Ukraine Conflict Update – March 22nd
Military and hard security developments
- Russian shelling continues to intensify across the frontline, while the rate of Russian air strike sorties also continues to build. A senior US defence official stated that there have been over 300 Russian sorties over Ukrainian airspace in the last 24-48 hours, a marked uptick compared to last week. Together with the uptick in deployment of Russian UAVs, this likely reflects growing readiness amongst Russian Air Force commanders to commit aircraft following their earlier reticence to do so, though this may also be as a consequence of depleting stocks of precision-guided munitions. Furthermore, US officials maintain that Russian pilots are nevertheless exhibiting risk aversion as Russian forces have still not achieved air superiority – with Ukrainian air defences remaining comparatively effective in the west of the country in particular. The US Pentagon confirmed on 21 March that active consultations were underway with other countries to discuss the provision of advanced “long-range air defence” systems to Ukraine, something that would further frustrate Russian efforts to degrade Ukrainian air defences. Nevertheless, in the meantime, the deployment of more Russian UAVs and uptick in sortie rates underlines the increased threat of aerial bombardment in the coming days.
- In line with this, the head of the regional administration in Kharkiv has confirmed that Russian forces have notably increased the shelling of the city and its suburbs, reporting 84 shelling incidents in the last 24 hours alone. Elsewhere, Russian forces overnight shelled the town of Zelenodolsk, due south of the large city of Kryvyi Rih, indicating mounting pressure in Dnipropetrovsk oblast as Russian forces expand their operations along the western bank of the Dnieper.
- In Kyiv oblast Russian forces continue to consolidate, but Ukrainian forces claimed on 22 March that they had successfully liberated the town of Makariv to the west of the capital, just off the E40 motorway. While this underlines that the region to the west of Kyiv remains highly contested, Russian forces continue to amass to the east of the city, from where the most notable threat of encirclement in the coming weeks is most likely to originate. The mayor of Boryspil, a town just southeast of Kyiv, today called on civilians to leave the town in order for Ukrainian forces to more easily operate in the area, but the order also indicates growing likelihood of Russian forces moving south to cut off further entry and exit points to Kyiv in the coming weeks. For further analysis and military developments over the last 24 hours, see our Daily Guidance Bulletin.
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- On 22 March, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Russian forces opened fire against peaceful protesters in Kherson, though unconfirmed footage shows the soldiers firing primarily into the air to scare the demonstrators away. Nevertheless, at least one person is reported to have been injured in the process. Protests in Kherson, which fell under Russia’s control, have been ongoing as the residents and local authorities refuse to accept the occupation. Local resistance in Kherson will continue in the days ahead, with local official Yuriy Sobolevsky stating today that more protests will take place. However, with the Russian forces likely growing increasingly frustrated and seeking to establish control over the local populations, it is likely that they will increasingly resort to more brutal tactics and continue preventing deliveries of humanitarian supplies to force people to surrender.
- Late on 21 March, Zelensky renewed his offer to hold direct talks “in any format” with Putin, reportedly stating that the status of the disputed territories of Crimea and the Donbas, and Ukraine’s NATO membership, in exchange for security guarantees, could be up for debate, though any compromises with Russia should be approved in a public referendum. However, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stating yesterday that Russia has rejected further discussion of ceasefires with the Ukrainian delegation, the prospects of such a meeting in the coming days are extremely low. This is despite the fact that today Peskov stated that Russia would like “more substantial” talks, especially given Zelensky’s latest announcement that any deal with Russia would need to be approved in a referendum.
- On 22 March, the Russian State Duma adopted a resolution to support the initiative to conduct a parliamentary investigation into the alleged biological laboratories in Ukraine. The development comes as US President Joe Biden has increased warnings that Putin may resort to using chemical weapons in Ukraine, with fears that a false flag incident may be used to justify such tactics also growing amid enduring Ukrainian resistance against the Russian forces. At the same time, Biden, who is due to meet with European leaders this week to discuss further steps to support Ukraine, also urged American business leaders to prepare for more cyber attacks from Russia in anticipation of further retaliation from the Kremlin against western sanctions.
- Yesterday, 21 March, the Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda briefing published a figure stating Russia had sustained a total death toll of 9,861 and a further 16,153 wounded in Ukraine. The information was swiftly deleted, with the outlet reporting that it was “hacked”. The 9,861 figure is significantly higher than the official death toll of 498 last updated on 2 March, though the US has recently estimated a death toll of around 7,000. While independent verification of Russian casualties is impossible, the figure remains very high – for context, around 14,500 Soviet troops died in Afghanistan during its decade-long insurgency. If these are in fact leaked statistics, the casualty rates sustained by Russian forces in just four weeks remain very high, though they could equally be misinformation by hackers.
Economic/business environment developments
- As anticipated, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny received an additional nine years in prison on new charges of fraud and contempt of court. In response, Navalny’s spokeswoman expressed her concerns that Navalny’s life will be in danger in the remote colony where he will be serving a sentence. The development was largely anticipated, not only given the Kremlin’s intolerance of political opposition, but also given Navalny’s persistent calls in recent weeks for Russian’s to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Additionally, other famous figures such as Chulpan Khamatova, a prominent Russian actress, have also expressed their opposition to the war and are facing the threat of being targeted by the government, with Khamatova announcing that she has gone into exile in Latvia as a result. This ultimately underlines the worsening operating environment as more individuals flee Russia and state clampdowns continue.
- Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 22 March, the southbound H01/P01 remains a comparatively safer route for access to/exit from Kyiv. However, the missile strike in Kyiv’s Podil district near the city centre on 20 March highlights the danger posed to any movements in and around Kyiv. We assess that southern routes still remain comparatively safer, however. Of note, a curfew is in place in Kyiv until 0700 local time (0500 GMT) on 23 March.
- SOCMINT indicates ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian rear echelon units continue to take place on the P02, P69, M07 circular and H01/P01 in Kyiv. These are likely conducted in order to identify potential Russian fifth columnists/saboteurs, and Ukrainian units conducting these checks are believed to be operating on capture/kill orders. As such, those seeking to leave/enter Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution. Finally, there are increasing (unverified) accounts shared on social media of Russian forces firing indiscriminately on private vehicles on westbound routes into Kyiv, highlighting increased desperation on the part of Russian units in the area, but equally highlighting the severe risk to life posed by travelling on westbound routes to and from Kyiv at present.
- For routes toward western Ukraine, the P32 westbound from Bila Tserkva currently remains the safest major westbound road out of Kyiv. However, shelling in Vinnytsia and Vasylkiv remains an ongoing threat, and air raid warnings across the length of the P32 – notably in Khmelnytskyi and in Lviv proper – highlights the increasing spread of the conflict into western Ukraine. Therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes at present.
- Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed north and south of the E373 and the E40, as far south as the P04, and as such these routes remain unsafe. The advance around Kyiv remains largely stalled at the time of writing, but an uptick in Russian MLRS and drone strikes in north-western Kyiv this weekend indicate that Russian forces may be regrouping for a more substantive push over the coming week. We assess that the south-west of the city remains highly unsafe, and that the areas of Fastiv, Obukhiv and Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 represent viable targets for Russian forces in the event that a serious push to encircle Kyiv begins again.
While the Russian offensive continues to slow, the prospect for meaningful progress on peace negotiations remains low, with Kyiv seemingly hardening its position in recent days. President Zelensky has reiterated his government’s refusal to surrender key cities to Russian forces, including Mariupol, amid his calls for a face-to-face meeting with President Putin. The Kremlin has today, 22 March, called for talks to be more “substantial”, though a face-to-face meeting between the presidents remains unlikely at this stage.
In a significant development Zelensky has now stated that any peace agreement involving “historic” changes would be put to a referendum; a move that threatens to seriously undermine the likelihood of a peace agreement in the near term. Current Ukrainian public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of continuing the war and against the ceding of territory, and as such, any peace agreement that accepts Russian demands would likely be rejected by plebiscite (for the most recent independent polling data, see our previous Ukraine Update). As a result, it remains highly unlikely that Moscow will accept a peace agreement conditional upon a public vote, given any terms deemed favourable to Moscow would likely be rejected. Such a pledge will furthermore limit the Ukrainian delegation’s room for manoeuvre during negotiations if Zelensky intends to keep this promise, as public opinion rather than the realities on the ground would likely dictate Kyiv’s negotiating position to a large extent.
- On 21 March, US President Joe Biden advised US critical infrastructure operators to bolster their cyber defences in light of the growing threat posed by Russian cyber attacks. Biden claimed there is “evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyber attacks […] including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs we’ve imposed on Russia”. Biden did not reveal what type of preparatory activity they have discovered. Nevertheless, this warning follows cyber security researchers’ discovery that the Moscow-linked Cyclops Blink malware is being used to compromise routers, which can be used to form a botnet and launch disruptive cyber attacks, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 18 March 2022).
- On 21 March, a Twitter account allegedly linked to the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed that the group hacked the Russian social media site VKontakte to counter Russian disinformation about the Ukraine conflict. The group claimed to have sent an unknown number of Russian users a message updating them about the situation in Ukraine and the total number of people killed as a result of the conflict. This is Anonymous’ latest action against Moscow’s disinformation since the group began sending Russian mobile numbers text messages containing information about Moscow’s ongoing military offensives in early March (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 11 March 2022). Anonymous has also claimed to have shared all personal data of users displaying support for Russia’s invasion with “competent authorities”.
- On 20 March, Anonymous claimed via Twitter that “we call on all companies that continue to operate in Russia by paying taxes to the budget of the Kremlin’s criminal regime: Pull out of Russia!”. The group went on to claim that those who did not heed its warning would be targeted by cyber attacks. This warning follows the group’s alleged low-level cyber activities against Swiss multinational firm Nestle in early March for its continued presence in Russia.
- On 20 March, Ukrainian cyber security researcher “Conti Leaks” published the source code for the Conti ransomware group’s latest ransomware version. This action follows the researchers’ 25 March decision to leak nearly 170,000 of the group’s internal chat conversations over its operators’ public support of Russia during the Ukraine conflict (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 8 March 2022). This leak is expected to further limit the group’s capabilities to either support the Russian government by targeting critical Ukrainian organisations or engage in its typical criminal activities by allowing law enforcement to analyse and create a decryptor for the malware.
- On 18 March, the Computer Emergency Response Team for Ukraine (CERT-UA) warned that Ukrainian organisations are being targeted by a new Moscow-linked phishing campaign. The threat actor, known as InvisiMole, is reportedly sending its targets phishing emails that allow them to install the LoadEdge backdoor and data collection/surveillance modules. Cyber security firm ESET noted that “InvisiMole’s arsenal is only unleashed after another threat group, Gamaredon, has already infiltrated the network of interest, and possibly gained administrative privileges”. While it is unclear which organisations have been targeted by InvisiMole, the group is historically known to infiltrate military-related and diplomatic entities. As such, this campaign is likely aimed at exfiltrating sensitive information about Ukraine’s defensive strategies against Russian forces.
- On 17 March, another Twitter account allegedly linked to Anonymous implied that it was potentially planning to target US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA 14th District). This post followed the release of a 10-minute video by Greene wherein she claimed that Ukraine is fighting “a war [against Russia] they cannot win” and criticised US President Joe Biden for “dragging America into World War III” by providing financial and military support to Kyiv.
Russia’s utilisation of cyber space remains limited as of 22 March, despite Moscow’s flurry of disruptive attacks during the initial phase of the Ukraine conflict. However, US President Joe Biden’s warning indicates that potential attacks against US critical infrastructure could be impending in retaliation for the sanctions levied against the Russian government and its high-profile businesses. While Washington did not indicate what type of Moscow-directed cyber attacks they were expecting, the Sandworm hacking group’s ongoing compromise of Asus and WatchGuard Firebox devices is a potential indicator that Russia is preparing to launch another wave of disruptive cyber attacks, such as DDoS. Any attacks launched under this scenario would likely be targeted against either US government agencies and/or organisations providing direct financial or military support to Ukraine, such as defence-related firms. These attacks would serve the dual purpose of expressing Moscow’s political grievances over Washington’s intervention in the conflict and also potentially temporarily disrupt the shipment of critical supplies to Ukrainian forces.
Despite such warnings, pro-Russian hacking groups – either state-directed or cyber criminal – will likely remain hesitant to engage in any excessively disruptive or destructive cyber activity to avoid drawing the US or other Western states into a tit-for-tat cyber conflict that would divert much-needed resources away from its military offensives in Ukraine. Nevertheless, US critical infrastructure operators, such as government agencies and defence-related sectors, will be at a heightened risk of being targeted by Moscow-linked cyber attacks in the coming weeks, especially as Russia’s encirclement of major Ukrainian cities continue to intensify.
Meanwhile, Anonymous has remained the most active and effective pro-Ukraine hacking group during the monitoring period. The majority of its attacks have remained aimed at either countering Russia’s disinformation/misinformation warfare and/or disrupting its military offensives in Ukraine. However, the group’s recent allegations that it could start targeting Congresswoman Greene and/or foreign businesses operating in Russia indicates that the hacktivists may be looking to expand their targeting list in the coming weeks. It currently remains unclear whether these attacks would be targeted against these Western-based organisations or individuals and/or only assets based in Russia. Nevertheless, such activity is most likely to take the form of low-level disruptive attacks, such as DDoS or defacement, given the limited technical capabilities that these hacktivists have shown throughout the conflict. However, there is also a heightened risk of this group attempting to leak the targeted entities’ sensitive information, such as clients’ contracts or employees’ personally identifiable information (PII). Depending on the severity of the data leaks and the affected firms’ geographical locations, they could be subject to notable fines or regulatory scrutiny under regional data protection laws such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Such a scenario would add to the growing Ukraine-specific regulatory and financial risks facing all organisations in the coming months.
- The last 24 hours were again characterised by a comparative lack of manoeuvre on the battlefield, but saw the Russian forces maintain the tempo of artillery bombardment against cities and continue slow advances in the Donbas in an attempt to encircle stubborn Ukrainian forces. The lack of a single operational commander continues to hamper Russia’s coordination, with all the various armies/fronts seemingly still fighting separate battles. The Russian Air Force was more active and successful, with 300 reported sorties for the claimed loss of one fixed wing aircraft. Two helicopters and around six UAVs were also reported as destroyed by Ukrainian forces, although these claims are unverified.
- Overall, the Russians appear to be prioritising artillery re-supply and better integration of UAVs and intelligence for targeting. The Iskander strike on a mall in Kyiv on the night of 20/21 March was cued by an Orlan drone which tracked back Ukrainian rocket launchers resupplying at the site; notably, the UAV safely operated over Kyiv in daylight. While the missile only struck hours later, implying a slow integration of the UAV “sensor” to the “shooter”, the attack was nonetheless effective and will have reduced Ukraine’s ability to mount counter-battery fires or artillery ambushes around Kyiv.
- Russia is now fortifying positions around Kyiv, particularly to the east, at the edge of artillery range. It is therefore likely that the main tactic now used against the city will be bombardment, including increased use of scatterable mines on access routes. Russian forces will prioritise neutralising Ukrainian artillery, and ammunition storage areas will remain the Russians’ main target where these can be identified through surveillance. Russian forces may attempt gradually to advance and bring the city centre into conventional artillery range (approximately 25km), rather than relying solely on missile strikes, but Ukrainian localised counter-attacks west of the capital are so far successfully limiting this tactic and even seeing Ukraine regain control over key towns, such as Makariv.
- Air operations have seen an evolution in tactics, with fixed wing aircraft taking fewer risks and being more focused on penetration for a particular mission. This is limiting close air support in favour of interdiction targeting cities. The close support role is increasingly being taken over by helicopters, particularly in the Donbas. This means air power will remain focused more on cities and infrastructure. Russia’s most effective weapons remain stand-off missiles, although stocks of these are not unlimited.
- While hopes they will run short of these munitions are not yet proven, reports that the main Russian tank producer Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) has had to halt work due to lack of components seem credible. Russia’s primary combat tank is the T-72B3M, with the tank force relying on a steady refurbishment of older vehicles to this standard, the work being carried out by UVZ. The primary upgrade is in sighting and targeting systems and sanctions since 2014 have already limited Russia’s capability to maintain progress in this area; this is also evident when observing Russian UAV footage, which is of notably poor quality. The latest sanctions have been targeted in part on Russia’s already pressured capability to develop and upgrade systems, which is one reason why flagship weapon systems such as T-14 Armata are not present in Ukraine (or indeed accepted into serial manufacture at all).
- This supports the assessment that Russia will not be able to make good the losses of latest equipment in Ukraine, already of an inferior standard to Western equivalents. While the country has large reserves of vehicles, these lack the latest engines, weapons, armour, and sighting systems to be effective. Equipment being brought forward from the Far East and South Ossetia, or present in Belarus, is notably older than the material lost in Eastern Ukraine and around Kyiv.
- The concern remains escalation into CBRN amidst battlefield stagnation and Russian leadership frustration, with Russia continuing to lay false trails to enable such action. President Biden has again warned of this and also highlighted the escalating possibility of cyber operations as Russia seeks further to disrupt the Western response, in the face of hardening pressure.
- US: Russian cyber attacks pose an evolving threat to critical infrastructure operators as Moscow plots retaliation for sanctions. On 21 March, US President Joe Biden warned US critical infrastructure operators to bolster their cyber defences in light of the growing threat posed by Russian cyber attacks. Biden claimed there is “evolving intelligence that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyber attacks […] including as a response to the unprecedented economic costs we’ve imposed on Russia”. Biden did not reveal what type of preparatory activity has been discovered. Nevertheless, this warning follows cyber security researchers’ discovery that the Moscow-linked Cyclops Blink malware is being used to compromise routers, which can be used to form a botnet and launch disruptive cyber attacks such as distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 18 March 2022). Despite this warning, pro-Russian hacking groups will likely remain hesitant to launch overtly disruptive or destructive cyber attacks against Western organisations to avoid drawing Western nation-states into a tit-for-tat cyber conflict. Nevertheless, US critical infrastructure, such as government agencies or energy firms, will remain the most likely targets for any Moscow-backed cyber attacks.
- Russian operations continue to stall on multiple fronts, with both sides consolidating their forces over the last 48 hours, though the cities of Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and especially Mariupol remain under particular pressure. Strikes nevertheless continued in and around Kyiv. At approximately 2100 (GMT) on 20 March, a Russian missile strike took place in the city centre of Kyiv, in and around Podil district, completely destroying a sports complex and shopping mall near several residential buildings. The Russian Ministry of Defence has since released alleged video evidence claiming that the sports complex housed Ukrainian Armed Forces vehicles and supplies. Eight civilians were confirmed killed in the strike. The missile attack in Podil district highlights the increasing willingness of the Russian forces to deploy precision guided munitions in residential areas to strike at alleged military targets. We assess that the high-profile nature of the Podil strike will further galvanise Kyiv residents to seek evacuation from the city and contribute to the increasing refugee crisis on Ukraine’s European borders.
- Amid the enduring threat of strikes, a new curfew has been introduced in the capital, which will be in place from 2000 (local time) on 21 March until 0700 23 March. The UK Ministry of Defence has stated that it expects Russia to prioritise the encirclement of Kyiv in the coming days, ensuring continued pressure on the city’s outskirts in particular.
- Elsewhere, Russian missiles struck a military training ground in Rivne, in the latest strike against military targets in Western Ukraine. Naval bombardments of areas in and around Odesa have furthermore continued over the last 24 hours, with a residential building reportedly hit in the outskirts of the city – likely the first time residential areas in Odesa have been targeted. Furthermore, the Kremlin confirmed on 20 March that it had used a hypersonic Kinzhal missile to destroy an underground ammunition storage site near the Romanian border. However, such strikes are unlikely to indicate an amphibious operation is imminent, though it does underline enduring pressure in the south-western direction and the growing insecurity of evacuation routes south-west of Odesa.
- On 21 March Ukrainian authorities rejected a Russian ultimatum for Ukrainian forces to lay down their weapons in the besieged city of Mariupol by 0500 (local time). Russian forces had demanded the surrender of the city, pledging to allow those who lay down their arms to leave the city via a safe corridor. However, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk stated that there was no question of any surrender, demanding instead the establishment of humanitarian corridors to allow the 350,000 or so civilians still trapped in the city to leave safely. At this stage it remains unclear what the Russian response to the Ukrainian refusal will be. However, such an ultimatum could result in Russian forces viewing all those remaining in the city as combatants hereafter, compounding the already dire humanitarian situation in the city. As Russian offensives continue to stall across the south and east, Russian commanders will likely be under significant pressure to take Mariupol in order to free up forces to support operations elsewhere. As such, indiscriminate attacks will continue and likely intensify as Russian forces look to increase the pressure on the defenders to surrender the city. For further analysis and other military developments, see the Daily Guidance Bulletin.
- At 0430 local time (0230 GMT) on 21 March, Ukrainian authorities reported an ammonia leak at the Sumykhimprom chemical plant on the outskirts of the north-eastern city of Sumy. An update from the Sumy regional military administration claimed that shelling on the site half an hour prior had damaged one ammonia tank, though it resulted in no casualties. Sumy’s regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyi advised residents via Telegram to shelter in basements or on lower levels of buildings to avoid chemical exposure, claiming that the area within a 5 km (3 mile) radius of the site was hazardous, with the leak spreading about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) in all directions from the plant. Emergency officials reported containing the leak hours later, with no further risk to the local population. The incident underscores the enduring threat of the release of industrial hazards during fighting, as well as the wider threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) use in Ukraine in the coming weeks.
- On 21 March, the Kremlin stated that any European Union embargo of Russian oil imports would have a profound impact on global crude prices, as the EU considers its fifth sanctions package. Numerous EU member states have in recent days been pushing for a strengthening of sanctions, with the foreign ministers of Lithuania and Ireland now calling for targeted sanctions on the Russian energy sector, to which the US and UK have already committed. Moscow has previously threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to the EU, which relies on Russia for 40% of its supply, in response to any sanctions against the Russian oil and wider energy sector. Various EU governments remain opposed to an embargo given their energy reliance, including Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands, and as such it remains unclear whether agreement will be reached.
- EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has confirmed that EU foreign ministers will discuss what kind of additional sanctions might be imposed today, 21 March, with a further EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday, 24 March. An oil embargo will likely feature in the discussions, though at present the lack of a consensus will make the imposition of such sanctions unlikely in the short term. However, the fact that it is merely being discussed has already further driven up oil prices, with Brent standing at around USD 113 at time of writing, up 15% since its close on 16 March. Nevertheless, EU support for providing Ukraine further military assistance remains firm. Today, 21 March, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock confirmed that the EU will increase military aid to Kyiv to EUR 1 billion.
- Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitryo Kuleba on 20 March stated that new sanctions against Russia will be introduced this week, underlining his government’s continued efforts to pressure multinationals to leave Russia. While not stating that such sanctions would apply to such companies, Kuleba did single out Nestle, Danone and Unilever as examples of Western firms still doing business in Russia. So far, the Ukrainian authorities have not published specific lists of companies still operating in Russia, though Kuleba did call for an international boycott of such companies last week. Nevertheless, the naming of the three firms cited above does underline the increasing likelihood of further targeted criticisms this week – with the EU leaders’ meeting on 24 March likely to only reinforce mounting pressure on both governments and the private sector to sever operations in Russia.
- Franak Vyachorka, the senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsihanouskaya, on 20 March claimed that Belarusian “partisans” are actively disrupting the Russian war effort inside Belarus. According to Vyachorka, Belarusians have been destroying railways, damaging Russian equipment and handing out leaflets to Belarusian troops deterring their participation in the war in Ukraine. The claims come shortly after Oleksandr Kamyshin, the director of the Ukrzaliznytsya Ukrainian state railroad company, claimed that there is currently no rail traffic between Belarus and Ukraine due to the efforts of Belarusian railway workers. Kamyshin had previously called on Belarusian workers “not to carry out criminal orders and not transport Russian military forces in the direction of Ukraine”, which he claims is now the case. Undermining Russia’s ability to use the railway network will severely disrupt military supply lines to Russian forces around Kyiv, which would compound the already notable logistical issues these forces have had in recent weeks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed today, 21 March, that Russia has rejected further discussion of ceasefires with the Ukrainian delegation, claiming that Ukrainian forces are using such pauses in fighting to regroup and prepare further attacks on Russian forces. Peskov has also stated that peace negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations have made no significant progress, reiterating previous accusations that Kyiv is stalling. Such statements reflect the low likelihood of a peace agreement in the short term, with stalling Russian offensives and continued Ukrainian resistance likely to only embolden Kyiv to resist Russian demands. Nevertheless, the deteriorating humanitarian situation, particularly in Mariupol, is increasing international demands for a ceasefire. Following an address by President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Israeli Knesset yesterday, 20 March, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet reiterated his offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. The Swiss President Ignazio Cassis has similarly offered to mediate or host peace talks, but such a meeting remains unlikely in the coming week given the realities on the ground and the continued lack of progress in lower-level negotiations.
Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 21 March, the southbound H01/P01 remains a comparatively safer route for access to/exit from Kyiv. However, the missile strike in Kyiv’s Podil district near the city centre last night highlights the danger posed to any movements in and around Kyiv, even including evacuation routes. We assess that southern routes still remain comparatively safest, however. SOCMINT indicates ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian rear echelon units continue to take place on the P02, P69, M07 circular and H01/P01 in Kyiv. These are likely conducted in order to identify potential Russian fifth columnists/saboteurs, and Ukrainian units conducting these checks are believed to be operating on capture/kill orders. As such, those seeking to leave/enter Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution. Finally, there are increasing (unverified) accounts shared on social media of Russian forces firing indiscriminately on private vehicles on westbound routes into Kyiv, highlighting increased desperation on the part of Russian units in the area, but equally highlighting the severe risk to life posed by travelling on westbound routes into Kyiv at present. For routes toward western Ukraine, the P32 westbound from Bila Tserkva currently remains the safest major westbound road out of Kyiv. However, shelling in Vinnytsia and Vasylkiv remains an ongoing threat, and air raid warnings across the length of the P32 – notably in Khmelnytskyi and in Lviv proper – highlights the increasing spread of the conflict into western Ukraine. Therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes at present.
Russian armour and infantry units continue to be dispersed north and south of the E373 and the E40, as far south as the P04, and as such these routes remain unsafe. The advance around Kyiv remains largely stalled at the time of writing, but an uptick in Russian MLRS and drone strikes in north-western Kyiv this weekend indicate that Russian forces may be regrouping for a more substantive push over the coming week. We assess that the south-west of the city remains highly unsafe, and that the areas of Fastiv, Obukhiv and Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 represent viable targets for Russian forces in the event that a serious push to encircle Kyiv begins again.
- The weekend was comparatively quiet in terms of manoeuvre, as both sides consolidated their forces. This lack of tangible progress should however not be seen as conclusive at this stage. A key priority for Russia has been bringing up artillery supplies, and this has resulted in a steadily increasing bombardment of the various cities currently invested by the Russian Army – particularly Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv. The increased Russian use of UAVs with artillery, coupled with improved air defence against TB2 drones, is notable. This has resulted in a shift in advantage to Moscow in this area.
- The two-time use of the Kinzhal hypersonic missile – basically an air-launched version of the Iskander-M ballistic missile – was confirmed by the US, despite widely reported social media videos of the incident proving to be fake. The use of this system is most likely meant to send NATO a message about its practicality; being air launched and manoeuvrable, it can bypass fixed arc anti-missile systems like Patriot and evade interception even if acquired. However, this is also being taken as a sign that the Kremlin may be running out of other precision systems, and also an admission that Ukrainian air defences in the west are still effective. This latter claim is in some doubt though given that cruise missiles and other weapons have very effectively struck their targets in the last week, despite losses.
- The use of Kinzhal has further raised concerns about escalation into the CBRN arena. A release of ammonia in Sumy on 20 March appears to have been an accident, but this serves as a reminder of the risk from toxic industrial hazards on a modern battlefield, which can also serve as a smokescreen for hostile action. It remains likely that any escalation to chemical weapons use by Russia would be shrouded in disinformation and so the continued rhetoric around Ukraine’s alleged biological and nuclear programmes remains significant.
- At present, conventional weapons (including cluster and thermobaric munitions) have sufficed to clear parts of Mariupol with comparatively small Russian losses. However, the ultimatum to surrender the city this morning – turned down by Ukraine, as expected – will be used as a justification to further increase the pressure being brought to bear. Reports of civilians being removed from the city into Russia seem credible, with all being searched and segregated on the way through Russian lines. Those that chose now to stay and not experience this will instead be regarded as legitimate targets.
- There is still hard work for Russia to clear Mariupol, despite having successfully divided the defence into three different sectors and moving into the centre of the city. It is a significant objective for Moscow, since it allows the land bridge between Crimea and Donbas, and is a major port and steel manufacturing location; with Russian forces having cleared over 100km to the north, there is a large buffer here to protect this link. It is also significant as it is the headquarters of the Azov volunteer battalion, a right-wing militia defending the east of the city. Azov is a focus of the Kremlin’s propaganda and will be used as a justification for why “de-nazification” of Ukraine is necessary.
- The seeming planned total destruction of Mariupol will serve as a warning to other cities, and has indeed already caused some people to make the final decision to evacuate from Kyiv. The pattern of destruction of food and water supplies, targeting of civilians, indiscriminate use of firepower to advance, is already being repeated elsewhere. This is based on effective lessons learned in Syria. It is a slow and steady, yet ultimately successful, approach, with a high psychological impact.
- More widely, Russia remains too weak across all fronts to launch a significant operation and so further consolidation is expected. The main focus for Moscow will be the Donbas, where a series of engagements around northern Donetsk are aimed to encircle and destroy Ukrainian regular forces. A major thrust on Kyiv likely requires the reduction of at least Chernihiv, although forces gathering near there may show that this operation is more likely. Kyiv remains most exposed to the east, although forces on the west will continue to try and block the flow of supplies.
- Ukraine now assesses a high likelihood of Belarusian forces entering the fight by attacking south of Brest along the border, likely towards Lviv. This assessment is supported by the exit of Belarusian diplomats and the movement of military equipment up to the border in that area. The Belarusian military would be almost ineffective in this role, but three Russian BTGs have been held in Brest and would add significant second echelon support. While such a thrust would almost certainly fail, it will serve to draw off supplies and reinforcements from Kyiv and Donbas, and could bring some targets into conventional artillery range if a modest advance is achieved.
- Of course, as with Odesa and the posturing by Russian amphibious forces there, a demonstration of troops in this area will serve to tie down Ukrainian forces almost as effectively as an actual attack. This also has the advantage of not jeopardising Russia’s secure rear areas in Belarus, which Ukraine currently cannot easily threaten. Regardless, the west is an increasing focus, with two rockets falling on a training ground in Rivne.
- Belarus remains important both as a logistics base and as a launching point for missiles, with Russia having brought up several more SS-21 systems from storage. This heralds a further increased bombardment for the second week in a row. However, opposition from Belarusian railway workers continues to hamper supplies and this is contributing to the stalled operations by 35th Combined Arms Army west of Kyiv. Supply lines of up to 90 miles back to Russia (rather than Belarus) remain effective, but operations beyond that are a significant strain on the military. With increasing evidence of stay-behind operations against railway lines and main supply routes, the supply situation remains finely balanced. Of course, the same is happening for Ukraine, with appeals for the donations of vans and 4×4 vehicles from Western donors to help the military remain mobile in the face of equipment losses. We have seen increasing “technical” vehicle conversions, with machine guns on flat bed trucks, and similar improvisations. With Russia continuing to target the flow of material to Ukraine, the situation remains a race between Moscow’s escalation and Ukraine’s ability to endure. (Source: Sibylline)
22 Mar 22. Putin’s ‘back against wall’ in Ukraine. The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, remains under curfew, following the reported deaths of eight civilians in the shelling of a residential area and shopping centre. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country’s forces have “restrained” Russia’s advance, with military analysts once again saying the Russian campaign has stalled amid heavy losses and logistical problems. Ukraine’s ministry of defence claims Russian forces have stockpiles of ammunition and food that will last “no more than three days”. A Russian news outlet that briefly stated official numbers as recording 10,000 servicemen killed and more than 16,000 wounded says it was the victim of a hack. But a Ukrainian negotiator says his nation’s resilience is causing the invaders to “more adequately assess the situation”, encouraging dialogue between the two sides. It all means Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “back is against the wall”, according to US counterpart Joe Biden. However, the American president fears Mr Putin is preparing to order “false flag” operations to give the impression attacks were carried out by Ukraine. “They are also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons… that’s a clear sign he’s considering using both of those,” Mr Biden said. (Source: BBC)
22 Mar 22. EU approves new security strategy amid Ukraine crisis. The Strategic Compass strategy is expected to be approved by the European Council later this week. The European Union (EU) foreign and defence ministers have approved a new security strategy, called the Strategic Compass, as the ongoing Ukraine crisis marked the return of war in Europe. The Strategic Compass provides a plan to strengthen the union’s security and defence policy by 2030. As part of the strategy, the EU will form a new rapid reaction force, comprising up to 5,000 troops, to ensure swift deployment during different types of crises. The union has also agreed to conduct live exercises on land and at sea, as well as increase military mobility. The EU will also work to enhance its intelligence analysis capabilities, to better anticipate and respond to emerging threats and challenges. Several EU member states have already committed to increasing defence expenditures, in order to meet evolving security challenges. The EU will facilitate the exchange of national objectives on defence spending to match collective goals, as well as provide incentives to support collaborative capability development. EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy High Representative Josep Borrell said: “The threats are rising and the cost of inaction is clear. The Strategic Compass is a guide for action.
“It sets out an ambitious way forward for our security and defence policy for the next decade. It will help us face our security responsibilities, in front of our citizens, and the rest of the world.”
The Strategic Compass is now expected to be approved by the European Council at the summit scheduled later this week. The Ukraine conflict has entered its fourth week since Russia launched a military operation on the country. Russia recently claimed to have used hypersonic missiles to destroy a large weapons depot in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region, reported Reuters. Despite this, a senior US defence official did not confirm the claim. (Source: army-technology.com)
21 Mar 22. Russian Military Activities in Ukraine Conducted ‘In Silos.’ It’s been nearly a month since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, and Russian forces have been unable to achieve what Pentagon leaders believe to be their goals.
“We’re on day 26 the Russians have clearly not achieved many, or almost all of the objectives that … we believe they were setting out to achieve,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby during a briefing today. “They wanted to get after population centers so that they could take control of key ports, key cities, key government institutions. And supplant the government of Ukraine with one more friendly to Russia and then, basically, over time, erase the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
So far, Kirby said, Pentagon leaders believe the Russians have taken Kherson, and the Ukrainians have launched a counterattack there. Pentagon leaders also assess the Russians control Berdyansk, a port city on the Sea of Azov, but nearby Mariupol hasn’t fallen.
“The Ukrainians are fighting, as you all have seen very, very easily for yourself, how bravely they’re fighting to defend that city,” Kirby said. “I think what we’re seeing here is the Russians have been flummoxed, they’ve been frustrated. They have failed to achieve a lot of their objectives on the ground.”
A response to that, Kirby said, is that Russian forces have stepped up long-range fires on cities they hope to take in an effort to weaken them.
“They are essentially still stalled outside Kyiv, outside Kharkiv, outside Chernihiv and so many other places that they are stepping up their — what we in the Pentagon here call long-range fires, bombardment from afar,” Kirby said. “Whether that’s cruise missiles, ballistic missiles artillery fire, they’re lobbying an awful lot of hardware into these cities to try to force their surrender.”
Those bombardments, he said, have increased in the last few days and are taking a toll on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
“That’s resulting in more civilian casualties, more damage to residential areas, hospitals, schools, and innocent victims at greater rates and at greater numbers,” he said. “And … in many ways, it’s largely indiscriminate.”
One reason the Russian military may have failed to achieve its goals, Kirby said, involves logistics, sustainment and other basic military functions.
“They’re still having fuel problems,” he said. “They’re still having trouble feeding some of their troops. They’re having trouble with command and control on the ground, so they’ve made missteps of their own. And that would also include what we in the Pentagon called ‘jointness.’ We don’t see a level of integration between their air forces and their ground forces with any level of efficiency.”
There has not been a lot of maritime activity since the start of the invasion, Kirby said, though in the last few days there’s been increased maritime activity in the Black Sea aimed at Odesa. Still, the lack of jointness extends to the Russian navy as well.
“It appears as if a lot of these operations are being conducted in silos, not necessarily integrated across the force,” he said.
Another reason the Russians are not having the success they might have hoped to have is the exceptional resistance put up by the Ukrainians themselves, Kirby said.
“I would say that Ukrainians have been extraordinarily effective at preventing the Russians from achieving air superiority by the agility and the nimble way in which they are marshaling their own air defense resources,” he said. “And that includes everything from aircraft to surface-to-air missile systems, both short range and long range.”
Kirby told reporters that the United States continues to provide such systems to the Ukrainians and is also working with allies and partners to help find others who are also willing to provide assistance.
On Thursday of last week, the president committed an additional $800 million in security assistance to the Ukrainians including 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missile systems, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems and 100 tactical unmanned aerial systems.
Kirby said the Defense Department is now actively working to fill out this most recent drawdown package for Ukraine and that “shipments will be arriving very, very soon.” (Source: US DoD)
14 Mar 22. Russia “steps up lethal drone attacks in Ukraine conflict.” A Russian Zala Aero KUB kamikaze drone has been shot down by Ukranian forces in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv, according to Ukranian defence industry news website Mil.in.ua https://mil.in.ua/en/news/ukrainian-army-downed-russian-orlan-10-uav/.
The KYB-UAV is a “loitering” drone which can be equipped with a variety of weapon payloads (ball bearings surrounding an explosive charge in the case of the unit shot down in Kyiv, according to the website). It has an endurance of 30 minutes and a flight speed of up to 120km/hr.
This is the first time this type of Russian strike drone has been reported to be in use in Ukraine and marks a probable escalation in drone use.
According to Belgian defence analyst Tim De Zitter, writing in a Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/update-russian-drone-operations-we-have-seen-18-days-war-de-zitter/) post :“In the earliest phase of the conflict it seemed as if the Russian advance lacked ISR/combat UAVs that should have been part of their regular CONOPS/TTPs as defined by training, exercises, and military deployments to Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh….As the Russian military adjusted its operations, tightened supply and logistics, and continued the advance from Crimea, Donbass and south to Kyiv and Kharkiv, more evidence emerged of Russian drones in ISR and target acquisition capacity. On Mar 9 Russia’s Izvestia released footage from a ZALA-421-16E5G UAV showing Russian artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions in Mariupol. Downed Orlan-10s, captured Eleron-3s and Eniks target UAVs evidence that the Russian military is returning to its concept of operations where UAVs scout the area, report adversary movements and positions, and provide coordinates for artillery, MLRS and airborne assets.”
The Orlan-10 UAV, with a range of up to 120 km, makes up the largest share of the Russian drone fleet. Mil.in.ua reports that this drone has been in operational use in the Donbass region for some months; Ukranian forces have successfully intercepted a number of Orlan-10s as a result of jamming by Ukrainian Trytel Nota electronic counter measure systems, says the website.
According to Tim de Zitter other UAVs, such as Zastava, Eleron-3, Takhion, Granat, and ZALA, currently in service, provide ISR coverage at the tactical level, with a range between 12 and 100 km, giving Russian forces extended coverage of the battlefield. Meanwhile, Russia also has combat UAVs (CUAVs) in its arsenal – most notably the Orion/Forpost-R UCAV, a medium altitude long endurance UAS which is a licensed produced version of the Israel Aerospace Industries Searcher UAV, with combat capability recently demonstrated during Zapad-2021 drills with Belarus.
Please note: this article has been written on the basis of third-party reports.
For more information: https://mil.in.ua/en/news/a-russian-kamikaze-drone-was-shot-down-in-kyiv/
https://zala-aero.com/en/production/bvs/kyb-uav/ (Source: www.unmannedairspace.info)
18 Mar 22. Intermap Supports Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense with High-Resolution, 3D Elevation Data and Analytic Services. Intermap Technologies (TSX: IMP) (OTCQX: ITMSF) (“Intermap” or the “Company”), a global leader in geospatial content development and intelligence solutions, today announced the delivery of unclassified, commercial elevation data and analytics to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense in support of its operations. In an initial and immediate step, Intermap is providing access to the Company’s high-resolution NEXTMap® elevation data and analytics to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and other vetted humanitarian organizations for critical situational awareness, including terrain of the country and the region. Intermap is providing the world’s most accurate, unclassified, commercial 3D elevation data covering Ukraine.
“Intermap stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine by delivering advanced tools to support situational awareness, command and control, and tactical overmatch,” said Patrick A. Blott, Intermap’s Chairman and CEO. “Our priority is to provide quick and easy access to recent data and analytics to aid decision-makers at the tactical edge, where they are needed most. Intermap will continue to make valuable data and tools available, supporting Ukraine and its Western Allies.”
Intermap Reader Advisory
Certain information provided in this news release constitutes forward-looking statements. The words “anticipate”, “expect”, “project”, “estimate”, “forecast”, “will be”, “will consider”, “intends” and similar expressions are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. Although Intermap believes that these statements are based on information and assumptions which are current, reasonable and complete, these statements are necessarily subject to a variety of known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Intermap’s forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties pertaining to, among other things, cash available to fund operations, availability of capital, revenue fluctuations, nature of government contracts, economic conditions, loss of key customers, retention and availability of executive talent, competing technologies, common share price volatility, loss of proprietary information, software functionality, internet and system infrastructure functionality, information technology security, breakdown of strategic alliances, and international and political considerations, as well as those risks and uncertainties discussed Intermap’s Annual Information Form and other securities filings. While the Company makes these forward-looking statements in good faith, should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary significantly from those expected. Accordingly, no assurances can be given that any of the events anticipated by the forward-looking statements will transpire or occur, or if any of them do so, what benefits that the Company will derive therefrom. All subsequent forward-looking statements, whether written or oral, attributable to Intermap or persons acting on its behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by these cautionary statements. The forward-looking statements contained in this news release are made as at the date of this news release and the Company does not undertake any obligation to update publicly or to revise any of the forward-looking statements made herein, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required by applicable securities law.
About Intermap Technologies
Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Intermap (TSX: IMP; OTCQX: ITMSF) is a global leader in geospatial intelligence solutions. The Company’s proprietary 3D NEXTMap® elevation datasets and value-added geospatial collection, processing, analytics, fusion and orthorectification software and solutions are utilized across a range of industries that rely on accurate, high-resolution elevation data. Intermap helps governments build authoritative geospatial datasets and provides solutions for base mapping, transportation, environmental monitoring, topographic mapping, disaster mitigation, smart city integration, public safety and defense. The Company’s commercial applications include aviation and UAV flight planning, flood and wildfire insurance, environmental and renewable energy planning, telecommunications, engineering, critical infrastructure monitoring, hydrology, land management, oil and gas and transportation. For more information, please visit www.intermap.com. (Source: PR Newswire)
Spotlight on Civilian Harm in the Mariupol Theater Airstrike
By Jacob Kurtzer, Marti Flacks, Matthew P. Funaiole, and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.