Russo-Ukrainian war, day 40: Russia begins hidden mobilization, prepares offensive in Donbas, Russian frigate hit by rocket

Russian war crimes Bucha

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Fighting intensified in the Donbas region, where the Ukrainian army repulsed seven enemy attacks. During the night, residential and industrial areas of Kharkiv were hit more than 50 times by rocket and artillery strikes. Russia lost six military aircraft, Ukrainian rocket attack damaged a Russian frigate near Odesa. Covert mobilization started in the occupied territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblast. British PM Johnson: “I will do everything in my power to starve the Putin war machine to death.”

Morning report day 40 – April 04

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 04.04.2022, supplemented by its midnight assessment:

“Russian forces temporarily refused to carry out the task of blocking and capturing the city of Kyiv. The occupiers continue to launch missile strikes on critical infrastructure throughout Ukraine, trying to sow panic among the population and disrupt the logistics of the Defense Forces of Ukraine.

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 40: Russia begins hidden mobilization, prepares offensive in Donbas, Russian frigate hit by rocket ~~

In the Volyn direction, the situation has not changed significantly, certain units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus continue to perform tasks to cover the border.

In the Polissya direction, Russian forces completed the regrouping and preparation for the redeployment of individual units from the territory of Belarus to the Russian federation.

According to available information, some units of the Russian forces from the airborne troops are transferred by military transport aircraft to the city of Belgorod. In order to slow down the advance of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the occupiers carried out mass chaotic mining not only of previously occupied positions and areas but also of deployment routes.

In the Slobozhansky direction, Russian forces continue to blockade the city of Kharkiv, inflict artillery strikes on residential areas of the city and try to regroup troops.

  • In the Izium direction, Russian occupiers tried to resume the offensive but were unsuccessful.
  • In the Donetsk and Tavriya areas, Russian occupiers continued to focus on capturing the settlements of Rubizhne, Popasna, Troitske, Avdiivka, Marinka, and Krasnohorivka and preparing for an offensive that may begin in the coming days in the direction of Sievoerodonetsk and Velyka Novosilka.
  • In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the defenders of Ukraine repulsed seven enemy attacks over the past 24 hours and destroyed two units of armored vehicles, forty-three vehicles, and an enemy mortar.
  • With the support of aircraft and artillery, Russian forces continue to storm the city of Mariupol.

Pivdennyi Buh directions. During the day, Russian forces concentrated their efforts on maintaining the occupied positions in the area of settlement Alexandrivka. It is trying to fight to reach the administrative border of the Kherson region.

Yesterday the Anti-aircraft missile forces of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine hit 6 air targets: three aircraft (Su-34, Su-35, and repeater aircraft IL-22), one helicopter, and two cruise missiles. As for the IL-22 airborne control point, it became known that the plane was damaged, the cockpit was depressurized, and the pilots made an emergency landing at Rostov airfield.

Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine aviation continued to cause rocket-bombing strikes on places of accumulation of Russian enemy troops, columns of military equipment and logistics centers.

The fighters of the Air Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will prevent the activities of the enemy aviation in certain directions, carry out coverage of shock groups, bombarding and assault aviation.“

The Russian frigate [project 11356R] “Admiral Essen” was seriously damaged today as a result of an attack by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ukrainian official sources report. The Naval Forces of Ukraine refused to specify under what circumstances and with what weapon the ship of the occupiers was hit.

During the last 24 hours, the Ukrainian General Staff has reported on the Russian manning and logistic challenges:

  • The military-political leadership of a Russian federation has begun measures of hidden mobilization of reserves, in order to bring military units to the states of military time. During the selection of candidates, the advantage is provided to persons who already have combat experience. Mobilization is subject to ordinary, sergeant, and officer. The main regions for mobilization are also defined: Krasnodar Territory, Perm Region, Republic of Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kalmykia.
  • The main motivational factor for Russian reservists remains material promotion. In addition, among the Russian population, it spreads that participants in the war with Ukraine can improve their financial position due to so-called “trophies”, that is, robbery and looting.
  • The command of the Armed Forces of a Russian federation counts to attract approximately 60 thousand people during mobilization.
  • The command of the armed forces of the Russian Federation expects to involve about 60 thousand people during the mobilization.

  • Staffing with weapons and military equipment for wartime states will be done by removing obsolete equipment from storage. Some samples are stored in bases and warehouses for more than 30 years.
  • The Russian forces continue to suffer losses in manpower and military equipment. Thus, in the area of ​​the city of Kharkiv, thanks to the successful actions of units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, a motorized infantry company from the 59th Tank Regiment suffered significant losses. It was established that the losses of this unit amounted to almost 80 percent of the personnel.
  • Due to significant personnel losses, about 25 servicemen of the 31st Separate Assault Brigade from Ulyanovsk refused to take part in the war with Ukraine and wish to resign.
  • In addition, the Deputy Commander of the 83rd Separate Assault Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel Vitaliy Slabtsov, Russian, was eliminated.

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

  • Russian forces are continuing to consolidate and reorganize as they refocus their offensive into the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine.
  • Russian troops, including mercenaries from the Russian state-linked Wagner private military company, are being moved into the area.
  • Heavy fighting has continued in Mariupol as Russian forces attempt to take the city.
  • The city continues to be subject to intense, indiscriminate strikes but Ukrainian Forces maintain a staunch resistance, retaining control in central areas.
  • Mariupol is almost certainly a key objective of the Russian invasion as it will secure a land corridor from Russia to the occupied territory of Crimea.
  • Russian naval forces maintain their distant blockade of the Ukrainian coast in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, preventing Ukrainian resupply by sea.
  • Russia still retains the capability to attempt an amphibious landing but such an operation is likely to be increasingly high risk due to the time Ukrainian forces have had to prepare.
  • Reported mines within the Black Sea pose a serious risk to maritime activity. Though the origin of such mines remains unclear and disputed, their presence is almost certainly due to Russian naval activity in the area and demonstrates how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting neutral and civilian interests.

As of Monday 04.04.2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

Russian military losses

  • personnel – more than 18300 people (+300),
  • tanks – 647 units (+3),
  • armored combat vehicles – 1844 units (+14),
  • artillery systems – 330 (+5),
  • multiple rocket launchers – 107 (+2)
  • air defense means – 54 (no change),
  • aircraft – 147 (+4),
  • helicopters – 134 (no change),
  • automotive technology – 1273 (+24),
  • vessels/boats – 7 units (no change),
  • fuel and lubricant tanks – 76 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 92 (+3)
  • Special equipment – 25 (+1)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (no change)

Humanitarian  

Chernihiv has been 70% destroyed by Russian forces, Ukrayinska Pravda reports. The situation in Mariupol is even worse. Up to 200,000 Ukrainians are under debris or in bomb shelters, under constant fire. “They don’t have food, water, electricity. We can’t help them because we are fighting fierce battles in the city. What is happening in Mariupol now is the genocide of the Ukrainian population,” said Captain Bohdan Krotevych, chief of staff of the Azov Regiment.

According to UNHCR 4,176,401 refugees have been registered as of 2 April. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,429,265 refugees, Romania 635,816, the Republic of Moldova 392,933, Hungary 385,783, Russian Federation 350,632, Slovakia 298,183, and Belarus 12,746. Among those who fled Ukraine are also Ukrainian nationals with dual citizenship. An additional 113,000 people moved to the Russian Federation from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions between 21 and 23 February.

As of midnight of April 2, OHCHR recorded 3,455 civilian casualties in Ukraine: 1,417 killed (including 121 children) and 2,038 injured (including 171 children).

161 children were killed and 264 children injured according to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of 8 a.m. on April 4.

On April 3 all agreed humanitarian corridors operated, which enabled the evacuation of 2,694 people. According to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine: [469 citizens traveled from Mariupol and Berdyansk to Zaporizhia by their own transport.  10 buses evacuating 408 citizens from Berdyansk. Also, a column of buses with 350 citizens from Mariupol and Berdyansk that was stopped by Russian troops yesterday, managed to pass checkpoints. 7 buses escorted by the Red Cross today have arrived Mangush and are presently negotiating to be allowed to enter Mariupol to evacuate people. Meanwhile, in the Luhansk region, 1,467 citizens have been evacuated from the cities of Sievoerodonetsk, Rubizhne, and Kreminna.

Legal

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is being called on to issue an arrest warrant for President Putin over the invasion of Ukraine by a former United Nations chief prosecutor, Axios reports.

Putin is a war criminal, said Carla Del Ponte, who was head of the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, in an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps, published Saturday.

 

Del Ponte said if the ICC issued an arrest warrant it would signal that investigative work has been done, according to a Sky News translation. It is the only instrument that exists that makes it possible to arrest the perpetrator of a war crime and bring them before the ICC, she added”.

“Putin’s latest atrocities – genocide”, “Horror in Bucha”, “Worse than ISIS “. These are just some of the headlines in the international media after the photos of killed and tortured residents of the liberated Bucha, Irpen and other cities in the Kyiv oblast were published.

The European Union on Sunday accused Russian troops of committing atrocities in the Kyiv region after the mayor of the town of Bucha said 300 residents had been killed during a month-long occupation by Russian forces, Reuters reports. [The numbers have later been adjusted to 410 by Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova]

Shocked by news of atrocities committed by Russian forces. EU assists Ukraine in documenting war crimes, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter, adding all cases needed to be pursued by the International Court of Justice.”

President Zelensky said the Russian leadership was responsible for civilian killings in Bucha. Zelensky slammed “the torture of the whole nation” amid international condemnations and calls for an investigation, France24 reports. Russia responded by calling for a special UN Security Council meeting Monday to address the claims that Russian forces committed atrocities against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, claiming (without any credibility whatsoever) that “Ukrainian radicals were responsible for the heinous provocation”.

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 40: Russia begins hidden mobilization, prepares offensive in Donbas, Russian frigate hit by rocket ~~

4204 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 2219 crimes against national security were registered as of the same date. 869 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 83 of them are destroyed fully.

According to the General Staff of Ukraine:

  • The Russian forces’ violation of international humanitarian law is confirmed daily by numerous civilian casualties in the liberated settlements. All facts are documented and submitted to international judicial institutions. War crimes do not have a statute of limitations, so justice is inevitable.

Support

The UK is stepping up sanctions and military support for Ukraine, Reuters reports.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said despicable attacks against civilians in Bucha and Irpin near Kyiv were evidence that Russia was committing war crimes in Ukraine, and that Britain would step up sanctions and military aid in response. I will do everything in my power to starve (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine, Johnson said in a statement on Sunday. We are stepping up our sanctions and military support, as well as bolstering our humanitarian support package to help those in need on the ground.”

Bulgaria is likely to start sending military aid to Ukraine, Euractive reports. Bulgaria is likely to start providing military assistance to Ukraine as a parliamentary decision is to be made this week, Democratic Bulgaria Co-Chairman Atanas Atanasov, part of the ruling coalition, announced.

The topic is being discussed in parliament. A vote will take place this week, Atanasov said in an interview with bTV. The MP said that the parliament must show Bulgaria that it is part of the Western world, which supports democracy. Bulgaria will not send Russian MiG-29 fighters and S-300 missiles to Ukraine because it would significantly reduce its defense capabilities, though it will export ammunition and smaller weapons.

Germany sends mixed signals on EU sanctions against Russian energy.

  1. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says the West will impose new sanctions on Russia in the next few days. The discovery of hundreds of bodies in a town outside of Kyiv has sparked horror around the world, DW
  2. Germany’s defense minister said on Sunday that the European Union must discuss banning the import of Russian gas after Ukrainian and European officials accused Russian forces of committing atrocities near Kyiv, Reuters “There has to be a response. Such crimes must not remain unanswered,” the defense ministry quoted Christine Lambrecht as saying in an interview with the public broadcaster ARD.
  3. The very same day, the Minister of Finance, Christian Lindner, spoke out against an energy ban from Russia, Zeit Online The finance minister sees an energy embargo as a threat to Germany’s stability. Because of the war, a loss of prosperity is to be expected anyway.

Berlin rejects Ukraine’s plea for infantry vehicles, DW reports. Ukraine will not receive any German Marder infantry vehicles, which it has requested from Berlin. Citing Die Welt, the article said Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had rejected the demand as the vehicles were “bound by NATO obligations.” Any decision on “disengagement” would therefore have to be decided within the framework of the alliance. Kyiv requested the transfer of 100 Marder infantry vehicles and other heavy weapons last week.

New developments

Treaty with Ukraine not ready to be discussed at the highest level, TASS.

A draft of a treaty between Russia and Ukraine is not yet ready “to be presented at the top-level meeting,” while Ukraine became more realistic in approaching the issue of its neutral and non-nuclear status, Russian Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky who heads the Russian delegation thinks. He stated that talks between Russia’s and Ukraine’s delegations would continue on Monday.”

The system of payment for gas in rubles will be further extended to other Russian goods for export, TASS reports, citing press secretary Dmitry Peskov.

European companies will be able to quickly open ruble accounts to pay for gas, Peskov said. I repeat once again, de facto nothing will change for European companies. De jure, it will be a different system,” the spokesman concluded. […] Commenting on the situation, if gas buyers still refuse to open ruble accounts, he noted that this would be contrary to the decree signed by President Putin. Peskov recalled that deliveries that take place after April 1 will be paid somewhere at the end of the month or the beginning of the next, that is, in May. Therefore, we’ll see, there’s still time, the Kremlin spokesman concluded.”

Amendments on punishment for the implementation of sanctions in Russia will be submitted to the State Duma on April 4, TASS reports.

My colleagues from the State Duma and I have completed work and on Monday we will amend the Criminal Code for the enforcement of restrictive measures imposed by foreign states (sanctions) on the territory of the Russian Federation, and we look forward to prompting consideration of the amendments by the State Duma, Andrey Klishas, head of the Committee of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation on constitutional legislation and state-building, wrote.”

Poland is open to the deployment of American nuclear weapons, net reports. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslav Kaczynski said that Warsaw was open to the deployment of US nuclear weapons on its territory. But the initiative must come from Washington. This was stated by the politician in an interview with a German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Censor.NET informs with reference to DW.

Assessment

On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Sunday 03 April:

Ukraine has won the Battle of Kyiv. Russian forces are completing their withdrawal, but not in good order. Ukrainian forces are continuing to clear Kyiv Oblast of isolated Russian troops left behind in the retreat, which some Ukrainian officials describe as “lost orcs.” Russian forces had attempted to conduct an orderly retreat from their positions around Kyiv with designated covering forces supported by artillery and mines to allow the main body to withdraw. The main body of Russian troops has withdrawn from the west bank of the Dnipro and is completing its withdrawal from the east bank, but the retrograde has been sufficiently disorderly that some Russian troops were left behind.

The war is far from over and could still turn Russia’s way if the Russian military can launch a successful operation in eastern Ukraine. The current line of Russian occupation in southern and eastern Ukraine is still a significant gain in Russian-controlled territory since the start of the war. If a ceasefire or peace agreement freezes a line like the current front-line trace, Russia will be able to exert much greater pressure on Ukraine than it did before the invasion and may over time reassemble a more effective invasion force. Ukraine’s victory in the Battle of Kyiv is thus significant but not decisive.

The disorder of the Russian withdrawal suggests that at least some of the units now reconcentrating in Belarus and western Russia will remain combat ineffective for a protracted period. Russian troops attempting to refit after pulling back from around Kyiv will likely have to reconsolidate into their units, identify which soldiers are still present, sort out their equipment and assess its combat readiness, and generally reconstitute before they can even begin to receive replacements and new equipment and prepare for further combat operations.

Russian forces are likely abandoning the east bank of the Dnipro fully as well, withdrawing from around Chernihiv to the north and from Brovary to the east. Russian troops will likely seek to hold a salient around Konotop and Sumy long enough to allow their forces to complete their retrograde from near Kyiv but will then likely withdraw back to Russia from almost all their positions west of Kharkiv.

Moscow is attempting to concentrate reserves and some units pulled from the fight around Sumy to reinforce its offensive operations in the east but is encountering serious challenges in that effort. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on April 3 that Russian soldiers are resisting and in some cases refusing orders to enter or re-enter the war effort. The General Staff asserted that the two battalion tactical groups (BTGs) that moved from South Ossetia toward Donbas less than a week ago refused to fight and that plans to move them back to South Ossetia are in train. The General Staff claimed that about 25 soldiers of the Russian 31st Separate Airborne Brigade refused orders to re-enter combat citing excessive losses. The General Staff also asserted that commanders at various echelons in the Russian 3rd Motorized Rifle Division have refused to participate in combat operations. We have no independent verification of these reports, but they are credible in light of the losses Russian forces have suffered and of independent reports of Russian soldiers killing commanders and commanders committing suicide from earlier in the conflict.

Russian efforts to advance its offensive operations in eastern Ukraine made limited progress in the past 24 hours. Fighting continues in Mariupol and on the Izium-Sievoerodonetsk axis.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukraine has won the Battle of Kyiv, and Russian forces are completing their withdrawals from both the east and the west banks of the Dnipro in disorder.
  • Russian forces retreating from around Kyiv will likely need considerable time before they can return to combat.
  • Incidents of refusals of orders to engage in combat operations among Russian units continue and may lead to the redeployment of two BTGs that had arrived near Donbas within the last few days to their home stations in South Ossetia.
  • The continued existence of an independent Ukrainian state with its capital in Kyiv is no longer in question at this time, although much fighting remains and the war could still turn Russia’s way.(unquote)

On 3 April, Michael Kofman, Research Program Director in the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, made the following assessment of the Russian force availability and long-term prospects. The Russian military has taken significant casualties. After redeploying, and pulling additional units from standing formations, it may be tapped out of available forces, for now.

“If the Russian leadership wants to continue this war it has to make a significant political choice. They cannot sustain a long war against Ukraine as a special operation, and they don’t want to reframe it as a war. This has implications for force availability.  Moscow is trying to fight a war with the largest country in Europe without declaring a state of war at home. Ukraine has fully mobilized and has extensive Western support. Russia may technically have more manpower and materiel on paper, but it is politically inaccessible.

The Russian military is not prepared for a long war and expected this ‘operation’ to be done within days. Now a significant part of the force is exhausted. As a very rough estimate, they may have lost ~30 battalions (not BTGs) worth of equipment. Although the Russian military has a lot of kits, assuming a 200,000 force deployed with more than 120 BTGs involved, [Russian proxy] army corps, and [the Russian National Guard], that military now has substantially reduced combat effectiveness.

The Russian military has pulled together what they could from the remaining standing force, including bases abroad, and Kaliningrad. There’s now close to nothing left to send beyond those battalions that have recently arrived to support offensives in the Donbas. It is difficult to say what constitutes the current ground force available for the next phase in the war. I don’t like low confidence numbers since they give a false sense of certainty. I would say it is still a significant, but substantially diminished force. My best guess is ~80 [Batallion Tactical Groups] (BTGs) total. I would take that number with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that BTGs are used here as a rough unit of measurement.

There is also no evidence of stop loss. The Russian military is taking in 134,500 conscripts this month as part of a biannual draft and releasing those whose terms of service have expired. Since Moscow has not declared war, it has no political basis for retaining conscripts.

So how is the Russian leadership trying to square this circle? There are rumors that they’re offering sizable payouts to those willing to sign a contract, including conscripts getting out of service, and those with prior military experience. There are also cases where conscripts are intimidated into switching to contract service – sometimes given the choice between months of difficult serving conditions and signing a contract.

Behind the scenes, the Russian military is likely trying to increase manning in formations. These are often manned at ~75%, hence the tiered readiness system with contract-staffed BTGs. Many have heard of Shoigu’s 168 BTG figure. I think this number is technically committed. Brigades and regiments are generally supposed to generate 2 BTGs, and be able to produce a 3rd over time with increased manning. The Russian military expected to raise those manning levels via mobilization in the event of a war – they’re likely trying to do it piecemeal now. By offering substantial amounts of pay to get more manpower, the Russian military may fill out some of these formations. In my view, they may then deploy as battalions and entire units, since many unit HQs and support elements are in the war already.

There are also auxiliary forces. Syrian mercenaries, Wagner ChvK, etc. These are not going to make a difference in this war. They can amount to a few battalions more at best. They’re symptomatic of the problem: Russia is short on troops, looking to get manpower where they can. In short, Russia can get more battalions, but without a national mobilization, its ability to pursue the war beyond the Donbas looks very circumspect. And it can’t get more units quickly. Right now, the Russian mil has to fight largely with what it has managed to put together.

This problem is somewhat unsurprising. The Russian military was built around the concept of active defense, eschewing strategic ground offensives. It lacks the logistics, and manpower, to sustain this kind of fight in the largest country in Europe.

However, if Putin chooses to declare a state of war, and conduct national mobilization, the situation becomes a lot more complicated. In that case, Russian manpower and materiel availability would be subject to a decidedly different set of calculations. Would he have the domestic support to do it? Entirely up for debate. There appears to be substantial support for the war within the Russian public, but it is uneven, and the extent of true support vs fake poll reporting is highly disputed.

Conversely, Ukraine is going to need ammunition and more equipment to replace losses and equipment reserves. It needs mechanized equipment for counter-offensives. ATGMs and MANPADS alone won’t do. Hence they ask for Soviet equipment from countries that have inventories. I’m sure some folks will say that Ukraine has captured a lot of equipment. On paper, yes, but it’s going to be a while before this kit is serviceable, manned, and deployed where it makes a tangible difference. A few captured tanks or IFVs do not make an armored brigade.

In some ways, this is a story of one military which has large amounts of mobilized manpower, but shortages of kit to equip the force, and another military that has large reserves of equipment, but a visible crunch in available manpower without national mobilization.

Beyond the current battle in the Donbas, if this eventually becomes a prolonged war of attrition, Ukraine seems overall in a more favorable position, but I think the honest answer is ‘it depends.’ That’s my unsatisfactory conclusion thus far.”

 

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