War in Ukraine, day 18: Russian army legalizes looting, Mariupol under threat of famine

War in Ukraine

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun
Russia attempts to envelop Ukrainian forces from the north in Kharkiv and south in Mariupol as it recruits Middle Eastern mercenaries to support the invasion of Ukraine, following previous reports that mercenaries from Russian private military companies are also deployed. Meanwhile, facing supply problems, the Russian Army has legalized looting. The siege in Mariupol continues, with the population facing a threat of famine.

Morning report day 18 – March 13

The report is based on media reports, expert analyses and official information posted online.

BTG: Battalion Tactical Group, approximately 600–800 officers and soldiers, of whom roughly 200 are infantrymen, typically equipped with roughly 10 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles.

Situation

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 13.03.2022, supplemented by its [midnight assessment]:

“The eighteenth day of the heroic resistance opposition of the Ukrainian people to the Russian military invasion began.

Status, position and nature of actions of the defence forces are without significant changes.

[The enemy carries out measures to restore combat capability and regroup troops, as well as prepares for the continuation of the offensive in the Polissya, Siversky, Slobozhansky, Donetsk, Tavriya and Pivdennyi Buh direction areas.]

[Throughout the fighting on the territory of Ukraine, the enemy met with fierce resistance. It did not achieve the goal of the operation in any of the areas. The nature of the actions indicates the uncertainty of the military leadership of the Russian Federation in matters of strategic objectives and the ultimate goal of the so-called “special military operation”.]

[The occupying forces have been inflicted heavy losses, slowed down the pace of the offensive and stopped in the vast majority of directions. Military and civilian infrastructure continues to be destroyed. In order to compensate for the losses, the occupiers organized the training of additional forces and means for conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine.]

[The enemy did not carry out offensive operations in the Volyn direction. The military leadership of the Republic of Belarus has strengthened the protection of the border with Ukraine. There is a high probability of direct participation of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus in the military operation against Ukraine. There is an air reconnaissance of objects on the territory of Ukraine with the help of UAVs, probably from the territory of the Republic of Belarus.]

[No active offensive actions of the enemy were recorded in the Polissya direction. Measures are being taken to restore combat capability and regroup troops. The enemy is trying to reconnoitre and clarify the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and possible ways of attack. The occupiers continue to tax the logistics system by creating repair bases on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.]

[In the northern direction, the enemy focused on improving the operational construction of troops and the logistics system of the group.]

In the Slobozhansky direction, the enemy carried out offensive operations in the area of settlement Izium, further trying to move in the direction of settlement Slavyansk. After the losses received in the area of the city of Kharkiv, he withdrew to the territory of the Russian Federation (Belgorod region) one of the BTGs of the 6th All-Military Army to restore combat capability. At the same time, it strengthened the groupings in this direction due to the introduction of units from the Northern Fleet.]

[In the Donetsk and Tavriya directions, the enemy carried out assault operations and fire raids. It does not abandon attempts to storm the city of Mariupol. The Russian occupiers are trying to prepare reserves and go on the offensive in Sievoerodonetsk, Ugledar and Zaporizhia. The enemy has had little success in the Volnovakha direction – it has captured the eastern outskirts and is trying to move on.]

[At the same time, the enemy does not refuse to attempt an offensive on Kryvyi Rih. It did not succeed. It looks for weaknesses in the defence of Ukrainian defenders. In order to increase efforts, puts into operation reserves from the Airborne Forces. In some areas, it is trying to keep the previously occupied borders.]

The Armed Forces of Ukraine, in cooperation with other components of the Defence Forces, are repelling the enemy troops, in particular, two helicopters, two fighters (one of which is a Su-34) and two UAVs were destroyed previous day.

The moral and psychological condition of the enemy’s troops, who took part in the battles with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, continues to deteriorate, the number of cases of desertion and refusals to carry out orders is growing.

According to the available information, a large number of Russian servicemen wounded in the course of hostilities on the territory of Ukraine are being treated in the medical institutions of the south-eastern region of the Republic of Belarus.

There are not enough blood supplies for surgery. Reserves accumulated for the citizens of the Republic of Belarus are used – about 2/3 of the reserve is redirected to the needs of the Russian military. The campaign to collect blood among public sector employees and the civilian population was intensified.

Due to the losses, the armed forces of the Russian Federation are forming new units. In particular, the enemy command plans to involve about 1,500 people from the 40th Separate Marine Brigade (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Pacific Fleet).”

Corroborating the demoralization claims are two episodes of apparent desertion by Russian troops.

  1. First, in a video of an interrogated Russian occupier shared by the SBU, he claims that the Russian army command resumed the practice of “shooting squads” that execute deserters, as well as that  600 Russian marines refused to land from their ship near Odesa “because they realized what was happening.”
  2. Second, at least 80 Russian marines refused to participate in the war against Ukraine after they were landed in Kherson Oblast having realized that they were not going to exercise, according to the media project Graty’s sources in law enforcement agencies of occupied Crimea.

As well, according to sources of the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications, there are reports of Russian commanders are being appointed in the Belarusian army to quell the resistance of Belarusian soldiers against going to war against Ukraine. The Center says that in some Brest units, riots are taking place and some MIA officers have temporarily emigrated with families to avoid going to war.

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 24 hours):

  • Russian forces are attempting to envelop Ukrainian forces in the east of the country as they advance from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south.
  • Russian forces advancing from Crimea are attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv they look to drive west towards Odesa.
  • Russia is paying a high price for each advance as the Ukrainian Armed For continues to offer staunch resistance across the country.
  • President Putin has publicly welcomed the recruitment of 16,000 mostly Middle Eastern volunteers to support his invasion of Ukraine. Syrian mercenaries have deployed alongside Russian proxy forces in Libya since late 2020.
  • This follows earlier reporting that Russia was also planning to deploy experienced mercenaries from Russian Private Military Companies to support the invasion, Russia this week has also been forced to acknowledge the use of conscript soldiers in its operations against Ukraine.
  • As losses mount, Russia will be forced to draw on alternative sources to reinforce their overstretched regular forces.

The Russian army has legalized looting, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine reports.

Due to significant logistical problems and stretched communications, they are unable to properly provide their units with fuel, food, equipment, ammunition and rotation. […] Units of Putin’s troops remain cut off from supplies indefinitely and have been instructed to move to ‘self-sufficiency’ until further orders. That is, to take away everything necessary from the local population and to rob warehouses, shops, drugstores. The looting that has taken place across Ukraine in recent days are not isolated cases.

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1503046547633848330

Reportedly, the Russian army has also looted a humanitarian convoy headed to Mariupol on 12 March. According to the Zaporizhia Military Administration, “at each checkpoint, the invaders were forcibly seizing food, clothing, hygiene products.”

As of 13.03.2022 morning, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

Russian losses

  • personnel – more than 12.000 people (no significant change),
  • tanks – 374 units (+12),
  • armoured combat vehicles – 1226 units (+21),
  • artillery systems – 140 (+5),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 62 (no change),
  • air defence means – 34 (+1),
  • aircraft – 74 (+16),
  • helicopters – 86 (+3);
  • automotive technology – 600 (+15),
  • light speedboats – 3 units (no change),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 60 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 7 (no change).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claims that 1,300 Ukrainian troops have died in the conflict so far.

Humanitarian

According to UNHCR 2,504,893 refugees has been registered as of 11 March.

The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 1,524,903 refugees, Hungary 225,046, Slovakia 176,092, Moldova 104,929, Romania 84,671, Russia 105,897 and Belarus 858. More than 282,497 people have moved on from these countries to others in Europe.

The evacuation of the civilian population continues, the Centre for Defence Strategies reports.

Saturday, only 9 of 14 planned humanitarian “green corridors” were successful:

  • Energodar corridor failed, the occupiers did not let the humanitarian convoy into the city.
  • The evacuation from Izium (Kharkiv Oblast) failed as well.
  • Humanitarian corridors attempts in the Kyiv Oblast is partially fulfilled: almost a thousand people evacuated from Bucha; evacuation from Vorzel and Irpen was unsuccessful.
  • In total, nearly 13,000 people evacuated, more than 4,000 in the Kyiv Oblast alone. Medical and humanitarian assistance is provided.
  • The fifth attempt to deliver humanitarian aid of more than 60 vehicles with 90 tons of food and medicine to Mariupol, which has been under blockade for 13 days, is underway and postponed until today.
  • The humanitarian crisis continues in Mariupol. According to the former deputy head of the National Police, the city is under a threat of famine.

According to Ukrayinska Pravda the situation in the Oblasts are as follows:

  • Kyiv Oblast: Battles are taking place in Irpin and Makarov. The enemy is constantly moving in Hostomel, Borodyanka, Bucha communities. In the Brovary district – the movement of enemy vehicles in settlements. Fighting is taking place in three communities of Brovary district. Vyshhorod district: three communities are a humanitarian catastrophe. Slavutych without light.

  • Chernihiv Oblast: there were three air raids on Chernihiv at night, destruction and casualties are being clarified. Defensive battles are being fought around Chernihiv.
  • Sumy Oblast: at night the artillery of the Russian Federation several times fired at peaceful villages of the Okhtyrka district and Okhtyrka. The enemy also took advantage of several days of silence and strengthened its positions and moved troops.
  • Zhytomyr Oblast: there was a long-term alarm at night, there is no information about the destruction and loss yet.
  • Kharkiv Oblast: there are active hostilities in the Izium region.
  • Mykolaiv: the situation is rather quiet.
  • Zaporizhia Oblast: a massive offensive by the occupying forces is being restrained. The enemy continues to actively use artillery, tanks, grenade launchers and mortars.
  • Lviv Oblast: the occupiers carried out an airstrike on the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security – in the afternoon, fired 30 missiles. 35 were killed, 134 hospitalized.
  • Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast: explosions were heard at night.
  • Luhansk Oblast: Residential sector of Sievoerodonetsk, Rubizhne Lysychansk and Popasna under constant fire. There are casualties among the civilian population.
  • Donetsk Oblast: Mariupol under siege, fighting on the outskirts of the city. The humanitarian column is moving slowly, but it is moving. In Kramatorsk all night and in the morning air alarms. Planes over the Liman, Sloviansk, Sviatohirsk. There is information about the strikes last night in the area of Sviatohirk Lavra, there are wounded.
    https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1502782004328382464
  • Kherson Oblast: strong explosions in the evening and all night, hail near the airport
  • Kirovohrad, Dnipropetrovsk, Rivne, Volyn, Vinnytsia, Zakarpattia, Khmelnytsky, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Poltava, Bukovyna, Odesa: there were air alarms at night, but the situation is calm.

Protests continue in occupied cities, occupiers kidnap resistance leaders

Locals in the occupied cities of Kherson Oblast continue protesting against the Russian occupation. Rallies were held in Kherson (Russian troops opened fire on civilians at a peaceful rally in Kherson and reportedly shot at least one man in the leg with a rubber bullet), Nova Kakhovka, Melitopol (despite a prohibition on rallies by occupiers), Berdiansk.

In occupied Kherson, Russian occupiers planned to hold a so-called “referendum” on the establishment of the “Kherson People’s Republic”; at an emergency meeting, the Kherson Oblast council rejected the idea of creating a “Kherson People’s Republic.”

Meanwhile, Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol who refused to collaborate with the occupiers has been kidnapped and reportedly is now being tortured. It appears that the occupiers in Melitopol found a replacement for him: the local MP Halyna Danilchenko from pro-Russian Opposition Party For Life. She already recorded a video calling to “adjust to the new reality” and “not destabilize the situation and not participate in extremist activities.”

As well, on 13 March, the occupiers kidnapped the mayor of Dniprorudnyi (Zaporizhia Oblast) Yevhen Matveyev. Journalist Oleh Baturin is feared to be kidnapped in Kherson Oblast as well.

Legal

“With the war in Ukraine now in its third week, UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo warned the Security Council on Friday that direct attacks against civilians and civilian objects are prohibited under international law, and may amount to war crimes. […]

Ms DiCarlo said Russian armed forces are laying siege to several cities in the south, east and north of the country, with a large concentration reportedly massed along several approaches to the capital, Kyiv. The situation is particularly alarming in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv, she said, where shelling of residential areas and civilian infrastructure has resulted in an increasing number of civilians killed and injured. “The utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific,” she stressed.”

On March 11, during an attempt to evacuate from the village of Peremoha (Kyiv Oblast), Russian forces fired on a column of civilians, consisting exclusively of women and children, Defence Intelligence of Ukraine reports.

The result of this brutal act – seven dead. One of them is a child. The exact number of injured is currently unknown. After the shooting, the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to return to the village of Peremoha and did not let them out of the village. At present, it is almost impossible to establish contact with them, as well as provide humanitarian and medical assistance.

According to the General Staff of Ukraine, Russian forces continues to use civilian infrastructure for military purposes.

In violation of the requirements of International Humanitarian Law, it continues to deploy units and equipment at high-risk facilities, shells civilians, conducts illegal searches of personal belongings and searches of local residents, and disguises himself in civilian clothes and uniforms of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Environmental

According to the Centre for Defence Strategies,

The IAEA announced the resumption of data transmission from monitoring systems at Zaporizhia NPP. The situation at ZNPP remains dangerous due to the control established by the occupiers. According to Energoatom, 11 civilians from Rosatom (Russian government nuclear agency) arrived at the station, saying that ZNPP no longer belongs to Ukraine and should be governed by Rosatom.

Repair work has begun at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Power has not yet been restored. The technicians will continue the maintenance, despite the control of the NPP by the occupiers. According to the head of the Intelligence Agency of Ukraine, Russia is planning two scenarios of nuclear blackmail of Ukraine – burning of radioactive forests and artillery strikes on nuclear storage facilities.”

Support

President Biden has allocated $200 million in military aid for Ukraine.

The Biden administration, under pressure to expand the arsenal of weapons that Ukraine has in its conflict with Russia, is working with European allies to expedite more sophisticated air-defence systems and other armaments into the war zone, US officials said Friday, the Washington Post reports.

European Union leaders said Friday they will continue applying pressure on Russia by devising a new set of “massive” sanctions to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine while stepping up military support for Kyiv, the Times of Israel reports.

Speaking at the conclusion of a two-day EU summit outside Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said all options are on the table for a fourth package of coercive measures targeting Russia if President Vladimir Putin escalates his war efforts. If Putin intensifies the bombing, lays siege to Kyiv and intensifies the scenes of war, we know that we will have to take massive sanctions again, Macron said.”

New developments

  1. The Russian and Ukrainian delegations are continuing the talks. “Indeed, the negotiations are continuing by video link. [Russian presidential aide] Vladimir Medinsky is continuing to lead the delegation,” Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Interfax on Saturday.
  2. The President of Ukraine expressed some hope for negotiations on Saturday, as Russia is slowly moving away from ultimatums. He stressed the need for more active involvement of the West in the negotiation process. “Because when we talk about the points of guaranteeing the security of our state, after such a bloody war, Ukrainians simply will not be able to trust Russia. Therefore, in addition to the Russian Federation, these security guarantees must be offered by other leaders,” he said.
  3. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky sees Israel as a possible place to meet with the Russian president to end the war, Interfax Ukraine reports.
  4. Finland and Sweden’s possible accession to NATO would have serious military and political consequences and require Russia to take retaliatory measures, Russian Foreign Ministry Second European Department Director Sergei Belyayev said, Interfax Russia reports.
  5. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that convoys with weapons for Ukraine could become targets for the Russian Armed Forces, TASS reports.

Assessments

1. The War

So far, the ongoing conflict has been a conventional war of iron and money, the C4ISRNET reports.

At least from public sources, Russia has not displayed the type of technologies that its military has been speculated to be developing or seen to be fielding in Syria and Crimea – advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, unmanned aerial vehicle swarms, and sensor fusion, to name a few. Whatever the reasons, Russia’s political and military leaders made a strategic choice, or error, thinking they could accomplish their near-term goals with limited conventional forces. Now, we see the effects of their recalibration as they turn to increasingly destructive strategies.”

President Putin has announced that Russia intends to recruit 16,000 mostly volunteers from the Middle Eastern to support his invasion of Ukraine. Opposition activists in Syria estimate the number of volunteers so far is in the hundreds or a few thousand, Military Times report.

The Russian land forces are encircling several Ukrainian cities, preparing for an assault.

In Syria, Russia backed the government in imposing long, brutal sieges on opposition-held cities, wreaking heavy destruction on residential areas and causing widespread civilian casualties. That history, along with the ongoing siege of the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, has raised fears of similar bloodshed in Ukraine,Military Times argues.

I have previously expressed the same concern about the Russian air campaign.

By inducing even more suffering on Ukrainians, Putin will effectively increase the pressure on the Ukrainian government. A wider air campaign will also help increase the outflow of Ukrainian refugees as a means to continue destabilizing Europe. Additionally, its actions in clear violations of humanitarian laws will help demonstrate the “impotence of the West.”

According to Military Times, the Russian airstrikes on Friday targeted airports where the Ukrainian air force has used bases to operate in Western Ukraine.

2. Lessons identified

Logistics Are Not Optional.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville pointed out that

If you’re going to put an army on the move, if you’re going to conduct combat operations, if you don’t have logistics, if you don’t have gas, if you don’t have parts, if you don’t have all the ammunition, then those weapon systems become paperweights. They just sit on the side of the road and you can’t fight [with] them.”

The point has been acutely proven as the Russian offensive has slowed down and, in some areas, come to a halt as Russia is trying to reorganise and resupply its forces. It lends credibility to the claim of the Ukrainian Defence Intelligence that Russian forces have been instructed to move to “self-sufficiency” until further orders.

Russia’s problem isn’t a technological one.

Russian surface to air missile systems is operating pretty well when operated by Ukrainians,” said Head of Air Combat Command, General Mark Kelly.

He suggested that the Russian Armed Forces are not used to exercise scenarios where its forces are disaggregated, and it does not already control both terrain and the airspace.

Drones have a huge impact. The relatively inexpensive Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar drones have proven very effective. While Ukraine initially targeted tanks to slow down the Russian advance, it has lately been going after air defence units and logistics in order to grind the operation to a halt, laying the Russian forces vulnerable to Ukrainian counterattacks.

The crucial importance of situational awareness.

By utilizing its intelligence and surveillance assets in Eastern Europe, the United States was able to build a picture of Russia’s movements and strategically release information about Russia’s plans,Gen. David Berger said.

NATO members are providing Ukraine with real-time intelligence, satellite imagery and airborne early warning and control system data collected from the air along NATO’s eastern flank. It allows Ukraine to act instead of reacting to Russian offensives.

Ukrainian mindset.

Ukraine knows the Russian doctrine intimately. After 8 years of reforms and combat experience in Donbas, the Armed Forces of Ukraine has developed its own doctrine and (if not perfect, still) its own leadership philosophy. Russia has no understanding of Ukrainian doctrine.

The Human Element Matters.

The Russian offensive has stalled for many reasons, ranging from Ukrainian resistance to Russian training level, its ability to plan and conduct operations, bad logistics and the motivation of its personnel.

But most importantly, Russia has, however, also once again demonstrated its total lack of understanding of Ukraine.

It had not considered the Ukrainian resilience and their fierce motivation to fight for their country and their sovereign right to determine its democratic path.

3. “The Red Line”

President Biden said Russia would pay a “severe price” if it used chemical weapons in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Russian officials have made unfounded claims that the US is funding biowarfare efforts in Ukraine, drawing concern from Western officials that the allegations could serve as a pretext for Russia to unleash chemical or biological weapons. This is in my opinion, only one out of several scenarios that should constitute a “NATO Red Line.”

Russian use of chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological weapons in Ukraine, or massive indiscriminate shelling, bombing or missile strikes against cities, are just some of the actions that should trigger the direct involvement of the Alliance.
  1. Firstly, it’s the right thing to do.
  2. Secondly, it is our obligation according to the strategic concept.
  3. Thirdly, the acts represent crimes against humanity with direct implications on our security.

If Russia is willing to do this to what Putin (falsely) claim to be “its own people”, imagine what Russia is willing to do against an “existential threat” in the West.

Either we stop it now, or we pay the price in the future. It is not a question about seeking a military confrontation, but avoiding it by telling Russia that “if you do this, we will be forced to intervene.”

An intervention is not an attack on Russia. It would be for the protection of Ukraine. It is up to Russia to decide if it will challenge NATO (e.g. over a No-Fly Zone in Ukrainian airspace).

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