Ukraine Conflict Update – March 26
Military and hard security developments
- On 26 March, UK intelligence noted that Russian forces have continued to besiege several major Ukrainian cities in the last 24 hours, such as Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Mariupol. As in recent days Russian forces continue to rely heavily on indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardment, instead of engaging in urban warfare. With concerns over the Russian military’s slight disadvantage at matching Ukrainian forces’ effectiveness in urban combat unlikely to abate, Russian forces will likely continue to utilise artillery and airstrikes to indiscriminately target urban areas in the coming days to both mitigate their growing losses and demoralise Ukrainians troops. Such action will likely increase the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine’s major cities and heighten international scrutiny of Moscow’s military tactics during the conflict.
- Meanwhile, Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed on 25 March that it had “mostly” completed the “first stage of the operation” in light of Ukraine’s allegedly reduced combat capabilities. As a result, the ministry claimed that it will now proceed with securing the country’s Donbas region, with Russian-backed separatists allegedly in control of 93 percent of the Luhansk region and 54 percent of the Donetsk region (jointly known as the Donbas). Despite such claims, this announcement appears to indicate the Russian government may be attempting to slightly alter its military goals due to the stronger than expected and more resilient Ukrainian forces it has faced during this conflict. A senior diplomatic source in Moscow quoted by industry reports claimed that this policy shift was a “face-saving move” as a result of Russian forces failing to secure any major Ukrainian cities since the start of the invasion. While this announcement could indicate a strategic refocus towards securing the Donbas region, this is unlikely to significantly reduce the ongoing offensives being launched against major cities, such as Kyiv or Mariupol.
- May Day Victory Parade? The aim seems to be for a Russia May Day Victory Parade but in reality with Ukraine showing no signs of surrender this may be a hollow show of a ‘victory.’ Ukraine is using more IEDs and other disruptive mechanisms to disrupt the Russian forces which have been forced to dig in and sow minefields in some areas.
- Next stop Odessa? One of the key objectives from the very start has been to secure Odessa and thus block Ukraine’s access to a major seaport for imports and exports. With Ukrain holding out at Kherson and the line of advance stalled, the taking of Odessa may now seem to be off the current programme?
- Another Stalingrad? Looking at the incursion map, Russian forces have spread themselves over a huge front stretching the length of Ukraine which is exactly what Hitler did in 1941. Although, as has been suggested, forced repatriation of Ukrainians as Hitler did with the Jewish and Gypsy population of Ukraine in 1941, and subsequently exterminated the bulk of them, this measure can never work in the long term as the siege of Leningrad showed. Russia will have to pull back in the eastern areas around Kyiv down to the Donbas to shorten their front line exposures which of course negates the whole process of the war in the first place. The cost of Sanctions will eat into any advantage and also the increased costs of permanently stationing troops in these areas to keep the peace. Russia appears to be working on the assumption that one weeks fighting creates ten years of GDP loss, but Russia faces the same problems magnified ten times over given the Western response. Putin seems to have bet the country on this operation in the hope of a quick fix and has failed. These actions will have a huge long-lasting effect on the ability of Russia to function as major twenty first century economic power. Certainly its current arms customers will turn elsewhere given the perceived future supply and support problems envisaged from Sanctions and the ability to source spare parts. Turkey seems to be the first customer to look back to NATO based suppliers.
- In Kyiv Oblast, Russian forces have entered the city of Slavutych and captured a hospital, highlighting the enduring intensity of the fighting in the oblast. Slavutych is believed to be home to a substantial portion of workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and capturing these workers may be an objective of Russian forces.
- The Bosporus-Black Sea transit was closed today at approximately 1200 GMT due to the discovery of floating mines near the Bosporus by Turkish fishing vessels. Turkish Coast Guard and Navy units have closed the Bosporus and are currently conducting a sweep for further floating mines in the area, believed to have been released by Russian forces operating in the Black Sea region.
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced on 25 March that it will be taking further action against the Russian Federation over its invasion of Ukraine. These actions include suspending the participation of CERN scientists located in Russia and Belarus, cancelling all joint events between CERN and Russia/Belarus-based institutions, suspending the “granting of contracts of association as associated members of the CERN personnel to any new individual affiliated to home institutions in Russia and Belarus”. While this development is unlikely to have an immediate impact on Russia and its research and development (R&D) capabilities, such developments could become detrimental to Moscow in the coming year as its ongoing “brain drain” continues to see its highly skilled labourers – such as IT specialists – attempt to exit the country in mass.
- US President Joe Biden remains in Warsaw, visiting US forces stationed in-country and meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, alongside the US Secretary of State and Defence Secretary. This marks the first US meeting with top Ukrainian officials since the beginning of the invasion.
- The chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, has repeated calls for a new ‘lend-lease’ weapons programme for Ukraine as well as reiterating a request for a no-fly zone. Both topics are expected to be addressed in the US-Ukraine meeting today.
Economic/business environment developments
- US and EU leaders announced on 25 March that the US will aim to supply an additional 15 billion cubic metres (bcm) of additional liquefied natural gas to the EU this year, raising scheduled US deliveries to 37 bcm in 2022. This comes amid efforts to reduce European dependence on Russian gas with plans to cut its imports, which totalled 155 bcm in 2021, by two-thirds this year. The US has been able to increase the delivery of gas to Europe, with supplies in January doubling on previous years to 4.4 bcm. However, the agreement faces a number of challenges to successfully reduce dependence on Russian gas. The agreement still falls far below the necessary increase in gas supplies from new sources to make up in the planned reduction in Russian imports. Additionally, US gas producers are working at maximum capacity and as such increased gas supplies to Europe will be secured by “swaps” with other US buyers, particularly in Asia. As such, while the EU claims that it is aiming to secure 50 bcm a year in additional imports, increased demand from Asian countries seeking to make up for a shortfall in supply will increase competition for additional supply and boost prices. Moreover, European infrastructure is not currently optimised to receive large deliveries from the US and as such the agreement necessitates the construction of new import terminals and storage facilities. This will likely slow the transition away from Russian gas and sustain volatility within the EU energy market.
- As such, with energy prices likely to continue to rise through 2022, EU leaders agreed on 25 March, the second day of an EU summit in Brussels, to allow the European Commission to establish a task force to organise a joint procurement scheme for the acquisition of gas for next winter. This proposal has been watered down due to German objection that they are satisfied with their current procurement arrangement and the scheme will now be voluntary for member states potentially weakening the blocs bargaining power. Regardless, with Europe responsible for 75% of the global market for pipeline gas the measure may result in some drop in prices.
- However, further progress on measures to reduce energy prices was limited, falling below the expectations of some member states. EU leaders opted not to proceed with proposals for increased state intervention into the energy market, through measures such as state aid, taxation changes, price caps and increased regulation. Instead member stated have indicated that they will wait for the European Commission’s analysis on the potential impact of state intervention expected in a report on Europe’s energy market scheduled for delivery by May. This will delay efforts to reduce prices across the region and sustain policy uncertainty for both suppliers and customers. However, Portugal and Spain both received dispensation to manage their own electricity prices due to the limited connectivity of their energy infrastructure with the rest of Europe and deteriorating domestic conditions. This may result in reduced energy costs for businesses in Portugal and Spain in the coming months.
- Late on 25 March, French President Emmanuel Macron stated than an ‘extraordinary humanitarian operation’ will be conducted by the French, Greek and Turkish navies to evacuate civilians from the city of Mariupol. Macron further stated that he would discuss this operation with Russian President Vladimir Putin to confirm a ‘safe corridor’ for evacuating as many of the city’s 100,000 remaining residents as possible. As of early 26 March, it is unconfirmed whether such a corridor has been agreed upon with Russian forces or whether indeed it will be respected if agreed.
- Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of highly contested zones to Western Ukraine, Ukrainian Railways claimed that additional evacuation trains will run on 26 March from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kramatorsk. The reported schedule is as followed: Kyiv, Darnytsia railway station (09:00 and 17:00 intercity from Kyiv to Lviv), Kharkiv (08:00 and 15:00 intercity to Lviv, and 11:30 to Uzhorod), Dnipro (20:00 to Chop), and Kramatorsk (13:00 and 16:00 to Lviv). For Odesa, there is reportedly an additional flight leaving the main airport for Uzhorod at 22:32. Despite this announcement, it should be noted that the Russian forces’ reported firing at evacuation trains leaving Kyiv near Vasylkiv on 24 March underlines the heightened risk posed to individuals attempting to move in and/or around Kyiv or known evacuation routes. However, we assess the southern routes remain comparatively safer than the country’s other routes.
- 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.
- 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, Vasylkiv and Fastiv remains an ongoing threat, and air raid warnings across the length of the P32 – notably in Khmelnytskyi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv – 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, and as such these routes remain unsafe. The advance around Kyiv remains largely stalled at the time of writing, with Russian land forces regrouping east of Kyiv. 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.
Per yesterday’s briefing, it is increasingly apparent that Russian military operations in Ukraine are now focussed on consolidating around ground previously captured during the conflict to date, with an increase in offensive efforts in the Donbas. The complete capture of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts remains the most likely primary objective of Russian forces in-theatre, and we anticipate Russian forces will increasingly focus on cutting off and reducing Ukrainian armed forces in the eastern theatre at the expense of more meaningful gains in northern and central Ukraine.
We anticipate that the purported mining of the Black Sea and the temporary closure of the Bosporus this morning will substantially aggravate Russian-Turkish relations and further push Ankara to support French initiatives in the conflict, notably the humanitarian evacuation of Mariupol.
We continue to assess that there is an elevated risk of Russian strikes on Western aid arriving in western Ukraine, notably near the Slovakian border, should the Slovakian Ministry of Defence confirm that the transfer of S-300 missile defence systems to Ukraine will take place. This follows warnings delivered by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov this week as well as the Slovakian Ministry of Defence.
Elsewhere, the Russian advance remains mostly stalled around Kyiv and the north-east, despite a heavy uptick in shelling, missile strikes and air raids in and around Kyiv oblast. The entry of Russian forces into the city of Slavutych does mark a minor coup for Russian forces, although according to UK intelligence Russian forces remain largely ‘unwilling’ to enter into infantry-centric urban engagements at present, preferring to rely on artillery and air bombardments to reduce pockets of resistance. Therefore, we assess that the current rate of air and artillery strikes around Kyiv oblast is likely to remain over the coming 24hrs, with minimal likelihood of substantial ground movements during this time. (Source: Sibylline)
25 Mar 22. Estonia increases defense spending to buy air defense systems, more weapons. Estonia has approved a €476m (U.S. $523m) defense spending hike, the majority of which is for short- to mid-range air defense systems.
The decision comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has served as a catalyst for other Eastern European nations to boost their own air defense capabilities. Estonia aims to acquire the systems no later than 2025.
The additional funds will raise the country’s “defense spending over 2.5% of [the country’s] GDP,” the Defence Ministry said in a March 24 tweet. It’s a goal of NATO for its members to spend at least 2% of their respective gross domestic product on defense.
In October, Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet told Defense News his country planned to purchase a short- to mid-range air defense system similar to the Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System that Estonia’s neighbor Lithuania ordered from Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace.
“We would like to start this project in cooperation with the U.S.,” the minister said at the time.
The ministry estimates the acquisition will be worth about €350 million. In addition to the air defense capability, the funds will also enable Estonia to strengthen its “anti-tank, indirect-fire, situational awareness” and host-nation support capabilities, according to the ministry.
Other acquisition plans include multiple launch rocket systems, coastal missile defense systems, and unmanned and cyber defense systems, Laanet said. (Source: Defense News)
26 Mar 22. RAF deploy to Romania to conduct air policing mission. Typhoon jets and Royal Air Force personnel are deploying to Romania to join the long-standing NATO Air Policing mission for the Black Sea region. The 4 deploying Typhoon jets from 3 (Fighter) Squadron are normally based at RAF Coningsby, and will conduct the NATO Air Policing mission from Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base on the Romanian Black Sea coast. The mission is supported by 150 RAF personnel based at RAF Wittering who form the Headquarters of an Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW). The personnel recently undertook training at RAF Leeming’s Operational Training Centre.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “The UK remains committed to NATO and European security in the face of Russian aggression and the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Operation Biloxi is a long-standing NATO mission and the Royal Air Force are playing a central role in security and deterrence in Europe.”
Air policing is a purely defensive operation and a permanent NATO mission which began in 1961 during the Cold War. The mission ensures the security and integrity of all NATO Alliance member’s airspaces. Airspace is monitored by operations centres and where it is assessed that an interception is required, NATO aircraft can be scrambled as part of a Quick Reaction Alert. The UK supports Romania by augmenting its own capabilities.
The RAF deployment to Romania has been supported by personnel from No 1 Expeditionary Logistics Squadron and No 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron, part of the RAF Support Force formed in 2020. Both squadrons have prepared and transported equipment and supplies to maintain and sustain the Typhoon jets during the mission.
Air Vice-Marshal Phil Robinson, Officer Commanding 11 Group said: “The arrival of our personnel and equipment in the region highlights the RAF’s continued commitment and contribution to the NATO Air Policing mission in Romania. During the deployment, we will be working alongside our Romanian and other NATO partners, enabling the delivery of the mission and protecting and reassuring our allies, whilst building confidence and maintaining deterrence.”
Operation Biloxi is the British name for the NATO Air Policing mission – it is the fourth time since 2017 that the RAF have conducted it. The NATO mission enhances the national air policing conducted by the Romanian Air Force and will see the RAF Typhoons mirror the Quick Reaction Alert mission that is conducted routinely in the UK. This deployment is in addition to long-standing continuous missions undertaken by NATO Allies across the Eastern Flank. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
25 Mar 22. Pentagon reconsidering troop levels in Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When the year began, there were about 80,000 U.S. troops based in Europe, either permanently stationed or participating in heel-to-toe rotations from bases stateside. But as Russia amassed more troops on Ukraine’s border and then launched a full-on invasion in late February, the number of Americans posted along NATO’s eastern front has swelled to more than 90,000.
Those troops are in place temporarily, to reassure allies, the Pentagon has said, but a senior defense official told reporters Friday that the ongoing war in Ukraine has forced the Defense Department to re-think its numbers in Europe.
“There’s been no posture decisions, permanent posture decisions … there’s no serious negotiations with other nations in terms of permanent posture right now,” the official said. “But I think it’s safe to assume that the security environment in Europe is now radically different than it was before.”
In recent years, the U.S. has leaned more on rotational forces training with local troops from the Baltics down to Bulgaria, as permanent bases in Germany have closed.
Now, with Russia’s unprovoked hostility considered a very real threat to NATO countries, there may be a call for even more U.S. troops in Europe, either permanent or rotational.
“But it’s safe to assume we have, frankly, our allies, who will be looking at what the posture should be like, going forward, longer term ― that was a topic of discussion at the NATO summit yesterday,” the official said. “No decisions made, of course. No specific proposals debated or discussed, but the issue of what the security posture in Europe needs to look like long-term, absolutely is being discussed.”
In the immediate future, the official said, U.S. and NATO leadership are considering how many troops are needed to bolster eastern front countries as Russia’s invasion continues.
To date, the U.S. has activated about 11,600 troops for the mission: 4,700 from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland; 300 from the XVIII Airborne Corps to Germany; 1,000 from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to Romania; 800 from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team to Latvia; 100 F-35 Lightning II air crew to Estonia, Lithuania and Romania; 100 AH-64 Apache aircrew to Poland and the Baltic states; 3,800 from 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and its sustainment unit to Germany; 150 airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington; 40 members of an air support operations unit to Romania and Poland; 300 ordnance and maintenance soldiers to Germany; and 300 members of V Corps to Germany and Poland.
The U.S. has committed another 2,000 or so to the NATO Response Force, but the Pentagon hasn’t yet identified those units for deployment.
“Right now our focus is on whether or not there needs to be additional temporary deployments to shore up the eastern flank given, what’s going on in Ukraine,” the senior defense official said. (Source: Military Times)
25 Mar 22. Biden Thanks U.S. Troops in Poland for Their Sacrifices, Service. President Joe Biden thanked U.S. troops deployed to Poland for their efforts in response to the Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The president met with soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Rzeszow, Poland, near the border with Ukraine. He ordered soldiers from the division to the country in early February in response to Russia’s massive military buildup on its borders with Ukraine and in Belarus.
Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24.
U.S. troops are in Poland to deter Russia from invading a NATO country and, if that fails, to defend every inch of NATO territory. “Every day that I talk to my boss, he asks about how you’re doing and whether or not you have what you need to be successful,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told the paratroopers when he introduced the president. “And he is concerned about you and focused on you each and every day. I want you to hear that from me, because it’s the God’s honest truth. It’s who he is.”
The president had lunch with the soldiers and then moved into an area where he could speak to more of them. “First of all, thank you,” he said. “You represent 1% of the American people. None of you have to be here. Y’all decided to be here for your country — every one a volunteer, every single one of you stepped up. And the 99% of the rest of the country, including me, owes you — and owes you big.”
Biden also thanked the soldiers for what they represent to the rest of the world. He told them the United States is a nation organized by an idea and cited the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all women and men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, sounds corny, but it’s the truth of who we are,” he said. “We’ve never lived up to it, but we never walked away from it. And the rest of the world looks to us because, you know, we not only lead by the example of our power but by the power of our example.”
Biden said the generation in the military today is an example for the rest of the world. Observers see a multiethnic group of Americans who act together and are united in the resolve “to defend the country and to help those who need help,” he said. “That’s why you are here.”
During his visit, Biden referred to the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who famously called the United States the “indispensable nation.” Albright died earlier this week. “It sounds like a bit of hyperbole,” Biden told the soldiers. “But the truth of the matter is, you are the organizing principle around which the rest of the … free world is moving. You’re in the midst of a fight between democracies and an oligarchy.”
He said that Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that democracies can’t succeed in the 21st century. “The reason is things are moving so fast, changes happening so quickly,” he said. “Democracies require consensus, and we can’t put together consensus as quickly as autocrats can.”
This operating idea from autocrats bodes ill for democracies. Russian President Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine is one symptom of that. Putin thought the democracies would split if confronted by such an invasion, Biden said yesterday at NATO Headquarters.
“What’s at stake is not just what we’re doing here … to help the Ukrainian people and keep the massacre from continuing,” Biden said. “Beyond that, what’s at stake is what are your kids and grandkids going to look like in terms of their freedom?”
Biden said he believes the world is at an inflection point in this battle between democracies and autocracies. “That’s really what’s at stake,” he said. “So, what you’re doing is consequential, really consequential.”
And the troops are ready for the challenge. “You’re the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” he said.
This combat-seasoned force is in the right place to “help Europe begin to gain and regain its confidence,” Biden said.
The additional troops pushed the number of U.S. service members in Europe to more than 100,000 for the first time in decades. But it’s necessary “because we are the organizing principle for the rest of the world,” Biden said. “We’ve sent the best available in America, and that’s all of you women and men.” (Source: US DoD)
25 Mar 22. In Ukraine, Russian Activity Now More Focused on Donbas Than Kyiv. In Ukraine, the Russians are still launching airstrikes on the capital city of Kyiv, but it appears the Russian military is less interested now in conducting ground operations there than they have been in the past and are instead now focused on an eastern area of the country known as the Donbas.
During a background briefing today, a senior defense official said an official from the Russian Ministry of Defense publicly announced the Russians are now prioritizing the Donbas.
“They are putting their priorities and their efforts in the east of Ukraine,” the DOD official said. “That’s where still there remains a lot of heavy fighting and we think they are trying to not only secure some sort of more substantial gains there as a potential negotiating tactic at the table, but also to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country.”
When it comes to the capital, Kyiv, the senior defense official said air strikes continue, but the activities of ground forces have changed.
“It appears that the Russians are, at least for the moment, not pursuing … a ground offensive towards Kyiv,” the official said. “They are digging in. They are establishing defensive positions. They don’t show any signs of being willing to move on Kyiv from the ground.”
Nevertheless, the official said, there are still airstrikes on Kyiv, but nothing from the ground.
“It’s interesting that the bulk of air activity is really only Kyiv, Chernihiv — which remains a very bloody fight — and then the Donbas,” the official said. “That’s where we’re seeing the air activity. So again, all of that sort of reinforces this idea that, at least for the moment, they don’t appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively or frankly at all. They are mostly focused on the Donbas.”
The same official also confirmed reports that Ukrainian forces had destroyed a Russian navy vessel on the Sea of Azov at the port city of Berdyansk.
“They did strike a Russian LST while it was pier-side in Berdyansk,” the official said. “It appears from the imagery we’ve seen that they destroyed that ship.”
The destroyed Russian ship, called the Saratov, was an Alligator-class amphibious landing ship that could carry up to 20 tanks. The term “LST” means “Landing Ship Tank.”
The official said the DOD is unaware of how many Russians were on the ship when it was hit, or how many casualties there had been. Additionally, the official wouldn’t say what weapons system the Ukrainians had used to destroy the vessel to protect their operational security.
The official also said the department believes the ship was in port at Berdyansk as part of a mission to resupply Russian combat operations near Mariupol.
Also of significance, the official said, is that the Russian military now appears to be pulling troops it has in nearby Georgia to participate in operations in Ukraine.
“We’ve seen our first indications that they are trying to send in some reinforcements from Georgia,” the official said. “We have seen the movements of some number of troops from Georgia.”
The official couldn’t say how many Russian troops would leave Georgia for Ukraine, or where those troops would be going when they arrived in Ukraine. (Source: US DoD)
25 Mar 22. Russian troops deliberately kill own commanding officer, Western officials say.
The soldiers acted because of a huge death toll in their brigade, Western officials said.
File photo of Russian fighting vehicles in January, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Picture: Erik Romanenko/TASS/ITAR-TASS News Agency, Alamy).
A Russian brigade commander has been “deliberately killed” by his own troops, Western officials say.
The commanding officer of 37th Motor Rifle Brigade was hit by a vehicle, run down, and killed in a deliberate act, officials said.
Forces News has been told the killing took place because of the “huge losses” being suffered by 37th Motor Rifle Brigade.
The incident is being highlighted by Western officials as a further example of how morale among Russian fighting forces in Ukraine has plummeted.
Russia is now set to deploy a further 10 battalion tactical groups to reinforce existing battalions.
It’s understood a fifth of the existing Russian force in Ukraine is no longer combat-effective, with battalions having to join together to maintain capability.
The new units are said to be coming from Georgia, the Eastern Military District and also from Kaliningrad.
They are existing tactical groups, but there are questions over their combat readiness.
Meanwhile, Forces News has been told Russian morale has been further weakened by a lack of adequate battlefield medical care, which has led to far higher fatalities than would usually be expected. (Source: forces.net)
26 Mar 22. As Ukraine forces counter near Kyiv, Russia scales back goals. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pushed for further talks with Russia as Moscow signalled it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east after attacks elsewhere stalled. In an announcement on Friday appearing to indicate more limited goals, the Russian Defence Ministry said a first phase of its operation was mostly complete and it would now focus on the Donbas region bordering Russia, which has pro-Moscow separatist enclaves.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate.
Breakaway Russian-backed forces have been fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbas and the adjoining Luhansk region since 2014. They declared independence with Moscow’s blessing – but not recognised by the West – soon before the Feb. 24 invasion.
Reframing Russia’s goals may make it easier for President Vladimir Putin to claim a face-saving victory, military analysts said.
Moscow had said the goals for what it calls its “special operation” include demilitarising and “denazifying” its neighbour. Western officials say the invasion is unjustified and illegal, aimed at toppling Zelenskiy’s pro-NATO government.
Weeks of on-and-off peace talks have failed to make significant progress. In a video address late Friday, Zelenskiy said his troops’ resistance had dealt Russia “powerful blows”.
“Our defenders are leading the Russian leadership to a simple and logical idea: we must talk, talk meaningfully, urgently and fairly,” Zelenskiy said.
In what officials billed as a major address in Poland U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday “will deliver remarks on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and defend a future that is rooted in democratic principles,” the White House said in a statement. read more
The United Nations has confirmed 1,081 civilian deaths and 1,707 injuries in Ukraine since the invasion but says the real toll is likely higher.
Some 136 children have been killed so far been during the invasion, Ukraine’s prosecutor general office said on Saturday. read more
Russia’s defence ministry said 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed and 3,825 wounded, the Interfax news agency reported. Ukraine says 15,000 Russian soldiers have died. Reuters could not independently verify the claims.
Despite the carnage, Russian troops have failed to capture and hold any major city in the month since invading Ukraine. Instead, they have bombarded cities, laid waste to urban areas and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.
More than 3.7 million of them have fled abroad, half to neighbouring Poland in the west, where Biden on Friday met soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division bolstering the NATO alliance’s eastern flank.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are being cut off from help by Russian forces and are besieged in places like Mariupol,” Biden said. “It’s like something out of a science fiction movie.”
Footage from the southeastern port, home to 400,000 before the war, showed destroyed buildings, burnt out vehicles and shell-shocked survivors venturing out for water and provisions. Residents have buried victims in makeshift graves as the ground thaws.
Local officials, citing witness accounts, said they estimated 300 people were killed in the bombing of a theatre in Mariupol on March 16.
The city council had not previously provided a toll and made clear it was not possible to determine an exact figure after the incident. Russia has denied bombing the theatre or targeting civilians. read more
COUNTERATTACKS AROUND KYIV
Battle lines near Kyiv have been frozen for weeks with two main Russian armoured columns stuck northwest and east of the capital. A British intelligence report described a Ukrainian counteroffensive that had pushed Russians back in the east.
“Ukrainian counterattacks, and Russian forces falling back on overextended supply lines, have allowed Ukraine to reoccupy towns and defensive positions up to 35 km (22 miles) east of Kyiv,” the report said.
Volodymyr Borysenko, mayor of Boryspol, an eastern suburb where Kyiv’s main airport is located, said 20,000 civilians had evacuated the area, answering a call to clear out so Ukrainian troops could counterattack.
On the other main front outside Kyiv, to the capital’s northwest, Ukrainian forces have been trying to encircle Russian troops in the suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, reduced to ruins by heavy fighting.
The cities of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy north and east of Kyiv have also endured devastating bombardment. Chernihiv was effectively surrounded by Russian forces, its governor said.
Britain said it would fund £2m ($2.6m) worth of food supplies for areas encircled by Russian forces, following a request from the Ukrainian government. read more
Thousands of miles from Ukraine, Russia was conducting military drills on islands claimed by Tokyo, Japanese media said on Saturday, days after Moscow halted peace talks with Japan because of its sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. (Source: Reuters)