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Russo-Ukrainian war, day 63: Russia strengthens its assault in Donbas, false-flag attacks hit Russian-occupied Transnistria

Ukraine war
Russo-Ukrainian war, day 63: Russia strengthens its assault in Donbas, false-flag attacks hit Russian-occupied Transnistria
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun
Russian forces continue to make slow progress south from Izium and northwest of Rubizhne, but Russian offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine remain unsuccessful. Fighting continues in Mariupol, Ukrainian defenders still hold positions beyond the Azovstal Plant. Russia staged false-flag attacks in Transnistria allegedly setting conditions for the invasion of Moldova. Germany will supply Ukraine with 50 Gepard tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns. Russia has halted gas supplies to Poland.

Morning report day 63 – April 27


According to information from the Ukrainian General Staff:

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

Russian forces continue to carry out offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone to defeat the Joint Forces, establish full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and maintain the land route with the occupied Crimea.

Russian forces are taking measures to replenish its units that suffered casualties during hostilities. In particular, by removing it from storage in warehouses and bases of military districts. Transportation of equipment to the territory of Ukraine is usually carried out by rail.

Russian forces continue to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure.

There are no significant changes in the Volyn, Polissya, and Siversky directions.

  • Certain units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus perform tasks to strengthen the protection of the Ukrainian-Belarusian border.

The greatest activity of Russian occupying forces is observed in the Slobozhansky and Donetsk directions.

In the Slobozhansky direction, Russian forces continue to launch airstrikes and hit the infrastructure of the city of Kharkiv with artillery.

  • In the Izium direction, units of the 1st Tank Army, the 20th Combined Arms Army of the Western Military District, the 35th Combined Arms Army, and the 68th Army Corps of the Eastern Military District and Airborne Forces are conducting offensive operations in the direction of Barvinkovo. The Russian forces captured the northeastern outskirts of the settlement of Velyka Komyshuvakha, and also took control of the settlement of Zavody.
  • In order to increase the grouping of troops, Russian occupiers transferred from the territory of the Belgorod Oblast to the city of Izium two battalion tactical groups from the 76th Airborne Assault Division of the Russian Airborne Forces. In addition, in the areas of settlements of the Belgorod Oblast, Russian forces deployed two missile divisions of “Iskander-M” (SS-26 Stone) mobile short-range ballistic missile system.
  • In the areas of the Belgorod Oblast bordering Ukraine, Russian forces continue to hold field camps to restore combat readiness and train units. According to available information, up to five battalion tactical groups of Russian forces are near the state border of Ukraine in this area.

In the Donetsk direction, Russian forces units are conducting active operations along almost the entire line of contact. The main efforts of Russian forces are focused on offensive operations in the Sievierodonetsk, Popasna, and Kurakhiv areas in order to take full control of Popasna, Rubizhne, and the development of the offensive on the Lyman, Sievierodonetsk, and Sloviansk.

  • In the Lyman direction, Russian forces established control over the settlement of Zarichne and carried out assault operations in the area of ​​the settlement of Yampil.
  • In the Sievierodonetsk direction, Russian forces established control over the settlement of Novotoshkivske and launched an offensive in the direction of the settlements of Nyzhne and Orikhove.
  • In the Mariupol direction, Russian forces are exerting massive fire and blocking our units in the area of ​​the Azovstal plant. In the city, Russian occupiers continue to carry out filtering measures against the civilian population.
  • In the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts alone, nine forces attacks were repulsed, destroying nine tanks, eleven artillery systems, four units of special and seventeen units of armored vehicles, three units of special engineering and sixteen units of motor vehicles, four units of motor vehicles, four units of motor vehicles, four anti-aircraft installations.

In the Pivdennyi Buh and Tavriya directions, the forces are using the available forces and means to focus their main efforts on maintaining the previously occupied frontiers and exerting fire on the positions of our troops. In the Mykolayiv, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhyzhia directions, Russian forces try to improve the tactical position. To do this, it regroups units, increases the system of fire damage, and conducts air reconnaissance.

  • Russian occupiers are carrying out filtration measures in the districts of Kiselivka and Stanislav in the Kherson Oblast with the help of rosguard units.
  • In the Tavriya direction, Russian forces units carry out engineering equipment for positions and replenishment of reserves.
  • Russian forces continue to hold the occupied frontier, in some areas it tries unsuccessfully to improve the tactical position, improves the engineering positions of its equipment and carries out shelling of positions of our armies.
  • In the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova, units of the operational group of Russian troops have been put on “Full alert”, and the security forces have been transferred to a reinforced mode of service.

Ukrainian warriors have hit seven air targets the day before: a Su-25 plane, a Ka-52 helicopter, three operational-tactical UAVs, and two cruise missiles.

Military Transport, Fighter, Bomber, and Assault Aviation of the Air Force of Ukraine continues to perform tasks in the airspace of Ukraine. During the sudden air raids, the Russian occupiers suffered significant losses in their positions. As a result of airstrikes, a lot of forces equipment and manpower were destroyed.”

Russia threatens to attack Kyiv in the event of Ukraine’s strikes on facilities in Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports citing RIA Novosti. The Russian Ministry of Defense called the statement of the Deputy Minister of Defense of Great Britain James Heappey about Kyiv’s strikes on Russian territory a provocation. Earlier, the deputy head of the British military department said that the use of weapons provided by London by Ukrainian troops for shelling objects in Russia “will not necessarily be a problem.” An “attempt to implement them, will immediately lead to our proportional response. As we warned, the Russian armed forces are on duty around the clock to retaliate with long-range precision weapons at the relevant decision-making centers in Kyiv”, said the Russian Ministry of Défense.

In the Belgorod Oblast of the Russian Federation the ammunition depot burns, the Ukrainska Pravda reports. The governor of the Belgorod Oblast of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Gladkov reported that, according to preliminary data, an ammunition depot is burning near the village of Stara Nelidovka.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces struck on forces positions on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, Ukrainska Pravda reports. The Armed Forces of Ukraine struck at forces positions on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island, hit the command post and destroyed the Strela-10 anti-aircraft missile system, according to Operational Command “South “.

Floating Mines Hit Danube Ship Traffic, the gCaptain reports.

Ukrainian border guards last week closed several shipping lanes at the mouth of the Danube River due to drifting mines in the Black Sea, analyst APK-Inform said on Monday. Ukrainian Danube ports of Izmail and Reni last week remained the only sea routes for Ukrainian grain exports after seaports were blocked due to the Russian invasion. Ukraine, a major agricultural producer, used to export most of its goods through seaports but since Russia’s invasion in February has been forced to export by train via its western border or its small Danube River ports.” APK-Inform said that the traffic along the Danube was significantly limited because of the mine danger.

We are preparing for attack or siege of Mykolaiv, Ukrainska Pravda reports.

The mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, has declared that the city authorities are preparing for a Russian attack on or a siege of the city. “We see that Russia is transferring weapons and military resources across Crimea. We see that they are accumulating them in Kherson Oblast. And yes, we expect an attack on or siege of the city of Mykolaiv.” He added that today the authorities, together with the military, are preparing fortifications, both on the outskirts of the city and inside it. According to Sienkevych, municipal services are currently “performing the role of a construction worker” – they are building, pouring and laying concrete.”

Russia has already fired more than 1,300 missiles against Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “According to our data, their reserves have already more than halved since they have been actively using them in Ukraine since February 24, Deputy Defense Minister Anna Maliar said. She added that the numbers include both air, sea and ground-launched missiles.

Civilians injured at Azovstal following multiple airstrikes last night, Ukrainska Pravda report. The Azovstal steelworks, where defenders of Mariupol are based and where civilians are hiding from the bombardment in the basements, was under fire all night long. Last night alone there were 35 airstrikes, during which one of the workshops caught fire. But most important is the effect on the civilians, who are now under the rubble, the Azov Regiment claims.

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

  • Ukraine retains control over the majority of its airspace. Russia has failed to effectively destroy the Ukrainian Air Force or suppress Ukrainian air defenses. Ukraine continues to hold Russian air assets at risk.
  • Russian air activity is primarily focused on southern and eastern Ukraine, providing support to Russian ground forces. Russia has very limited air access to the north and west of Ukraine, limiting offensive actions to deep strikes with stand-off weapons. Russia continues to target Ukrainian military assets and logistics infrastructure across the country.
  • The majority of Russian airstrikes in Mariupol are likely being conducted using unguided free-falling bombs. These weapons reduce Russia’s ability to effectively discriminate when conducting strikes, increasing the risk of civilian casualties.

As of Wednesday 27.04.2022, 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 22400 people (+300),
  • Tanks – 939 units (+21),
  • Armored combat vehicles – 2342 units (+34),
  • Artillery systems – 421 (+5),
  • Multiple rocket launchers – 149 (+0)
  • Air defense means – 71 (+2),
  • Aircraft – 185 (+1),
  • Helicopters – 155 (+1),
  • Automotive technology – 1666 (+23),
  • Vessels/boats – 8 units (+0),
  • Fuel and lubricant tanks – 76 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 207 (+2)
  • Special equipment – 31 (+0)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)

The UK assess that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed, as of 25 April. In total, several sources suggest that to date over 2,000 armored vehicles have been destroyed or captured.  This includes at least 530 tanks, 530 Armored Personnel Carriers, and 560 Infantry Fighting Vehicles.  Russia has also lost over 60 helicopters and fighter jets.


According to UNHCR 5,264,767 refugees have been registered as of April 25. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 2,922,978 refugees, Romania 782,598, Russian Federation 614,318, Hungary 496,914, Republic of Moldova 435,275 Slovakia 357,560, and Belarus 24,578. Among those who fled Ukraine are also Ukrainian nationals with dual citizenship. An additional 105,000 people moved to the Russian Federation from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts between 18 and 23 February.

OHCHR recorded 5,840 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of 25 April. 2,729 were killed (including 201 children) and 3,111 injured (including 299 children).

The government of Ukraine was still working to ensure humanitarian corridors to evacuate women, children, and the elderly from Mariupol. According to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine:

“We addressed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking him to initiate and become a guarantor of a humanitarian corridor from Azovstal to evacuate civilians. Specifically, we are asking for UN and ICRC representatives to be present in such a humanitarian convoy. We are hoping for the effectiveness of negotiations between UN Secretary-General and Russian representatives.”

As a result of a high-level meeting with Russian Federation leadership held in Moscow on April 26, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated:

“We recognize that we face a crisis within a crisis in Mariupol. Thousands of civilians are in dire need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, and many, of evacuation. The United Nations is ready to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives in Mariupol.

My proposal is for a coordinated work of the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Ukrainian and Russian Federation forces to enable the safe evacuation of those civilians who want to leave, both inside the Azovstal plant and in the city, in any direction they chose, and to deliver the humanitarian aid required.”

As a result of the meeting, the UN reports that Russia agrees ‘in principle’ to UN and Red Cross’s involvement in evacuations from Mariupol.


Food and Energy prices will increase drastically in 2022, Ukraine Business News reports. According to a quarterly report by the World Bank, world energy and food prices will rise sharply this year due to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. As forecasted by the World Bank, global energy prices will increase by 50.5% in 2022 compared to 2021, and in 2023 will decrease by 12.4%. The cost of food is expected to increase by 22.9% this year and decrease by 10.4% next year. In 2021, energy prices almost doubled, and food prices rose by 31%. According to the report, the increase in energy prices over the past two years has been the most significant since the early 1970s. Rising prices for food products, the largest suppliers of which are Russia and Ukraine, and fertilizers are the highest since 2008.

Two missiles flew over Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ukrainska Pravda reports. On the morning of 26 April, 2 Russian cruise missiles flew over Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and towards the city of Zaporizhzhia at a low altitude. This is a threat to Ukraine’s nuclear security and the whole world. The incident was reported by Energoatom (National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine) on Telegram. On 25 April, 2 Russian cruise missiles flew over the Khmelnitskyi Nuclear Power Plant.

During the full-scale Russian aggression, demining groups of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Support Forces have found, seized and destroyed more than 1,100 explosive devices. An area of ​​more than 10 hectares was surveyed and cleared, according to the Command of the Support Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The range of explosive devices used by the forces is extremely diverse: regular non-explosive munitions, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, and improvised explosive devices. The installation of these devices can be anything from children’s toys and household appliances to cars and living quarters. Currently, sappers are working almost daily on demining of the Kyiv Oblast.

ICC Joins 3 Countries in Probing Possible Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, VOA news reports.

The International Criminal Court said Monday that for the first time it will be part of a multination investigative team to probe whether Russia committed war crimes during its two-month invasion of Ukraine. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan and prosecutors general from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement to jointly conduct the investigation, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) said. Khan had already opened an ICC investigation early last month into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine after several of the court’s member states requested an investigation”.

Ukraine prepares war crimes charges against Russian military personnel, including pilots, the Reuters reports.

Three Russian pilots suspected of bombing civilian buildings in the Kharkiv, and Sumy oblasts are among at least seven Russian military personnel that Kyiv is preparing war crimes charges against, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office told Reuters. It said the other individuals include two operators of a rocket launcher who allegedly shelled settlements in the Kharkiv Oblast and two army servicemen suspected of murdering a Kyiv area resident and raping his wife. Ukraine says it is investigating some 7,600 potential war crimes and at least 500 suspects following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour.”

Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) calls for the prosecution of Patriarch Kirill by the ICC, The Center for Civil Liberties reports.

Human Rights Without Frontiers, a Brussels-based NGO, appeals to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A. A. Khan QC, to hold personally accountable and prosecute Vladimir Mikhaïlovitch Goundiaïev, known as Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, for inspiring, inciting, justifying, aiding and abetting war crimes (Art. 8 of the Rome Statute) and crimes against humanity (Art. 7) perpetrated and being perpetrated by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”.

217 children were killed, and 393 children injured, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of 27 April. 1,508 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 102 of them are destroyed fully. 8,326 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 3,902 crimes against national security were registered, as of April 26,


It takes three weeks or more for the weapons to arrive and take effect, Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Head of the President’s Office, said, Ukrinform reports. “It will be late May or early June when the required quantity arrives and starts to produce a serious impact on the battlefield.”

“We need to tune in to a long history. The cessation of the active phase in Donbas does not mean the end of the war. There will still be tactical actions, air raids, war … It’s a long story, and it may be very long, it may last until the New Year. Everything depends on a series of circumstances,” he said.

Pentagon establishes control center for Ukraine military aid in Germany, Ukrinform reports. The US Department of Defense has established a control center to coordinate shipments and “streamline the delivery” of military assistance to Ukraine with both US and allied forces. As Ukrinform reports citing CNN, a senior US defense official told reporters on Tuesday that the EUCOM Control Center of Ukraine, or ECCU, is based at US European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, and is run by a US two-star military general.

The center works closely with what the US military calls the international donor coordination center, or IDCC, which is run by a one-star general from the United Kingdom, the official added. The center, along with US personnel, includes staff from 15 other supporting nations in Stuttgart. It will also manage the network of more than 40 partner and allied nations that met in Germany earlier Tuesday and are providing assistance to Ukraine, the official said.

Germany to supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry for the first time, the Reuters reports.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the government, which is also racing to reduce its heavy reliance on imported Russian energy, had approved the delivery of 50 Gepard tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns from the stocks of company KMW on Monday. The announcement of Gepard deliveries came after reports on Monday that defense company Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE) had requested government approval for the delivery of 100 old Marder infantry fighting vehicles and 88 old Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine”.

The policy shift, however, is seen as the most significant part of the decision. According to a poll published on April 14, 55% support the delivery of heavy weapons, including majorities among supporters of the three governing parties.

Britain is handing over Stormer infantry fighting vehicles with Starstreak launchers, the Ukraine Business News reports.

The United Kingdom is supplying Ukraine with a small number of Stormer armored personnel carriers equipped with Starstreak anti-aircraft missile launchers to boost the country’s air defenses, stated Defense Minister Ben Wallace. The Stormer has an eight-charge launcher on the roof and space inside to accommodate eight more missiles. These missiles can shoot down forces planes and helicopters flying at low altitudes.”

Poland confirms T-72 tank delivery to Ukraine, with Challenger 2 tanks to fill the gap, Yahoo News reports. Poland’s prime minister has confirmed the country supplied its Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Asked about how many T-72s were delivered to the Ukrainian armed forces, Morawiecki said “when the time comes, we will provide this” information.

The Warmate loitering munition from Poland is used by Ukrainian soldiers, the Army Recognition reports.

According to pictures published on the Twitter account of Felix Woessner on April 24, 2022, Poland would have delivered its local-made loitering munitions called Warmate to the Ukrainian armed forces. The WARMATE combat unmanned aerial vehicle (CUAV) is a multi-role system performing multiple tasks depending on the type of head installed. It constitutes a good alternative for anti-tank guided missiles with its capability to operate in a significantly larger radius, allowing comfortable detection and observation of the potential target in a relatively large time span (the flight time is ca. 70 minutes). Optionally the system can be equipped with a laser-seeking warhead.”

How one US intelligence agency is supporting Ukraine, C4ISRnet reports. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which collects, analyses, and distributes satellite imagery in support of US national security, is monitoring events in Ukraine and sharing intelligence with partner nations engaged in joint missions, its director, Vice Adm. Robert Sharp said.

The agency is engaged in supporting partners with geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, throughout the conflict. The NGA is also sharing commercial imagery and encouraging US companies to assist NATO. Publicly available imagery of Ukraine is now providing unprecedented public insight that until recently would’ve been only available through government agencies and officials. And it’s helping a democratic country fight for its survival, and preserve its independence. Sharp said that many of the ways the NGA is providing support are classified.”

New developments

  1. Russia has halted gas supplies to Poland, data shows, after Moscow said “unfriendly” countries must start paying for gas in roubles, the BBC reports. Russian energy firm Gazprom told Poland and Bulgaria it would stop sending gas to the two countries from Wednesday. Data from the European Union network of gas transmission operators shows that Poland’s supply has now been cut. Poland says it will manage to get gas from other sources. It is not yet clear if Bulgaria’s supplies have been cut. Polish state gas company PGNiG said it had been told all gas deliveries would be halted from 08:00 CET (06:00 GMT). The Bulgarian Energy Ministry also said it had been informed deliveries would be suspended from Wednesday. Both countries have refused to pay in roubles.
  2. We’re here to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion—and to build up Ukraine’s defenses for tomorrow’s challenges, the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, said yesterday at a meeting at Ramstein Air Base. Russia’s invasion is indefensible. And so are Russian atrocities. We all start today from a position of moral clarity. Russia is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man. Ukraine is fighting a war of necessity to defend its democracy, its sovereignty, and its citizens. But the stakes stretch beyond Ukraine—and even beyond Europe. Russia’s invasion is baseless, reckless, and lawless. It is an affront to the rules-based international order. It is a challenge to free people everywhere.

This gathering reflects a galvanized world. Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, more than 30 of our Allies and partners from across the globe have joined the United States to rush security assistance to Ukraine. Together, we have committed more than $5 billion of equipment to support Ukraine’s self-defense. The coordination mechanism that we have in place can become even stronger. And we can do more through our defense industrial bases to continue to help Ukraine defend itself even more capably.

  1. Too early to talk about mediators in talks with Ukraine — Lavrov, TASS reports. It is too early to talk about mediators at this stage of Russia-Ukraine talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference on Tuesday following talks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. According to the Russian Foreign Minister, if the Ukrainian side continues its policy, the talks are unlikely to have results.
  2. Comment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in connection with the situation in the Transnistrian region of Moldova. “The wave of reports on April 21-26 about the bombing of educational institutions, the attack on the building of the so-called “Ministry of State Security”, the destruction of two radio towers in Grigoriopol district and explosions at the airport in Tiraspol coincided with statements by the Russian military command. to establish a land corridor with the Transnistrian region of Moldova. Ukraine strongly supports Moldova’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, condemns desperate attempts to drag Moldova’s Transnistrian region into a full-scale war against Ukraine on February 24, and calls for de-escalation of tensions.
  3. Putin refused to guarantee Ukraine’s security without decisions on Crimea and Donbas, Ukrainska Pravda reports citing Interfax. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia cannot sign security guarantees for Ukraine without resolving the territorial issues of Crimea and Donbas. Putin complained that after the atrocities in Bucha, the position of negotiators with Ukraine on further settlement has changed dramatically.


On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Tuesday 26 April:

Russian forces have adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in eastern Ukraine, at least along the line from Izium to Rubizhne. Russian troops are pushing down multiple roughly parallel roads within supporting distance of one another, allowing them to bring more combat power to bear than their previous practice had supported. Russian troops on this line are making better progress than any other Russian advances in this phase of the war. They are pushing from Izium southwest toward Barvinkove and southeast toward Sloviansk. They are also pushing several columns west and south of Rubizhne, likely intending to encircle it and complete its capture. The Russian advances even in this area are proceeding methodically rather than rapidly, however, and it is not clear how far they will be able to drive or whether they will be able to encircle Ukrainian forces in large numbers.

Russian forces on the Izium axis likely benefit from the absence of prepared Ukrainian defensive positions against attacks from the Kharkiv direction toward Donbas. Ukraine has prepared to defend the line of contact with Russian-occupied Donbas since 2014, and Russian troops continue to struggle to penetrate those prepared defenses—as shown by repeated Russian efforts to take Avdiivka, just north of Donetsk City, or to advance through Popasna, just beyond the original line of contact.

Russian troops continued to attack Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol, including in the Azovstal Plant, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims that there is no more fighting in the city. Ukrainian forces likely still hold important positions beyond the plant itself, and Russian forces continue to fight outside the plant, bomb the plant, and assault positions near the plant. Putin’s order not to chase Ukrainian defenders into the tunnels and catacombs of the facility evidently did not preclude continued efforts to secure at least the entire perimeter of the plant and likely also the important M14 highway that runs along it to the north and northwest.

Russia is staging false-flag attacks in Transnistria, Moldova, likely setting conditions for further actions on that front. The two motorized rifle battalions Russia has illegally maintained in Transnistria since the end of the Cold War are not likely sufficient to mount a credible attack on Odesa by themselves, nor are the Russians likely to be able to reinforce them enough to allow them to do so. They could support more limited attacks to the northwest of Odesa, possibly causing panic and creating psychological effects to benefit Russian operations in the south of Ukraine.

Russia may also seek to destabilize Moldova itself, however. Comments by the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic and other Russian officials and proxies raise the possibility that Putin might recognize the self-styled Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) in Transnistria as he recognized the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The PMR could then ask for additional Russian protection, and Putin could attempt to send some additional forces or capabilities to Transnistria. Any such activities would greatly raise tensions and fears in Moldova and neighboring Romania, putting additional pressure on NATO, possibly giving Putin a cheap “win,” and distracting from Russia’s slog in eastern Ukraine.

Continued indications that Russian forces intend to hold a referendum to establish “people’s republics” in occupied areas of southern Ukraine raise the possibility that Putin intends to unveil an array of new “independent” “people’s republics” as part of a Victory Day celebration. The forecast cone is wide, and there is as yet no solid basis to assess one path as much more likely than another. But the false-flag attacks and Russian and Russian proxy reactions to them are alarming, and it behooves NATO and the West to consider the most dangerous courses of action and prepare to meet them.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces continue to make slow but steady progress south from Izium and northwest of Rubizhne, but Russian offensive operations elsewhere along the line in eastern Ukraine remain unsuccessful.
  • Fighting continues in Mariupol, where Ukrainian defenders apparently still hold positions beyond the Azovstal Plant.
  • Russia and/or Russian proxies have staged false-flag attacks in Russian-occupied Transnistria, possibly to threaten a (very likely unsuccessful) attack on Odesa, possibly to destabilize Moldova.

Looming ground battle is crucial phase in Ukraine, the Washington Post reports. The West is speeding weapons to prepare Kyiv for long-distance conflict in the eastern part of the country.

US military officials assess that a crucial, and perhaps decisive, phase of the Ukraine war is shaping up in the eastern part of the country, where Russian troops may surround Ukrainian forces in hopes of pummeling them in an epic, long-distance ground battle reminiscent of the last century.

New US shipments of heavy artillery and counter-artillery radar, tactical drones, armored vehicles and other equipment are being rushed to Ukraine before tens of thousands of troops, amounting to up to half of the Ukrainian army, are caught in what is known as a “double envelopment” maneuver that would bring them under simultaneous attack from two sides.

The Ukrainians are located in a north-south crescent between deep Russian lines in the southeastern Donbas region, and a potential pincer movement to their west.

Russian success in the southern port city of Mariupol, where its forces have been battling Ukrainian resistance for weeks, would free up thousands of Moscow’s troops to head north and potentially meet up with additional Russian forces heading south from the area around Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast.

“I think it’s accurate that the next several weeks will be very, very critical … for the outcome of this battle that’s shaping up,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, who met here Monday with the US European commanders. …

It is anticipated that the battle will be fought at a distance. The Russians are using less armor than previously, without the blitzes that characterized some of their earlier forays into Ukraine, and returning to their more traditional doctrine of using artillery and other long-range fire. …

Where the front line of Russian forces ends up after what is expected to be a grueling battle lasting weeks, if not months, will go a long way to determining the West’s future force posture in Europe. If the Ukrainians cannot hold their positions — let alone push the Russians back — there would be little to stop Russian forces from again turning all of their attention to the central parts of the country and perhaps beyond. …

As they assess the looming battle, several US military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the Defense Department, offered assessments of the contrasting strengths of the opposing forces.

Weight is on the Russian side,” one official said, with a “willingness to throw solders and units into the fight. They have the numbers. What the Ukrainians have is a very adaptive command style, adaptive tactics,” with small-unit field commanders given far more decision-making authority, “high morale and local knowledge.” The Ukrainians, the official said, “definitely stand a fighting chance.”

But that chance is largely seen as dependent on having the weaponry they need to fight the kind of long-distance battle they will face, and whether it can reach them in time. …

While far larger, the Russian force the Ukrainians will face is seen as demoralized and depleted after its failed attempt at a quick victory following the Feb. 24 invasion. One question is what the Russians have learned from their poor showing in other parts of Ukraine, where an overestimation of their preparedness and skills, and an underestimation of Ukrainian adaptability and perseverance, scuttled their plans for a quick takeover of Kyiv, the capital.

Russian units that withdrew several weeks ago from around Kyiv and other areas were “in worse shape than the United States expected,” the military official said, and “left a trail of equipment” that was either destroyed or inoperative and traveled through Belarus into Russia. Many were quickly redeployed into Donbas.

“The Russians are reconstituting with poorly maintained and not-modernized equipment,” the official said. “Some tanks have a driver and no crew,” and a number of units are believed to be undermanned, some down to 70 percent strength. Western military doctrine generally holds that a unit down by 10 percent is in bad shape, while one depleted by 30 percent is no longer considered effective in combat.

Despite the number of long-distance weapons they have fired, the Russians’ targeting has been less than optimal. “We are shocked when we miss something,” a second US military official said. The Russians “are not shocked.”

Consequences and what to do?

Austin’s assertion that the US wants to ‘weaken’ Russia underlines Biden’s strategy shift, the CNN reports.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has transformed into a grinding war of attrition with no meaningful peace deal in sight, the US and its allies have begun to convey a new, longer-term goal for the war: to defeat Russia so decisively on the battlefield that it will be deterred from launching such an attack ever again. …

A National Security Council spokesperson said that Austin’s comments were consistent with what the US’ goals have been for months — namely, “to make this invasion a strategic failure for Russia.”

We want Ukraine to win,” the spokesperson added. “One of our goals has been to limit Russia’s ability to do something like this again, as Secretary Austin said. That’s why we are arming the Ukrainians with weapons and equipment to defend themselves from Russian attacks, and it’s why we are using sanctions and export controls that are directly targeted at Russia’s defense industry to undercut Russia’s economic and military power to threaten and attack its neighbors.” …

The shift in strategy has come about over the past few weeks, evidenced by a growing tolerance for increased risk with the more complex, western weaponry being sent in, and is a reflection of the belief that Putin’s goals in Ukraine would not end if he manages to seize part of Ukraine, as they didn’t after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, a British diplomat said. …

Now, there is a growing realization among US and Western officials — especially after the Russians’ massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha — that Russia needs to be hurt so much economically and on the battlefield that its aggression is stopped for good, US and Western officials told CNN.

“So it has already lost a lot of military capability,” Austin said. “And a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”

Biden administration officials are optimistic that that is an achievable goal, sources told CNN. Administration officials and congressional sources said they believe that the continued military support to Ukraine could result in significant blows to Russia that will impair their long-term military capabilities, strategically benefiting the US. …

“The way we are looking at this is that it’s making an investment to neuter the Russian army and navy for next decade,” said a congressional source familiar with the ongoing military assistance to Ukraine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that while “obviously right now the war is in Ukraine,” the US and its allies are “are also looking to prevent (Russia) from expanding their efforts and President Putin’s objectives beyond that too.”

Officials noted, though, that the US and its allies are carefully threading a needle when it comes to penalizing Russia — both because of the collateral damage harsh sanctions could have on the global economy, and because of the risk that Putin could lash out if he is backed too far into a corner. …

This person added that while the US still assesses that Putin’s red lines for use of nuclear weapons haven’t changed, “one of those red lines is regime stability,” they said — meaning that Putin could lash out if he feels his rule is seriously threatened. …

A State Department spokesperson said that the sanctions the US and its allies have put in place are “all in response to Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. They are intended to prevent Putin from buying more ammo, guns, missiles — to stop him from funding his war machine, to stop the killing. They are also intended to punish those who actively support Putin’s unprovoked, brutal war. This is not about harming the Russian people.”

It is still unclear what the US would do about the sanctions if Russia reached a meaningful peace deal with Ukraine and withdrew its forces. Multiple sources told CNN that in that scenario, the US would likely consider lifting some sanctions, in a show of good faith, while keeping others. … Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that Russia’s change in behavior must be “irreversible” before the US considers lifting sanctions. …

The US is also preparing to train Ukraine’s armed forces on more state-of-the-art, NATO-capable weapons systems, Austin told reporters on Monday — a move that will allow the US and its allies to provide more powerful weapons to Ukraine more quickly since those systems are more readily available than the Soviet-era equipment the west has had to scrounge for to date. …

Ambassador Nathan Sales, who until 2021 served as acting under secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the State Department, said the “bottom line” is that “a weaker Russia means a more stable world,” and that the US should prepare for its Russia policy

As long as Putin is calling the shots, Russia is going to be a malign actor,” he said. “And so we can’t hope for Russia to be a constructive and responsible player in Europe or the broader international system.” Sales added that the US should therefore prepare for “a prolonged period” of its Russia policy being aimed at limiting its ability “to cause mischief around the world.”

Assessment by Hans Petter Midttun:

Several analysts have argued that the Russian Armed forces might be operating under time constraints, being pushed to achieve a win in time for the 9th May Victory Parade. While that is probably true, Western support has added additional urgency to its military efforts.

The statement by Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the Head of the President’s Office, says it all.

“It takes three weeks or more for the weapons to arrive and take effect. It will be late May or early June when the required quantity arrives and starts to produce a serious impact on the battlefield.”

Russia is about to reach its culmination point in the face of an increasing Western willingness to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defeat Russia. The policy U-turn by German and the ongoing development of long-term strategies for the containment and weakening of the Russian Federation adds additional importance to its short-term military efforts.

Russia desperately needs to secure an operational level victory, like the defeat or the encirclement of the Ukrainian Land Forces in eastern Ukraine, to negotiate a ceasefire on its terms (“Minsk Agreement version 3.0”). It knows, that unless it is evicted from Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson oblasts and the Crimean Peninsula, it might still defeat Ukraine in the long run.

This will allow Russia to continue its Hybrid War. The occupied territories in the east and south of Ukraine include parts of Ukraine’s revenue generation capability. It also contains the anthracite coal regions of the east and the oil and gas in the Black Sea, all crucial for Ukraine’s future energy security and prosperity. Having effectively cut Ukraine from the sea through the occupation of parts of its coastal regions and a maritime blockade, it also prevents Ukraine from exporting much of its produce, regardless of source, by sea. In 2021 these exported over 150 million tons of cargo, which represents 60% of exports & 50% of imports for Ukraine. Holding the southern territory also provides a launchpad for any Russian breakout to surround and seize areas further north in the future.

While the West has increased its support to Ukraine, it has still not made the decision needed to end the war.

Ukraine will need the help of the West to both force Russia to withdraw all of its proxy and regular forces from the Ukrainian territory and to break the Russian imposed maritime embargo. The international maritime community needs not at least, a NATO presence in the Black Sea to be able to resume commercial activity in the region.

Ukraine does not possess the Air Force, or the Navy needed to achieve this essential task. NATO does.

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