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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 342: Council of Europe prepares the Tribunal for Putin’s leadership

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line. Power outage schedules are in force throughout Ukraine. Council of Europe Prepares the Creation of Tribunal for Putin and Russian Leadership.

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1619900837538500609

Daily overview — Summary report, January 31, 2023

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, January 31, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. January 30, 2023. Source: ISW.

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The Russian Federation continues to wage full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine.

Russian forces do not stop destroying the critical infrastructure of our country, launching rocket attacks and carrying out artillery attacks on civilian objects and homes of the civilian population.

During the past day, Russian forces launched 3 airstrikes and 4 missile strikes. He carried out more than 60 MLRS attacks, in particular, on residential buildings in the cities of Kherson and Ochakiv. There are casualties among civilians.

The threat of air and missile strikes throughout the territory of Ukraine remains high.

Russian forces continue to conduct offensive actions in the Lyman and Bakhmut directions, suffering heavy losses. Conducts unsuccessful offensive actions in the Avdiivka and Novopavlivka direction. In the Kupiansk and Zaporizhzhia directions – defends previously captured lines. The disillusionment of the personnel of the units of the Russian Federation in the decisions of the military-political leadership and the exhaustion of the personnel from the intensity of combat operations are noted.

Over the past day, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine have repelled attacks by invaders in the areas of Novoselivske, Bilogorivka, Luhansk region and Yampolivka, Spirne, Krasna Gora, Paraskoviivka, Bakhmut, Klishchiivka, Ivanivske, Avdiivka, Vodyane, Pervomaiske and Vugledar in Donetsk region.

In the Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna directions, the situation has not changed significantly, and no offensive groups of Russian forces have been detected. Training of enemy units continues on the training grounds of the Republic of Belarus.

Kharkiv Battle Map. January 30, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • In the Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna direction, shelling by the troops of the Russian Federation of settlements near the state border continues, causing casualties among the civilian population and destruction of private property. The occupiers shelled the areas of Hrinivka, Huta-Studenetska and Krasny Khutir settlements of Chernihiv oblast; Sopych, Volfine, Shpyl, Basivka, Zapsilya, Mezenivka, Velyka Pisarivka in the Sumy region and Veterinarne, Hlyboke, Strelecha, Borisivka, Neskuchne, Staritsa, Ohirtseve, Verkhnya Pisarivka, Vovchansk, Budarky, Novomlynsk and Dvorichna in the Kharkiv oblast.
  • In the Kupiansk direction, Sinkivka, Kupiansk, Ivanivka, Kislivka and Kotlyarivka in the Kharkiv region and Novoselivske and Andriivka in the Luhansk region were affected by enemy fire.
  • In the Lymans direction, Novoyehorivka, Makiivka, Nevske, Chervopopivka, Kreminna in the Luhansk region and Yampolivka, Dibrova, Yampil and Spirne in the Donetsk region were shelled.
Donetsk Battle Map. January 30, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • In the Bakhmut direction, Verkhnokamyanske, Spirne, Bilogorivka, Vesele, Krasna Gora, Paraskoviivka, Bakhmut, Ivanovske, Klishchiivka, Ozaryanivka, Druzhba, Ivanopil’a and New York of the Donetsk region were affected by fire.
  • In the Avdiivka direction, Berdychi, Tonenka, Severne, Vodyane, Krasnohorivka, Georgiivka, Mariinka, and Pobeda of the Donetsk region came under enemy tank, mortar, and artillery fire.
  • In the Novopavlivka direction, Vodyane, Bogoyavlenka, Novoukrayinka, Vugledar, Mykilski Dachi and Neskuchne of the Donetsk region were shelled.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. January 30, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • In the Zaporizhzhia direction, Vremivka and Novopil in Donnechyna, as well as Olhivske, Biloghirya, Charivne, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanilivka, Orihiv, Kamianske and Novoselivka in the Zaporizhzhia region were affected. In total, there are more than 20 settlements.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map Draft. January 30, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • In the Kherson direction, areas of the settlements of Odradokamyanka, Ivanivka, Tokarivka, Antonivka, Pervomaiske, Veletenske and Kherson came under fire from MLRS, artillery and mortars.

Russian forces continue to suffer heavy casualties and have begun using additional civilian medical facilities to accommodate wounded Russian invaders. In the city of Luhansk, on the territory of the maternity ward of the city hospital No. 3 and the maternity ward of the regional hospital, the occupiers set up a “field hospital” where Russian servicemen are treated. In connection with Russian forces’ use of two maternity homes for the treatment of wounded Russians in the city, it is possible to give birth only in the Luhansk Regional Perinatal Center, where there is a catastrophic lack of places and risks and unfavourable conditions for childbirth are created.

[According to the available information, the Russian occupiers prohibit students from studying online under the Ukrainian program in local schools of Kakhovka district. Local teachers refuse to teach children according to the Russian curriculum, and the occupiers threaten to forcibly take children for so-called “training” deep into the temporarily occupied Kherson oblast, as well as to Russia and the occupied Crimea.]

[In the settlement of Tavriys’ke (Skadovs’k district, Kherson oblast), the occupiers have set up a “field hospital” in the premises of a kindergarten to treat Russian soldiers. It is packed beyond capacity with the gravely wounded invaders.]

During the day, the Ukrainian Air Force carried out 4 strikes on enemy concentration areas, and missile and artillery units hit 3 control points, 4 concentration areas and 2 ammunition depots of the occupiers.

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Military Updates

Ukraine has no capabilities yet to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles – Air Force spox, Ukrinform reports, citing Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat during the national telethon and RFE/RL. “Russia has not abandoned its intentions to receive kamikaze drones and missiles from Iran, which was announced earlier, Fateh and Zolfaghar, the ballistic ones. Against ballistic missiles, we have nothing today, the spokesman said.

At the same time, he noted that Russia also has ballistic weapons, including Kinzhal, Kh-22, and S-300 missiles, and also S-400 anti-aircraft missiles that fly along a ballistic trajectory. […]

“Our partners understand that countermeasures like the Patriot PAC-3 and SAMP-T are needed against ballistic threats. We’re seeing a shift: Italy and France have declared their readiness to transfer these systems as well,” he noted.

In late December, Ukrainian intelligence reported that Iran still refuses to supply Russia with ballistic missiles. Moscow was said to have offered scientific know-how to Iran’s military industry to convince Tehran to support them by supplying these missiles.”

According to British Defence Intelligence, (last 48 hours): 

  • In the last three days, Russia has likely developed its probing attacks around the towns of Pavlivka and Vuhledar into a more concerted assault.
  • The settlements lie 50km southwest of Donetsk city, and Russia previously used the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade in an unsuccessful assault on the same area in November 2022. Elements of the 155th are again involved as part of an at least brigade-sized force which has likely advanced several hundred metres beyond the small Kashlahach River which marked the front line for several months.
  • Russian commanders are likely aiming to develop a new axis of advance into Ukrainian-held Donetsk Oblast and to divert Ukrainian forces from the heavily contested Bakhmut sector. There is a realistic possibility that Russia will continue to make local gains in the sector. However, it is unlikely that Russia has sufficient uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough.
  • Russian authorities are likely keeping open the option of another round of call-ups under the ‘partial mobilisation’. On 22 January 2023, media reported that Russian border guards were preventing dual passport-holding Kyrgyz migrant workers from leaving Russia, telling the men that their names were on mobilisation lists.
  • Separately, on 23 January 2023, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the decree on ‘partial mobilisation’ continues to remain in force, claiming the decree remained necessary for supporting the work of the Armed Forces. Observers had questioned why the measure had not been formally rescinded.
  • The Russian leadership highly likely continues to search for ways to meet the high number of personnel required to resource any future major offensive in Ukraine, while minimising domestic dissent.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Tuesday 31 January, the approximate losses of weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces from the beginning of the invasion to the present day:

  • Personnel – about 127500 (+850),
  • Tanks – 3201 (+0),
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6378 (+9),
  • Artillery systems – 2197 (+1),
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 454 (+1),
  • Air defence means – 221 (+0),
  • Aircraft – 293 (+0),
  • Helicopters – 284 (+0),
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5048 (+7),
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0),
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 1951 (+4),
  • Special equipment – 200 (+1),
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0),
  • Cruise missiles – 796 (+0)

Humanitarian 

Grain initiative: rate of ship exits from ports remains critically low, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ministry of the infrastructure of Ukraine. “As part of the Grain Initiative, 18 vessels exported 664,000 tonnes of food from the ports of Great Odesa during the week, which is a third less than the export volume for the week before last. […]

The rate of ship exits from ports remains critically low, at 2.5 vessels per day. This is an indicator that was at the beginning of the Grain Initiative when export volumes were insignificant. At the same time, the number of vessels that pass inspection in the Bosporus and receive permission to move for loading to Ukrainian ports also does not exceed 3 vessels per day, the ministry stressed.

It is emphasised that in the Bosporus, the Russian side in the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) continues to block the implementation of the initiative and artificially increase the queue of ships. As of 30 January, 117 vessels are expected to inspect in the territorial waters of Türkiye […]. Over the past week, only 20 inspections were carried out, with at least 84 required, the Ministry of Internal Affairs noted.

Registration of vessels for participation in the initiative is also slowed down: out of more than 80 declared vessels, Russians register an average of only 2-3 vessels daily, without any explanations.”

Power outage schedules are in force throughout Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ukrenergo. “Ukrenergo notes that all oblast power distribution companies have been notified of consumption limits that are in force throughout the day, meaning that scheduled power outages are underway. As of the morning of 30 January, no emergency blackouts caused by exceeding the limits have been applied yet. […]

The repair of energy infrastructure facilities damaged during the massive attack on 26 January is underway. Several units of the power plants were shut down for repairs over the weekend. Ukrenergo stressed that after each subsequent Russian attack on the energy infrastructure, fixing the damage becomes more difficult and takes longer.

High-voltage network facilities and power plants have been damaged in 13 missiles and 15 drone attacks by Russian forces. The power grid is still recovering from the attacks, which damaged units at the power plants. As a result, electricity production at the operating power plants cannot fully cover consumption.”

Environmental

Ukraine among world’s most mine-contaminated countries – media, Ukrinform reports, citing Sky News. “With more than 40% of the country contaminated with mines by one estimate, Ukraine is believed to now be the most mined country in the world. After years of bloody war the scarred Ukrainian landscape is riddled with landmines, posing a deadly threat to civilians that will persist long after the hostilities end, according to the report.

Newly-liberated towns can remain dangerous long after the last Russian forces have been forced out, with Ukrainian defenders discovering tripwires and booby traps as well as anti-tank explosives ready to detonate.

Contamination is massive,” Kateryna Templeton from the Mines Advisory Group tells Sky News. It’s not even comparable, I would say, to Syria or Afghanistan. It’s really massive.

International law prohibits and restricts the use of various mines, particularly those designed to target people. Russian forces have been accused by Human Rights Watch of using banned anti-personnel mines in the eastern Kharkiv region.

A broad spectrum of mines have been deployed in Ukraine including some that had never been seen in combat before. Ms Templeton continued: “You will see anti-tank mines, anti-personnel mines, booby traps, you will see lots of unexploded ordnance, you will see cluster munitions. “Everything you can think of you will see in Ukraine. […]

More recently, Russian forces have placed victim-activated booby traps as they retreated from towns they had occupied during the early weeks of the full-scale invasion. According to MAG, in the six years between 2014 and 2020 there were 1,190 mine-related casualties in Ukraine.”

Council of Europe Prepares the Creation of Tribunal for Putin and Russian Leadership, European Pravda reports. The Council has outlined the details of this tribunal for the first time, which is to be established in The Hague. […] First, according to the document, it should be a “single crime trial.” Its jurisdiction will be limited to punishment for the crime of aggression committed against Ukraine. The document suggests that Russian crimes be investigated simultaneously in two international criminal courts. The tribunal would be complementary to the ICC’s jurisdiction and in no way limit or affect the latter’s exercise of jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed in the context of the ongoing aggression,”the decision reads.

Second, the document investigates and punishes “aggression launched by the Russian Federation in February 2014,” not just the full-scale war in 2022-23. […]

Thirdly, representatives of the Russian leadership will not have immunity from persecution. The position of head of state or government, member of government or parliament, elected representative or civil servant should in no case exempt an accused person from criminal responsibility for the crime of aggression or justify the mitigation of punishment for such a person, the approved unanimously decision of the Parliamentary Assembly states. The list does not include only Russian politicians. […]

Fourthly, the representatives of Belarus who backed the Russian invasion of 2022 should also be on the bench of the accused. Jurisdiction (of the tribunal) would include the role and complicity of the leaders of Belarus in the war of aggression against Ukraine,” the Council points out.

And fifthly, the PACE emphasised the tribunal location for the first time. Its seat should be established in The Hague to ensure complementarity and co-operation with the ICC and other international courts and institutions, reads the PACE resolution.

The PACE decision is not yet an approved position of the world community. […] The next stage will be the Council of Europe summit scheduled for May 16-17 in Reykjavík. A political agreement on this has already been reached. In particular, PACE adopted guidelines for the summit last week, which require reaching a public political agreement on the tribunal. The PACE points out: the Hague tribunal for Putin and Lukashenka should become a “remake” of the Nuremberg tribunal.”

At least 1000 people abducted in Melitopol since Russian occupation began, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing  Ivan Fedorov, Mayor of Melitopol. “Within almost a year of the occupation, almost 1,000 of our residents were abducted in the city of Melitopol alone. To date, hundreds are still in captivity in various cities.

They [the invaders – ed.] transported at least 3,500 convicts from prisons in the occupied territories to the temporarily occupied Crimea. Of course, they were transported illegally. Fedorov added that Russian-appointed puppet leaders of the temporarily occupied territories issued a decree on the legalisation of 28 prisons, three of which are in the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast. In particular, the occupiers legalised some of the five torture chambers in Melitopol.”

Support

Poland ready to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets if NATO gives go-ahead, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Andrii Yermak, Head of President’s Office of Ukraine. “The work on obtaining F-16 fighters is ongoing. We have positive signals from Poland, which is ready to transfer them to us in coordination with NATO. […]

In turn, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a briefing on 30 January that Poland could provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets if NATO supported such a decision. When asked whether the country was ready to transfer its F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, Morawiecki said the following: As it was a few months ago in the context of MiGs [Soviet-made jet fighters – ed.], any other air assets will be implemented and possibly transferred in coordination with NATO countries. Here we will act in full coordination [with the Alliance – ed.]”

Biden says no F-16s for Ukraine as Russia claims gains, Reuters reports. “The United States will not provide the F-16 fighter jets that Ukraine has sought in its fight against Russia, President Joe Biden said on Monday, as Russian forces claimed a series of incremental gains in the country’s east.

Ukraine planned to push for Western fourth-generation fighter jets such as the F-16 after securing supplies of main battle tanks last week, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister said on Friday. A Ukrainian air force spokesman said it would take its pilots about half a year to train on such fighter jets. Asked if the United States would provide the jets, Biden told reporters at the White House, No.”

Macron does not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine, Ukrinform reports, citing France24. “French President Emmanuel Macron has said he does not rule out sending fighter jets to Ukraine. Nothing is excluded in principle, Macron said after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte when asked about the possibility of sending fighters jets to Ukraine. At the same time, the French president added that any steps taken should not lead to escalation.”

Ready to consider Ukraine’s requests for fighter jets, but none yet – Dutch PM, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “The Netherlands is ready to consider Ukraine’s request for the supply of F-16 fighter jets, but so far no such request has been received. This was stated by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron in The Hague; European Pravda with reference to NOS. […] At the same time, he emphasised that there are no taboos on supporting Ukraine to win the war with Russia.”

Poland reportedly delivered MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine as ‘spare parts’, Aerotime Hub reports. “Since the initial invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Ukrainian authorities have been asking their allies for the delivery of combat aircraft, both Soviet and Western. In March 2022, shortly after the beginning of the war, a plan to transfer the whole Polish fleet of MiG-29 fighters officially fell through, after Poland and the United States failed to reach an agreement. 

Days later, the Ukrainian Air Force said that it had not officially received any new aircraft from its allies, only spare parts, and components that helped in the restoration and repair of its current fleet. However, it now appears that several complete MiG-29 fighters were transferred to Ukraine by Poland during that period.  

The claims were first reported by the local daily paper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, citing governmental sources. The fighters were allegedly delivered disassembled, labelled as spare parts. The fuselage or wings are also a spare part, the sources commented. 

The exact method used to ferry the aircraft was not disclosed, though with the Ukrainian airspace closely monitored by Russia, it is likely that they were transferred by train.”

Ukraine may receive up to 100 tanks within three months – deputy foreign minister, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andriy Melnyk. “He said Ukraine focused on Leopard tanks because there are most of them and they are not only in service with European partners. According to Melnyk, there are currently 2,000 tanks that could be transferred quickly.

The Leopard is something that can be delivered quickly from Poland, Germany, from other countries. I hope that we will have at least a hundred tanks. This is realistic. It’s realistic to have them if we are talking about this period of three months, the diplomat said.”

Wallace says UK tanks will arrive in Ukraine before summer, Ukrinform reports, citing Sky News. “Asked in parliament when Challenger 2 tanks will arrive in Ukraine, [UK Defense Secretary Ben] Wallace said: “It’ll be this side of the summer or May – it’ll be probably towards Easter time”.

Norway to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine as soon as possible – defence minister, Ukrinform reports, citing Defense Minister of Norway, Bjorn Arild Gram, and France24. “Norway will send part of its fleet of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine as soon as possible, indicating perhaps late March, the report says.

We haven’t yet determined the number, the Norwegian defence minister said. […] According to local media, the Norwegian government is considering the transfer of up to eight Leopard tanks to Ukraine of 36 they have.”

Denmark not ruling out a transfer of tanks to Ukraine – PM, Ukrinform reports. “Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said that the issue of supplying tanks to Ukraine was discussed during negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and that she does not rule out their transfer in the future.”

The US offers help lines to Ukraine troops, Military Times reports. “Using phones and tablets to communicate in encrypted chatrooms, a rapidly growing group of US and allied troops and contractors is providing real-time maintenance advice — usually speaking through interpreters — to Ukrainian troops on the battlefield. […] As the US and other allies send more and increasingly complex and high-tech weapons to Ukraine, demands are spiking. And since no US or other NATO nations will send troops into the country to provide hands-on assistance — due to worries about being drawn into a direct conflict with Russia — they’ve turned to virtual chatrooms. […]

The need for help with weapons as been growing. Just a few months ago, there were just a bit more than 50 members of what they call the remote maintenance team. That will surge to 150 in the coming weeks, and the number of encrypted chat lines has more than tripled — from about 11 last fall to 38 now. The team includes about 20 soldiers now, supplemented by civilians and contractors, but the military number may dip a bit, as more civilians come on board. And they expect it will continue to evolve as new sophisticated weapons are delivered to the Ukrainians, and new chatrooms set up to handle them. […]

A key problem, said one officer, is that Ukrainian troops are pushing the weapons to their limits — firing them at unprecedented rates and using them long after a US service member would turn them in to be repaired or retired. Holding up his tablet, the US soldier showed photos of the barrel of a howitzer, its interior ridges nearly worn completely away. They’re using these systems in ways that we didn’t necessarily anticipate, said the officer, pointing to the tablet. We’re actually learning from them by seeing how much abuse these weapon systems can take, and where’s the breaking point.

The Ukrainian troops are often reluctant to send the weapons back out of the country for repairs. They’d rather do it themselves, and in nearly all cases — US officials estimated 99% of the time — the Ukrainians do the repair and continue on. […]

Doling out advice over the chats means the US experts have to diagnose the problem when something goes wrong, figure out how to fix it, then translate the steps into Ukrainian. As they look to the future, they are planning to get some commercial, off-the-shelf translation goggles. That way, when they talk to each other they can skip the interpreters and just see the translation as they speak, making conversations easier and faster.

They also are hoping to build their diagnostic capabilities as the weapons systems get more complex, and expand the types and amount of spare parts they keep on hand. For example, they said the Patriot missile system the US is sending to Ukraine will be a challenge, requiring more expertise in diagnosing and repairing problems. […] The team in Poland is part of an ever expanding logistical network that stretches across Europe. As more nations send their own versions of weapon systems, they are setting up teams to provide repair support in a variety of locations.

The nations and the manufacturing companies quickly put together manuals and technical data that can be translated and sent to the Ukrainians. They then set up stocks of spare parts and get them to locations near Ukraine’s borders, where they can be sent to the battlefield. […]

At least 17 nations have representatives in what’s called the International Donor Coordination Center. And as the amount and types of equipment grow, the center is working to better meld the donations from the US and other nations. As we send more additional advanced equipment, like Strykers, like Bradleys, like tanks, of course that sustainment activity will have to increase, said Douglas Bush, assistant Army secretary for acquisition. I think the challenge is recognized. I think the Army knows how to do it.”

France and Australia to supply Ukraine with jointly produced 155mm shells, Ukrinform reports, citing BFMTV. “Defense Ministers Sebastien Lecornu of France and Richard Marles of Australia have agreed to supply Ukraine with several thousand jointly produced 155mm shells to support the country in its war against Russia. […] He also added that the first deliveries should be expected during the first quarter of 2023, but declined to elaborate on the details of the contract.”

NATO’s chief urges South Korea to step up military support for Ukraine, Reuters reports. “NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea on Monday to increase military support to Ukraine, citing other countries that have changed their policy of not providing weapons to countries in conflict following Russia’s invasion.[…] Speaking at the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, he thanked South Korea for its non-lethal aid to Ukraine, but urged it to do more, adding there is an “urgent need” for ammunition.

I urge the Republic of Korea to continue and to step up on the specific issue of military support, he said. At the end of the day, it’s a decision for you to make, but I’ll say that several NATO allies who have had as a policy to never export weapons to countries in a conflict have changed that policy now, he said, citing Germany, Sweden and Norway. If we don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then they (Ukrainians) need weapons, that’s the reality, said Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister.

South Korea has signed major deals providing hundreds of tanks, aircraft and other weapons to NATO member Poland since Russia invaded Ukraine. But President Yoon Suk-yeol has said a South Korean law that forbids supplying weapons to countries engaged in conflict makes it difficult to send arms to Ukraine.”

New Developments 

  1. Russia warns United States: the end of nuclear arms control may be nigh, ReutersRussia told the United States on Monday that the last remaining pillar of bilateral nuclear arms control could expire in 2026 without a replacement due to what it said were US efforts to inflict “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine. Both Russia and the United States still have vast arsenals of nuclear weapons which are currently partially limited by the 2011 New START Treaty, which in 2021 was extended until 2026.
  2. Zelenskyy: Russia expects to prolong the war, we have to speed things up, Ukrainska PravdaPresident Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Russia is trying to drag the war. […] We are doing everything to ensure that our pressure outweighs the occupiers’ assault capabilities. And it is very important to maintain the dynamics of defence support from our partners. The speed of supply has been and will be one of the key factors in this war. Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine.”
  3. Kremlin: More Western arms for Ukraine will only lead to escalation, ReutersThe Kremlin said on Monday that further supplies of Western weaponry to Ukraine would only lead to further escalation of the conflict there. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said members of the Western NATO alliance were becoming more involved in the conflict, but that their provision of arms to Ukraine would not change the course of events.” [Hans Petter Midttun: No, it will not and yes, it already did. Big time.]
  4. Russian business offers cash bounties to destroy Western tanks in Ukraine, ReutersA Russian company said it will offer five million roubles ($72,000) in cash to the first soldiers who destroy or capture western-made tanks in Ukraine […]. Fores, a Urals-based firm […] is offering cash payments to Russian servicemen who “capture or destroy” German-made Leopard 2 or US-made Abrams tanks. The company said it will pay five million roubles to the first Russian soldier to destroy one of the tanks, and 500,000 roubles ($7,200) for all subsequent attacks.”
  5. EU Ambassador outlines main topics of the summit with Ukraine in Kyiv on 3 February, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Matti Maasikas, Ambassador of the European Union to Ukraine, in European Pravda. “Among the issues to be discussed are, of course, the military situation, [and] President Zelenskyy’s peace plan, which has received support in the EU. We see delays in providing assistance to Ukraine in the military, economic, financial, humanitarian and energy sectors, etc, Maasikas said.[…] Brussels will also discuss Ukraine’s progress in working on EU recommendations related to granting candidate status to the EU.”
  6. Ukraine wants to join EU within next two years – Ukraine’s PM, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Politico and European Pravda. “Denys Shmyhal, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, has declared an ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years. As it is noted, this throws down a gauntlet to the EU establishment, which is trying to keep Ukrainian membership as a far more remote concept. French President Emmanuel Macron said last year it could be “decades” before Ukraine joins. Even EU leaders, who backed granting Ukraine candidate status at their summit last June, privately admit that the prospect of the country actually joining is quite some years away.”
  7. G7 ambassadors remind Ukraine of the importance of anti-corruption program approval, Ukrainska PravdaG7 ambassadors believe that it is crucial for Ukraine to further strengthen anti-corruption institutions by adopting and implementing a credible state anti-corruption program. This would reinforce Ukraine’s resilience in a time of war and be another step towards its European future. National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) complained to the ambassadors of G7 about the opposition to the approval of the project of the State Anti-Corruption Program (SAP) for 2023-2025 by bodies belonging to the most corrupt spheres“.
  8. Finland to stick with Sweden in NATO bid, hopes for the green light by July, ReutersFinland is sticking to its plan to join NATO at the same time as Nordic neighbour Sweden, and hopes to do so no later than July, Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday. Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Türkiye raised objections. The three countries signed an agreement in Madrid over a way forward, but last week, Türkiye suspended talksafter protests in Stockholm that included the burning of a Koran.”
  9. Putin threatened Johnson with a missile attack before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing BBC. “Boris Johnson, former Prime Minister of the UK, has said Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, threatened him with a missile strike in a phone call in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The BBC reported that the call was made in February 2022, and Putin’s comments came after Johnson warned that a war in Ukraine would have catastrophic consequences.”
  10. IOC rejects ‘defamatory’ criticism from Ukraine, ReutersThe International Olympic Committee on Monday rejected fierce criticism from Ukrainian officials, who have accused it of promoting war after the body said Russians could potentially be given the opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. […] The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms this and other defamatory statements, the IOC said in a statement. They cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  January 31, 2023:

Russian forces continued making marginal advances during ground attacks around Bakhmut on January 29 and 30. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; northeast of Bakhmut near Verkhnokamyanske (30km northeast), Rozdolivka (13km northeast), Sil (10km northeast), Blahodatne (7km north), Paraskoviivka (5km north), and Vasyukivka (15km north); and southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske (5km southwest), Klishchiivka (7km southwest), Kurdiumivka (13km southwest), and Ozerianivka (15km southwest). Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin announced on January 28 that the Wagner Group took control of Blahodatne—a claim later confirmed by geolocated imagery published on January 29 showing Wagner Group fighters along the T1302 Bakhmut-Siversk highway south of Blahodatne. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters northeast of Bakhmut are continuing attacks on Krasna Hora (5km north of Bakhmut) and reached the outskirts of Sacco and Vanzetti village (10km north of Bakhmut). Several Russian sources suggested that Russian advances northeast of Bakhmut along the T1302 are intended to push on Siversk from the south. This claim is improbable given the focus on Wagner Group efforts on targets closer to Bakhmut and more immediately relevant to enveloping or encircling that city.  A Russian milblogger additionally claimed that Wagner fighters are storming urban areas in the Zabakhmutivka area in eastern Bakhmut. Russian sources continued to discuss Wagner’s efforts south of Bakhmut to push northwest from the Klishchiivka area and cut the T0504 Kostyantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway near Ivanivske.

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the western outskirts of Donetsk City on January 29 and 30. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near Vodyane (on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City) and Marinka and Novomykhailivka (on the southwestern outskirts) on January 29. A Russian milblogger claimed that elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 100th Brigade are operating near Nevelske, also on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City. Geolocated combat footage from Vodyane shows that Russian forces have likely occupied the settlement since January 16. Russian sources continued to discuss fighting in the western part of Marinka on January 30.

Russian forces continued ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on January 29 and 30. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks near Pobieda (8km southwest of Donetsk City along the T0524 Donetsk City-Vuhledar highway) and Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) on January 29. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that elements of the Eastern Military District (EMD) occupied unspecified advantageous lines in this direction on January 30. Russian milbloggers continued to discuss heavy fighting within Vuhledar on January 29 and 30, and one milblogger claimed that Russian naval infantry is advancing deep into Vuhledar as of January 30. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian troops interdicted the T0524 highway near Vuhledar and are trying to capture the Pivdennodonbaska coal mine northeast of Vuhledar in order to encircle the settlement. Russian sources posted footage of Russian offensive operations in the Vuhledar area between January 29 and 30.

Western, Ukrainian, and Russian sources continue to indicate that Russia is preparing for an imminent offensive, supporting ISW’s assessment that an offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action (MLCOA). NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated on January 30 that there are no indications that Russia is preparing to negotiate for peace and that all indicators point to the opposite. Stoltenberg noted that Russia may mobilize upwards of 200,000 personnel and is continuing to acquire weapons and ammunition through increased domestic production and partnerships with authoritarian states such as Iran and North Korea. Stoltenberg emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin retains his maximalist goals in Ukraine. Head of the Council of Reservists of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Ivan Tymochko, relatedly stated that Russian forces are strengthening their grouping in Donbas as part of an anticipated offensive and noted that Russian forces will need to launch an offensive due to increasing domestic pressure for victory. Stoltenberg’s and Tymochko’s statements support ISW’s previous forecast that Russian forces are setting conditions to launch an offensive effort, likely in Luhansk Oblast, in the coming months. Russian milbloggers additionally continued to indicate that the Russian information space is setting conditions for and anticipating a Russian offensive. Milbloggers amplified a statement made by a Russian Telegram channel that the current pace and nature of Russian operations indicate that the main forces of the anticipated offensive and promised breakthrough have not yet “entered the battle.” This statement suggests that Russian milbloggers believe that Russian forces have not yet activated the elements required for a decisive offensive effort.

Russia and Iran continued efforts to deepen economic ties. NOTE: This item appeared in the Critical Threats Project (CTP)’s January 30 Iran Crisis Update. Iranian state media reported that Iran and Russia established direct financial communication channels between Iranian banks and more than 800 Russian banks on January 29. Iranian Central Bank Deputy Governor Mohsen Karami announced that Iranian and Russian banks have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on financial messaging, effective immediately. Karami added that Iranian banks abroad were also included in the MoU and would be able to exchange standard banking messages with Russian banks. Iranian officials and state-affiliated media outlets framed the MoU as a means to circumvent Western sanctions on Iran and Russia and compared the messaging system to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which serves as the world’s largest financial messaging system. ISW has previously reported on the deepening of economic and military ties between Tehran and Moscow. 

Key Takeaways

  • Western, Ukrainian, and Russian sources continue to indicate that Russia is preparing for an imminent offensive, supporting ISW’s assessment that an offensive in the coming months is the most likely course of action (MLCOA).
  • Iranian state media reported that Iran and Russia established direct financial communication channels between Iranian banks and more than 800 Russian banks on January 29.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks to regain lost positions west of Kreminna as Ukrainian forces conducted counteroffensive operations northwest of Svatove.
  • Ukrainian forces continued to strike Russian force concentrations in rear areas in Luhansk Oblast.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
  • Russian forces continued to make marginal territorial gains near Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continued measures to professionalize the Russian military as it faces continued backlash against these measures.

Russian forces and occupation authorities continue to target Crimean Tatars in an effort to associate anti-Russia sentiment with extremist or terrorist activity.

Russia is to deploy additional forces to the Ukrainian border – Governor of Kursk Oblast, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Kommersant and Kurskie Izvestia media. “Roman Starovoit, the governor of Russia’s Kursk Oblast, has said that an additional contingent of military personnel will arrive in the area in the near future.

The order has been given; it is necessary to provide the all-round support for the reception and placement of additional forces and means so that the servicemen start performing the tasks of protecting the state border and ensuring the security of Kursk Oblast as soon as possible.

The local government [allege] that the region, which borders Ukraine’s Sumy Oblast has repeatedly “been subject to Ukrainian attacks”. Additional troops arrived in Kursk Oblast at the end of spring and in autumn, Kommersant reports.

On 25 January, Starovoit said that the risk of Ukrainian troops invading the Kursk Oblast is low and that the authorities are constantly working to strengthen the region’s defence capabilities.”

Consequences and what to do? 

Xi Jinping doesn’t want to wind up on the losing side in Ukraine, Max Boot argues in The Washington Post. “Russia has a lot more people, a larger economy and a more powerful military than Ukraine. By all rights, it should have crushed Ukraine at the start of the war. That this didn’t happen — and that the war is now heading into its second year with Kyiv in a good position to regain more lost ground — can be explained in no small part by the reality that Ukraine has many allies and Russia does not.

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy estimates that the United States and Europe have pledged roughly $100 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. That includes increasingly sophisticated military equipment ranging from Patriot air defence systems to the Leopard 2 and M1A2 Abrams tanks that were promised last week.

Russia needs foreign help, too. It’s running low on everything from artillery shells to drones to missiles. But only two rogue states that we know of — Iran and North Korea — have so far been willing to provide the Kremlin with military equipment. Advantage, Ukraine.

Russia’s biggest missing military supplier is China — the world’s largest exporter of high-tech goods and the fourth-largest exporter of weapons. Beijing could play the same role for Russia that the United States is playing for Ukraine. If that were to happen, the odds of a Russian victory would rise exponentially. But that hasn’t happened, suggesting that, in practice, there are sharp limits to the “no limits” friendship that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping proclaimed just a few weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

China has been happy to continue trading with Russia on advantageous terms. China and India have replaced Europe as the major purchasers of Russian oil and gas, which have fallen in price because of Western sanctions. In return, according to researchers at Silverado Policy Accelerator, China has become the Kremlin’s largest source of imports — in particular the semiconductors that Russia needs to manufacture both civilian and military equipment. Because Apple and Samsung stopped selling smartphones to Russia, China stepped in and captured 70 percent of the Russian market in the third quarter of 2022. This two-way trade indirectly subsidizes Putin’s war effort — and, in the case of microchips, could enable Russian arms production.

But remember: China also had a robust economic relationship with Ukraine before the invasion. Indeed, as noted by my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Zongyuan Zoe Liu: “By 2019, China had replaced Russia as Ukraine’s largest trading partner, becoming the top importer of Ukrainian barley and iron ore, while Ukraine overtook the United States as China’s largest corn supplier.”

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told me that “China wants to see prolonged war in Ukraine, because it will divert the West from China while China is getting energy at low prices from Russia.” Maybe, but China has not been happy about the economic disruptions caused by the Russian invasion. As the largest lender to low-income nations, China has to worry about being repaid by countries that have seen their economies battered by soaring commodity prices.

Chinese diplomats have privately been telling the Europeans that Xi did not know of the Russian invasion in advance and had to scramble to evacuate 6,000 Chinese nationals in Ukraine. Xi has also publicly expressed “questions and concerns” about the Russian invasion and told Putin not to use nuclear weapons.

As an unsentimental practitioner of realpolitik, Xi does not want to wind up on what could be the losing side. The Financial Times reports, based on conversations with Chinese officials, that “China now perceives a likelihood that Russia will fail to prevail against Ukraine and emerge from the conflict a ‘minor power,’ much diminished economically and diplomatically on the world stage.”

In other words, a defeated Russia might not be a very useful future ally for China – another country that has few friends in the world. And China, as the world’s largest trading nation, cannot afford to become as isolated as Russia has become. That helps to explain why Beijing is reaching out to Europe and trying to ratchet down animus with the United States — for example, by sidelining one of its most noxious “wolf warrior” diplomats.

In an intriguing article this month in Foreign Policy, two scholars at the Stimson Center — former intelligence officer Robert A. Manning and China expert Yun Sun argued that the Biden administration should take advantage of Xi’s ambivalence about the war to woo him away from Russia. They suggested that China’s early offer to mediate in the Ukraine crisis should be probed and that the United States has little to lose by testing the proposition that new opportunities may be opening up that are sufficient in allowing US-China cooperation on Ukraine.

Paul Heer, a 30-year veteran of the CIA and former national intelligence officer for East Asia, told me he agreed there was a “potential opportunity” here: Putin has become an embarrassment to Xi, if not yet a net liability. But the question is what kind of quid pro quo can Washington offer? “Beijing isn’t going to side with us against Moscow simply because it’s the right thing to do, Heer pointed out. What’s in it for China to do so?

There’s the rub – and one potential downside of growing US animosity with China. Continuing what Donald Trump started, President Biden has been ramping up economic pressure on China – to include blocking the export of the most advanced microchips and microchip-manufacturing equipment. He is giving the impression that the goal of US policy isn’t just to counter China’s military threat but, as noted by Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman, to stop China’s economic rise.

To coax China into being more cooperative on the war in Ukraine and other pressing issues such as North Korea, Heer told me, We would need to convince the Chinese that we are at least as interested in the potential for peaceful coexistence and strategic cooperation as we are in pursuing our systemic strategic rivalry. But, in the current atmosphere of spiking tensions, that’s a very tall order.

So, it’s doubtful that the United States can persuade China to become a partner in ending the Ukraine war. But at the very least the Biden administration can continue pressing China not to provide military equipment to Russia. As long as China stays largely on the sidelines, Ukraine will have a fighting chance to prevail.”

 

ME: In an op-ed published by the Washington Post, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research for the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution argued that “The time for incrementalism in Ukraine is over. Send in the tanks”. He described President Biden’s policy in Ukraine as “fundamentally reactive, thus hindering the development of a strategy to end the war.”

Neither President Biden nor Chancellor Scholz has outlined their desired end state for Ukraine. They have not defined any red lines Russia cannot cross as it continues to escalate the war.

On 21 December, Biden said, “We’re going to give Ukraine what it needs to be able to defend itself, to be able to succeed, and succeed in the battlefield” while stressing that he was unable to “give Ukraine everything there is to give” for the risk of “breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union and the rest of the world.”

The statement is in line with his message from 8 months before.

During President Bidens press conference after the Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government on 24 March 2022, one month after the Russian invasion started, he stressed his most important objective was to have absolute unity among NATO allies on 3 key important issues, (1) support Ukraine with military and humanitarian assistance, (2) to impose the most significant economic sanctions ever to cripple Putin’s economy and punish him for his actions, (3) and fortify the eastern flank of NATO.

After the extraordinary NATO summit – and before Bucha, Irpin, Kramatorsk train station, Mariupol Drama Theater, Azovstal, Dnipro, and all the other sites of Russian war crimes – I argued that:

I fear that the aim of achieving full unity in the face of the massive atrocities taking place in Ukraine will come back and haunt NATO. I cannot see anything that might cut the war short but the active role of NATO. I believe in NATO deterrence, and if deterrence works, Russia will step back if the Alliance chose a more active role. By not defending Ukraine, we might both see a protracted war with horrific atrocities as well as global consequences that might come back and challenge NATO and EU unity.”

The prediction has come true in part. We are witnessing a protracted war and horrific atrocities. The NATO and EU unity is still holding. For now.

As we move forward, however, it is worth bearing in mind that NATO’s weakest link has been allowed to define the ambition level of the Alliance, hindering it from acting according to its previous strategic concept and protecting all of its member states.

Instead of openly supporting President Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan – which includes restoring Ukrainian borders with Russia, withdrawing all Russian forces and ending all hostilities – or calling for a defeat of Russian forces in Ukraine, Biden chose a more ambiguous ambition of ensuring that Ukraine will be able to defend itself and succeed in the battlefield.

The ambiguity is derived from the fact that he does not openly support a Ukrainian victory and the liberation of all territory; does not give Ukraine all the tools it needs to evict Russian forces; and General Milley’s statement that Ukraine will have an incredibly difficult time pushing Russia out of its territory this year, reiterating his belief that the war will most likely end at the negotiating table.

The latter is not an assessment: It is a statement of intent.

Ukraine does not have a significant domestic military industry to turn to in the absence of Western support. Much of it is already destroyed by Russia. What is left was denied the transfer of Western technology in the first 8 years of the war. Ukraine is, therefore, totally dependent upon Western defence and financial aid.

Yesterday, the Institute for the Study of War argued that the patterns of Western aid – slow and incremental – and its refusal to supply Ukraine with higher-end Western weapons systems have shaped Ukraine’s ability to develop and execute sound campaign plans. It has limited Ukraine’s ability to initiate and continue large-scale counter-offensive operations.

ISW highlighted that:

Sound counter-offensive campaign design calls for stopping Russian forces’s offensive as rapidly as possible, initiating decisive counter-offensives rapidly after Russian forces’s offensive culminates to take advantage of Russian forces’s disorganization and unpreparedness for subsequent major operations, and then continuing counter-offensive operations with the briefest possible pauses between them to prevent Russian forces from reconstituting its forces and possibly regaining the initiative.

The patterns of Western aid thus heavily shaped Ukraine’s ability to develop and execute sound campaign plans.

Indicators that the Russian offensives would culminate and that Western weapons would be needed at scale emerged clearly in late May and June.

If the West’s aim had been to shorten the war by speeding Ukraine’s liberation of occupied territory, the assessment that stocks of Soviet-era weapons held by friendly states were running low should have triggered a fundamental change in the provision of Western aid starting in June 2022.

Had Western leaders started setting conditions for Ukraine to use Western tanks in June 2022, when the first clear indicators appeared that Western tanks would be needed, Ukrainian forces would have been able to start using them in November or December.

The continual delays in providing Western material when it became apparent that it is or will soon be needed have thus contributed to the protraction of the conflict.

Recent Western commitments to provide Ukraine with the tanks and armored vehicles it requires for further counter-offensive operations are important, but the delays in making those commitments may have cost Ukraine a window of opportunity for a counter-offensive this winter. The delay in launching that counter-offensive thus far, however, has allowed the Russians to set conditions to make it harder and more costly.

President Biden and Chancellor Scholz‘s refusal to deliver modern combat aircraft or long-range fire, continue to set the conditions for Ukraine’s ability to liberate occupied territories. Both are crucial to stop Russian indiscriminate attacks against Ukrainian cities and allow combined arms and joint operations to evict Russian forces from its territory.

The prerequisite that Ukraine is not allowed to attack Russian territory – and, therefore, Russian combat aircraft, helicopters, missile systems, MLRS, artillery and main battle tanks attacking civilians with impunity from Russian territory or airspace – is allowing Russia to continue destroying the Ukrainian statehood indefinitely.

Admittingly, Biden and Scholz are navigating difficult waters. They have to find support for their policy internally while gathering support externally as they are manoeuvring around obstacles like President Marcon’s calls for negotiations and compromise, Prime Minister Orban’s open support of Russia, President Erdoğan obstruction of Sweden and Finland’s membership application in the middle of Russian confrontation with the West,  Prime Minister Morawiecki’s call to do what is needed to ensure a Ukrainian victory, and the indecisiveness of so many Head of States.

In the process, however, they risk losing sight of the reality: There are only two possible outcomes of the Russian war against Ukraine. Victory or Defeat.

Any notion of a solution at the negotiating table ignores the facts that (1) the Ukrainian nation will continue to fight long after the Ukrainian state has been forced to compromise, and (2) that Russia – in the words of Anna Fotyga, ECR MEP and former foreign minister of Poland:

Russia has not changed over the centuries. It is driven by the same imperial instincts, repeating the same scheme: conquest, genocide, colonisation, and then seeking a silent acceptance of the status quo, bribing the international community through a mirage of economic cooperation or the illusion of a vast Russian market. We cannot be misled into thinking that Moscow is a part of the solution to any global problems.”

Limited and conditional support to Ukraine does not reduce the risk of a broader confrontation between Russia and NATO. The present strategy increases the risk of the broader confrontation that is already ongoing, will continue to escalate.

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