War in Ukraine, day 22: Ukrainian refugees exceed 3 mln, Russia expelled from Council of Europe

War in Ukraine, day 22: Ukrainian refugees exceed 3 mln, Russia expelled from Council of Europe

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun
Ukraine reports that in the 22 days of war, Russia continues the offensive operation against Ukraine, with no success in achieving any of the strategic goals of the offensive. Ukraine’s allies continue to support the country. The UK will provide Starstreak, a high-velocity anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine. And the US will provide an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as of 16 March 2022, after 26 years of membership.

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

Morning report, day 22 – March 17

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 17.03.2022, supplemented by its [noon assessment]:

The state, position and nature of the actions of the defence forces have not changed significantly during the last day. The Armed Forces of Ukraine continued to inflict devastating [blows] on groups of enemy troops trying to consolidate and hold the defence of the captured frontiers.

During the past 24hrs, Ukrainian defenders destroyed the command post and support units of the 35th All-Military Army of the Eastern Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and the enemy’s losses are being clarified.

In addition, for the previous day, thanks to the skill of the Anti-aircraft missile forces of the Air Force and the Air Defence of the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed ten enemy air targets: two Su-34 fighter-bomber, three Su-34SM fighters, three helicopters and UAVs. Information on the type of another downed plane and the deaths of pilots is being clarified. Units of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue to work actively to deprive the occupiers of aircraft of the ability to dominate the air.

[The enemy continues the offensive operation against our State. As of March 16, the enemy had not fully achieved any of the strategic goals of the offensive.]

The enemy, unsuccessful in conducting a ground operation, continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on the infrastructure and densely populated areas of Ukrainian cities.

[In the Volyn direction, the Russian occupation forces, with the full support of the military and political leadership of the Republic of Belarus, continue to actively use its territory to deploy missile systems, launch missile strikes on Ukraine and organize all types of troops. Also, the armed forces of the Russian Federation are actively using the airfield network and transport infrastructure of the Republic of Belarus.]

[The State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus constantly monitors the situation in the areas bordering Ukraine. In order to obtain intelligence information, Belarusian intelligence agencies are interviewing citizens crossing the Ukrainian-Belarusian border.]

[In the Polissya direction, the enemy continues to focus its main efforts on conducting reconnaissance and trying to organize a counter-battery fight. Has no significant success. During the fighting, units of the 36th All-Military Army of the Eastern Military District suffered significant losses in personnel and equipment and were forced to mobilize reserves prematurely.]

[There are no active offensive actions by the enemy in the Siversky and Slobozhansky directions. The occupiers are trying to gain a foothold on the previously captured borders, regroup troops and replenish supplies.]

[The enemy did not stop trying to advance south of the city of Izium, probably in order to continue the offensive in the direction of Sloviansk. It is not successful.]

[In the Pivdennyi Buh directions, the enemy continues to try to gain a foothold. After the attack on the Kherson airfield by units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which is temporarily under enemy control, the occupiers are trying to relocate the surviving equipment.]

[The naval group of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation continues to block shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea.]

The Russian occupiers continue to act insidiously in the information space – carrying out cyberattacks, physically destroying broadcast relay stations of television and radio signals, continuing a mass information campaign to discredit the top military and political leadership of Ukraine and the Defense Forces.

At the same time, the enemy continues to actively spread misinformation about the course of the so-called “special operation” among its own population.

The occupying forces continue to suffer losses. They have big problems with the staffing of combat units and support units. The enemy’s personnel were demoralized, which led to an increase in the number of desertions and the refusal of servicemen of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to take part in the war on the territory of Ukraine.”

War in Ukraine, day 22: Ukrainian refugees exceed 3 mln, Russia expelled from Council of Europe ~~

No signs of intentions by the region of Transnistria or its local security forces or Russian military personnel stationed in Transnistria (to prepare) for deployment in military action in Ukraine, Military Times reports, citing Nicu Popescu, Moldova’s foreign minister. On paper, Transnistria looks like a perfect place for President Vladimir Putin’s forces to occupy. As well as hosting a garrison of pro-Russian troops, it stores 20,000 tonnes of weaponry, much of which was stashed there by the Russian military at the start of the 1990s when it pulled out of Moldova.

Due to age, it is assessed that only 9,000 tons of the ammunition are usable. The troops stationed there may not be much use either as they reportedly do not have much will to fight today. “Of the 1,300 soldiers now stationed in Transnistria, 400 take part in a local peacekeeping mission. Of the total, only 50-100 are Russian soldiers dispatched from Russia,” said Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank. “Most of the remainder are locals who have been given Russian passports,” said Popescu. “They were born there, they have homes there, why would they want to fight?” said Alexandru Flenchea, a former deputy prime minister of Moldova.

Since the beginning of the large-scale aggression, Russia has been blocking Ukrainian ports on the Black and Azov Seas, shelling civilian ships (Russian missiles hit five ships, one ship sank, and two more vessels were forcibly relocated to Crimea), the Centre for Defence Strategies reports.

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

  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts.
  • Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy losses.
  • Ukrainian resistance remains staunch and well-coordinated. The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands.
  • Given the delays in achieving their objectives and failure to control Ukrainian airspace, Russia has probably expended far more stand-off air-launched weapons than originally planned.
  • As a result, it is likely Russia is resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons, which are less militarily effective and more likely to result in civilian casualties.
  • The latest UN reporting indicates that 1,900 civilian casualties, including 726 deaths, have already occurred in the conflict to date. The true casualty figure is likely to be significantly greater and will continue to rise as long as the conflict continues.

As of the morning of 17 March 2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

War in Ukraine, day 22: Ukrainian refugees exceed 3 mln, Russia expelled from Council of Europe ~~

  • personnel – more than 14,000 people (+200),
  • tanks – 444 units (+14),
  • armoured combat vehicles – 1435 units (+60),
  • artillery systems – 201 (+11),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 72 (+2),
  • air defence means – 43 (no change),
  • aircraft – 86 (+2),
  • helicopters – 108 (no change);
  • automotive technology – 864 (+45),
  • light speedboats – 3 units (no change),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 60 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 11 (no change)
  • Special equipment – 10 (no change).

Humanitarian

According to UNHCR 3,063,095 refugees has been registered as of 15 March.

The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 1,857,045 refugees, Romania 467,703, Moldova 344,454, Hungary 272,943, Slovakia 220,977, Russian 155,841 and Belarus 1,816.

With the scale and direction of the ongoing military operation, 18 million people are projected to become affected, including up to a 6.7million people projected to be newly internally displaced. Of the affected population, 12 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance, according to UN OCHA.

According to the Centre for Defence Strategies, all evacuation “green corridors” failed on Wednesday.

Russian occupation forces constrained the humanitarian evacuation of civilians; they fired on convoys and evacuation pick-up points and took accompanying aid hostage (information by the Ministry of the temporarily occupied territories and IDPs). At about 4 pm, Russian troops opened fire with heavy artillery at a convoy of civilian refugees from Mariupol moving toward Zaporizhzhia. The number of killed and wounded TBC.

Another horrendous attack of Russian forces on Mariupol – the Russian occupiers deliberately bombed the Drama Theater building, which served as a bomb shelter for about a thousand people, primarily women, and children. Due to continuous shelling, the debris that blocks the shelter can’t be cleared; there is no information about the number of victims yet. The second shelling hit a sports complex that also served as a mass shelter for civilians. The number of victims is currently unknown.

In Chernihiv, Russians shelled civilians waiting in line for bread. At least thirteen people died.”

Currently, 989 Ukrainian villages have no electricity.

Legal

Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, on his visits to Ukraine and Poland:

“Engagement with all actors critical for effective, independent investigations.”

I wish to send a clear message to all those participating in hostilities. If attacks are intentionally directed against the civilian population: that is a crime that my Office may investigate and prosecute. If attacks are intentionally directed against civilian objects, including hospitals: that is a crime that my Office may investigate and prosecute.

Those taking part in these hostilities, whether as regular armed forces, militias, or self-defence groups, must know that in putting on a uniform or by carrying weapons they are not absolved of responsibility but indeed they take on extra legal obligations. For those that do not act in accordance with international humanitarian law, my Office is empowered to take action to ensure that those who have committed international crimes are held accountable in accordance with the Rome Statute. We are already actively collecting evidence in pursuit of this objective, and I believe my visit today will strengthen that work.

The work of my Office in relation to the Situation in Ukraine will at all times be carried out in a manner consistent with the founding principles of the Rome Statute. We conduct our work with independence, impartiality and integrity. I have underlined that I wish to engage with all parties to the conflict.

In line with this approach, I have also transmitted a formal request to the Russian Federation to meet their competent authorities and discuss the current situation as it concerns my Office’s mandate. It is in my view essential that the Russian Federation actively engages in this investigation and I stand ready to meet with them.”

Support

The UK will provide Starstreak, a high-velocity anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine, the UK Defence Secretary said.

Allies have provided significant quantities of critical equipment, including anti-tank and air defence weapons, drones, ammunition, and fuel, according to NATO’s Secretary General.

President Biden Wednesday announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine. The new assistance package includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armour weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armour systems; 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, and 400 shotguns; over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds; 25,000 sets of body armour; and 25,000 helmets. According to the New York Times, they will provide Switchblade drones. Military officials call the weapon, which is carried in a backpack, the “kamikaze drone” because it can be flown directly at a tank or a group of troops and is destroyed when it hits the target and explodes.

The Biden administration is also considering the transfer of Soviet and Russian air defence systems to Ukraine from other countries, including the S-300, SAM “Osa” and “Arrow-3”, the Centre for Defence Strategies reports.

New developments

  1. Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia is still ongoing, CNN reports. Speaking in a televised message, Zelensky stressed the need for his country to “keep fighting,” but struck a more positive note on negotiations. Zelensky emphasized the importance of persevering with the talks as “any war must end in agreement,” but added that “we need more time to achieve decisions that serve the interests of Ukraine.” Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian negotiating delegation, said the goal of Russia in these negotiations is exactly the same as the goal of Russia which was set at the very beginning of the special military operation. “We need a peaceful, free, independent Ukraine, neutral — not a member of military blocs, not a member of NATO. A country that is our friend, a neighbour, with whom we are developing relations together, building our future, and which is not a base for military and economic attacks against our country.” He added that the Russia-Ukraine talks are ongoing but are “difficult” and “slow.” According to TASS, Russia is also focusing on the demilitarization of Ukraine, the status of Crimea and Donbas, (the so-called) “de-Nazification,” the rights of Russian-speaking people and the status of the Russian language. Moscow is ready to agree to Ukraine having weapons that don’t threaten Russian security, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on RBC television on Wednesday, TASS reports.
  2. Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as of 16 March 2022, after 26 years of membership. This was decided by the Committee of Ministers in an extraordinary meeting this morning.
  3. NATO defence ministers gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss ways of helping Ukraine and deterring Russian aggression without getting drawn into a wider conflict, Washington Post reports. The USA “is expected to press allies to help expand the arsenal of weapons available to Ukrainian forces after being criticized for scuttling Poland’s attempts to transfer MiG-29 fighter planes to Ukraine. US officials say they are particularly keen to procure the transfer of more sophisticated air defences, such as the Russian-made S-300 system, which several NATO countries possess in their arsenals.”
  4. The threat of Ukraine’s development of nuclear weapons was real, President Putin said Wednesday, TASS reports. Trying to justify the decision to attack Ukraine, he claims “the Nazi Kyiv regime could have obtained, with foreign technical assistance, weapons of mass destruction in the foreseeable future, and Russia would, of course, be their target.”
  5. US Departments of Treasury and Justice Launch a Multilateral Russian Oligarch Task Force that includes representatives from Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and the European Commission. It will search for and seize the assets of the Russian elite.

Assessment

On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Wednesday 23:30 (Kyiv time):

Russian forces face mounting difficulties replacing combat losses in Ukraine, including the possible death of the commander of the 150th Motor Rifle Division near Mariupol. Russian efforts to deploy forces from Armenia, its proxy states in Georgia, and reserve units in the Eastern Military District will not provide Russian forces around Kyiv with the combat power necessary to complete the encirclement of the city in the near term. Russian forces made limited, unsuccessful attacks northwest of Kyiv and did not conduct offensive operations in northeastern Ukraine, toward Kharkiv, or toward Mykolayiv. Russian forces did make limited territorial gains in Donetsk Oblast and around Mariupol and continued to target civilian infrastructure in the city. Russian forces will likely continue to reduce the Mariupol pocket in the coming days, but Russian forces likely remain unable to conduct simultaneous attacks along multiple axes of advance.

Key Takeaways

  • Russia is deploying reserves from Armenia and South Ossetia and cohering new battalion tactical groups (BTGs) from the remnants of units lost early in the invasion. These reinforcements will likely face equal or greater command and logistics difficulties to current frontline Russian units.
  • President Zelensky created a new joint military-civilian headquarters responsible for the defence of Kyiv on March 15.
  • Russian forces conducted several failed attacks northwest of Kyiv and no offensive operations northeast of Kyiv on March 16.
  • Russian forces continue to shell civilian areas of Kharkiv but will be unlikely to force the city to surrender without encircling it—which Russian forces appear unable to achieve.
  • Russian forces continued to reduce the Mariupol pocket on March 16. Russian forces continue to commit war crimes in the city, targeting refugees and civilian infrastructure.
  • Ukrainian forces claimed to have killed the commander of the 8th Combined Arms Army’s 150th Motor Rifle Division near Mariupol on March 15. If confirmed, Miyaev would be the fourth Russian general officer killed in Ukraine; his death would be a major blow to the 150th Motor Rifle Division, Russia’s principal manoeuvre unit in Donbas.
  • Russian warships shelled areas of Odesa Oblast on March 16 but Russian Naval Infantry remains unlikely to conduct an unsupported amphibious landing.

Russia is increasingly pulling forces from its international bases and redeploying damaged units that were rotated out early in the invasion of Ukraine to replace mounting casualties. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces are deploying additional Eastern Military District (EMD) reserves to Ukraine as of March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Russian command “refused” to deploy elements of the 5th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to the Kyiv advance “due to heavy losses in the south.” It is unclear if the Ukrainian General Staff means Ukraine intercepted a request by Russian commanders around Kyiv for reinforcements from the 5th CAA that was denied, or if they are only assessing that Russian casualties in the south are draining reinforcements initially intended for Kyiv. Social media users observed elements of Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army based in Russia‘s proxy republic in Georgia, South Ossetia, redeploying in likely transit to Ukraine on March 15. Russia has already pulled forces from its base in Armenia and will likely soon redeploy forces from its base in Tajikistan. The Ukrainian General Staff additionally reported that Russia is forming additional battalion tactical groups (BTGs) by consolidating units that suffered losses in the first 10 days of the Russian invasion and graduating cadets from military higher education early to replace officer losses. Russian forces will likely face further difficulties integrating these units into its command and logistics structures.“ (unquote)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far revealed significant problems with its military’s logistics, command and control, and attempts to maintain control of the skies, Military Times reports. “Russia’s failure to swiftly overrun the former Soviet republic has shown Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall Russia remains a “near-peer” competitor rather than one on par with American military prowess. […]

Russia’s forces are most effective when they enjoy control of the skies overhead, but have faltered in the absence of air superiority, Kelly said. The invasion has also been hindered by subpar manufacturing, namely among ground vehicles that have broken down as they move through Ukraine. “The Russians have a longstanding difficulty with production quality, and I think we’re seeing some of that play out,” Kendall said. […]

Lt. Gen. Clint Hinote, the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, pointed to Russia’s difficulties maintaining communications and battlefield command — both of which are necessary to pull off complex manoeuvres — as an example of why the US needs to bolster its own such capabilities to defend the NATO alliance.

“If we lose access to space, the joint force loses its coherency,” Hinote said at the McAleese conference. “We are not able to see, we’re not able to communicate and we’re not able to execute the way that we need to be.” That’s what Russia needs in Ukraine, too, he said.”

Consequences and what to do?

The USA assess the Russian casualties as lower than what is reported by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but still substantial, the New York Times reports.

“The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, caution that their numbers of Russian troop deaths are inexact, compiled through analysis of the news media, Ukrainian figures (which tend to be high, with the latest at 13,500), Russian figures (which tend to be low, with the latest at 498), satellite imagery and careful perusal of video images of Russian tanks and troops that come under fire.

Russia’s military has in three weeks lost more than 7,000 soldiers, roughly the same as the number of American Marines killed during the month-long battle for Iwo Jima, and greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to American intelligence estimates. [This is a conservative estimate.]

Pentagon officials say a 10 percent casualty rate, including dead and wounded, renders a single unit unable to carry out combat-related tasks. With more than 150,000 Russian troops now involved in the war in Ukraine, Russian casualties, when including an estimated 14,000 to 21,000 injured, are near that level.

Pentagon officials say that a high, and rising, number of war dead can destroy the will to continue fighting. […] One recent report focused on low morale among Russian troops and described soldiers just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods. A high rate of casualties goes far to explain why Russia’s much-vaunted force has remained largely stalled outside of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

“Losses like this affect morale and unit cohesion, especially since these soldiers don’t understand why they’re fighting,” said Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration. “Your overall situational awareness decreases. Someone’s got to drive, someone’s got to shoot.”

ME: Several experts have pointed out the asymmetry between the Russian and Ukrainian Armed Forces. The compact weapons used by Ukraine and the heavy artillery relied upon by Russian troops form the backbone of the contrasting tactics employed by both sides.

The Russian Battalion Tactical Groups heavy reliance on vehicles (roughly 75 in each) and relatively low numbers of just 200 infantry troops makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks on their flanks or rear. This has become obvious as they remain restricted to the roads. They are not only stopped by destroyed bridges but also restricted to a single line of advance. Additionally, the speed of advance is reduced due to the technical state of its material, bad logistics and morale.

Their advance is not at least, reduced by fierce Ukrainian resistance. Ukrainian troops drew two conclusions, the Financial Times reports. First, they realised that no matter how large an armoured column was, it would only be as wide as the road, and could only move as fast as the front vehicles. And second, defending troops realised they could operate relatively freely in the forests, fields and villages along the sides of the road.

Often armed only with shoulder-launched, portable rocket launchers — thousands of which have been provided by western countries since the invasion began — small groups of Ukrainian troops have used their terrain and Russia’s tactics to their advantage.

The Ukrainians will succeed, US and European military experts said, if they can operate in small teams, strike assembled Russian forces, then melt away to set a new ambush later.

 

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