Russo-Ukrainian war, day 54: Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast, all EU ports closed for Russian ships

Ukraine war

 

Daily review

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

The Armed Forces of Ukraine have liberated two settlements in the Kharkiv Oblast. Russian military continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on Mariupol; the city defenders repelled an attack on the Azovstal plant. Russia suspends production of its anti-aircraft missile systems. Ports of all EU countries have stopped servicing Russian ships.

Morning report day 54 – April 18

Situation

According to information from the General Staff:

“The Russian Federation continues its full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine.

The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are completing the creation of an offensive group in the Eastern Operational Zone.

In the Volyn and Polissya directions, the Russian forces did not take active action, and no signs of the formation of offensive groups were found. Certain units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus continue to carry out tasks to cover the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in Brest and Gomel Oblast. In these areas, the enemy conducts electronic warfare reconnaissance. The export of damaged armored vehicles of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is recorded by rail from the territory of the Republic of Belarus.Ukraine war

In the Siversky direction, the enemy exercises increased control over border areas. Engineering positions of equipment in the areas of checkpoints and the border areas of the Bryansk and Kursk Oblast of the Russian Federation continue. The involvement of sabotage and reconnaissance groups and missile strikes from the territory of the Russian Federation is not ruled out.

  • There is a possibility that the Russian forces will use sabotage and reconnaissance groups and launch missile strikes from the territory of the Russian Federation on elements of the military and civilian infrastructure of our state.

In the Slobozhansky direction, the Russian forces continue to partially blockade Kharkiv and try to carry out fire damage to units of our troops.

  • In order to expand the bridgehead on the left bank of the Siversky Donets River and create conditions for the rapid deployment of troops, the Russian forces conducted reconnaissance by fighting in the settlements of Zavody, Dmytrivka and Dibrovne. He was unsuccessful, lost and left.
  • The Russian forces continue to fire on the positions of units of Ukrainian troops and critical infrastructure.

In the Donetsk and Tavriya directions, the Russian forces regain combat capability and replenish their reserves. It is trying to improve the tactical position of its units and intensify hostilities. The Russian forces continue shelling the settlements of Siversk and Pokrovske.

  • The Russian forces concentrated their main efforts in the areas of the settlements of Lyman, Kreminna, Popasna and Rubizhne, trying to establish full control over the city of Mariupol. It carried out offensive operations in the Siverodonetsk, Popasna and Zaporizhia directions.
  • The Russian forces tried unsuccessfully to gain a foothold in the areas of Kreminna and Rubizhne. It carried out assault operations in the areas of Novotoshkivske, Popasna, Avdiivka and Marinka. It was also unsuccessful.
  • The Russian forces intensified hostilities. It continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on the city of Mariupol, including with the use of Tu-22M3 strategic bombers. The Russian forces tried to carry out assault operations near the seaport and the Azovstal plant.

In the Pivdennyi Buh direction, the enemy focuses its main efforts on maintaining its positions and continues to exert fire on the positions of our troops in the directions of Mykolayiv and Oleksandrivka.

  • It is expected that the Russian forces will continue to fight to reach the administrative borders of the Kherson Oblast.
  • In the area of ​​the settlement of Vasylivka, Zaporizhia Oblast, it was noted that the enemy, probably to carry out provocations, draws off the letters Z on the equipment and sets Ukrainian flags.

In total, 87 battalion tactical groups of the Russian forces were involved in the implementation of combat missions on the territory of Ukraine.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast, defenders of Ukraine repulsed twelve enemy attacks and destroyed ten tanks, fifteen armored units and five vehicles, as well as five enemy artillery systems.

The Russian forces also continue to launch missile and bomb strikes on the critical infrastructure of Ukraine.Air alerts Ukraine

The Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has hit five air targets the day before: one plane, three helicopters and one UAV.”  

Kharkiv Oblast: The Armed Forces of Ukraine are pushing back the enemy, two settlements have been liberated, Ukrayinska Pravda reports. “In the Kharkiv Oblast, our defenders are conducting several successful operations, pushing the occupiers away from the regional centre. As a result of the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces, Bazaliivka, Lebiazhe, and part of Kutuzivka were liberated. In the area of ​​the village of Mala Rohan, our units moved further east”, the Head of Kharkiv Regional State Administration Oleh Synegubov posted on Telegram

Russia planning to shell Kherson with Grad systems and accuse Ukraine Army, Ukrinform reports. Russian troops are likely to shell the city of Kherson with the Grad multiple rocket launcher systems and accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine of that. The main goal is to hold a pseudo-referendum in Kherson Oblast. This was stated by the Head of Odesa Regional Military Administration, Serhii Bratchuk, on Telegram.

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Ukrainian General Staff has reported on the Russian manning and logistic challenges:

  • Information about the destruction of the Moscow missile cruiser by Ukraine has gained considerable public response in Crimea. There is growing distrust among the population about the information disseminated by the official Russian media.
  • During the training activities before the deployment of units to participate in the war with Ukraine on the training grounds in the Russian Federation, more than 50 cases of unauthorized leaving of field camps by personnel were noted.

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

  • Russian commanders will be concerned about the time it is taking to subdue Mariupol. Concerted Ukrainian resistance has severely tested Russian forces and diverted men and materiel, slowing Russia’s advance elsewhere.
  • The effort to capture Mariupol has come at a significant cost to its residents. Large areas of infrastructure have been destroyed whilst the population has suffered significant casualties.
  • The targeting of populated areas within Mariupol aligns with Russia’s approach to Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016. This is despite the 24 February 2022 claims of Russia’s Defense Ministry that Russia would neither strike cities nor threaten the Ukrainian population.

As of Monday 18.04.2022, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:Russian losses

  • Personnel – more than 20600 people (+300),
  • Tanks – 790 units (+17),
  • Armored combat vehicles – 2041 units (+39),
  • Artillery systems – 381 (+5),
  • Multiple rocket launchers – 130 (+3)
  • Air defense means – 67 (+1),
  • Aircraft – 167 (+2),
  • Helicopters – 147 (+1),
  • Automotive technology – 1487 (+16),
  • Vessels/boats – 8 units (no change),
  • Fuel and lubricant tanks – 76 (no change),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 155 (+7)
  • Special equipment – 27 (+1)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (no change)

Humanitarian

For the first time, more people entered Ukraine from Poland than left, BBC reports. Figures from the Polish border service show 22,000 people crossed into Ukraine on Saturday, as 19,200 left. According to the United Nations, millions of people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war – but more than 650,000 have now crossed the other way from Poland.

According to UNHCR 4,869,019 refugees have been registered as of April 16. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,763,786 refugees, Romania 738,862, Russian Federation 484,725, Hungary 458,654, Republic of Moldova 422,550, Slovakia 335,243 and Belarus 22,827 (no changes since April 15). 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 Oblast between 21 and 23 February.

OHCHR recorded 4,633 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of April 14. Due to Easter and despite the war, the numbers have not been updated for 4 days. 1,982 were killed (including 162 children) and 2,651 injured (including 256 children).

No humanitarian corridors were operational on April 17. According to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine:

“As of this morning, April 17, we have not been able to agree with the occupiers on a ceasefire on the evacuation routes. That is why, unfortunately, we are not opening humanitarian corridors today. We are making every effort to re-establish the humanitarian corridors as soon as possible.”

Environmental

Some of the many ripple effects of the Russian assault on Ukraine and hybrid war against the West:

  • Oil prices climbed to nearly three-week highs on Monday as fears over tight global supply grew, with the deepening crisis in Ukraine raising the prospect of heavier sanctions by the West on top exporter Russia, ReutersEU governments said last week the bloc’s executive was drafting proposals to ban Russian crude, but diplomats said Germany was not actively supporting an immediate embargo. Continued war between Russia and Ukraine with no signs of a ceasefire fuelled supply fears, especially as demand is expected to pick up as driving season nears in the northern hemisphere, said Chiyoki Chen, chief analyst at Sunward Trading.”
  • War in Ukraine to curb trade, economic growth this year, AP News “The World Trade Organization predicted Tuesday that trade in goods will grow much less than previously expected this year, saying prospects for the global economy have darkened since the onset of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In the latest grim economic outlook to emerge, the Geneva-based trade body pointed to multiple uncertainties in its forecast over the next two years because Russian and Ukrainian exports of items like food, oil and fertilizers are under threat from the war. It also cited the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — notably from lockdowns in China.”
  • China’s economy slowed in March as consumption, real estate and exports were hit hard, taking the shine off faster-than-expected first-quarter growth numbers and worsening an outlook already weakened by COVID-19 curbs and the Ukraine war, Reuters
  • Gold prices rose on Monday to their highest since mid-March, as the Russia-Ukraine crisis soured risk sentiment and drove investors to the safety of bullion, Reuters

Legal

Russians are using the civilian population left in Mariupol to cover up their crimes, Ukrayinska Pravda reports. People are used to excavating debris, collecting corpses, create mass graves. They are “paid” for the work with food. Currently, about 100,000 civilians remain in the blocked Mariupol. According to the head of the Mariupol patrol police, there are many civilians on the territory of the Azovstal plant, including women, children, the elderly, and infants. The occupiers are forcing civilians to wear a white ribbon on the right leg and the left arm like soldiers of the Russian Armed Forces and the so-called “DNR” do. They bring civilians to the frontline of the ongoing combat where people may die.

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Forcible Russification: “Retraining camps” for Ukrainian teachers are being set up in Crimea, Ukrinform reports. In occupied Crimea, the authorities intend to set up so-called retraining camps for teachers from Kherson, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhia Oblast in order to shift them toward “Russian teaching standards.” This was reported on Telegram by the Center for Countering Disinformation, Ukrinform reports.

Volunteers reveal three camps for deported Ukrainians in Russia’s Penza Region, Ukrinform reports. “Almost every day, the occupiers’ media report on the deportation of Ukrainian citizens. As of April 16, 2022, according to them, a total of 808,000 people were displaced, including 153,000 children”. The relevant statement was made by Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova on Telegram, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.

The General Staff of Ukraine claims that:

  • Due to the lack of human resources, the Russian forces are trying to involve locals in the temporarily occupied territories. Thus, in the city of Izium, the forced mobilization of men has begun.
  • Preparations for an illegal referendum on the proclamation of the so-called “Kherson People’s Republic” continue in some territories temporarily occupied by the Russian forces. To falsify its results, it is planned to use personal data of residents of the region, which are collected by the Russian occupiers during the issuance of so-called “humanitarian aid”. Residents are also spreading information that after the announcement of the results of the pseudo-referendum, their “mobilization” into the armed forces of the Russian Federation will begin.

Russian war crimes205 children were killed, and 362 children were injured as of 18 April, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports. 6999 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 3190 crimes against national security were registered as of 17 April. 1018 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 95 of them are destroyed fully.

 Support

Biden and US allies face a new dilemma on Ukraine aid, CNN reports. CNN’s Barbara Starr reported this weekend that there is rising concern about how quickly Ukraine could deplete its stores of ammunition in this next battle.

“Though the US announced that it was sending 18 155mm Howitzer cannons and 40,000 artillery rounds as part of its latest package, Starr reported that a US official warned that the aid could be used up within a matter of days as heavy fighting intensifies in the Donbas.

Given those pressures, US officials must be clearer in defining their objectives and whether America is committed to doing what it takes to help Ukraine win, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, said Sunday in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan.” While the latest round of US aid was “substantial,” he said it was not enough.

What the Ukrainians need desperately are long-range fires, rockets, artillery, drones that can disrupt or destroy the systems that are causing so much damage in Ukrainian cities, and which will also play a critical role in this next phase, if and when it begins, Hodges said. I would really like to hear the administration talk about winning and having a sense of urgency on getting these things there. Otherwise, this window of opportunity we have, the next couple of weeks, to really disrupt Russia’s attempt to build up is going to pass.”

Ukraine has asked G7 for $50 billion to cover the budget deficit, says a senior official, Reuters reports. “Ukraine has asked G7 nations for $50 billion in financial support and is also considering issuing 0% coupon bonds to help it cover a war-linked budget deficit over the next six months, the president’s economic adviser Oleh Ustenko said on Sunday.”

Russia suspends production of anti-aircraft missile systems, Ukrinform reports. “The production of radars and short-range and medium-range air defense systems (Buk, Kub and Tunguska missile systems) at JSC Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant manufacturer have been stopped due to lack of electronic components. This was reported by the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU) on Facebook.  According to intelligence, until recently the main supplier for the Russian defense sector was Germany, but since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, any cooperation with the country has been suspended.

Ports of all EU countries have stopped servicing Russian ships, European Truth reports. “On April 17, the EU directive banning entry into the ports of ships associated with Russia came into force in all European Union countries that have sea or river ports.

Trucks stuck at Poland-Belarus border as EU sanctions deadline passes, BBC reports. A huge queue of trucks was formed on the Poland-Belarus border as Russian and Belarusian drivers tried to leave the EU following the sanctions deadline. In the run-up to the deadline, the line extended to 80km (50 miles), with some stuck for up to 33 hours. The EU has banned lorries from Russia and Belarus – except those carrying medicine, mail or petroleum products – from entering or staying in the bloc. The move is part of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

New developments

  1. Ukrainian foreign minister says the situation in Mariupol may be a ‘red line’ in talks, Reuters reports. “Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said there had not been any recent diplomatic communications between Russia and Ukraine at the level of their foreign ministries and that the situation in the port of Mariupol, which he described as “dire”, may be a “red line” in the path of negotiations.”
  2. Kremlin spokesman says Russia will endure standoff with West, TASSKremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he’s sure Russia will endure the current confrontation with the West. “We can,” he said on Rossiya-1 television on Sunday, when asked by the host if Russia, unlike the USSR, can survive the standoff with the West.”
  3. Ukraine has fully completed the questionnaire required for EU candidate status, Ukrayinska Pravda Ukraine hopes to be granted the status of a candidate country for EU membership at the European Council in June, the Deputy Head of the President’s Office, Igor Zhovkva, said. Negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU should start immediately afterwards. During these negotiations, we can already talk about Ukraine’s full membership in the EU.
  4. Medvedev warns that Russia’s default may entail Europe’s default, TASSRussia’s default may entail Europe’s default, both moral and, quite possibly, tangible, he wrote on his Telegram channel, as, in his words, the European Union’s financial system is not very stable and people are losing confidence. Moreover, the European Union’s authorities should expect a strong gratitude from rank and file Europeans for the hyperinflation that he claims cannot be blamed on vile Russians, for the lack of elementary foods in shops and for the influx of refugees, which will provoke a wave of force crimes, he wrote. In this case, the people in Brussels will have to change their rhetoric. Otherwise, stinky fires of tyres will be burning in the streets of European cities in the glory of Maidan heroes.” (The Russian “Hybrid War is the parallel and synchronized use of both military and non-military means to destabilize nations from within”, and is in a sense summarized by Medvedev’s statement. – HPM)
  5. Russia sees risks of unintentional clashes with NATO in the Arctic, TASS Russia is concerned about the involvement of NATO’s non-Arctic states in the alliance’s military activity in northern areas and notes risks of unintentional clashes with the alliance’s forces in the Arctic, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador-at-Large Nikolay Korchunov told TASS.

Assessment

On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Sunday 17 April:

Russian forces likely captured the Port of Mariupol on April 16 despite Ukrainian General Staff denials, reducing organized Ukrainian resistance in the city to the Azovstal factory in eastern Mariupol. Russian and DNR forces released footage on April 16 confirming their presence in several key locations in southwestern Mariupol, including the port itself. Isolated groups of Ukrainian troops may remain active in Mariupol outside of the Azovstal factory, but they will likely be cleared out by Russian forces in the coming days. Russian forces likely seek to force the remaining defenders of the Azovstal factory to capitulate through overwhelming firepower to avoid costly clearing operations, but remaining Ukrainian defenders appear intent on staging a final stand. Russian forces will likely complete the capture of Mariupol in the coming week, but final assaults will likely continue to cost them dearly.

Russian forces continued to amass on the Izium axis and in eastern Ukraine, increasingly including low-quality proxy conscripts, in parallel with continuous – and unsuccessful – small-scale attacks. Russian forces did not take any territory on the Izium axis or in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in the past 24 hours. Russian forces deploying to eastern Ukraine reportedly continue to face significant morale and supply issues and appear unlikely to intend, or be able to, conduct a major offensive surge in the coming days. Deputy Ukrainian Minister of Defense Anna Malyar stated on April 17 that the Russian military is in no hurry to launch an offensive in eastern Ukraine, having learned from their experience from Kyiv – but Russian forces continue localized attacks and are likely unable to amass the cohesive combat power necessary for a major breakthrough.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces likely captured the Port of Mariupol on April 16 despite Ukrainian General Staff denials.
  • Russian forces likely seek to force the remaining defenders of the Azovstal factory to capitulate through overwhelming firepower to avoid costly clearing operations, but remaining Ukrainian defenders appear intent on staging a final stand.
  • Evgeny Prigozhin, financier of the Wagner Group, is likely active on the ground in eastern Ukraine to coordinate Wagner Group recruitment and funding.
  • Russian forces continued their build up around Izium but did not conduct any offensive operations.

The Ukrainian Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on April 16 that the Kremlin is increasingly arresting Russian and proxy officers for failures in Ukraine. The GUR reported Russian military authorities established a commission intended to run from March 2 to April 24 in occupied Horlivka to identify the reasons for personnel shortages among Russian forces. The GUR reported that Russian investigators discovered the commanders of Russia’s 3rd Motor Rifle Brigade was 100% staffed at the beginning of the invasion when it in fact only had 55% of its personnel and arrested two battalion commanders in the brigade. The GUR also reported the FSB arrested DNR Defense Spokesperson Eduard Basurin for his ”careless statement” on April 11 revealing Russian intent to use chemical weapons in Mariupol, though there is still no independent confirmation of the Ukrainian claim of Russian chemical weapons use.

Consequences and what to do?

Zelenskyy believes the entire world has to be worried over Russia’s nuclear threat, Ukrinform reports. The entire world has to be worried over Russia’s possible use of nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine. The statement was made by President Zelenskyy in an interview with CNN.

“Not only me – all of the world, but all of the countries also have to be worried, because it can be… truth. They could do it. For them the life of the people is nothing. I think we should not be afraid but be ready. But that is not a question for Ukraine, not only for Ukraine, but for all the world, Zelenskyy told.

According to the President of Ukraine, no one expected there to be a war in 2014. No one expected a full-scale invasion and mass killings of civilians; nobody expected Russian troops to invade the areas where there are no military facilities. But, that’s what we have now, what has happened. And they can use both chemical weapons and their nuclear potential. Thus, such claims are dangerous. I believe such claims are made by people who are no longer adequate, Zelenskyy stressed.”

Assessment by Hans Petter Midttun

The threat of the use of nuclear weapons has been declared several times already. For the first time in our history, we experience warfighting around Nuclear Power Plants witch potential horrendous consequences at stake. A warship, most probably carrying nuclear arms, has been attacked and sunk. Sweden has reported that Russian jets carrying nuclear weapons violated Swedish airspace on 2 March.

The threats are themselves powerful means. The battlefield has moved from the physical domain to the cognitive sphere. The Hybrid War occurs both in the mind of key policy- and decisionmaker as well as populations. It confuses and manipulates. The hybrid war aims to destabilize, create fear, and promote passivity. Through disinformation, lies, cyber-attacks, extortion, provocations, fabrications, military escalation, and more, a “virtual reality” is created that motivates countries to make the political decisions Russia wants.

The Russian Hybrid War is designed to avoid a confrontation with the West. For 8 years, Russia has done its utmost to prevent the West from becoming actively involved in Ukraine. By establishing a military fait accompli on the ground, Russia coerce the West from getting militarily involved to avoid the risk of an escalation up to and including a nuclear confrontation.

If we accept the Russian “fait accompli strategy” enforced through nuclear blackmail, we have already lost the world we are living in. It will only encourage Russia to continue its aggressive foreign policy.

The nuclear threat dimension will never disappear. It has been a part of the international security architecture since the start of the Cold War. The threat of mutually assured destruction, however, helped ensure that the Cold War never turned hot.

In my humble opinion, there is only one objective argument for why today’s situation might entail higher risk.

As previously argued, I believe Russia and President Putin were surprised by the strong and broad Western response to its assault on Ukraine on 24 February. Most probably he did not expect the USA and Europe to come together and jointly introduce the most comprehensive package of sanctions ever in history. Russia did not expect to be subjected to what it describes as a Western total, economic, information, and cultural war. Putin did not expect the USA and Europe to supply Ukraine with modern, high-tech weapons on the scale we have witnessed, either. Neither did he expect Europe to slowly turn its back to Russian energy.

If the assessment is correct – if President Putin was indeed surprised big time – it is also an indication of our failure to demonstrate the unity and resolve – will and ability – to restrict Russia’s conceived freedom of action. Believing the West to be weak, and not willing to defend shared values and principles, Russia has acted accordingly, war being one of the consequences.

There are, however, still no indications that it has changed its assessment of the West. Its attempt to defeat Ukraine continues. Experts believe Russia’s strategic aim of the ongoing confrontation with the West remains unchanged. President Putin still intends to establish full control over Ukraine and destroy the Ukrainian nation. None of which are indications of Russia believing the West has the will and ability to stay the course.

The ongoing military confrontation illustrates the asymmetry. The West does its best to remain below the threshold of a conventional military confrontation, while the Russian Federation lift the threshold further to include the risk of a nuclear war.

Why? Because the West still shows signs of weakness by not considering the use of military power and an UN-mandated Humanitarian Intervention in Ukraine.

Today, more than ever, we need rationality, courage, and resolve.

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