War in Ukraine, day 27: UN to vote on humanitarian aid access to war-torn Ukraine

war in ukraine

 

Daily review

Editor’s Note

As of 22 March, Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion is ongoing. Russia has lost its troops’ offensive potential and thus, is bringing more ammunition and manpower from the depth of the country to the border with Ukraine. 

Russia-Ukraine talks are continuing. According to the US and NATO officials, Putin has not backed off his original demands. President Zelensky seems more eager to compromise. However, he says that any war-related concession will be voted by Ukrainians in a referendum.

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

Situation

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 22.03.2022, supplemented by its [noon assessment]:

russian invasion of ukraine

Quote. “No significant changes in the position and nature of the actions of the defense forces during the last day have been noted. However, the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other components of the Defense Forces continued to strike at groups of enemy troops who tried to hold the captured frontiers and succeeded in certain areas.

[During the fighting, the enemy temporarily holds the land corridor with the occupied Crimea and blocks access to the Sea of ​​Azov.]

[Having lost its offensive potential, the Russian occupation forces continue to form and move reserves from the depths of the Russian Federation to the borders of Ukraine.]

[Due to the large irreversible and sanitary losses of personnel (including command) in the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the planned discharge of officers, ensigns and sergeants from military service has been suspended.]

[The military-political leadership of the Russian Federation is carrying out aggressive propaganda activities aimed at servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus regarding the need for a military invasion of the territory of Ukraine.]

[In Polissya, during the day, the enemy tried to intensify offensive operations in several areas, suffered losses, but did not succeed. Continues to conduct air reconnaissance in order to find optimal ways to improve its position.]

[In the Northern direction, the enemy is not conducting active offensive operations, continues to restore offensive capabilities by introducing additional units on the territory of Ukraine, including a battalion tactical group from the 90th Tank Division.]

[Units of the invader continue to shell Chernihiv and other settlements, do not abandon attempts to attack in the direction of Brovary, but due to losses, have no success in advancing. They are trying to replenish stocks and conduct reconnaissance.]

[In the Slobozhansky direction the enemy does not carry out active offensive actions, continues to partially block the city of Sumy, carries out artillery shelling of the city of Kharkiv. Occupation forces are trying to rebuild the railway section from Valuyki to Kupyansk in order to improve the logistics of the group.]

In the Donetsk and Luhansk directions, the enemy continues to try to advance and gain a foothold, but to no avail.

[In the Pivdennyi Buh directions, the occupiers have taken defensive action, are taking measures to restore combat capability, trying to restore damaged armoured vehicles.]

[In the Mykolayiv direction, owing to the counterattack of divisions of Armed Forces of Ukraine, the enemy is compelled to retreat to unfavourable borders.]

[So, during the day, thanks to the heroic actions of our defenders, the state flag of Ukraine was raised over the city of Makarov, the enemy was rejected.]

[Enemy aircraft continue to destroy missile and bombings of infrastructure in Ukraine in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts. At the same time, the occupiers continue to actively use the airfield network of the Republic of Belarus.]

[It is expected that the enemy will continue to launch the insidious missile and bomb strikes and carry out artillery shelling of critical infrastructure of Ukraine using jet artillery, aircraft, high-precision weapons and indiscriminate munitions.]

Ukrainian defenders repulsed 13 enemy attacks and destroyed 14 tanks, 8 infantry fighting vehicles, 2 multi-purpose towing vehicles light armoured, 3 artillery systems and 4 vehicles. Air defence units hit 2 enemy air targets. The losses of enemy personnel amounted to about 300 people.

Defenders of Mariupol destroyed the patrol boat “Raptor” and the electronic warfare complex “Leer-3”.

Over the past 24hrs, more than 9 enemy air targets have been hit by units of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Air Defense of the Land Forces. These are 1 plane, 6 UAVs and 2 helicopters, the number of missiles shot down is being specified.

In addition, the Air Force aircraft dealt devastating blows to clusters of enemy equipment and manpower, conducted air battles and intercepted air targets. More active actions of enemy aircraft have been noted in the last 24 hours.

The enemy did not lose significant problems with securing its troops. According to available information, the Russian occupation forces operating in Ukraine have stockpiles of ammunition and food for no more than three days. The situation is similar for fuel, which is replenished by tank trucks. The occupiers were unable to organize a pipeline to meet the needs of the grouping of troops.

Russian aggressors continue to carry out aggressive propaganda work on the need to take part in the war with Ukraine with the personnel of the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus.

In the Okhtyrka district of the Sumy Oblast, the facts of disobedience of Russian servicemen were recorded. About 300 occupiers refused to carry out the order to conduct hostilities, and, on 70 units of equipment, left the area of ​​the operation.

In the temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk Oblast, due to heavy losses of manpower, the enemy continues to mobilize citizens of the quasi-formation of the “LNR”. A large part of the population does not support the policy of the occupiers, does not want to take up arms and hides from the representatives of the occupying power. It is significant that mobilization is carried out chaotically, the people who are mobilized are not distributed by specialities, most of them have no military speciality because they have never served in the military. Contracts are signed with citizens who have Russian passports, and those who have only a pseudo-republic passport are registered as volunteers.” Unquote.

According to the available information, due to the lack of receipts of foreign-made components, the work of the enterprises of the Uralzavod Corporation and the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant has been suspended. These companies specialize in the manufacture and repair of tanks and other armoured vehicles for the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the General Staff reported Monday 21 March.

russian invasion of ukraine

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

  • Despite heavy fighting, Ukrainian forces continue to repulse Russian attempts to occupy the southern city of Mariupol.
  • Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine have endured yet another day of limited progress with most forces largely stalled in place.
  • Several Ukrainian cities continue to suffer heavy Russian air and artillery bombardment with the UN reporting that more than 10 million Ukrainians are now internally displaced as a result of Russia’s invasion.
  • Russia has claimed that it has fired a number of “hypersonic” missiles against targets in western Ukraine.
  • If true, these were likely the Kinzhal; an air launched ballistic missile system based on the Iskander ballistic missile which has itself already been heavily used by Russian forces in their attack on Ukraine.
  • Russian claims of having used the developmental Kinzhal is highly likely intended to detract from a lack of progress in Russia’s ground campaign.
  • Deployment of Kinzhal is highly unlikely to materially affect the outcome of Russia’s campaign in Ukraine.

war in ukraine, enemy lossAs of Monday 21.03.2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

  • personnel – more than 15,000 people (+300),
  • tanks – 498 units (+22),
  • armoured combat vehicles – 1535 units (+48),
  • artillery systems – 240 (+10),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 80 (+6),
  • air defence means – 45 (+1),
  • aircraft – 97 (+1),
  • helicopters – 121 (+3),
  • automotive technology – 969 (+22),
  • light speedboats – 3 units (no change),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 60 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 24 (+3)
  • Special equipment – 13 (+1)

Humanitarian

According to UNHCR 3,489,644 refugees has been registered as of 20 March as a result of the war in Ukraine.

The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,083,854 refugees, Romania 535,461, Moldova 365,197, Hungary 312,120, Slovakia 250,036, Russia 231,764 and Belarus 3,765.

The U.N. migration agency said on Monday that nearly 6.5 million people had been displaced in Ukraine as a direct result of the war, exceeding its worst forecasts, Reuters reports.

The figures come from a study conducted by the International Organization for Migration between March 9-16. They are in addition to the more than 3.3 million people the U.N. body says have fled across borders since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. “The scale of human suffering and forced displacement due to the war far exceeds any worst-case scenario planning,” IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino said. IOM teams had been providing aid such as food and blankets to thousands of people but those in severely affected areas remained out of reach,” he added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing the nation last night, said that a relief convoy headed to a city in northeastern Ukraine near Kharkiv had been hijacked by Russian forces and authorities had lost contact with six people in it, suggesting they had been detained, The New York Times reports.

People are continuing to flee the war in Ukraine. On March 22, evacuation trains will depart from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kramatorsk, Kryvyi Rih, Odesa to Chelm, Uzhhorod, Chop, Lviv, Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

Boryspil (Kyiv oblast) Mayor Volodymyr Borysenko is urging civilians to leave the city due to a possible invasion by the occupiers, Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

Legal

In Kherson, which has been held by Russian forces since March 2, Zelensky said Russian troops shot at people “who peacefully took to the streets without weapons at a rally for their freedom — for our freedom,” The New York Times reports.

Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war in Ukraine has presented reams of evidence that have led some world leaders, including US President Joe Biden last week to call Putin a “murderous dictator” and “pure thug”. Biden’s comments represented a major moment since leading officials had mostly avoided saying war crimes were being committed in the war in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term could be used, CNN reports. But soon after the President uttered the words “I think he is a war criminal” to reporters at an unrelated event, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the comment was “from the heart.”

European Union countries on Monday accused Russia’s military of committing war crimes in Ukraine but appeared unlikely to target the country’s energy sector with sanctions soon despite a clamour across Europe for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held to account, ABC News reports.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels, said that “what’s happening in Mariupol is a massive war crime. Destroying everything, bombarding and killing everybody [indiscriminately]. This is something awful.”

Support

The United States is continuing talks with partners to provide Ukraine with air defences to counter Russian aggression, European Pravda reports.

“The United States is in constant talks with other countries to provide Ukraine with various means of protection, including long-range air defence systems, which we know are convenient to use. These are active consultations,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a Pentagon briefing. on Monday. “Earlier it was reported that the United States is in talks with Slovakia to hand over its S-300 complex to Ukraine and receive new air defence systems in return. Slovakia has  previously agreed to provide Ukraine with one S-300 to protect against Russian airstrikes.”

As a note, Foreign Minister Lavrov on March 18, claiming the legal high ground, stressed that the end-user certificate does not allow [any country] to send these weapons to any third country without our consent.”

The US is sending some of the Soviet-made air defence equipment it secretly acquired decades ago to bolster the Ukrainian military as it seeks to fend off Russian air and missile attacks, The Wall Street Journal reports. “The systems, which one US official said include the SA-8, are decades old and were obtained by the US so it could examine the technology used by the Russian military and which Moscow has exported around the world.

Monday 21 March, Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office of Ukraine, made the following appeal to the West in Washington Post:

“Ukrainian soldiers are staring down a Russian military that is just getting started. A Russian military that keeps erasing Ukrainian cities with indiscriminate cruise-missile and MLRS barrages. Ukrainians are willing to fight this war for the West as well as for ourselves — but we can’t do it without the necessary military equipment.

We need the defensive lethal assistance President Zelensky has requested repeatedly: fighter jets, air and missile defence systems, drones, anti-armour weapons, guns, ammunition, protective equipment. If we don’t get the equipment we need to succeed, Putin won’t stop in Ukraine. He will go for NATO next.

Ukrainian soldiers, citizens and volunteers from around the world are valiantly holding back the Russian invaders, for now. The Ukrainian people have shown they can lead the struggle for democracy against tyranny. We just need more support. To freedom-loving people around the world, we say: This is your war, too. Help us win it. If not, the harshest dictatorship since World War II will triumph over Europe.”

New developments

  1. Negotiations are still ongoing
    1. President Zelensky said Sunday that he will not recognize the independence of two Russian created regions in Donbas, but suggested that there could be a “model of understanding” to be reached on the territories, The New York Times reports.
    2. Zelensky also said that if Ukraine is unable to join NATO, Ukraine will seek a more limited coalition of countries — including some NATO members — that could help deter future attacks from Russia.
    3. The Ukrainian president wish for peace even as he spoke of atrocities committed by Russian forces. “Russian forces have come to exterminate us, to kill us,” he said.
    4. President Zelenskyy on Monday said any compromises agreed with Russia to end the war would need to be voted on by Ukrainians in a referendum, Reuters reports.
    5. US and NATO officials believe Putin has not backed off his original demands in talks with Ukraine, and there is a heavy dose of scepticism in Western capitals about how credible Moscow’s engagement truly is, even as the status of those negotiations remains difficult to decipher, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation, CNN reports.
  2. The increased Russian atrocities in the war in Ukraine is a part of the backdrop to new consultations between the United States and its allies over how to ratchet up the pressure on Russia. President Biden has been speaking by telephone with the leaders of Germany, Italy, France, and Britain before heading to Brussels on Wednesday to meet NATO leaders, The New York Times reports. “The alliance may take up Poland’s proposal to create an international peacekeeping force for Ukraine, an idea US officials cast doubt on.”
  3. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned US Ambassador to Russia over recent comments by President Biden calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a war criminal” for Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, RFERL reports. The ministry said in a statement on March 21 that it issued a démarche and handed a note of protest to John Sullivan.” “Such statements by the American president […] have put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture,” the statement added.
  4. The European Union’s foreign ministers disagreed on Monday on whether and how to slap sanctions on Russia’s lucrative energy sector over its invasion of Ukraine, with Germany saying the bloc was too dependent on Russian oil to decide an embargo, Reuters reports. Russia’s siege and bombardment of Mariupol port are increasing pressure for action. Diplomats cautioned that energy was one of the most complex sectors to sanction because each EU country has its own red lines. “Sanctions are exponential,” one diplomat said. “The further you go, the more difficult it is to adopt them.”
  5. The United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote this week, diplomats said, to call out Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for creating a “dire” humanitarian situation, urge aid access and again demand Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its troops, Reuters reports.
  6. A Russian court ruled on Monday that Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is an extremist organization and banned it from operating on Russia’s territory, The New York Times reports. “The “extremist” label will apply to Instagram and Facebook, but not to WhatsApp, and is effective immediately, according to Tass, a state news agency. The ruling followed Meta’s decision to allow users in Ukraine to call for violence against the Russian Army in the context of the invasion.”

Assessment

On the War

Russian forces are engaged in “a near-desperate attempt” to gain momentum in their assault on Ukraine, a senior US defence official said Monday, noting that the effort was worsening civilian suffering, the Washington Post reports.

“They haven’t achieved anything from what we’ve assessed to be their objectives,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under terms set by the Pentagon. Russian troops had seized only smaller cities, such as Kherson, Berdyansk and Melitopol, and were effectively stuck in their efforts to take major population centres such as Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kyiv, the capital. Russian troops remain stuck about nine miles to the northwest and about 18 miles to the east of Kyiv, the official noted.

Russians are increasingly using long-range shelling and missiles to bombard cities from a distance, making the war “much more dangerous for civilians,” the official added.

The official said that “could simply be an attempt to improve their [Russia’s] position at the negotiating table … because right now it doesn’t appear like they have a lot of leverage to negotiate with.” But “rather than demoralizing the Ukrainians,” the official noted, “I think you’ve all seen that this kind of violence has only motivated them more, which means they’re resisting more.”

The Pentagon thinks Russia has a “significant majority” of its ballistic missile capability still available. It has not confirmed reports that Russia used a hypersonic missile to strike Ukraine, which the senior defence official called “a bit of a head-scratcher.” “Why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building?” the official said. “It could be that they’re running low on precision-guided munitions. … It could be that they’re trying to send a message to the West but also to Ukraine to try to gain leverage at the negotiating table.”

Russia is sending “low-quality” reserves to the front lines in Ukraine to replace its losses, according to a military assessment released Monday by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Analysts at the Washington think tank said Moscow was deploying “low-readiness” troops originally stationed in Russia’s Eastern Military District.

On March 20, Michael Kofman, Research Program Director in the Russia Studies Program at CNA and as a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, made the following assessment of the situation:

(quote) “Thoughts on the current state of the war and where things might be heading. About 2 weeks ago I suggested that Russian forces have about 3 weeks before combat effectiveness becomes increasingly exhausted. I think that’s generally been right, but we’re not quite there yet. The war has broken down into what could imperfectly be called three fronts, and Russian advances have stalled out along two of them. Around Kyiv, Russian forces are trying to consolidate positions, but I don’t think they can [assault] the city. Kyiv is far from encircled.

In the southwest, there was a fitful advance around Mykolaiv towards Odesa that had little chance of success given the paucity of forces employed. This has been set back by a Ukrainian counteroffensive. I expect little progress there for either side and more of a shifting front. This means we’re not going to see an amphibious landing at Odesa, or a Russian march to Transnistria, anytime soon (if ever). At least not in this phase of the war. However, Russian advances towards Kryvyi Rih do threaten Ukrainian lines of communications west of the river.

The area to watch in the coming week is the Russian attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces in the [Donbas]. A slowly progressing pincer movement from the north and south. This is where Ukrainian forces could be in a precarious position. Since its inception, the Russian military effort has lacked focus. Too few forces, on too many axes of advance, some competing with each other. I think in the next two weeks they are likely to concentrate on Ukrainian forces in the east and the battle for Mariupol.

I suspect unrealistic political aims and timetables have driven an unsound military strategy. Kyiv, Odesa, Donbas, etc. There’s a desperation to show progress. Increasingly it looks as though the Russian [Armed Forces] is focusing on the Donbas, and maintaining along other fronts.

Depreciating combat effectiveness sets the stage for either a significant operational pause along most fronts or a ceasefire. This does not necessarily imply a political settlement, but a period to reorganize, consolidate, and resupply. An end to the first chapter of this war. I think Moscow is searching for something it can use to declare a victory. Taking the Donbas, and having leverage to attain concessions from Kyiv is probably what they’re looking to accomplish at this point. This is at best a guess.

Much depends on what Putin knows and thinks about the course of the war, and whether he feels pressured at home. Our impression of the war and reality on the ground might be quite different from his. It is not clear he understands what the prospects for Russian success are. Naturally, there is uncertainty about the state of Russian armed forces along different parts of the battlefield, it is bound to be uneven, and we know even less about the state of Ukrainian forces.

The next chapter in this war could prove even uglier as it will likely turn into a war of attrition, with more bombardment of civilian areas. […] Generally, I don’t see how any military success can add up to something that constitutes a political victory for Moscow. If there is another phase, Russian forces will probably try to compensate for poor performance by inflicting greater destruction.

Worth noting, the Russian military is interpreting ‘demilitarization’ quite literally as a secondary goal in this conflict, going after Ukraine’s defence industry and key military infrastructure. It seems they want to substantially degrade Ukraine’s military potential.

Has the war entered a stalemate? Yes and no. Russian forces may make slow, incremental advances in the Donbas. I suspect the Ukrainian military can hold on most fronts and perhaps even counter-attack on others. However, attrition is undoubtedly taking its toll on both sides.

In general, I’ve tried to be cautious in rendering predictions because I think we don’t know if this point in the conflict is near the beginning, the middle, or the end of the war. Few things are as contingent and indeterminate.” (unquote)

Consequences and what to do?

Russia crossed the Ukrainian red line in 2014. Russia has declared its red lines, which some interprets as “the eastward expansion of NATO”, “Ukrainian NATO membership”, “NATOs military involvement in Ukraine” or even “the West’s delivery of defensive weapons to Ukraine”. There are several variants to the Russian red lines, all equally inaccurate.

Its real red line is “NATO should not start defending itself”.

The realities are that Russia has been constantly crossing what should have been NATO red lines for years already, triggering an extremely limited response only. The West has been subject to a Russian hybrid war since at least 2014. This includes multiple cyber-attacks against the NATO and EU members, restrictions on freedom of navigation, jamming of GPS signals, liquidation of individuals on European soil, attempt to meddle in referendums and elections across the West, and not at least, influence operations and an intense disinformation campaign. The list is long.

On top of this, NATO has been told to withdraw its forces and weapons from parts of its area of responsibility. Russia has in principle told NATO to refrain from operating in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Barents Sea and the Arctic, as well as the airspace over Northern, Central and Eastern Europe. The USA has been told to withdraw its nuclear weapons and eliminate all existing infrastructure on the continent. Additionally, the alliance has been designated as an existential threat and has recently been threatened with the use of nuclear weapons.

We are in a remarkable situation. Russia sees NATO as an existential threat. NATO and the EU have been actively exposed to its hybrid war for more than 8 years. Russia believes it is exposed to an economic and information war by the West. It sees our defence aid to Ukraine as a hostile act.

Despite all of this, we are holding back in the fear that Russia might believe we are a party to the conflict and stubbornly rejecting the notion that the democratic world is under assault by Russia. We are avoiding engaging to stop the “war in Ukraine” from becoming a wider conflict even though the war has been just that for years: A wider conflict. This has been the reality since 2014 already. Russia knows it. Ukraine knows it. And NATO might just be coming to grips with this reality.

The upcoming NATO summit on 24 March might, therefore, be a breaking point. Either it starts defending the democratic world, or it remains forever irrelevant.

Hans Petter Midttun, Independent Analyst, Hybrid Warfare, Non-resident Fellow at Centre for Defence Strategies, board member Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defence Attaché of Norway to Ukraine and Officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

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