Ukraine Conflict Update – 27 April
Military and hard security developments
There is a new and escalating phase emerging in the conflict with Russia attempting to make advances, using the fine warm weather, to take ground in the Donbas to avoid the embarrassment of a perceived defeat by Ukraine. In the long run a Russian defat is likely with the possibility of a pause in operations, with Russia reverting to old war tactics including the threat of nuclear war and cyber threats. There have been reports of fibre optic cables being cut in France, cutting off some cities. Russia has also made threats to attack ‘Decision Making Centres,’ in Ukraine which may include embassies, they struck 59 sites in Ukraine overnight incsuing an ammunition dump holding NATO-supplied artillery shells. Ukraine is reported to have made a number of cross-border incursion, including around Kursk.
- Russian forces have continued to make slow but steady progress in the Donbas. The Ukrainian General Staff have confirmed that Russia has gained ground to the west and south of Izyum, and has taken the town of Zarichne to the east of Lyman, with their forces now pushing further south to reach Yampil. The crucial railway line that supplies Ukrainian forces in the northern Donbas runs through that town, and so alongside the thrust south of Izyum, Russian forces are now threatening the railway at two points, to the west and east of Slovyansk.
- In the southern direction, Russian troops overnight attempted to advance northwest of Kherson towards the villages of Tavriiske and Nova Zoria, but a Ukrainian counteroffensive stopped the attack. The region between Mykolaiv, Kherson and Kryvhi Rih remains highly contested and yesterday’s failed probing attack northwest of Kherson underlines that Ukrainian combat power in the region continues to limit the scope for further advances in the region without further Russian reinforcements, despite Ukrainian anticipation of attacks against Kryvhi Rih in the coming days.
- Long-range strikes have furthermore continued, with the Russian Ministry of Defence claiming to have struck 59 military sites overnight. Most notably, explosions were reported in Poltava and Pavlohrad, while the bridge across the Dniester estuary south of Odesa was hit once again, which has been damaged but does not appear to have been destroyed. The Ministry of Defence has furthermore reiterated threats to target “decision-making centres” in Kyiv if Ukrainian attacks against facilities inside Russia continuing. Together with the stepping up of Western arms transfers to Ukraine, this underscores the escalating threat of long-range strikes against Kyiv and Western Ukraine in the coming days.
- This morning, 27 April, Transnistria’s internal ministry accused Ukraine of launching drones and firing shots on its territory “in the direction of the [Transnistrian] settlement of Kolbasna”, the site of the largest ammunition depot in Europe. The accusations notably follow alleged “terrorist attacks” inside Transnistria on 25 – 26 April, underlining the growing risks of a conflict spill over; however, while it remains our assessment that this is less likely in the immediate term, the rapid uptick of attacks and heated rhetoric underscores the growing risk of an escalation. The incidents are nevertheless highly likely to have been false flag attacks designed to provide Russia with further pretexts and justifications for the continuation of the war in the months ahead. Additionally, further such incidents and accusations are likely to become more frequent as the Kremlin appears to be mentally preparing the domestic population within Russia for a much more protracted war, which will highly likely extend beyond 9 May Victory Day celebrations and after which a “phase 3” operations could be announced.
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, with Putin reportedly expressing that Russia still hopes that “we will be able to reach agreements on the diplomatic track.” The comments, however, are not indicative of any potential progress in the diplomatic sphere, with any future agreements set to be dictated by the successes and failures on the battlefield. Meanwhile, following the meeting, UN chief’s spokesman announced that Putin agreed “in principle” to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross aiding in the evacuation of civilians from Azovstal in Mariupol, with further discussions with the Russian defence ministry set to follow. Such efforts are, however, highly likely to be disrupted, with Ukrainian media reports reporting that Azovstal continues to be under attack, despite Putin ordering a change in tactics and ordering for the steelworks to be blockaded instead.
- Following the US-led summit at Ramstein air base in Germany yesterday, where over 40 nations gathered to discuss weapons shipments to Ukraine, a congressional hearing yesterday has exposed the scale of US weapons shipments already made to Ukraine. Delivering evidence to Congress, numerous defence experts warned that US weapons stockpiles could begin running out in several months if further weapons transfers are announced. The US has already reportedly transferred a quarter of its stockpile of stinger missiles to Ukraine, with mounting concerns in Washington that further increases in weapons shipments will pose a national security concern for the US’s strategic reserve of weapons, given contracts to replace these weapons have not been agreed. Such concerns are present in numerous other countries that have committed to transferring heavy weapons systems, including the UK and Germany. While the US is pushing for a marked increase in weapons transfers over a longer time frame than previously, it remains to be seen how long such supplies can be maintained given low weapons stocks elsewhere and growing concerns about capability gaps.
- A pro-Ukrainian rally was reportedly dispersed in Russian-occupied Kherson, with Russian forces using tear gas against the demonstrators; at least four are reported to have been injured as a result. Notably, yesterday, Russia’s defence ministry said that the Russian forces had “liberated” the entire region. The developments precede a potential referendum, which Ukrainian intelligence suggests could take place around 1 May. The intelligence indicates that Russian plans for a referendum to declare a People’s Republic of Kherson in a similar vein to those in Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea. The referendum will reportedly be followed by the establishment of a new pro-Russian administration, with efforts to forcibly mobilise adult men in the region to assist in the “liberation” of the rest of the oblast. However, although anti-Russian protests in Kherson continue, and a pro-Russian blogger was killed in Kherson city last week after he had applied for a local government position under the Russian administration, the potential referendum will nevertheless be clearly in Russia’s favour, with local populations highly likely to be forced to vote.
Economic/business environment developments
- Moscow confirmed on 27 April that it has cut off the flow of gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, reinforcing the threat of such disruptions if demands for payments in rubles are not met. The development marks a notable escalation and sharply underlines Russia’s ability to weaponise its gas supplies, prices for which jumped by more than 20% in Europe following the events. Poland is comparatively less dependent on Russian gas than many other European states, including Bulgaria which relies on Gazprom for 90% of its supply. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has announced that the country’s gas storage facilities are 76% full and that Poland is prepared to receive gas supplies from alternative providers, such as Norway via the Baltic Pipeline. Numerous unnamed EU companies have reportedly agreed to pay for Russian gas in rubles following the incident, but the European Commission has confirmed today that any companies that do so will be in breach of sanctions. Germany’s Uniper SE, a major purchaser of Russian gas, has said it believes it can meet the Kremlin’s demands without violating sanctions as the Kremlin has threatened to cut off other EU countries that do not pay in rubles. Such contradictions and uncertainty will ensure the continuation of market volatility amid the threat of a wider energy crisis and energy supply shortages in the short term.
- Additionally, on 26 April, Germany’s Climate and Economy Minister Robert Habeck stated Germany’s openness to adopt sanctions on the Russian energy industry, such as banning the import of Russian oil to Europe. The statement marks a significant policy shift from Berlin, which has so far been one of the strongest opponents to such a ban. Up until now, an oil embargo looked unlikely at the EU level due to reservations from both Germany and Hungary, but following the EU’s efforts to secure alternative energy sources, such a ban now seems more likely. Hungarian officials also implied that they might be willing to support such a move in the case that alternative energy sources are secured at a similar price. However, while both Germany and Hungary seem to be more open to an oil embargo than previously, securing alternative supplies will take time. Therefore, it is unlikely that a final decision about the embargo will be reached before the EU Summit at the end of May. Nevertheless, this week’s progress increases the likelihood of new sanctions on the Russian oil industry, elevating both short and long-term policy risks for sectors reliant upon oil products.
- Considering the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kyiv, the security situation in and around the capital has moderately improved as of 27 April. The H01/P01 and the E40 are the most viable routes from Kyiv. The E40 and the E373 highways were declared ‘open’ for traffic by Ukrainian authorities and are now relatively safe, however, they remain heavily damaged and road-clearing processes continue which may cause delays. The threat of air attacks remains high, therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes. The threat posed by mines and unexploded ordnance also remains high across Kyiv oblast. We note that this advisory is supported by a warning from Kyiv Region Military Administration on 12 April stating that de-occupied towns and settlements adjacent to Kyiv should not be re-settled by civilian populations due to high quantities of mines and unexploded ordnance.
- Due to air attacks on Kremenchuk and Uman on 25 April, the westbound E50 to Oleksandriya and from there the H01 seems to be a relatively safer route from Dnipro to Kyiv. Between Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia, there are two main road routes: the H08 and E105. Due to RU military targeting civilian and military aviation infrastructure with missile strikes, we believe there is substantial risk associated with all road routes into Zaporizhzhia, as the H08 is in close proximity to Shyroke Airfield just north-west of Zaporizhzhia, and the E105 passes through Zaporizhzhia International Airport and then Vilniansk Airfield. As such, we assess that all approaches into Zaporizhzhia face elevated risk from air/missile strikes at present.
Yesterday, 26 April, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosted a summit at Ramstein air base in Germany, where over 40 NATO and non-NATO states discussed strategies to supply weapons to Ukraine. The US secured commitments from numerous states to continue supplying weapons to Ukraine during this and subsequent phases of the war, with the US intending to turn the meeting into a regular monthly contact group. According to CNN, the US has also established the EUCOM Control Centre of Ukraine in Stuttgart to streamline the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, which are now aimed at helping Ukraine deliver a major blow to Russia’s military capabilities. Indirect NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine has thus undeniably stepped up, and Russia’s long-range strikes, threats to target Kyiv decision-making centres, the cutting off of gas supplies to European countries and the escalating situation in Transnistria are likely all in part a response to this increasing NATO involvement – which ultimately remains the linchpin for further escalation in all these areas.
The evolving situation in Transnistria (also known as Pridnestrovie) represents the most immediate flashpoint for escalation amid these wider dynamics. Pro-Russian authorities have now accused Ukraine of firing across the border and of sending drones towards a major ammunition depot at Kolbasna. The false-flag operations and rhetoric follows the Donbas playbook closely, and as such a mobilisation of Transnistrian forces remains likely at some point, following the precedents in Luhansk and Donetsk. All the components are there for a significant escalation towards spill over into Moldova proper, particularly given Russian sources are now claiming Romanian and Polish troops are inside the country. However, it remains more likely that the false-flag operations and efforts to destabilise the region are an attempt to warn NATO against increasing their involvement in Ukraine and signalling the options available to the Kremlin to escalate the war if they fail to do so. The recurring targeting of the bridge over the Dniester estuary over the last 48 hours is telling in this respect, and is clearly aimed at reinforcing these threats as Russian scrutiny intensifies over routes used to transfer Western weapons intensifies. Russian combat power in Transnistria is likely insufficient at present to enable a sustainable operation against either Ukraine or Moldova. However, should the breakaway authorities order a general mobilisation, this would provide Moscow and Tiraspol with additional forces to posture and threaten both Ukraine and Moldova over the coming weeks. The rapidity with which the situation in Transnistria has escalated this week nevertheless means that offensive Russian action cannot be discounted. However, offensive operations across the Ukrainian border, and still more so against Moldova-proper across the Dniester, would be extremely risky militarily, and risk overextending Russian forces at a time when they are struggling to make ground in the Donbas. Such an operation would likely prove unsustainable without reinforcements from Russian ground forces inside Ukraine – reinforcements that would likely not be forthcoming before a major push westwards beyond Mykolaiv was achieved.
- The Ukrainian General Staff have confirmed today numerous Russian gains in the northern Donbas in the last 24 hours. To the west of Izyum, Russian forces are now in control of Zavody and Velyka Komyshuvakha, and the Ukrainians have confirmed further offensive thrusts southwards from Izyum towards Barvinkove and the critical railway line into the Donbas. The General Staff have also stated that the Russians have deployed two additional BTGs to the city of Izyum itself, including two units of Iskandr-M ballistic missiles.
- However, the most crucial gains have arguably been made further east around the Severodonetsk salient, where Russian forces have pushed east of Lyman and have taken the town of Zarichne and pushed further south and reached Yampil. Russian forces are thus now fighting over the critical eastern branch of the only railway line connecting the Ukrainian headquarters around Slovyansk with their forces fighting in the Severodonetsk salient to the east.
- The fact that the Russians have thrust southeast of Lyman suggests they may be attempting a smaller tactical encirclement of the Severodonetsk salient. The aim could be to begin cutting off Ukrainian forces by taking Siversk to the southeast of Yampil, with Russian forces at the eastern end of the salient making steady progress to cut them off from the south. The Ukrainian General Staff have confirmed that LNR and Russian troops have established control over Novotoshkivske, and are now pushing on Nyzhnie and Orikhovo. And so, further progress in that direction would tighten the ring around Ukrainian forces fighting in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
- Long-range strikes have continued overnight, with the Russian Ministry of Defence claiming to have destroyed a hanger in Zaporizhzhia oblast that had housed a large quantity of weapons supplied by the US and Europe. The Ministry claimed to have hit 59 military facilities across Ukraine overnight, with explosions most notably reported in Poltava and Pavlohrad. The strikes follow the US-led Ramstein summit in Germany yesterday, where the US encouraged allies to increase shipments of arms to Ukraine. Following the summit, the US has reportedly set up the EUCOM Control Centre of Ukraine in Stuttgart to streamline the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. Indirect NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine has thus undeniably stepped up, and as such Russian long-range strikes against key transit points in Southern and Western Ukraine are likely to increase in the days ahead in response.
- The Russian Ministry of Defence has furthermore warned of retaliatory long-range strikes against “decision-making centres” in Kyiv if Ukrainian forces continue attacking facilities inside Russia. The threats were made in reference to UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey’s comments that the UK considers Ukrainian attacks against Russian territory “completely legitimate”, including with weapons supplied by the UK.
- This morning, further explosions were reported at an ammunition depot near the Russian city of Belgorod, with additional explosions in Kursk and Voronezh oblasts. This indicates continued Ukrainian efforts to hit Russian supply lines inside Russian territory, despite the threat of retaliation. Moscow had previously threatened to target “decision-making centres” in Kyiv earlier this month in response to earlier Ukrainian sabotage operations, but they have yet to do so. This indicates that either Russia remains reticent to do so, or it does not have sufficient intelligence as to where decision making is taking place in Kyiv. Nevertheless, as the situation continues to escalate, attacks against static targets in Kyiv’s government quarter will remain an increasing threat regardless.
- The bridge over the Dniester estuary due south of Odesa has once again been targeted by Russian missiles and has reportedly now been destroyed – though this is unconfirmed at time of writing. This would sever the only road, the P70, that runs solely inside Ukrainian territory that connects Odesa with the Romanian border. Its destruction is clearly intended to undermine the transfer of weapons from Romania, and while the bridge’s destruction will not entirely prevent further shipments in that direction, it will complicate the process. The M15 road that also connects Odesa with Romania remains operational, but it runs for a number of kilometres over the Moldovan border before re-entering Ukrainian territory. However, given the rising tensions in Moldova, it is unlikely that Chisinau would allow weapons transfers on its territory for fear of provoking Russia.
- In this respect, the situation inside Transnistria has escalated over the last 24 hours, with Transnistrian forces alleging that shots have been fired from the Ukrainian side of the border this morning. Pro-Russian forces have alleged that numerous drones had been shot down that had been sent across by Ukrainian forces and that shots were fired around the village of Kolbasna, the site of the largest ammunition depot in Europe.
- Russian sources are circulating that Ukrainian forces are attempting to bring Transnistria into the war and aim to seize the ammunition depot. Local Transnistrian residents also received fake SMS messages last night claiming to be from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), who called on residents to evacuate ahead of alleged planned Ukrainian missile strikes in the area. As such, further false-flag attacks are likely in the coming hours and days, increasing the risk of clashes along the border with Ukraine. Russian forces in the region are now on high alert and a general mobilisation order of Transnistrian males – similar to the ordered in Donetsk and Luhansk days before the invasion – remains possible.
- The apparent false flag operation is clearly designed to present Ukraine as a military threat to Transnistria, in a similar vein to the Donbas messaging before the invasion of Ukraine. The situation remains fast moving and unofficial Russian sources are now alleging Romanian and even Polish (i.e. NATO) troops are inside Moldova, in the guise of Moldovan troops. Given the escalation in Russian rhetoric in recent days and the rapid shift in US and NATO focus towards arming Ukraine to actively win the war, the situation has the potential to escalate further and trigger some limited conflict spill over in Moldova. However, at present the situation most likely represents an attempt to warn NATO against increasing their involvement in Ukraine and signalling the options available to the Kremlin to escalate the war if they fail to do so.
- Russian forces continue to make slow but steady progress in the Donbas, with the Russians claiming to have taken numerous villages following thrusts to the south and west of Izyum, all of which place further pressure on Slovyansk and Ukrainian supply lines into the Donbas. The Russians are nevertheless maintaining pressure on multiple other axes of attack across the full breadth of the frontline, with an intensification of bombardments along the southern axis overnight. Longer-range strikes have also continued against Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv and Odesa, the latter of which saw an attack on the bridge across the Dniester estuary near Zatoka, resulting in its closure. Following the missile attacks on multiple railway stations yesterday, railway intersections, fuel depots, ammunition stores and increasingly bridges will all remain high-priority targets across the country as a means of undermining Ukraine’s ability to deploy reinforcements.
- In Mariupol Ukrainian resistance continues to hold out in the Azovstal works, with Russian forces reportedly launching renewed attacks against the site overnight. The renewed attacks come despite Moscow declaring a unilateral ceasefire yesterday to allow for the evacuation of civilians. According to the Mariupol City Council, around 1,000 civilians remain trapped in Azovstal, with reports emerging on 26 April that Russian forces are forcing local men to clear rubble and dig mass graves in exchange for food.
- On 25 April, offices of the Ministry of State Security of Transnistria were hit in what was reportedly a grenade-launcher attack. Additionally, on 26 April, two radio towers broadcasting Russian radio have also been destroyed in the breakaway region. Following the blasts, the Moldovan government stated that the incidents were aimed at “creating pretexts for straining the security situation” in the region. Meanwhile, the Security Council of the breakaway region declared the explosions a “terrorist attack.” The attacks notably follow last week’s statement by a senior Russian military official in which he described that Russia’s war aims are to establish control over southern Ukraine, providing access to Transnistria. Meanwhile, Kyiv accused Russia of the attack against the Security Ministry, alleging that Moscow is aiming to “instil panic and anti-Ukrainian sentiment”. Although Russia’s goals to conquer Novorossiya remain to be seen and will depend on the success of the current offensive in the Donbas, the establishment of a land bridge to Transnistria is a plausible scenario that risks spill over into neighbouring Moldova should Russia advance its war aims in Ukraine..
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused President Zelensky on 25 April of “pretending” to negotiate, while also warning that given the state of current tensions and the West’s arming of Ukraine, the risk of World War III is “real”. Lavrov compared the current situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis, stating that “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.” Moreover, Lavrov stated that although an accord with Ukraine will be signed, its “parameters” are bound to be defined “by the state of the fighting that will have taken place at the moment the accord becomes reality”. Lavrov’s statements underline Moscow’s threats of the conflict escalating beyond Ukraine’s borders, and increasingly framing it as a confrontation between NATO and Russia. Moreover, with diplomatic talks between Kyiv and Moscow effectively at a dead end, Lavrov’s statements further reinforce our assessment that the successes and failures on the battlefield will largely dictate the trajectory of the conflict and any eventual settlement over the coming months.
- Following the high-profile visit to Kyiv by both Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, Washington today launched talks with dozens of NATO and non-NATO countries in Ramstein, Germany, on providing arms to Ukraine. The meeting follows Lavrov’s aforementioned comments in which he warned of the danger of World War III, statements which are likely to reflect Russian posturing and efforts to intimidate the West from supporting Ukraine, rather than an indication of a real short-term risk of a wider confrontation.
- Additionally, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz today announced that the German government has authorised delivery of 50 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks and committed to doubling its military support to Kyiv to EUR 2bn. The announcement marks a notable policy shift following the chancellor’s general reluctance to provide heavy military assistance to Ukraine, though the tanks in question are notably anti-aircraft systems that will augment Ukrainian defensive rather than offensive capabilities. With the shift in German policy and the ongoing Ramstein meeting, the threat of targeted strikes against military facilities, railway and fuel infrastructure, and border areas in western Ukraine will remain high as the Kremlin seeks to discourage western arms shipments. Statements by the UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey this morning, 26 April, that the UK considers Ukrainian attacks against Russian territory “completely legitimate”, including with weapons supplied by the UK. Depending on the outcome of the Ramstein summit, such commits will only reinforce growing perceptions in Russia that they really are fighting a proxy war with NATO.
- On 25 April, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed it had foiled a plot to kill popular television pundit Vladimir Solovyov on the orders of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The FSB have claimed that a group of “neo-Nazis” were behind the plot, with those detained allegedly found with fake Ukrainian passports, drugs and nationalist literature. Previous accusations of other plots allegedly on the orders of the SBU preceded the 24 February invasion, and it remains impossible to confirm. However, it is more likely than not a fabrication to remind the Russian population of the allegedly omnipresent dangers posed by alleged Ukrainian neo-Nazis inside Russia. As 9 May Victory Day approaches, it remains increasingly likely that Russian operations will protract for months to come, with such alleged plots – alongside the “terrorist attacks” in Transnistria (see Forecast below) – likely aimed at justifying a continuation of the conflict after slow progress in recent weeks.
Economic/business environment developments
- Latest figures indicate that Russian exports of key commodities significantly declined in March, with fertiliser shipments and iron ore exports declining by 35 and 30 percent respectively, underlining the impact of sanctions following the invasion. Nevertheless, Russia’s energy exports remain stable, despite the EU-level ban on Russian coal. The developments precede the EU’s upcoming sixth round of sanctions, which will reportedly propose embargoes on Russian oil and gas. However, as with previous sanctions, the latest round will require the approval from all EU member states, with Hungary previously indicating that energy sanctions constitute red lines, claiming that such restrictions would destabilise the country’s economy.
- Considering the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kyiv, the security situation in and around the capital has moderately improved as of 26 April. The H01/P01 and the E40 are the most viable routes from Kyiv. The E40 and the E373 highways were declared ‘open’ for traffic by Ukrainian authorities and are now relatively safe, however, they remain heavily damaged and road-clearing processes continue which may cause some delays. The threat of air attacks remains high, therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes. The threat posed by mines and unexploded ordnance also remains high across Kyiv oblast. We note that this advisory is supported by a warning from Kyiv Region Military Administration on 12 April stating that de-occupied towns and settlements adjacent to Kyiv should not be re-settled by civilian populations due to high quantities of mines and unexploded ordnance.
- Due to air attacks on Kremenchuk on 25 April, the westbound E50 through Oleksandriya and Uman to the E95 and the H01 seems to be a relatively safer route from Dnipro to Kyiv. Between Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia, there are two main road routes: the H08 and E105. Due to RU military targeting civilian and military aviation infrastructure with missile strikes, we believe there is substantial risk associated with all road routes into Zaporizhzhia, as the H08 is in close proximity to Shyroke Airfield just north-west of Zaporizhzhia, and the E105 passes through Zaporizhzhia International Airport and then Vilniansk Airfield. As such, we assess that all approaches into Zaporizhzhia face elevated risk from air/missile strikes at present.
This week US officials have begun framing the war in terms of how the West can help Ukrainians deliver a decisive blow to Russia’s military capabilities, rather than simply helping Kyiv defend itself. US Secretary od Defense Lloyd Austin has today stated that Ukraine can win the war, in a marked shift in US policy. This has clearly triggered the escalation in Russian rhetoric and posturing seen in recent days, and underlines that increased Western military assistance for Ukraine risks escalating the conflict in the coming weeks and months. As such, the Ramstein summit will be a key event to watch in terms of Western efforts to arm Ukraine, with Moscow likely to rely increasingly on nuclear posturing if it feels it is unable to successfully interdict a marked increase in Western weapons supplies in the weeks ahead.
Meanwhile, the alleged “terrorist” attacks across Transnistria yesterday underline the increasing risks of further spill over of the conflict, if not necessarily in the immediate short term. Moldova’s pro-EU president Maia Sandu is set to convene a meeting of the country’s Supreme Security Council this afternoon in response to the attacks. However, Sandu’s government has very few options to seriously respond to the provocations given Moldova’s vulnerability to Russian coercion, its relative isolation as a non-EU, non-NATO state, and its tradition of pro-Russian politics prior to Sandu’s election. Sentiment inside Moldova is growing increasingly in favour of cutting Transnistria loose to better enable its EU integration, whether as an independent state or through unification with Romania. However, public opinion remains deeply divided, providing pro-Russian forces in Transnistria – and in Moldova-proper – opportunities to further destabilise the region to provide the Kremlin options going forward as to a potential expansion of official war aims in the months ahead.
While it remains our assessment that an invasion of Moldova-proper remains unlikely at this stage, given the latent pro-Russian forces inside Moldova and the advantages a buffer-state would provide Moscow, the eventual annexation of Transnistria remains plausible – if dependent upon the performance of ongoing Russian offensives. Rustam Minnekayev’s comments last week that Russian war aims include the control of southern Ukraine and a land bridge with Transnistria underline the potential for a “phase 3” operation in the coming months. However, as previously assessed, Russian combat power remains limited in the west at present, despite reports by the Ukrainian General Staff that anticipate attacks against Kryvhi Rih and Mykolaiv in the coming days.
As such, the attacks in Transnistria are less likely to indicate an impending threat of Russian forces in the region being deployed in Ukraine, or still less likely any imminent military threat to Moldova-proper. Instead, the attacks are more likely aimed at providing Moscow with further pretexts and justification for the continuation of the war into the coming months. Minnekayev placed emphasis on the fact that Russian speakers in Transnistria are allegedly being oppressed – echoing similar accusations in the Donbas that ultimately justified the invasion of Ukraine.
To that end, the attacks in Transnistria could be utilised by the Kremlin ahead of the 9 May Victory Day celebrations to prepare the Russian population for a more protracted conflict and potentially justify the announcement of a potential “phase 3” operation, this time aimed at “protecting” Russian speakers across southern Ukraine and Transnistria. Ultimately, however, it remains unlikely that Russian forces would be activated in Transnistria before Russia makes more notable progress in the east. The taking of Mykolaiv will in particular prove vital for the sustainability of any operation west of the Southern Bug River, and as such will remain a key trigger to watch in the weeks ahead.
- Russian cyber activity has continued to increase in frequency in recent weeks, in contrast to the trend observed during the early stages of the Ukraine conflict. These attacks have remained largely intelligence-gathering operations and vulnerability scanning, with no overtly destructive attacks observed during this monitoring period. While Western governments’ continued financial and military support of Ukraine will heighten the risk of Russia launching retaliatory cyber attacks in the coming weeks, they will likely remain primarily targeted against government agencies and their private sector partners. However, entities indirectly supporting these entities could be exposed to “cyber spillover” activity as well.
- Meanwhile, Pro-Ukraine cyber operations have largely maintained course during this monitoring period, with groups linked to the hacktivist collective Anonymous remaining the most active in targeting Russian state and private sector entities. However, former members of the group have continued to raise questions about the validity of the current members’ technical capabilities and hacking claims. While the growing misinformation surrounding the Ukraine conflict will obfuscate the current status of Russia and Ukraine’s tit-for-tat cyber conflict, further low-level hacktivists attacks, such as DDoS or data leaks, are expected to emerge throughout the coming week against Russian government agencies and private sector organisations supporting its critical infrastructure.
Pro-Russian operations maintain pace; continued focus on Ukraine-based government agencies and military forces
- On 20 April, cyber security firm Symantec claimed that Russian Shuckworm (also known as Gamaredon) is engaged in a cyber espionage campaign targeted against Ukraine-based organisations. This group is using multiple different variants of its Pterodo backdoor to “provide a rudimentary way of maintaining persistence on an infected computer” and compensate if one payload or command-and-control (C2) server is detected and blocked. While it is currently unclear which Ukraine-based organisations are being targeted in this campaign, such activity is consistent with previously detected Gamaredon operations. The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) linked the group in 2021 to more than 5,000 attacks against Ukraine’s public agencies and critical infrastructure.
- On 20 April, the cyber security agencies of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance —Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US— released a joint advisory warning about the growing threat of malicious activities by Russian-sponsored criminal groups. The statement cited the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as a prominent factor driving potential attacks. Since the invasion of Ukraine, threat actors linked to Russia have engaged in various cyber attacks targeting Ukrainian government agencies and critical infrastructure as well as countries and organisations providing support for Kyiv (see Sibylline Weekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 19 April 2022). The joint advisory also highlighted the use of destructive malware, ransomware, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and cyber espionage by advanced persistent threat groups (APTs) affiliated to Russian intelligence agencies. Energy utilities, telecommunications, financial services, and other critical infrastructure will remain the most likely targets, with the US agribusiness sector also at particular risk during the planting and harvesting seasons.
Pro-Ukraine hackers continue data leak operations; Russia-linked state and private sectors entities remain vulnerable
- On 25 April, a Twitter account purporting to represent the Anonymous hacktivist group claimed the hackers leaked nearly 1.1 million emails from ALET, a Russian customs broker for energy-related sector firms, via whistleblower site Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets). Investigations into the type of data leaked by the collective are still ongoing, making it difficult to assess whether this incident will have any long-term impacts on the company’s operations. Nevertheless, the data leak is consistent with the collective’s ongoing and persistent targeting of organisations operating in Russia’s critical infrastructure sectors, such as energy or telecommunications, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
- On 23 April, industry reports claimed that the Anonymous-linked hacking group GhostSec hacked the IT systems of Russia’s subway systems. The group claimed to have gained access to information such as building blueprints and Russian train smoke and battery systems. Further details regarding this campaign are limited at present – including which cities are impacted – making it difficult to assess the level of disruption caused by the attack. Nevertheless, this incident is consistent with the group’s ongoing cyber campaigns against Russia’s critical infrastructure and private sector organisations. Moreover, this is also one of its latest campaigns since it targeted Russia’s Shambala Hotel in late March (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 5 April 2022).
- On 22 April, another Twitter account that allegedly represents Anonymous claimed that the collective exfiltrated over 645,000 emails from Russian industrial equipment supplier Enerpred. Meanwhile, separate reports emerged on 21 April from another Twitter account allegedly linked to the hacktivist group claiming that they leaked 365,000 emails (or 211 GB) from the Russian real-estate investment firm Accent Capital via DDoSecrets. It currently is unclear what type of data was allegedly contained in these data leaks. If officially confirmed, these incidents would be indicative of the group’s 20 April claim that the collective has published over 6 TB of data from Russian government agencies or private sector organisations since the start of the Ukraine conflict.
In contrast to the early stages of the war, Russia’s cyber activity has continued to increase in recent weeks. These cyber campaigns appear to be a mixture of both intelligence-gathering operations and vulnerability scanning, with the Five-Eyes’ warning underlying the growing threat posed to Western countries’ critical infrastructure operators. While Russia has yet to launch any overtly destructive cyber attacks against Western states, the US government’s recent pledge to supply an additional USD 322 million in military funding to Kyiv and resume diplomatic operations in Ukraine will heighten the risk of Moscow launching retaliatory cyber attacks against the US in the coming weeks. These attacks will mostly take the form of disruptive or destructive cyber operations, such as ransomware, DDoS, or data wipers. While this retaliatory activity is expected to remain targeted against Western government and private sector entities providing either financial or military support to the Ukraine government, there is an increased risk of cyber “spillover” activity affecting entities supporting these Western targets, such as those in technology.
Meanwhile, pro-Ukraine hackers, such as the IT Army of Ukraine and Anonymous, have continued to launch cyber operations aimed at either countering Moscow’s ongoing disinformation/misinformation warfare tactics or expressing political grievances about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Anonymous has appeared to remain the most effective group at compromising Russian targets, cyber security experts have increasingly questioned the validity of the group’s claims in recent weeks. Most notably, a Japanese former member of Anonymous told Japanese news outlets on 21 April that a number of the claims made by Twitter accounts allegedly linked to the group’s current members have been fake. Moreover, the unnamed individual said that these Twitter accounts were using the “Anonymous name for their own profit”, such as growing their brand within the cyber underground community. With misinformation surrounding the Ukraine conflict expected to continue to increase in the coming weeks in light of Russia’s ongoing military offensives in the Donbas region, there is a high likelihood of pro-Ukraine hackers making further unverifiable claims online for their benefit. In the scenario where an attack can be confirmed, such activity is expected to be predominately rudimentary, such as data leaks or DDoS, and have a minimal or temporary impact on their targets’ military or business operations.
Global: Pro-Moscow and Kyiv DDoS attacks against government-linked entities to pose a long-term threat as tensions over the Ukraine conflict remain high
On 25 April, cyber security firm Kaspersky claimed that Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks reached an all-time high in Q1 2022. The cyber security outfit noted that both general and targeted DDoS attacks increased by 46 and 81 percent year-on-year (YoY), respectively. While such cyber activity was launched internationally, Kaspersky claimed the increase was mainly linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, pro-Ukraine hackers have launched a flurry of disruptive cyber attacks against Russian government-linked websites. Most notably, the hacktivist group Anonymous inundated the Russian state-controlled television network RT with DDoS activity on 26 February. Similarly, pro-Russian groups have also taken to targeting countries supporting Ukraine’s military efforts, with a Russia-originating DDoS attack targeting Finland’s ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs’ websites on 8 April during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Finland’s parliament. With both pro-Moscow and Kyiv hackers expected to further step up their activity in response to ongoing military offensives in Eastern Ukraine, this tit-for-tat cyber conflict will likely result in more malicious attacks being targeted against Western countries and their critical infrastructure operators in the coming weeks.
Europe-Russia: Russia cuts gas to Poland and Bulgaria, escalating energy supply risks and raising gas prices across Europe
Late on 26 April, Poland’s Onet media outlet reported that the Russian Federation has halted all gas supplies to Poland under the Yamal contract. The European Union’s network of gas transmission operators confirmed the move on the morning of 27 April. Bulgarian representatives have also stated this morning that Russia is expected to cut gas supplies to Bulgaria imminently. Although a cut on Polish gas is broadly in line with Russia’s increasingly hostile tone toward EU countries refusing to pay for gas exports in rubles, Bulgaria is one of only two EU countries (including Hungary) not to have formally sent weapons to Ukraine, although a rumoured transfer of 152mm artillery shells from Bulgaria to Ukraine in recent days may have shifted the Kremlin’s calculus toward a punitive cut on gas exports to the Balkan nation. In the short term, gas cuts to Poland and Bulgaria will substantially increase the risk of energy supply shortages in both countries and raise European gas prices as fears of region-wide cuts linked to the conflict increase. (Source: Sibylline)
27 Apr 22. UK says Ukraine controls majority of its airspace.
Ukraine retains control over the majority of its airspace, Britain’s defence ministry said on Wednesday, adding that Russia has failed to effectively destroy the country’s air force or suppress its air defences.
“Russia has very limited air access to the north and west of Ukraine, limiting offensive actions to deep strikes with stand-off weapons,” it said on Twitter.
“Russian air activity is primarily focused on southern and eastern Ukraine, providing support to Russian ground forces,” the ministry added in a regular bulletin.
Russia continues to target Ukrainian military assets and logistics infrastructure nationwide, British military intelligence said in the update.
It flagged a higher risk of civilian casualties, saying most Russian air strikes in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol were probably using unguided free-falling bombs.
“These weapons reduce Russia’s ability to effectively discriminate when conducting strikes, increasing the risk of civilian casualties.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Reuters)
26 Apr 22. Poland confirms T-72 tank delivery to Ukraine, with Challenger 2 tanks to fill gap.
Poland’s prime minister has confirmed the country supplied its Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Ukraine to support the fight against Russia, which invaded Ukraine Feb. 24.
The announcement came shortly after his British counterpart Boris Johnson unveiled plans to supply an undisclosed number of Challenger 2 tanks to Poland to “backfill” the operational needs of its military.
“We have received gap fillers, elements of our armament,” Mateusz Morawiecki said during an interview with local news channel Polsat News, referring to weapons the U.S. and the U.K. have provided to Poland since the war began. “Today, our weapons are used to defend our independence, but 500 kilometers from the Polish border.”
Asked about how many T-72s were delivered to the Ukrainian armed forces, Morawiecki said “when the time comes, we will provide this” information.
In 2019, Poland’s Defence Ministry signed a contract with a consortium of local companies, led by state-run defense giant PGZ, to upgrade up to 318 tanks to the T-72M1 version.
Earlier this month, Poland signed a deal worth about $4.75 billion to buy 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks from the U.S.
The Polish prime minister also referred to an earlier plan by Warsaw to supply Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The initiative was eventually scrapped, and Morawiecki said Ukraine was no longer seeking delivery of such aircraft by Poland. (Source: Defense News)
27 Apr 22. Russia planning operations to destabilise pro-EU Moldova, officials warn. Warning comes as Moldovan president blames ‘pro-war forces’ for explosions in separatist-controlled region. Russia is planning hybrid attacks to destabilise the pro-western government of Moldova, Ukrainian and Moldovan officials have warned, as a series of explosions rocked the country’s Russian-controlled separatist enclave of Transnistria bordering Ukraine. The warning of Russian influence operations designed to promote pro-Kremlin forces comes as the Moldovan president blamed “pro-war forces” for attacks in Transnistria. Russia said last week that its new goals from its more than two-month-long invasion of Ukraine included capturing the country’s southern coastline and creating “another way” to Transnistria. Western intelligence officials have warned that Moscow could use troops stationed in the separatist region to stage attacks on Ukraine. “They have a plan to destabilise Moldova,” said a Ukrainian intelligence official, citing surveillance on agents of Russia’s spy agency FSB operating in the country. The official assessed that the destabilisation operation could peak around May 9, when Russia commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany in the second world war. “[Russia] can attack Moldova at any time. They have this option on the table,” the official said. Moldova’s pro-EU government led by President Maia Sandu is aware of FSB activities and is preparing to counter possible efforts by Moscow to attempt political destabilisation activities in the coming weeks, according to two officials briefed on internal discussions. (Source: FT.com)
26 Apr 22. US, allies to meet monthly on Ukraine defense needs. Defense leaders from over 40 nations amassed on a blustery April day in southwestern Germany, recruited by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to better coordinate efforts for needed support to Ukraine in their defense against invading Russia. Tuesday’s gathering, which was organized with less than a week’s notice, will now be a monthly event. Austin announced the creation of a standing Ukraine-focused “contact group” during a press briefing at the end of the event at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
“The contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today’s fight and the struggles to come,” Austin said.
A key focus of these meetings will be improved coordination with participating nations’ defense industrial bases, he added. “That means dealing with the tremendous demand that we’re facing for munitions and weapons platforms.”
The congregation of so many countries – not only from NATO allies, but also partners based in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East – on Tuesday sends “a powerful signal,” Austin continued. Several nations, including Germany and Canada, announced new heavy weapons shipments to Ukraine over the course of the event.
While this meeting was in person, the following gatherings could also be virtual or mixed, he noted. A senior defense official told reporters that there will likely be more nations in attendance virtually in meetings to come.
The intent is to include any nation that wants to contribute to the self-defense of Ukraine, and the monthly meetings will take place in different locations, the official added. They noted that the frequency of the meetings is due to the sense of urgency participating nations feel about the second phase of the war in Ukraine, as Russia focuses its attention and combat power in the Donbas region.
The meeting Tuesday and its successive events to follow are just one example of the U.S. Defense Department and its allies’ plans to continue supplying lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine as quickly as possible.
In March, U.S. European Command created a new unit called the European Control Center Ukraine (ECCU), to coordinate and synchronize equipment deliveries from Washington and its partners. Fifteen other partner nations – including NATO and non-NATO members – have provided staff stationed at the center, located at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, a senior defense official told reporters on Tuesday.
ECCU, led by EUCOM director of logistics Rear Adm. R. Duke Heinz, consists of a “near-soup-to-nuts of all things security systems delivery,” and combines a call center, a watch floor, and meeting rooms, the official said. It has facilitated the delivery of equipment from over 40 nations to Ukraine.
The center has worked to ensure those deliveries are facilitated as quickly as possible, the official added, noting that since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the DoD has significantly ramped up its delivery rates – from one flight every other day, to about 8 to 10 flights per day.
“At some points, it has spiked to nearly double that as we ramped up our coordination and logistics efforts to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces in near-real time,” the official added. The U.S. military has also expanded its equipment delivery support from “a single path” to a “multi-modal effort,” including multiple routes over air, ground, and rail, they said.
In the 60-plus days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, nations have supplied over $5 billion worth of equipment to the Ukrainian forces, with about $3.7bn coming from the United States, Austin said Tuesday. (Source: Defense News)
27 Apr 22. Australia to send howitzers to Ukraine. Heavy artillery weapons will be supplied to Ukraine as part of Australia’s latest contribution to its defence of sovereign territory.
The Commonwealth government has announced Australia would gift six M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzers and howitzer ammunition to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as part of a $26.7 million package aimed at supporting the country’s resistance to Russian aggression.
The donation has been made in response to a request from the United States and the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia.
The BAE Systems-built M777 howitzers, which were initially developed for the US Marine Corps and the US Army, are billed as “highly portable” multidomain platforms that can be readily moved and redeployed without encountering the IED risks faced by self-propelled systems.
The heavy artillery weapons can provide direct support to combat troops through both offensive and defensive fires with conventional and precision-guided projectiles.
The 4100-kilogram M777 howitzers, which can also employ illuminating and smoke projectiles, have a rate of fire of two rounds per minute (sustained) or five rounds per minute (rapid), and an effective range of 24 kilometres for conventional rounds or 30km for improved rounds.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the supplies are en route to Ukraine but has not disclosed delivery arrangements, in line with guidance from Ukrainian officials and other international partners. This latest commitment takes Australia’s total military contribution to over $225m.
This has included the delivery of 20 Thales-built Bushmasters, including two ambulance variants requested by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during his remote address to a joint sitting of federal Parliament on 31 March.
Most recently, anti-armour weapons and ammunition were delivered under a $26.5m assistance package.
The Commonwealth government has also provided $65m in humanitarian assistance and approximately 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to support Ukraine’s energy needs.
“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,” Prime Minister Morrison said in a statement released this morning.
“The Australian government reiterates our strongest support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the people of Ukraine.
“Australia stands with the people of Ukraine, and again calls on Russia to cease its unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine.” (Source: Defence Connect)
27 Apr 22. Shenzhen-based drone maker DJI has suspended its business in Russia and Ukraine, making it one of the first big Chinese companies to publicly halt Russian operations after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Russia’s use of DJI drones had drawn condemnation from Ukrainian officials and direct pleas to the company’s billionaire chief executive to cease its business in the country and prevent drones purchased by Moscow from flying within Ukrainian borders. The world’s largest drone maker’s equipment has been used by both sides in the war to peer over front lines and scope out battle positions. But Beijing’s support for Moscow and the close relationship between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Putin have put Chinese companies in a difficult position. Abroad, they face condemnation for supplying Russia and the threat of tougher US sanctions, while at home they must be aligned with the government. Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing was forced to reopen its Russian operations after facing a homegrown nationalist backlash over its plans to leave the market. Chinese computer giant Lenovo met similar domestic condemnation for exiting Russia. DJI said in an English language statement that it would “temporarily suspend all business activities in Russia and Ukraine” pending an internal compliance review. The company did not post the statement in Chinese to its website or social media accounts, though DJI’s head of public relations did post a translation to his personal Weibo account. (Source: FT.com)
26 Apr 22. Austin Meets With Nations to Intensify Support for Ukraine. In a forum hosted today in Germany by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, nearly 40 nations met to discuss current and future efforts to provide support for Ukraine in maintaining its sovereignty.
“We’re all coming away with a transparent and shared understanding of the challenge that the Ukrainians face,” Austin said during a press briefing that followed the conference. “I know that we’re all determined to help Ukraine win today and build strength for tomorrow. The work that we’ve done together in record time has made a huge difference on the battlefield.”
During the briefing, Austin announced that several nations have agreed to step up support for Ukraine, even beyond the valuable work they are already doing.
The German government, for instance, agreed to provide 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine. The British government also agreed to provide Ukraine with anti-aircraft capabilities, Austin said, along with Canada’s offer of eight armored vehicles.
“That’s important progress,” Austin said. “We’re seeing more every day. I applaud all of the countries that have risen and are rising to meet this demand. But we don’t have any time to waste. The briefings today laid out clearly why the coming weeks will be so crucial for Ukraine, so we’ve got to move at the speed of war. And I know that all the leaders leave today more resolved than ever to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and atrocities.”
Before the conference kicked off, Austin said he believed all participants started off from the same position of “moral clarity.”
“Nobody is fooled by Putin’s pretexts or by his phony claims on the Donbas ,” Austin said. “Let’s be clear — Russia’s invasion is indefensible, and so are Russian atrocities. We all start today from a position of moral clarity: Russia is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man.”
What Russia is doing, Austin told participants at the meeting, affects more than just Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion is baseless, reckless and lawless,” he said. “It is an affront to the rules-based international order. It is a challenge to free people everywhere. And, as we see this morning, nations of goodwill from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression. And that’s the way it should be.”
While the meeting today in Germany lasted just one day, Austin said a decision was made to extend the forum so more work could be done. Going forward, Austin said, there will be a monthly “contact group” to further discuss how best to assist Ukraine.
“The contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today’s fight and the struggles to come,” Austin said. “The monthly meetings may be in-person, virtual or mixed. And they’ll extend the transparency, the integration and the dialogue that we saw today.”
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Austin said, more than 30 allied and partner nations have committed to providing more than $5bn in security assistance to Ukraine. The U.S. alone provided some $3.7bn in assistance.
“Ukraine needs our help to win today. And they will still need our help when the war is over,” Austin told meeting participants. “As President Biden says, our security assistance has gone ‘directly to the frontlines of freedom … and to the fearless and skilled Ukrainian fighters who are standing in the breach.’ My Ukrainian friends, we know the burden that all of you carry. And we know, and you should know, that all of us have your back. And that’s why we’re here today — to strengthen the arsenal of Ukrainian democracy.” (Source: US DoD)
26 Apr 22. Germany makes U-turn on sending heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Kyiv to receive Gepard anti-aircraft tanks after weeks of pressure on Berlin to do more. Germany has agreed to allow the export of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, a U-turn that follows weeks of pressure on Olaf Scholz’s government — and which comes despite Russian warnings of the conflict escalating further. Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s defence minister, announced on Tuesday that Berlin would permit the shipment of anti-aircraft cannon tanks known as the Gepard — meaning Cheetah — to help Kyiv defend itself against Russia’s invasion. “We are determined to combine our efforts to help the Ukrainian people in this existential emergency,” she said. Lambrecht unveiled the decision at US-hosted defence talks at the Ramstein air base in western Germany, organised to shore up support for Ukraine and co-ordinate the delivery of arms. Representatives from more than 40 nations are attending. Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, welcomed the “major decision”, suggesting that Berlin may look to send more equipment and “continue to look for ways to . . . provide good capability to Ukrainians”. But he warned that Ukraine’s backers had to “move at the speed of war”. The Pentagon chief said earlier that western countries would “keep moving heaven and earth” to supply Ukraine with weapons to defend itself. Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, has for weeks resisted calls for the country to deliver heavy weapons, such as tanks and armoured personnel carriers, to Ukraine, saying such a move might trigger a direct military confrontation between Nato and Russia that could lead to a nuclear war. But Russia’s major new offensive in Ukraine’s eastern border region of Donbas has put pressure on countries such as Germany to provide Kyiv with more military aid. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, this week accused Nato of being “engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and . . . arming that proxy”. On Tuesday, Russia’s defence ministry threatened a “proportional response” against “Ukraine’s decision centres” after the UK said Kyiv had the right to attack targets on Russian soil. (Source: FT.com)