Russo-Ukrainian war, day 81: Russia draws forces to encircle Ukrainian troops near Sievierodonetsk

Russo Ukrainian war, day 81: Russia draws forces to encircle Ukrainian troops near Sievierodonetsk

 

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Russia downscales plans to encircle Ukrainian troops to Luhansk Oblast only. Yet, it is drawing huge reinforcements to accomplish the task. Russian troops also focus on defending their supply roads in Kharkiv Oblast. 89 of the 90 howitzers that the United States sent to Ukraine are being used “in a forward-deployed setting.”

Morning report day 81 – May 15

Situation

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 15.05.2022, supplemented by its [18:00 assessment].

“[Russian troops continue offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone. The aggressor fires all along the line of contact and deeper behind the line of defence of Ukrainian troops. The threat of missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian facilities in Ukraine persists.]

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 81: Russia draws forces to encircle Ukrainian troops near Sievierodonetsk ~~

 

In the Volyn and Polissya directions, Russian forces did not take active action. The threat of missile and bomb strikes on objects on the territory of Ukraine from the territory of the Republic of Belarus remains. Demonstration and provocative actions by units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus are not ruled out in the border areas.

  • [On the territory of the Gomel oblast (Belarus), demining works were noted in the areas where the units of the Russian Federation were based.]

In the Siverskyy direction, Russian forces continue to strengthen the protection of the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Bryansk and Kursk regions, firing and launching airstrikes on the territory of Chernihiv and Sumy oblasts.

In the Slobozhansky direction, Russian forces took measures to regroup its units, and replenish stocks of ammunition, fuel and oil to restore the offensive capabilities.

  • In the Kharkiv direction, Russian forces units did not conduct active hostilities. [The occupiers focused their efforts on holding the positions taken, controlling supply routes on the roads to the North and East of the city of Kharkiv, as well as preventing the advance of Ukrainian troops towards the state border.]
  • In the Sloviansk direction, Russian forces fired on units of the Defence Forces of Ukraine. Russians carry out replenishment and restoring of losses, continue regrouping of troops to resume the offensive in the direction of Barvinkove and Sloviansk.

[In the Donetsk direction] Russian forces are trying to develop success in the Bakhmut direction. Despite the losses, Russian forces continue to advance in the Lyman, Sievierodonetsk, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv areas. The regrouping of Russian troops in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions is noted.

  • [Up to two battalion tactical groups were relocated on this axis. Russian forces are conducting assault operations along the line of contact with the support of aircraft and artillery, and have partial success in the vicinity of Avdiivka.]
  • In the city of Mariupol, the blockade of Ukrainian units in the area of ​​the Azovstal plant continues. Russian invaders did not stop airstrikes and artillery shelling.
  • [Lyman and Sievierodonetsk direction: the adversary is regrouping its troops. The reinforcements here amount up to the battalion tactical group in the area of the Novyy Aidar railway station.]
  • Twelve Russian attacks were repulsed in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions over the past 24 hours, eight tanks, five artillery systems, nine units of armoured combat vehicles and five vehicles were destroyed. Russian occupiers have losses in other areas as well.

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 81: Russia draws forces to encircle Ukrainian troops near Sievierodonetsk ~~

[Zaporizhzhia direction: Russians focused on artillery shelling of Ukrainian positions.]

Russian forces did not conduct active hostilities in the Pivdennyy Buh direction. They continue to hold positions, conducting air reconnaissance and shelling the positions of the Defence Forces.

  • [In the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova, armed groups have been switched to their daily duties. At the same time, units of the operational group of Russian troops continue to be on high alert.]

[Warships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation in the Black and Azov Seas operate to isolate the area of combat, conduct reconnaissance, and provide fire support on the coastal axis.]

  • [Russia attempts to build up its military presence on the Zmiinyy island, reinforcing its air defence system.]

[Russian troops continue to deliberately destroy Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure by launching missile and bomb strikes and artillery shelling of residential areas in Donetsk, Odesa, Luhansk, and Kharkiv oblasts.]

In connection with the significant losses of the 810th Separate Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet during hostilities in Ukraine, it was decided to replenish the brigade with personnel from other units of the Black Sea Fleet, including crew members.

During the previous day, the air defence units of the Land Forces and the Air Force shot down eight air targets: seven Orlan-10 UAVs, and one aircraft.

The Air Forces of Ukraine continued to fire at Russian forces and support the fighting of our troops. In particular, the platoon base, the command-and-control post of the company, 10 armoured vehicles and enemy personnel were destroyed.

[In the temporarily occupied territories of Eastern and Southern Ukraine, the adversary attempts to involve Ukrainian citizens in working at the occupiers’ institutions and illegal law enforcement agencies, violating their rights and freedoms.]”

The Russians are preparing to cross the Siverskyi Donets again, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

Ruscists are preparing to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in Bilohorivka again… idiots. Some idiots understood why they were being sent there and the whole battalion refused to attack, but “fresheners” [new Russian soldiers] will soon join. 2,500 units of heavy equipment are already coming to us from the previously occupied territories. We are waiting for the next “underwater” episode in Bilohorivka,” Serhii Haidai, the Head of Luhansk oblast wrote on Telegram.

The Head of the Regional Military Administration added that the oblast (region) is preparing for two major Russian attacks on Sievierodonetsk and a breakthrough on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut road from Popasna and Bilohorivka.

Armed Forces of Ukraine has started a counteroffensive on the Izium front, the Ukrayinska Pravda reported yesterday afternoon. “The most intense point for us is the Izium front. There our Armed Forces went on the counterattack, Oleh Syniehubov, Head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, said. The enemy is retreating in some areas – this is the result of the character of our Armed Forces.”

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1525467973556789248

In Melitopol, Ukrainian guerrillas eliminate enemies, aiding intelligence, the Ukrinform reports. In the Ukrainian city of Melitopol, which has been temporarily captured by Russian forces, local guerrillas killed more than 100 occupiers and completed over 20 successful resistance operations, the Mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, wrote on Telegram.

Russia has left 2 ships on patrol, the rest are in Crimea, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports, citing Operational Command South. “The [Black Sea Fleet] left 2 ships on patrol and, the rest – restores forces and replenishing stocks on bases in Crimea. But the threat of a rocket attack and a desperate landing attack does not diminish.”

Russian bodies from Zmiinyi (Snake) Island are being taken to occupied Sevastopol, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports citing the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). According to Ukrainian intelligence, only 8 out of 40 Russian Armed Forces liaison officers returned to occupied Sevastopol from Zmiinyi (Snake) Island alive. All of them are servicemen of the special unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, which is deployed in occupied Sevastopol. It is reported that the Department of Surgery and Traumatology at the Sevastopol Military Hospital is currently overcrowded, and 40 beds are being installed in the wards due to overcrowding. In addition, due to a large number of wounded in Crimea, there is an active campaign for blood donation.

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

  • Russia’s Donbas offensive has lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule. Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia has failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition. Russia has now likely suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat force it committed in February.
  • These delays will almost certainly be exacerbated by the loss of critical enablers such as bridging equipment and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones. Russian bridging equipment has been in short supply throughout the conflict, slowing and restricting offensive manoeuvres. Russian UAVs are vital for tactical awareness and directing artillery but have been vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-air capabilities.
  • Russian forces are increasingly constrained by degraded enabling capabilities, continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness. Many of these capabilities cannot be quickly replaced or reconstituted, and are likely to continue to hinder Russian operations in Ukraine. Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.

As of Sunday 15 May, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the war to the present day:

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 81: Russia draws forces to encircle Ukrainian troops near Sievierodonetsk ~~

  • Personnel – more than 27400 (+200),
  • Tanks – 1220 (+2),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 2958 (+24),
  • Artillery systems – 555 (+4),
  • Multiple rocket launchers – 195 (+0),
  • Air defence means – 89 (+1),
  • Aircraft – 200 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 164 (+1),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 2087 (+28),
  • Vessels/boats – 13 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 416 (+5),
  • Special equipment – 42 (+0)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles –95 (+0)

Russia suffered the greatest losses (of the last day) at the Kurakhiv and Avdiivka directions.

Humanitarian

Helping Ukraine can prevent a global famine, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. On 11 May, US President Joe Biden said that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the blockade of Ukrainian ports could lead to mass starvation around the world.

More and more countries around the world are realising that Russia, by blocking the Black Sea for us, and continuing this war, puts dozens of other countries at risk of a global food crisis and even famine”, President Zelensky said in a video address. This is another incentive for our anti-war coalition to act more decisively together. Now, support for Ukraine and, above all, with weapons means preventing a global famine”, he said. Zelenskyy emphasised that the sooner Ukrainian land is liberated, and Ukraine is guaranteed security, the sooner the normal state of the food market can be restored.”

Large convoy from Mariupol reaches safety, refugees talk of ‘devastating’ escape.

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1525523154386444289

According to UNHCR 6,111,172 refugees have been registered as of May 13. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 3,315,711 refugees, Romania 901,696, Russian Federation 800,104, Hungary 594,664, Republic of Moldova 461,742, Slovakia 415,402 and Belarus 27,308. 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 regions between 18 and 23 February.

The number of Ukrainians entering Ukraine since February 28 is 1,689,500 as of May 13. This figure reflects cross-border movements, which can be pendular, and does not necessarily indicate sustainable returns.

OHCHR recorded 7,389 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of May 12. 3,573 were killed (including 241 children) and 3,816 injured (including 357 children).

Environmental

Solsky at G7 Meeting: Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports will lead to the global food crisis, the Ukrinform reports.

Due to the blockade of Ukrainian seaports, 7 million tonnes of wheat, 14 million tonnes of corn grain, 3 million tonnes of sunflower oil, 3 million tonnes of sunflower meal, and other crops have not entered the world market. This has already led to a record rise in world market prices and will inevitably result in a global food crisis and rising inflation, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine Mykola Solsky said at the opening of the G7 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting in Stuttgart on May 13, the Government portal reports.

As the minister stressed, the rise in grain prices leads to an automatic increase in prices for other basic food products around the world – bread, dairy products, meat, and eggs. This situation will be especially critical for the countries of Asia and Africa, where up to 40% of the population’s total expenditures account for food.

Such a situation may trigger domestic political instability and possibly provoke an outbreak of conflict. On the other hand, the population will have to seek a better life on the borders of more developed countries, Solsky predicts”.

Ukraine needs $1,14 billion to rebuild hospitals destroyed by Russia, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

The enemy has damaged 616 medical institutions, of which 101 have been completely destroyed. Plus 375 pharmacies have been destroyed and are not operating. Therefore, according to preliminary estimates, 32 billion UAH is needed to rebuild these hospitals,” Ukrainian Minister of Health, Viktor Liashko, said on the “Interfax-Ukraine” telethon broadcast on Saturday.

Ukraine has lost 23% of the railway network, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports, citing the Minister of Infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov. He also detailed the scale of infrastructure destruction, including the loss of 6.3 thousand km of main tracks, damage to 23,573 km of roads, and damage to 289 automobile and 41 railway bridges. In May Ukrainian rail has only transported around 40% of the pre-war figure.

The Russians have committed more than 300 criminal acts against the cultural heritage of Ukraine, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. In a short period since the update of the statistics of recorded crimes by Russians against our cultural heritage, they have hit the Jewish cemetery in Hlukhiv with a rocket, Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Alexander Tkachenko stated.

How do they differ from the fascists who exterminated the Jews 80 years ago? They’ve completely destroyed the St George’s Monastery of the Holy Assumption of the Sviatohirsk Lavra of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Donetsk region. In Odesa, Vorontsov Palace, an architectural monument from the beginning of the 19th century was damaged. The occupiers have again hit Khortytsia island, a sacred place for Ukrainians. Only barbarians can destroy our culture so godlessly. Russian crimes against objects of cultural heritage have been recorded in 13 regions of Ukraine and Kyiv. The cultural heritage of Kharkiv has currently received the most damage – 90 episodes have been recorded.

Legal

Ukraine readying 41 war crimes cases, The Washington Post reports. Ukraine is preparing 41 war crimes cases against Russian soldiers, the country’s prosecutor general said Friday evening. “We have 41 suspects in cases with which we will be ready to go to court,” Iryna Venediktova announced during a live briefing on Ukrainian TV. “All of them concern Article 438 of the [Ukrainian] criminal code on war crimes, but different types of war crimes. There is the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the killing of civilians, rape and looting.”

Et bilde som inneholder tekst Automatisk generert beskrivelse

227 children were killed, and 420 children injured, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of May 15. 1,748 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 144 of them are destroyed fully. 11,564 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 5,534 crimes against national security were registered.

Support

Defense Ministry: US howitzers already smashing enemy on the front line, the Ukrinform reports.

Extremely high accuracy, quality, and efficiency. US 155mm M777 howitzers, which the Armed Forces received as part of US military assistance, are already smashing the occupiers on the front line. A modern gun with a range of more than 30km surpasses Russian artillery,” the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine posted on Facebook.

New developments

  1. Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: we accept the challenge posed by the West, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “the collective West has declared a total, hybrid war on us (Russia), and it is difficult to predict how long it will last, but it is clear that the consequences will be felt by all without exception. We did our best to avoid a direct confrontation, but if the challenge has been posed, we certainly accept it. We are used to sanctions, in one form or another they have almost always been around, Lavrov said at a meeting of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, quoted by “Interfax”.
  2. Top Senate Republican meets Zelenskyy, Russia says US involvement dangerous, the Reuters reports. “Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Saturday with other Republican senators and met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks. Moscow’s ambassador to the United States warned against closer cooperation with Ukraine, saying the situation in the region was “extremely dangerous”, TASS reported. “The United States is getting dragged ever deeper into a conflict with the most unpredictable consequences for relations between the two nuclear powers”.
  3. Zelenskyy signs law banning pro-Russian parties, the Ukrinform reports. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed law No. 7172-1 on the introduction of amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine regarding a ban on the activity of political parties. The legislation expands the list of grounds for banning a political party through the courts. Relevant grounds are justifying, recognizing as lawful or denying armed aggression against Ukraine, including by presenting armed aggression of the Russian Federation and/or the Republic of Belarus against Ukraine as an internal conflict, civil conflict, or civil war. The law enters into force on the day following the day of its publication.
  4. Hungary’s new president condemns Russia’s aggression, and backs Ukraine’s accession to the EU, the Ukrinform reports. Hungary’s new President Katalin Novak at her inauguration ceremony on Saturday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and supported Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
  5. G7 to never recognize borders redrawn by Russia – statement, the Ukrinform reports. “The Group of Seven has called on Russia to immediately withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian territory, vowing to never recognize any new borders, except for those internationally recognized, adding they will provide as many weapons as required to help the country defend its territory and sovereignty. That’s according to a joint statement by G7 foreign ministers.” According to TASS, Russia doesn’t care about G7’s non-recognition of the new borders [of Ukraine], Russian Security Council Deputy Head Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday.
  6. President Niinistö spoke with Russian President Putin according to a press release from the President of Finland. “President Niinistö told President Putin how fundamentally the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland. President Niinistö announced that Finland decides to seek NATO membership in the next few days. President Niinistö repeated his deep concern over the human suffering caused by the war Russia wages in Ukraine. President Niinistö stressed the imperative of peace. He also conveyed the messages on securing the evacuation of civilians delivered earlier in the same week by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.” “Vladimir Putin stressed that rejecting the traditional policy of military neutrality would be wrong since there are no threats to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s foreign policy course could have a negative effect on Russia-Finland relations, which have been built over the course of many years in the spirit of neighbourliness and partnership cooperation and have a mutually beneficial nature.”
  7. Sweden report outlines dangers of NATO accession, The Washington Post reports. “A parliamentary report released Friday, titled “Deterioration of the security environment — implications for Sweden,” refrained from casting judgment on whether Sweden should join NATO but noted that the country’s security would be “adversely impacted” if Finland were to join and leave Sweden as the only non-member in the Nordic and Baltic regions. The invasion of Ukraine, which is a NATO partner but not a member, had shown the dangers of remaining outside the alliance’s collective defence structure, the report said. The report also outlined the dangers of accession to NATO, acknowledging that Russia would “react negatively” to any such step. The most probable response would include “various types of influence activities” against the general public or Swedish decision-makers, it said, underlining the importance of obtaining security assurances from countries within the alliance during any transition period before Sweden gained full membership.
  8. Turkey ‘not closing door’ to Sweden, Finland NATO entry, the Reuters reports. “Turkey has not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining NATO but wants negotiations with the Nordic countries and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities especially in Stockholm, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday. “We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, who is also the president’s top foreign policy advisor, told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul. Erdogan surprised NATO members and the two Nordic countries seeking membership by saying on Friday it was not possible for Turkey to support enlarging the alliance because Finland and Sweden were home to many terrorist organisations“.

Assessment on the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Saturday 14 May:

The Ukrainian destruction of significant elements of a Russian motorized rifle brigade that tried to cross a pontoon bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River on May 11 has shocked prominent Russian milbloggers. Those bloggers have begun commenting on the incompetence of the Russian military to their hundreds of thousands of followers. The attempted river crossing showed a stunning lack of tactical sense as satellite images show (destroyed) Russian vehicles tightly bunched up at both ends of the (destroyed) bridge, clearly allowing Ukrainian artillerymen to kill hundreds and destroy scores of vehicles with concentrated strikes. The milbloggers who have hitherto been cheering on the Russian military criticized Russian armed forces leadership for failing to learn from experience in the war. They also expressed the concern that the constant pushing of Russia’s propaganda lines was making it hard for them to understand what was actually going on.

The effects of this change in tone and discourse by these milbloggers are uncertain but could be potent. People living under tightly censored regimes often trust individuals who seem to be independent of but generally aligned with the government more than the government line (even more than do citizens of democratic societies). The commentary by these widely read milbloggers may fuel burgeoning doubts in Russia about Russia’s prospects in this war and the competence of Russia’s military leaders (at least).

The destruction of the motorized rifle elements may also severely disrupt Russian efforts to isolate Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk from the north. Russian troops made no attempts to advance in that area in the last 24 hours.

Russian forces continued operations to set conditions for the Battle of Sievierodonetsk from the south, however, advancing on the town of Zolote, roughly 30 km south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian troops likely seek to secure the highway north from Zolote to Sievierodonetsk for their advance, but they may also seek to cut the last highway linking Sievierodonetsk with the rest of Ukraine via Bakhmut. They could try to strike northwest across the country from their current positions to cut that highway closer to Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. The Russians are extremely unlikely to be able to take Bakhmut but they may be able to cut or render unusable the highway from Bakhmut to Sievierodonetsk if they can advance far enough along either of these possible routes.

Ukrainian forces will likely conduct counteroffensive operations to dislodge the Russians from around Izium, according to Ukrainian officials. We have previously noted that Russian artillery fire directed to the west from around Izium was more likely intended to disrupt such a counter-offensive than to set conditions for a Russian attack.

Russian forces continued their withdrawal from Kharkiv Oblast but will likely seek to hold a line east of Vovchansk to secure the ground line of communication (GLOC) running from Belgorod through Vovchansk to Izium. The terrain in this area generally favors the defender, and the Russians have other GLOCs with which to supply Izium, so the Ukrainians may not try to advance much farther to the east at this time.

Ukrainian defenders continued to fight in the Azovstal Plant in Mariupol despite horrific conditions and continued Russian attacks. The Ukrainian defense of Azovstal is still tying down Russian combat forces and inflicting casualties.

Key Takeaways

  • Catastrophic Russian losses in a failed river crossing and the military incompetence displayed in that crossing have shaken the confidence of some prominent Russian milbloggers.
  • Russian forces continue shaping operations for the Battle of Sievierodonetsk from the south even though those losses have at least temporarily disrupted their efforts from the north.
  • Ukrainian forces announced that they will conduct a counteroffensive around Izium.
  • Russian forces continued to withdraw from northern Kharkiv Oblast but will likely seek to hold a line defending their ground lines of communication from Belgorod via Vovchansk to Izium.

Russia adds troops in Ukraine but fails to make major gains, US says, The Washington Post reports. “Russia is continuing to amplify its presence in Ukraine and has 105 battalion tactical groups devoted to the invasion, according to the Pentagon’s count.

But those Russian forces are “not making any major gains” in the eastern Donbas region, said a senior defence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity under terms set by the Pentagon. Ukrainian forces are “frustrating” Russian attempts to make gains, the official said, by preventing Russian groups from crossing the Siverskyi Donets River, which is “affecting their ability to consolidate their forces.”

The official said that Russian forces are still “not able to force a breakthrough” in their attempt to press on Sloviansk from Izium and that there have been “no significant battle shifts” in the southern part of the conflict area or around Kherson. Though Russian forces have been able to make “some incremental gains to the west of Popasna,” the official said, they have been pushed back toward the Ukraine-Russia border in the area around Kharkiv.

We’ve basically assessed that the Ukrainians continue to make progress in reclaiming towns and villages around Kharkiv,” the official said. “We have seen some progress by them pushing Russian forces closer to the border and away from Kharkiv.”

At this point, 89 of the 90 howitzers that the United States sent to Ukraine are being used “in a forward-deployed setting,” the official added. President Biden has about $100 million left in drawdown authority to send assistance to Ukrainian forces. The Senate has yet to vote on a House-passed package to extend and increase Biden’s authority to send military assistance and other aid to Ukraine.”

Consequences and what to do?

Hand Petter Midttun: A year ago, during a Russian escalation and build-up of forces along the Ukrainian border and on temporarily occupied territories, and before the NATO summit in Brussels, Ukraine intensified its diplomatic effort to gain a Membership Action Plan (MAP). After an (at the time) 13 years process, President Zelensky expressed a high degree of frustration on behalf of Ukraine. He asked President Biden, “Mr President, why are we not in NATO yet“?

The president argued at the time that “if EU leaders say that the security situation in Europe depends on Ukraine if we pay for that with victims, and more than 14,000 people have already died, then we must have some status. Ukraine cannot feel like a guest in the EU and NATO. We want to be a member. I think we deserved it a long time ago.” The President had stated that Ukraine “deserve to be one of the Alliance’s equally powerful countries, and [Ukraine] needs to be invited.”

In an article published in June last year, I supported Ukraine’s accession to NATO while explaining why it was not yet prepared to make the final step. I argued that:

NATO is both a military and political alliance. It contributes to the security environment by defending democratic values, individual liberty and the rule of law, working for peace and stability across the Euro-Atlantic.

A NATO decision is the expression of the collective will of all 30 member countries. All decisions are made by consensus, after discussion and consultation among member countries. Consensus decision-making is a fundamental principle that has been accepted as the sole basis for decision-making in NATO since the creation of the Alliance in 1949.

The process is often intricate, difficult, and frustratingly time-consuming. At the end of the day, it is, however, supposed to represent the will of all member states and their populaces. The decision also reflects their shared values, principles, and the rule of law.

Just as importantly, the process enables confidence building. Trust and confidence are crucial to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

To deserve membership, Ukraine must adhere to the same values, principles, and the rule of law. It must build trust and confidence in 30 capitols across Europe and North America. This requires wide-ranging, sustainable, and irreversible reforms across all sectors, including (and not exclusively) the national security and defence sector.

As long as there is even the slightest hint of an oligarch/vested interest control over Ukraine’s political, judicial or security and defence sector, a Ukrainian NATO membership will never, ever be on the table. After all, why would NATO want to give (in the worst case) oligarchs the right to veto its decisions? Why would we want to risk corrupting the NATO decision process, reducing our collective security in the process?

The arguments are still valid. I would, however, argue that something has shifted during the last six months.

The Alliance itself has in my humble opinion, not fully lived up to its obligations, values, and principles. While the strategic concept commits it to step in to stop the ongoing conflict as it affects Alliance security, NATO’s decision to not engage directly is most likely a consequence of both risk and casualty aversion, as well as individual countries’ national interests seeking to avoid the inevitable costs and consequences of a confrontation (e.g. loss of energy, future trade relationships, risk of losing investments in Russia, etc.).

Additionally, I have reason to believe that the consequences of decades of underfunding by member nations have also been exposed. NATO’s force structure, in crisis drawn from the Armed Forces of the 30 member states, as well as national stockpiles of ammunition and spare parts, are not as robust as the Alliance would have wished for in the present security situation. We have also seen multiple reports of the Defence Industry – which has suffered the same cutbacks as the defence forces across Europe – is trying to change pace to meet the increasing needs for weapons and ammunition. The Western ability to regenerate new forces is nothing close to what it had at the end of the Cold War.

If these assessments are accurate, national interests have been prioritized over the common good, reducing NATO’s credibility and deterrence in the process.

On the plus side, Ukraine has been dramatically transformed in the same period. Ukraine has been exposed to a Russian hybrid war for far more than 8 years, in which sabotaging and stopping the reform process has been one of the major objectives. The lack of crucial reforms and the military conflict have effectively blocked Ukraine’s NATO accession.

Due to the Russian war on Ukraine, however, pro-Russian political parties and media have been banned. It has lost influence over Ukraine’s political processes, and its ability to block reform processes has likely been greatly degraded.

Due to the unprecedented Western arms support, the Ukrainian Armed Forces is increasingly being formed around modern western weapons and NATO standards. The “lend-lease agreement” will further increase the number of western weapon systems in its inventory. By the time the war is concluded Ukraine Armed Forces will have taken several huge steps closer to NATO interoperability. It will come out of the war fully committed and motivated to conclude the reform process, recognizing that both 8 years of reforms made a difference, as well as Western support, played an important part in defeating the Russian Armed Forces.

Recognizing that NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means, the shift in balance will introduce new impetus to a far too slow membership process on both sides.

Ukraine can no longer accept the lack of crucial reforms needed to align it politically with the democratic values that “enable members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict”.

At the same time, NATO can no longer deny access to the strongest and most battle-hardened Army in Europe at the cost of collective security. What other country in Europe has the capabilities and fighting spirit that Ukraine possesses?

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