Russo-Ukrainian war, day 94: Ukraine repulses attacks on Sievierodonetsk; experts claim Russia incites genocide in Ukraine

Russo Ukrainian war, day 94: Ukraine repulses attacks on Sievierodonetsk; experts claim Russia incites genocide in Ukraine

 

Daily review

Ukraine pushes back Russians to previous positions around Sievierodonetsk and a reported small counteroffensive had taken place in Kherson Oblast; meanwhile, Rusia had taken control of Lyman and Svitlodarsk. Ukraine says Russia has lost about 30,000 soldiers since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia continues to construct fortifications in Kherson Oblast. Belarusian dictator Lukashenka decided to create a “people’s militia” in Belarus. A group of international experts concludes Russia is inciting genocide in Ukraine.

Morning report day 94 – May 28

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

Russo-Ukrainian war, day 94: Ukraine repulses attacks on Sievierodonetsk; experts claim Russia incites genocide in Ukraine ~~

According to information from the General Staff as of 06.00 28.05.2022, supplemented by its [18:00 assessment]:

 “In the Volyn and Polissia directions, [up to seven battalions] of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus continue to perform tasks to strengthen the protection of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. This group was reinforced by electronic warfare maneuver groups operating along the state border of Ukraine. Training of reserve officers for the needs of manning units of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces in educational institutions of the Republic of Belarus continues.

  • The 9K720 Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) mobile short-range ballistic missile system division has been relocated to the Luninets area of ​​the Brest region. The threat of strikes on infrastructure facilities and units of the Defense Forces from the territory of the Republic of Belarus remains.
  • [In the Gomel region, near the state border with Ukraine, a shunting group of electronic warfare from the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus has been deployed.]

In the Siverskyi direction, Russian forces are taking measures to strengthen the coverage of the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Bryansk and Kursk regions. No significant changes in the activities of enemy units were noted.

In the Slobozhanskyi direction, Russian forces fired at units of our troops to prevent their further advance in the direction of the State Border of Ukraine to the north and northeast of the city of Kharkiv. Takes measures to provide logistics and replenish losses.

  • Russian forces did not carry out active offensive operations in the Kharkiv direction. It fired on civilian infrastructure in the areas of the settlements of Ternova, Prudianka, Ruski Tyshky, Kutuzivka, Varvarivka, Petrivka, Mykhailivka, Korobochkyne, and others. Conducted remote mining of probable areas of action of the Defense Forces.
  • In the Sloviansk direction, Russian forces did not conduct active hostilities, conducted intensive reconnaissance. The main efforts were focused on maintaining the occupied positions, replenishing losses and stocks, as well as creating conditions for the resumption of the offensive.
  • Russian forces carried out artillery shelling of civilian infrastructure in the areas of the settlements of Studenok, Sviatohirsk, Bohorodychne, Karnaukhivka, and Virnopillia. Russian army aviation forces continued to strike in the area of ​​the village of Dovhenke.
  • With the support of artillery, it tried to develop offensive operations in the area of ​​the settlement of Pasyka, was unsuccessful and withdrew.
  • [To improve the logistics of the troops, Russian forces are trying to restore the damaged railway. In particular, in the temporarily occupied territories of Kharkiv Oblast, the occupiers are involving units of 29 separate railway brigades from Smolensk with special machinery and equipment for the repair of railway infrastructure.]

In the Donetsk direction, Russian forces are conducting active offensive operations. Continues fire damage to our units along the line of contact. Increased the intensity of operational-tactical and army aviation.

  • In the Lyman direction, Russian forces continued shelling with mortars and multiple rocket launchers in the areas of Ozerne and Dibrova, where it struck airstrikes. It is trying to gain a foothold in the area of ​​the Lyman settlement.
  • In the Sievierodonetsk direction, with the support of artillery, Russian forces conducted assault operations in the areas of the settlements of Sievierodonetsk, Oskolonivka, Toshkivka, had no success, suffered losses, and retreated to previously occupied positions.
  • Russian forces are trying to develop success in the Bakhmut direction, to reach the rear of our troops and disrupt logistics. With the support of mortar and artillery fire, it carried out offensive and assault operations in the areas of the settlements of Nahirne, Vasylivka, Komyshuvakha, and Vidrodzhenna, but was unsuccessful.
  • In the Avdiivka direction, Russian forces used artillery on civilian infrastructure in the areas of the settlements of Novobahmutivka, Novoselivka Druha, Vesele, Avdiivka, Pisky, and Krasnohorivka. Inflicted air strikes on civilian infrastructure in the Yakovlivka, Avdiivka, Vesely, and Kamianka districts.
  • Russian forces did not conduct active offensive operations in the Kurakhove direction, deployed MLRS and artillery at the firing positions, and fired on the positions of the Defense Forces and civilian infrastructure near Mariinka, Myslyvske, and Pavlivka.
  • In the Novopavlivsk and Zaporizhzhia directions, Russian forces fired on civilian infrastructure in the areas of the settlements of Vremivka, Poltavka, Chervone, Huliaipole, Orikhove, Kamianske, and others. Russian forces army aircraft operated near Olhivsky.
  • As a result of the actions of the Defense Forces of Ukraine, Russian forces suffered significant losses and retreated in the areas of the settlements of Novopil and Novodarivka.
  • Over the past 24hrs, eight Russian forces attacks have been repulsed in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions, five tanks, ten units of armored combat vehicles, and four enemy vehicles have been destroyed. Air defense units destroyed Orlan-10 UAVs.

In the Pivdennyi Buh direction, Russian occupiers were concentrating their main efforts on maintaining the occupied frontiers and fortifying the positions of the third line of defense. As a result of the offensive actions of the units of our troops, the enemy suffered losses and took up defense on unfavorable frontiers. [They made an unsuccessful attempt at assault in the area of ​​the village of Lubomyrivka yesterday.]

  • The fighting continues. The invaders fired on civilian infrastructure in the settlements of Osokorivka, Novovorontsovka, Blahodatne, Zorya, and Tavriyske. Continues to increase the air defense system in the Kryvyi Rih direction. To replenish losses, the group provides obsolete T-62 tanks from decommissioning.
  • [In the Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih directions, Russian forces, as part of logistical support and replenishment of the units that suffered losses, moved vehicles, armored combat vehicles, and multiple rocket launchers to the Kherson region.]

[Ships of the Black Sea Fleet in the Black and Azov Seas continue to perform tasks to isolate the area of ​​hostilities, reconnaissance, and fire support in the coastal direction.]

As a result of the actions of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, an enemy’s tactical company group with equipment and manpower was destroyed. In the Kharkiv region, servicemen of the Assault Troops shot down a Ka-52 combat helicopter.

[An enemy Su-35 fighter was shot down by a MiG-29 fighter of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kherson oblast.]”

Ukraine says troops may retreat from the eastern region as Russia advances, the Reuters reports.

Ukrainian forces may have to retreat from their last pocket in the Luhansk region to avoid being captured, a Ukrainian official said, as Russian troops press an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war. A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.”

Despite the intense fire, the Ukrainian Army is in control of the situation and aware of enemy plans – Defense Ministry, the Ukrinform reports.

Russian troops are opening intense fire all over the contact line in Luhansk Region and Donetsk Region. The situation is remaining challenging but controlled. The relevant statement was made by Ukrainian Defense Ministry Spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzianyk during a briefing at Ukraine Media Center”.

Sievierodonetsk: Russian occupying forces stand on two-thirds of the perimeter, but the city isn’t surrounded, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the City Civil-Military Administration of Sievierodonetsk, told Radio Svoboda that the city is currently under fierce defense. Russian occupying forces are located on almost two-thirds of the city’s perimeter, but the city is not surrounded.

A reported counterattack took place in Kherson Oblast near Davydiv Brid, according to Zelenskyy’s aide Arestovych. He stated that in that area, Ukraine used aviation, which indicates a counterattack. This area is probably the location of where a Ukrainian Mig-29 shot down a Russian SU-35 reported by Ukraine’s Air Force Command, in a battle where a group of Ukrainian Su-25s attacked Russian positions in Kherson Obl.

Lyman in the Donetsk region is mostly controlled by occupying forces – head of Oblast Military Administration, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

The city of Lyman in the Kramatorsk district of Donetsk region is mostly controlled by Russian troops and the Ukrainian military has taken new fortified positions on the Lyman front, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Oblast Military Administration, said in a comment for Hromadske. As well as on the Svitlodar front, where there was a regrouping of forces by the Ukrainian Armed Forces to move into fortified positions. The enemy is now on the territory of the Svitlodar community.”

Russia uses the most powerful non-nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the Ukrinform reports.

This is the Russian Solntsepyok flamethrower system. Some partners avoid giving the necessary weapons because of fear of escalation. Escalation, really? Russia already uses the heaviest non-nuclear weapons against Ukraine, burning people alive. Maybe it’s time to respond and give us MLRS? Podoliak posted on Twitter. TOS-1 (heavy flamethrower system) Buratino is a Russian 220mm multiple rocket launcher capable of using thermobaric warheads, mounted on a T-72 tank chassis. In 2001, the Russian army adopted an improved system TOS-1A Solntsepek.”

In the Kharkiv region, occupying forces deploy the latest electronic warfare complex – Ministry of Defence, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

“On the Kharkiv front, the occupiers are trying to hold their positions and prevent the further advance of Ukrainian troops, the ministry states. Our intelligence reports on their deployment of a Borisoglebsk-2 EW complex in the area of Vesele in the Kharkiv region. In this way, the Russians are trying to counter our drones.” According to the UP sources, air reconnaissance has been very complicated on the Kharkiv front for several days now. Most Ukrainian drones cannot overcome the radio interference created by Russian EW systems.

A Ukrainian fighter shot down a Russian aircraft over the Kherson region, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

“Today, 27 May, at about 14:00, a Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter in the skies of the Kherson region, which was hunting for Ukraine’s assault aircraft,” the Ukrainian Air Force claims.

Russia already used 2,400 missiles against Ukraine, the Ukrinform reports.

Since February 24, 2022, the Russian army has already used 2,400 different-type missiles against Ukraine. Most of them were fired at civil infrastructure facilities, enterprises, warehouses (namely, food warehouses), residential houses, and railways, Zelenskyy told. In his words, over three months since the full-scale war started, Russian combat aircraft have appeared in the Ukrainian sky more than 3,000 times.”

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

  • By 27 May, Russian forces had likely captured most of the town of Lyman, in the north of Donetsk Oblast, in what is likely a preliminary operation for the next stage of Russia’s Donbas offensive. Lyman is strategically important because it is the site of a major railway junction and also gives access to important rail and road bridges over the Siverskyi Donets River.
  • In the coming days, Russian units in the area are likely to prioritize forcing a crossing of the river. For now, Russia’s main effort likely remains 40 km to the east, around the Sievierodonetsk pocket but a bridgehead near Lyman would give Russia an advantage in the potential next phase of the Donbas offensive when it will likely seek to advance on key Ukrainian-held cities deeper in Donetsk Oblast, Sloviansk, and Kramatorsk.
  • On 26 May 2022, the head of the self-declared, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, told Russian state-controlled media that a referendum would be held if Russia captured the entirety of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. If Russia did succeed in taking over these areas, it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to conduct a well-organized defense of the sector and continue to impose a high level of casualties on Russia.

As of Saturday 28 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 94: Ukraine repulses attacks on Sievierodonetsk; experts claim Russia incites genocide in Ukraine ~~

Russia suffered the greatest losses (of the last day) in the Avdiivka and Kryvyi Rih direction.

Ukrainian volunteer fighters in the east feel abandoned, The Washington Post reports.

The volunteers were civilians before Russia invaded on Feb. 24 and they never expected to be dispatched to one of the most dangerous front lines in eastern Ukraine. They quickly found themselves in the crosshairs of war, feeling abandoned by their military superiors and struggling to survive. Our command takes no responsibility, Lapko said. They only take credit for our achievements. They give us no support.

[Their] concerns were echoed recently by a platoon of the 115th Brigade 3rd Battalion, based nearby in the besieged city of Sievierodonetsk. In a video uploaded to Telegram on May 24 and confirmed as authentic by an aide to Haidai, volunteers said they will no longer fight because they lacked proper weapons, rear support and military leadership. […] When we were coming here, we were told that we were going to be in the third line on defense,” Lapko said. Instead, we came to the zero line, the front line. We didn’t know where we were going. […] We had no proper training, Lapko said.”

Humanitarian

During a week, Russians deported almost 3 thousand Mariupol residents – Mayor’s adviser, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. “Over the past day, the invaders took 280 Mariupol residents, including 36 children, to a filtration camp in the village of Bezimenne. In total, 2,856 residents of Mariupol, including 318 children, were deported over the past week, Petro Andriushchenko claimed on Telegram.

Cavusoglu: Prisoner exchange talks between Ukraine and Russia are ongoing, the Ukrinform reports. “The Russia-Ukraine negotiation process is in a state of stagnation. Even Ukraine said that they stopped the negotiations. […] There are discussions on the exchange of soldiers captured by Russia and Russian soldiers who are in the hands of Ukraine,” the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told reporters. According to him, the ceasefire talks are in the background, whereas the issue of unblocking sea routes for grain exports from Ukraine remains relevant.

“The delivery of grain products to international markets is a sensitive issue. For now, it is not possible for security reasons. There are no international sanctions for these products for Russia, but there are sanctions such as insurance for ships, contacts continue on these issues,” Cavusoglu said.

According to UNHCR 6,700,411 refugees have been registered as of May 26. The UN says that so far Poland has taken in 3,559,394 refugees, Romania 984,224, Russian Federation 971,417, Hungary 665,533, Republic of Moldova 476,290, Slovakia 451,850 and Belarus 29,547. Among those who fled Ukraine are also Ukrainian nationals with dual citizenship. An additional 105,000 people moved to the Russian Federation from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts between 18 and 23 February.

OHCHR recorded 8,691 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of May 25. 3,998 were killed (including 260 children) and 4,693 injured (including 404 children).

Environmental

Russia’s grain blockade may require US intervention, The Washington Post reports. “The American general slated to become NATO’s next supreme allied commander warned Thursday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports could enable terrorist networks in other parts of the world and may require US military intervention to ensure global markets don’t become destabilized.

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of all US Army forces in Europe and Africa, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that groups including the Islamic State, al-Shabab, and Boko Haram stand to benefit from food shortages resulting from the war. Those groups, he said, “feed on weak governance and food insecurity and corruption and poverty.” Cavoli appeared on Capitol Hill as part of the confirmation process to lead US and NATO forces in Europe.

Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Western officials have accused Moscow of using food as a form of blackmail, as Russia’s navy effectively controls all traffic in the northern third of the Black Sea, according to US intelligence assessments.”

Legal

Russia has incited genocide in Ukraine, independent experts conclude, The Washington Post reports. “Russia is responsible for inciting genocide and perpetrating atrocities that show an “intent to destroy” the Ukrainian people, a new legal analysis signed by more than 30 independent experts concluded.

The report, published Friday by the Washington-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, also concludes that there is a “serious risk of genocide in Ukraine,” and that states have a legal obligation to prevent genocide from occurring.

It cited denials from high-level Russian officials and state media commentators of the existence of a distinct Ukrainian identity and dehumanizing claims that Ukrainians are Nazis and “are therefore deserving of punishment.” The report also points to Russian authorities’ rewarding soldiers suspected of mass killings in Ukraine, among other evidence.

The purveyors of incitement propaganda are all highly influential political, religious, and State-run media figures, including President Putin,” the report says. “There is mounting evidence that Russian soldiers have internalized and are responding to the State propaganda campaign by echoing its content while committing atrocities.”

Genocide, often seen as the ultimate crime, has a precise legal definition: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

The joint report Friday included input from about three dozen experts on genocide and international law, including several former ambassadors and others who were involved in the creation and proceedings of international criminal tribunals.

Their analysis pointed to a genocidal pattern of Russian forces’ targeting of Ukrainian civilians, including evidence of mass executions and torture of civilians in areas that were occupied by Russian forces, such as the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, as well as deliberate attacks on shelters, evacuation routes and humanitarian corridors; sieges of Ukrainian cities; and indiscriminate bombing of residential areas. The report also cited sexual violence and reports of the forcible deportation of Ukrainians to Russia. […]

We understand there is a reluctance to invoke the Genocide Convention,” Irwin Cotler, international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Center, wrote in an afterword. “But in this instance, the pervasive and systematic atrocities targeting Ukrainians mandate these determinations and the responsibility to act.”

242 children were killed and 440 children injured, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports as of May 28. 1,888 educational establishments are damaged as a result of shelling and bombings, 180 of them are destroyed fully. 14,388 crimes of aggression and war crimes and 6,781 crimes against national security were registered.

Support

Yermak pushes partners on multiple launch rocket systems: Ukraine is paying with people’s lives, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. “Andrii Yermak, the head of the President’s Office, has reminded the West that Ukraine needs modern multiple launch rocket systems (MLRSs) and that Ukrainians are dying and our cities are being destroyed because of delays in weapon supplies”.

The US is preparing to send long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, The Washington Post reports.

The Biden administration is preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems to Ukraine as the country suffers losses in the east from advancing Russian forces, said US administration officials and congressional staffers. The move, which could be announced as early as next week, involves the provision of the Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS, a US weapon capable of firing a torrent of rockets many miles farther than current Ukrainian capabilities.

A senior US official said the White House is comfortable with providing the MLRS system to Ukraine but will seek to manage the escalation risk by withholding the longest-range rockets compatible with the system. Typical rockets fired by these systems have a range of about 43 miles, according to Army data. Specialized rockets called Army Tactical Missile Systems can strike much farther at distances up to 186 miles. Those missiles were used during the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War and are used to pulverize critical infrastructures, such as air defense sites and forward bases. Even the shorter-range rockets would more than double the reach of Ukrainian firepower. Kyiv’s forces are using US-delivered M777 howitzers, which have a range of about 18 miles. Other sophisticated weapons the United States has sent include thousands of Stinger and Javelin shoulder-fired missiles.”

British Foreign Secretary calls on Western countries to send tanks and planes to Ukraine, the Ukrinform reports.

We are very clear it is completely legitimate to be supporting Ukraine with tanks, with planes and we’re very supportive of the work that the Czech Republic has done sending tanks to Ukraine, Truss told a news conference in Prague, Reuters reports.”

New developments

  1. West has declared total war on the Russian World — Lavrov, the TASS reports. The West has declared a total war on Russia and the Russian world, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday. “The West has declared a total war on us, on the Russian World. Nobody makes any secret of this,” Lavrov said at a meeting of the Council of the heads of Russia’s constituent territories at the Foreign Ministry. Lavrov warned that the Western policy of “canceling” Russia would continue for a long time.”
  2. World politicians preparing for Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons – President of Ukraine, the Ukrinform reports. “Russian state propagandists are openly threatening nuclear weapons. World politicians are preparing for the possibility of Russia’s use of the so-called tactical nuclear weapons or chemical weapons, biological weapons, [President Zelenskyy said in a video address]. In his words, this may change the attitude of different states to weapons of mass destruction. If Russia indulges in nuclear blackmail with impunity, it may seem logical to various forces in the world to acquire nuclear weapons for themselves, the President of Ukraine stressed.”
  3. The Russian delegation says that negotiations with Ukraine “might not be over”, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma’s committee on international affairs and a member of the Russian delegation on the talks with Ukraine, said that negotiations with Kyiv were “on a low profile” but had not been suspended according to TASS
  4. Putin accuses Ukraine of ‘sabotaging’ negotiating process, the Reuters reports. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of “sabotaging” the negotiating process between the two countries, the Kremlin said, citing comments he made to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in a phone call on Friday.
  5. Lukashenko decided to create a “people’s militia” in Belarus, the Ukrayinska Pravda reports. The self-proclaimed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has instructed to create a “people’s militia” in Belarus, according to the Belarusian Defense Minister, Viktor Khrenin. On 26 May, Lukashenko said that the Armed Forces of Belarus are creating a new operational command – Yuzhnoye, while he started talking about a possible war on the territory of Belarus.

Assessment

On the War

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of Friday 27 May:

Russian forces began direct assaults on Sievierodonetsk on May 27 despite not yet having fully encircled the town. Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war to date and are unlikely to be able to advance rapidly in Sievierodonetsk itself. Russian forces continue to make steady and incremental gains around the city but have not yet encircled the Ukrainian defenders. Ukrainian forces continue to maintain defenses across eastern Ukraine and have slowed most Russian lines of advance. Russian forces will likely continue to make incremental advances and may succeed in encircling Sievierodonetsk in the coming days, but Russian operations around Izium remain stalled and Russian forces will likely be unable to increase the pace of their advances.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces began direct assaults on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk without having fully encircled the city and will likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.
  • Russian forces in Lyman appear to be dividing their efforts—attacking both southwest to support stalled forces in Izium and southeast to advance on Siversk; they will likely struggle to accomplish either objective in the coming days.
  • Russian forces in Popasna seek to advance north to support the encirclement of Sievierodonetsk rather than advancing west toward Bakhmut.
  • Positions northeast of Kharkiv City remain largely static, with no major attacks by either Russian or Ukrainian forces.
  • Russian forces continue to fortify their defensive positions along the southern axis and advance efforts to integrate the Kherson region into Russian economic and political structures.“

On 25 May, Michael Kofman, Research Program Director in the Russia Studies Program at CNA and a Fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC., made the following assessment of the ongoing land battle in eastern Ukraine:

“A few thoughts on the current course of the war and the situation in the Donbas. Recent Russian gains offer a sobering check on expectations for the near term. The initial Russian offensive sought to press Sloviansk/Kramatorsk from Izium and envelop Sievierodonetsk at the same time, severing the two sectors from each other. This was not an attempt at a big operational envelopment in the Donbas, but ambitious nonetheless.

Having been blocked south of Izium, the thrust of the offensive shifted to Sievierodonetsk, where Russian forces hoped to achieve an encirclement. Izium now seems to be a fixing action, designed to prevent Ukraine from moving substantial forces towards Sievierodonetsk. […]

Russian forces have broken through further south at Popasna. This now threatens to sever Sevorodonetsk/Lysychansk and create a pocket. Ukrainian forces also conducted tactical retreats further south at Svitlodarsk. The Russian mil seems to be pushing towards Soledar. The extent to which this breakthrough at Popasna threatens Ukraine’s overall position depends on whether or not Russian forces gain momentum. That in turn hinges on force availability, reserves, and logistics to support this advance.

Russian forces have also begun encircling Lyman and supposedly entered the city, which suggests they will probably consolidate control of terrain north of the Donets river. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces will move to secondary defensive lines.
I don’t think the Russian offensive looks stalled and while sluggish, there is no good way to predict when it will culminate. This is why I often say that outcomes are contingent. Recent Russian gains in the Donbas, despite a relatively weak military advantage, suggest that Ukrainian forces have suffered significant attrition. Zelenskyy mentioned a range of 50-100 KIA per day. This is a high casualty rate.

The overall military balance in this war still trends in Ukraine’s favour, given manpower availability and access to extensive Western military support. That will show itself more over time. But the local balance in the Donbas during this phase is a different story. There are rumours that Ukraine is bringing in reinforcements to prevent a larger Russian breakout. Either way, the fight in the Donbas is much less significant for Ukraine than it is for Russia. If it must, Ukraine can trade territory for attrition and then hope to retake it later.

Despite high Russian losses and issues with morale, the Russian military appears unlikely to easily give up terrain. The Russian Armed Forces are also using fires more effectively and to an extent have adapted, despite observable tactical failures.

I think we shouldn’t overstate the significance of the Russian breakthrough at Popasna, but also consider the implications. Are Ukrainian forces going to be in a position to conduct a major counteroffensive in the near term, or will both sides face a degree of exhaustion? Russian forces west of Kherson have also used the past few weeks to dig in and fortify their positions. They’re not going to give up territory easily even in areas where they’re at a relative disadvantage.

Russian forces may not be prosecuting offensives with much enthusiasm, but it is equally difficult to expect them to rout or melt away. Similarly, the situation within Ukraine’s army remains a major unknown, but it is clear the war is taking its toll. The battlefield is likely to stay dynamic, with territory changing control via advances and counter-attacks. I doubt we will see a stalemate emerge, but rather operational pauses that folks will be tempted to declare a stalemate.

In my view, it is too early to make predictions on how the battle for the Donbas will go. Ukraine may lose territory in the short term, but Russia faces major problems with sustaining its military effort in the long term or holding on to gains. The war could become protracted.”

Consequences and what to do?

Now is not the time to seek a deal with Putin, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post argued on Thursday 26 May.

Wars end. Many, if not most, end with negotiation. That might be what happens with the war Russia launched against Ukraine on Feb. 24, too, though one former Moscow regime member warns against urging Ukraine to negotiate while President Vladimir Putin is still bent on more conquest. “You just can’t make peace now,” Boris Bondarev, who recently resigned from his mid-level Russian Foreign Ministry post to protest the war, said in an interview with Puck. “If you do, it will be seen as a Russian victory.” That would just encourage the Putin regime to exploit a cease-fire to rearm, then resume the war, Mr. Bondarev argued: “Only a total and clear defeat that is obvious to everyone will teach them.”

Mr. Bondarev makes a compelling point. It would be a disaster — both moral and strategic — if Mr. Putin were invited to talks before his major war objectives had been thwarted. Clear enough to a junior practitioner of international affairs, this wisdom seems to escape ostensibly more seasoned figures. Former US secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Western governments should push Ukraine into talks with Mr. Putin in the next 60 days, as well as support permanent Ukrainian territorial concessions, lest the conflict turn into a destabilizing “new war against Russia itself.” Similar thinking seems to be at work in Italy and Hungary, which are reportedly urging the European Union to advocate a cease-fire and peace talks at its summit next week. Our colleagues on the New York Times editorial board have called on President Biden to counsel Kyiv not to “chase after an illusory ‘win.’”

This remains a minority view within the Western alliance and it should be. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made clear at Davos: “Ukraine must win this war and Putin’s aggression must be a strategic failure.” To be sure, the war is terribly costly — for the whole world. It must end as soon as reasonably possible. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has indicated that he will talk with Mr. Putin — as soon as Russia withdraws to the prewar lines, under which it held Crimea and a swath of additional territory. Mr. Zelenskyy also insists, appropriately, that a false peace would be worse than useless and that premature talk of a settlement must not undercut Ukraine’s military efforts.

As Mr. Kissinger and others rightly note, Moscow has ample means to escalate the war — not least by using nuclear weapons. Yet what’s remarkable about the past three months of war is how little appetite Mr. Putin has actually shown for confrontation with the West. NATO’s red lines, public, and private, seem to be holding. Nor does Mr. Putin show signs of interest in a deal such as the one Mr. Kissinger seems to assume he would accept, as opposed to the outright seizure of all Ukraine that Mr. Putin has repeatedly openly pursued.

Perhaps Ukraine’s counteroffensive will fail and the military situation will eventually reach such an impasse that a negotiated settlement becomes inevitable. For now, though, the best way for Ukraine’s friends to help is to accelerate shipments of vital weaponry — and stop negotiating with themselves.”

Hans Petter Midttun’s assessment

Russia has been waging a hybrid war against both Ukraine and the West for more than 8 years already.

In Ukraine, the hybrid war included Russia’s illegal occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, its occupation of parts of the Donbas, and the ensuing low-intensity military confrontation resulting in (until February 24) about 15,000 dead, 33-34,000 wounded, and 1,5 million internally displaced, a maritime blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, the deliberate attack against the Ukrainian Navy on 25 November 2018, increasing restrictions on Freedom of Navigation in the Black Sea, the occupation of Ukrainian gas rigs and exploitation of its maritime resources, sustained cyberattacks and not least, its continuous endeavor to destabilize Ukraine from within by use of non-military means (e.g. diplomatic, economy, energy, information, political, religion, crime, terror). The list is by no means complete.

The hybrid war was, however, never limited to the territory of Ukraine only. The European Parliament last year stressed that freedom, stability, and peace on the European continent and beyond are being threatened by the aggressive policies of the Russian authorities. It described a confrontation between Russia and the West that goes far beyond Ukraine and stated that Russia is executing hybrid warfare against the EU, its Member States, and the EaP countries.

The conclusion was a consequence of large-scale military exercises and military build-ups; the illegal and violent occupation and annexation of Crimea; the violation of the territorial integrity and the destabilization of Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova; support for frozen conflicts and its failure to respect ceasefire agreements in Georgia and Ukraine as well as Russia’s attempted coup in Montenegro (2016).

Russia has, however, also engaged the West directly. This includes multiple cyber-attacks (e.g. against the United States, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Estonia), meddling in referendums and elections (United States, UK, France, Netherlands, Spain), assassination (or attempt thereof) of individuals in the United Kingdom and Germany, alleged acts of terrorism on the territory of the EU Member States such as Czechia, violations of the sea and air space of countries in the Baltic Sea and in the Black Sea regions, espionage, and not least, influence operations aimed at undermining political processes and increasing polarization in Europe and NATO. Again, the list is by no means complete.

After having tested Western resolve for more than 8 years through all of the above-mentioned aggressions without triggering much more than “words of concern,” Russia became emboldened and attempted a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

From a Russian perspective, the timing was close to perfect. The transatlantic link was weakened after four years of President Trump. President Macron had called NATO “brain dead”. Both the USA and the EU experienced internal diversion. The West had just started the recovery process after the covid pandemic. Eight years after its invasion of Ukraine, most European NATO members did not show any commitment to the NATO budget targets and did not take Russia serious enough to start strengthening their Armed Forces.

The Western response to its change of strategy and the full-scale war on Ukraine surprised Russia. But not enough to make it stop and retreat. Instead, it intensified its efforts to avoid a military confrontation with the West and limit its support to Ukraine. So far it has succeeded in both.

Building on more than 8 years of success, Russia continues its efforts to influence and manipulate western public opinion and key policy and decision-makers to make the decisions that serve Russian interests. Highlighting the risk of escalation and a nuclear confrontation, Russia is actively playing the Western risk and casualty aversion through a series of statements meant to stop the USA and NATO from intervening directly or supplying Ukraine with the high-end weapons it desperately needs to defeat Russia.

  • 10 March: “Weapons supplied by the West to Ukraine may later spread over the whole territory of Europe.” (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov).
  • 18 March: “The West is waging an information war against Russia, it includes elements of information terrorism.” (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov)
  • 24 March: “The United States has declared economic war on Russia” (Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova)
  • 25 March: (War on Culture) “Today, they are seeking to ‘cancel’ an entire centuries-old country, our people.” “The last time such a large-scale campaign against undesirable literature was carried out by the Nazis in Germany nearly 90 years ago”. (President Vladimir Putin)
  • 25 March: “Today, a genuine hybrid war, a ‘total war‘ has been declared against us. This term, which was exploited by Hitler’s Germany, is now pronounced by many European politicians when talking about what they want to do with Russia. The goals are not concealed, they are publicly announced, that is to destroy, devastate, ruin, and suffocate the Russian economy and Russia as a whole”. (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov)
  • 8 April: “Sanctions in the current situation can be qualified as an act of aggression against the Russian Federation, as one of the forms of hybrid war. In this case, the state that has been subjected to aggression, that is, Russia has the right to individual and collective defense within the framework of national legislation and international law. No one should have any doubts that Russia will use this right in those forms and within the limits it deems appropriate.” (Deputy Chair of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev)
  • 26 April: “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.” (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov)
  • 27 April: “If someone decides to intervene in current events [in Ukraine] from the outside and creates unacceptable strategic threats for Russia, then [they] must know that our response, our retaliatory strikes, will be lightning-fast, quick. We have all the tools for this – such that no one else can boast of right now. And we won’t brag – we’ll use them if needed! And everyone should know about it! All decisions in this regard have already been made.” (President Vladimir Putin)
  • 26 May: “Supplying Ukraine with weapons that have the potential to reach the territory of Russia will result in an unacceptable escalation.” (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov)
  • 27 May: “The West has declared a total war on Russia and the Russian world. Lavrov warned that the Western policy of “canceling” Russia would continue for a long time.” (Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov)

Still, to paraphrase the editorial board of The Washington Post: “Yet what’s remarkable about the past three months of the war is how little appetite Mr. Putin has actually shown for confrontation with the West.” A closer study of its strategy for the last 8 years will show that this is consistent with its policy since 2014. While Russia is struggling to defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, freezing the war along the present frontline and continuing the maritime embargo will ultimately lead to a Ukrainian collapse. An UN-mandated humanitarian mission under the leadership of NATO will, in contrast, lead to a Russian strategic defeat.

Russia will, therefore, uphold, and increase belligerent language to make sure that the West “remains at a safe distance” and does not provide the support Ukraine needs. Ukraine needs combat aircraft, long-range weapons, medium, and long-range air defense, and NATO presence in the Black Sea.
Ukraine needs independent journalism. And we need you. Join our community on Patreon and help us better connect Ukraine to the world. We’ll use your contribution to attract new authors, upgrade our website, and optimize its SEO. For as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, you can help build bridges between Ukraine and the rest of the world, plus become a co-creator and vote for topics we should cover next. Become a patron or see other ways to support. Become a Patron!