategic concept.”
In addition, the concept must address new threats and challenges, including “a heavier emphasis on things like emerging and disruptive technologies, heavier emphasis on new domains like cyber and space, more on climate change,” she said.
And then, Russia again invaded its neighbor, which added new demands and complexities to the summit.
Now, there is a force-posture piece to discussions in Madrid. The allies — including the United States — have sent thousands of service members to the alliance’s frontline states to deter Putin. The number of NATO battlegroups in those states increased from four to eight. Biden has pledged to defend every inch of NATO territory. The allies will discuss how the long-range footprint of NATO forces in Europe should look. “What over the medium- and long-term should the alliance be looking to do in that neighborhood to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank?” Smith asked.
Another response to the Russian invasion is applications by Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. The two nations, long NATO partners, have military capabilities that would fit seamlessly into the alliance, Smith said. “The hope is that those two countries will join us in Madrid as invitees,” she said.
China, too, is a concern. The foreign ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea will join NATO leaders in Madrid. Smith believes this will broaden “the conversation about our shared security, … talking to them about things like emerging and disruptive technologies and cyber,” she said.
Smith, who is based in Brussels, said the allies have been impressed by the performance of the Ukrainian military in their defense of their country. “I think many of us were surprised by their ability to push back on Russian aggression, their determination, their fighting spirit, the ways in which they were handling certain assets and capabilities,” she said.
The same allies express surprise at Russia’s performance in the war. “Russia is a country that is clearly having some major challenges on the ground,” she said. “Putin was incapable and unable to move into Kyiv and take it in just a few days. Russia has had to reassess and put its focus almost exclusively in the East.”
Smith said the outreach to the Indo-Pacific nations is helping all democratic nations deal with new competitors’ strategies. Both Russia and China are threats to the rules-based international order that has kept the peace since the end of World War II.
Russia and China are aligned in many ways. Both nations use gray-area tactics to gain advantages, and they conducted joint military exercises.
“It’s been interesting for me to watch countries in the Asia-Pacific talk about hybrid threats on their side of the Pacific: how they are grappling with disinformation, cyberattacks, the aggressive tactics that they’re seeing, acts of intimidation from China,” Smith said. “Then, you pair that with an Estonian or a Lithuanian, and they talk about some of the same challenges that they’re seeing from Russia.” (Source: BUSINESS WIRE)
01 June 22. Advanced Rocket Launcher System Heads to Ukraine. As part of the latest presidential drawdown package for Ukraine — this one worth $700m dollars — the Defense Department has included four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
The M142 HIMARS system allows for the launching of multiple, precision-guided rockets. Along with the HIMARS system, the department is also including the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System to be used with HIMARS. Those rockets are capable of hitting a target more than 40 miles away.
“What the HIMARS will allow them to do is to get greater standoff. Right now, the Howitzers we provided them have about a 30 km range; the HIMARS have more than twice that, which will allow them — even with fewer systems — greater standoff,” said Colin H. Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
The HIMARS system also provides increased precision, Kahl said.
“These are precision guided systems with extended range,” he said. “For high value targets, that, that allows them to keep some of the pressure off of Ukrainian forces on the front, we think these systems will be very useful.”
To ensure the most rapid delivery of HIMARS systems to Ukraine, Kahl said DOD pre-positioned systems inside Europe in anticipation of the president’s decision to approve their transfer to Ukraine.
Before that transfer happens, Kahl said, the U.S. will provide training on the system to both Ukrainian users and maintainers.
“These, of course, are systems that the Ukrainians need to be trained on,” he said. “We think that’ll take around three weeks. They need to know not just how to use the systems, but, of course, how to maintain the system — so, think of logistics, maintenance, things like that. So, it’ll be a number of weeks until that training is complete.”
In addition to the four HIMARS systems, this latest package of equipment for Ukraine will include five counter-artillery radar systems; two air-surveillance radars; 1,000 Javelins and 50 command launch units; 6,000 antiarmor weapons; 15,000 155-mm artillery rounds; four Mi-17 helicopters; 15 tactical vehicles; and additional spare parts and equipment.
The latest equipment package for Ukraine will likely not be the last, Kahl said.
“We will continue to closely consult with Ukraine and surge additional available systems and capabilities in support of its defense,” he said.
Since the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, the U.S. has provided $4.6 bn in assistance to Ukraine. Recently, Congress approved, and the president signed, an additional $40 bn in support to Ukraine — $8 bn of that is for additional presidential drawdown authority.
But the U.S. isn’t the only nation helping the Ukrainians defend their sovereignty.
“Even as we continue to provide vital assistance, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize and commend our allies and partners from more than 40 countries who have joined us to continue supporting Ukraine with heavy weapons, munitions and other vital security assistance,” Kahl said. “Our support for Ukraine and that of the international community remains unwavering.” (Source: US DoD)
01 June 22. Swiss veto Danish request to send armoured vehicles to Ukraine. The Swiss government has vetoed Denmark’s request to send Swiss-made armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine, citing its neutrality policy of not supplying arms to conflict zones.
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) rejected Denmark’s bid to provide Piranha III infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, it said, confirming a report by broadcaster SRF.
Neutral Switzerland requires foreign countries that buy Swiss arms to seek permission to re-export them.
In April it vetoed the re-export of Swiss-made ammunition used in anti-aircraft tanks that Germany is sending to Ukraine. It has also rejected Poland’s request for arms to help neighbouring Ukraine.
Switzerland has parted with past practice and adopted European Union sanctions designed to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, an incursion Moscow describes as a special military operation to disarm and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
But Swiss neutrality faces its biggest test in decades as a domestic debate rages over how to interpret the policy that kept Switzerland out of both world wars during the 20th century. (Source: glstrade.com/Reuters)
31 May 22. Berlin to supply arms to Greece, Athens to deliver Soviet weapons to Kyiv -Scholz.
Germany will deliver infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) to Greece so that the government in Athens can pass on Soviet-style weapons to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.
“We will provide Greece with German infantry fighting vehicles,” he told reporters after a two-day EU summit in Brussels, adding he had struck an agreement with the Greek prime minister.
Scholz gave no details as to what kind of infantry fighting vehicles Berlin will hand over to Greece – or what kind of weapons Athens will pass on to Kyiv.
“The defence ministries will work out the details and quickly implement this agreement,” he said.
According to a defence source, Berlin aims to deliver some 100 old Marder IFVs owned by arms-maker Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE) to Greece.
Athens, in return, would supply Soviet-style BMP IFVs to Ukraine, the source told Reuters.
Germany has been criticized for dragging its feet on heavy arms deliveries to Kyiv. (Source: Google/Reuters)
01 June 22. US to provide Ukraine with longer-range rocket systems. Kyiv had urged Washington for weapons that could give them an advantage in artillery battles. The Biden administration said on Tuesday that it will provide Ukraine with long-range rocket systems as the US begins to dole out a $40bn assistance package for the country meant to last through September. The US will formally announce $700mn in new assistance on Wednesday, including long-range rocket launchers called himars and precision ammunition with a range of up to 80km, senior administration officials said. “The package will contain longer-range systems, specifically himars, and munitions that will enable Ukraine to more precisely strike targets on the battlefield from a greater distance inside Ukraine and to help them to repel Russian advances,” an official said. The aid is part of the $40bn in assistance that the Biden administration announced last month. “We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” US president Joe Biden wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times. “That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.” The decision illustrates the careful balance Washington is trying to strike to help Ukraine make decisive gains on the battlefield while trying to avoid drawing Nato into a larger conflict. Europe is increasingly divided over how much lethal aid to give Ukraine, and Washington wants to keep its allies together as the fight drags on. (Source: FT.com)
01 June 22. The eastern Luhansk region’s governor said a number of Ukrainian troops had retreated westwards to Lysychansk. Ukraine is evacuating its troops from Sievierodonetsk, the besieged eastern city that is now 70 per cent controlled by Russian forces, after suffering heavy losses. Serhiy Haidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region, said on Wednesday Ukrainian forces had partly retreated from the provincial capital amid heavy shelling and fierce street battles. “This is not a betrayal,” he wrote in a post on Telegram, but part of a retreat “to more advantageous, pre-prepared positions” while awaiting “western weapons and preparing for de-occupation”. Russian forces entered the largely evacuated and bombed out Sievierodonetsk earlier this week after being held back for around two months by Ukrainian fighters. President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine could lose up to 100 soldiers a day defending the country’s eastern region, just over three month’s into Russia’s full-scale invasion. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a US think-tank, called the decision to retreat “strategically sound, however painful”. They said “Ukraine must husband its more limited resources and focus on regaining critical terrain”, such as by “continuing successful Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kherson”, a Russian-occupied city in the south of the country. (Source: FT.com)
30 May 22. After Ukraine, ‘whole world’ is a customer for Turkish drone, maker says.
- Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone has helped Ukraine and Azerbaijan
- Russian laser weapons no match for TB2, designer says
- Unmanned Bayraktar combat aircraft to fly next year
- Firm working on taxi drones
Ukraine’s destruction of Russian artillery systems and armoured vehicles with Turkish Bayraktar TB2 aerial drones has made “the whole world” a customer, according to its designer.
Selcuk Bayraktar, who runs the Istanbul firm Baykar with his brother Haluk, said the drones had shown how technology was revolutionising modern warfare.
“Bayraktar TB2 is doing what it was supposed to do – taking out some of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems and advanced artillery systems and armoured vehicles,” he told Reuters in English beside the new Akinci drone at an exhibition in Baku. “The whole world is a customer.”
At least for a time, the TB2, which has a 12-metre wingspan and can soar to 25,000 feet before swooping to destroy tanks and artillery with laser-guided armour-piercing bombs, helped undermine Russia’s overwhelming military superiority.
Such is the drone’s renown that it became the subject of a patriotic expletive-strewn hit song in Ukraine that mocked Russian troops, with the chorus “Bayraktar, Bayraktar”.
Beyond satire, the Bayraktar drone has received attention from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the defence ministry has mentioned it at least 45 times in public since the war began on Feb. 24.
Baykar, founded in the 1980s by Bayraktar’s father, Ozdemir Bayraktar, began to focus on unmanned aircraft in 2005 as Turkey sought to strengthen its local defence industry.
The TB2 has been such a factor in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Ukraine that it now spearheads Turkey’s global defence export push.
President Tayyip Erdogan says international demand is huge for the TB2 and the newer Akinci.
Bayraktar, who is married to Erdogan’s daughter, said Baykar can produce 200 TB2 drones a year.
COMBAT AIRCRAFT AND TAXIS
He said he was proud that the drones had been used in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave of Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan where Baku’s forces recaptured swathes of territory in 2020, and in Ukraine.
“It is an illegal invasion so TB2 is helping the honourable people of Ukraine defend their country,” he said.
“The illegal occupation of Karabakh was like a heart wound since our youth. And as engineers developing the technology, it is an honour to have helped our brothers and sisters here to regain their land.”
Russia two weeks ago touted a new generation of laser weapons including a mobile system that Moscow said could blind orbiting satellites and destroy drones.
But Bayraktar, who was born in Istanbul and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said such weapons were ineffective against the TB2.
“Their ranges are limited so if your sensory and munition range is longer, they are not going to be effective,” he said.
Baykar is working on a TB3, which has foldable wings and can take off or land on short-runway aircraft carriers, and an unmanned combat aircraft called MUIS or Kizilelma.
“Inshallah, the first flight of Kizilelma will be next year, and TB3 either by the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” Bayraktar said.
“If you look at the longer time horizon, we are working on taxi drones – for that we need to develop more higher-level autonomy technology – which is AI basically – but it will revolutionise how people will be transported in cities.”
Russia’s invasion has killed thousands of people, displaced ms, and raised fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States.
Putin says Washington was using Ukraine to threaten Russia through NATO enlargement, and that Moscow had to defend Russian-speakers from persecution.
Ukraine and its Western allies reject these as baseless pretexts to invade a sovereign country. (Source: Google/Reuters)
30 May 22. Ukraine war: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov denies Putin illness. There have been persistent rumours in recent weeks about Mr Putin’s health. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied speculation that President Vladimir Putin is ill.
In an interview with French TV, Mr Lavrov said the Russian leader appears in public every day, and no sane person would see any signs of an ailment.
There has been increasing unconfirmed media speculation that Mr Putin, who turns 70 this year, may be suffering from ill health, possibly cancer.
The interview came as Russia continues its advance in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Mr Lavrov said the “liberation” of the eastern region was an “unconditional priority” for Russia.
He repeated the Kremlin’s widely discredited line that Russia is fighting a “neo-Nazi regime”. (Source: BBC)
28 May 22. Ukraine receives Harpoon missiles and howitzers, says defence minister. Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the United States, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Saturday, saying the arms would bolster forces fighting Russia’s invasion.
“The coastal defence of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles – they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page.
He said Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles in the defence of the country’s coast including the southern port of Odesa.
After launching its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia imposed a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports, hampering vital grain exports.
(Source: It has also used its Black Sea fleet to launch missile attacks against Ukraine, which has since started receiving Western military aid.
Reznikov said the supplies of Harpoon missiles were the result of cooperation between several countries, saying the deliveries from Denmark took place “with the participation of our British friends”.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that Denmark would provide a harpoon launcher and missiles to Ukraine.
Reznikov said Ukraine had also received a range of heavy artillery pieces, including modified U.S.-made M109 self-propelled howitzers that will allow the Ukrainian military to strike targets from longer distances.
Last month, a senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. military had started training a small number of Ukrainian troops on using howitzer artillery, adding that the training was being conducted outside of Ukraine.
Ukraine has said it wants to secure deliveries of U.S.-made long-range M270 multiple-rocket launchers (MLRS) and use them in repelling Russian troops in the east of the country.
The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile that uses active radar homing and flies just above the water to evade defences. It can be launched from ships, submarines, aircraft or coastal batteries.
Russia says its forces are on a special operation to demilitarise Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies call that a false pretext to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24. (Source: Reuters)
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