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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 384: Russia can agree to renew the Black Sea grain deal

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 384: Russia can agree to renew the Black Sea grain deal
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Over 8,000 civilians, including 463 children, killed in the war in Ukraine–UN. Russia can agree to renew the Black Sea grain deal for a shorter term. International Criminal Court to start two war crimes proceedings against Russia.

Daily overview — Summary report, March 14

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, March 14, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. March 13, 2023. Source: ISW.

 

Despite significant losses, Russian forces continue offensive operations on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Shakhtarske axes. Last day, units of the Defense Forces repelled more than 100 enemy attacks on the indicated axes.

The Russian Federation uses terror tactics, indiscriminately shelling populated areas, thereby greatly violating the norms of International Humanitarian Law.

Over the past day, Russian forces launched 5 missile attacks, in particular, on civil infrastructure facilities in the Sumy and Donetsk Oblasts. There are dead and wounded civilians. Also, Russian forces carried out 35 airstrikes and launched 76 attacks from MLRS.

The level of missile threat remains high throughout the territory of Ukraine.

Kharkiv Battle Map. March 13, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn’, Polissya, Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the operational situation has not changed significantly. Work continues on the engineering equipment of enemy positions in the border areas of the Belgorod Oblast. During the day, Russian forces shelled the areas of Myhalchyna Sloboda, Chernihiv Oblast, Znob-Novgorodskoe, Seredyna-Buda, Bachivsk, Esman, Starykovo, Shalygine, Bilopylla, and Krasnopillya, Sumy Oblast, and Strelech, Hlyboke, Lukyantsi, Gatyshche, Vovchansk, Dvorichna, and Kindrashivka. in Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Kupiansk and Lyman axes: Russian forces are trying to break through the defences of our troops. They led unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Dvorichna, Hryanikyvka, Nevske, Chervopopivka, Kreminna, Dibrova, Bilogorivka and Berestov settlements. The adversary carried out artillery shelling of the areas of Hryanikyvka, Masyutivka, Kupiansk, Krokhmalne, Novoselivske, Kharkiv Oblast settlements; Makiivka, Dibrova and Bilogorivka – Luhansk and Spirn in Donetsk Oblast.
Donetsk Battle Map. March 13, 2023. Source: ISW
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces do not stop trying to capture the city of Bakhmut. Our soldiers repelled enemy attacks in the areas of Vasyukivka, Minkivka, Orihovo-Vasylivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Hryhorivka and Ivanivske settlements. In particular, Bondarne, Vasyukivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Ivanovske, Predtechine, Kurdyumivka, Bila Gora, Kostyantynivka, Zalizne, and New York of the Donetsk Oblast were under enemy fire.
  • Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Shakhtarske axes: Russian forces carried out unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Kam’ianka, Avdiivka, Severna, Pervomaiske, Nevelske, Netaylove, Mar’yinka, Pobieda, Novomykhailivka, and Vugledar settlements. Areas of more than 15 settlements near the contact line were shelled by Russian forces. Among them are Kam’ianka, Avdiivka, Tonenka, Severne, Pervomaiske, Nevelske, Krasnohorivka, Mariinka, Georgiivka, Novomykhailivka, Vuhledar and Neskuchne of the Donetsk Oblast.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 13, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: Russian forces are conducting defensive Areas of more than 50 settlements near the contact line, including Olhivske, Charivne, Novoandriyivka, Stepove of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, as well as Kachkarivka, Novosilka, Kozatske, Ivanivka, Inzhenerne, Kherson and Komysany of the Kherson Oblast, were shelled.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 13, 2023. Source: ISW.

[Russian forces continue to suffer losses. Thus, 150 mercenaries of the so-called “Wagner” PMC were brought to the territory of the Bilovodsk district hospital in the temporarily occupied territory of the Luhansk region for treatment.]

During the day, Ukrainian aircraft made 10 strikes on areas where the occupiers were concentrated. Units of missile and artillery forces hit 5 areas of concentration of enemy personnel and military equipment, 3 ammunition warehouses and 4 means of radio-electronic warfare of the invaders during the day.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Russia deploys 3 missile carriers to the Black Sea, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Operational Command South. “Russia is ramping up the number of its missile carriers in the Black Sea. As of 11:30 on 13 March, there are two naval and one submarine missile carriers armed with a total of up to 20 missiles. […]Operational Command South warned that there is a high threat of a Russian missile strike.

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

https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1635634005512011776

  • In recent weeks, Russian artillery ammunition shortages have likely worsened to the extent that extremely punitive shell-rationing is in force on many parts of the front. This has almost certainly been a key reason why no Russian formation has recently been able to generate operationally significant offensive action.
  • Russia has almost certainly already resorted to issuing old munitions stock which were previously categorised as unfit for use.
  • A presidential decree of 03 March 2023 laid down measures for the Ministry of Trade and Industry to bypass the authority of the managers of defence industries who fail to meet their production goals. Russia is increasingly applying the principles of a command economy to its military industrial complex because it recognises that its defence manufacturing capacity is a key vulnerability in the increasingly attritional ‘special military operation.’
  • In recent weeks, Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin has likely lost access to recruiting in Russian prisons due to his ongoing disputes with the Russian MoD leadership. Prigozhin is highly likely pivoting recruitment efforts towards free Russian citizens.
  • Since the start of March 2023, Wagner has set up outreach teams based in sports centres in at least 40 locations across Russia. In recent days, masked Wagner recruiters also gave career talks in Moscow high schools, distributing questionnaires entitled ‘application of a young warrior’ to collect the contact details of interested pupils.
  • About half of the prisoners Wagner has already deployed in Ukraine have likely become casualties and the new initiatives are unlikely to make up for the loss of the convict recruit pipeline. If the ban endures, Prigozhin will likely be forced to reduce the scale or intensity of Wagner operations in Ukraine.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Tuesday 14 March, 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 160540 (+740)
  • Tanks – 3484 (+10)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6789 (+15)
  • Artillery systems – 2519 (+16)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 495 (+2)
  • Air defence means – 260 (+1)
  • Aircraft – 304 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 289 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5367 (+13)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2120 (+11)
  • Special equipment – 256 (+5)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 907 (+0)

Russia will need decades to restore its military potential – Secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Oleksii Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, has said that Russia would need decades to restore its military potential. Ukraine’s resistance gives the West time for global rethinking and restructuring of the entire system of deterrence and countering autocratic regimes.”

Humanitarian 

Over 8,000 civilians, including 463 children, killed in war in Ukraine – UN, Ukrinform reports, citing OHCHR website. “Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded 21,965 civilian casualties in the country: 8,231 killed and 13,734 injured.

Among those injured, there are 413 boys and 295 girls, as well as 271 children whose sex is not yet known. According to OHCHR, 3,664 men, 2,173 women, 260 boys and 203 girls have been killed, as well as 31 children and 1,900 adults whose sex is not yet known

OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol (Donetsk region), Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.”

Russia says it could agree to renew Black Sea grain deal for shorter term, Reuters reports. “Moscow does not object to renewing a deal allowing the safe export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports but only for a period of 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said on Monday. Vershinin was speaking after holding talks with UN officials in Geneva.

The Black Sea grain initiative, brokered between Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Türkiye last July, aimed to prevent a global food crisis by allowing Ukrainian grain blockaded by Russia’s invasion to be safely exported from three Ukrainian ports. The deal, which was extended for 120 days in November, is up for renewal on March 18. […]

Russia has argued that, although the country’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by the West, sanctions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries have created a barrier for it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers. […] Our further stance will be determined upon tangible progress on normalization of our agricultural exports, not in words, but in deeds, “Vershinin” added.

Patchwork fixes to Ukraine grain shortfall leave world vulnerable a year into war, Reuters reports. “A patchwork of fixes and increased crop plantings around the world to counter the impact of war in Ukraine on global grain supplies are not enough to ward off further risks of disruption.

Extensive damage to Ukraine’s farm sector and uncertainty that the UN’s grain export corridor deal will be renewed this month suggest food prices may remain elevated, increasing the potential of hunger if other problems arise, agriculture experts warn. Meanwhile, adverse weather, including a historic drought in No. 3 corn exporter Argentina, highlights the risks of increasingly severe weather around the world for food supplies. […]

The world has had some time to patch some holes, said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co in Chicago, citing larger-than-anticipated Russian wheat exports and the grain export corridor deal that allowed some 3 million tonnes of grain per month to be exported from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. If we don’t have another supply shock somewhere, the world can get by on the diminishment of Ukrainian grain. But it’s tenuous. Things have to go right, he said.”

Power outages in 4 oblasts due to effects of attacks, rest have no restrictions, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ukrenergo. “On Monday, March 13, some consumers in Kharkiv and Zhytomyr are still without electricity due to damage caused by the latest massive Russian attack on the infrastructure.

The energy system is being restored after 15 massive missile attacks and 18 drone attacks. Due to the damage caused by Russian forces, some consumers in Zhytomyr and Kharkiv are still without electricity supply, the statement said.”

Italy blames surge in migration on Russia’s Wagner group, Reuters reports. “The Italian government on Monday said Russian mercenary group Wagner was behind a surge in migrant boats trying to cross the central Mediterranean as part of Moscow’s strategy to retaliate against countries supporting Ukraine. […]

Some 20,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, compared to 6,100 in the same period of 2022, interior ministry figures show, and the migration issue is piling pressure on the rightist government.”

Environmental

The shortage of skilled workers at Zaporizhzhia NPP can lead to unpredictable consequences, the Ukrainian General Staff reports. “In the city of Energodar, temporarily captured by Russia, at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, the shortage of skilled workers who can ensure the vital activity of the nuclear power plant is growing catastrophically.

After the Russian occupiers employed people without the appropriate education and experience at the NPP, the contract term of the Russian representatives of “Rosatom” expired. At the same time, they were refused to sign a new or extend an existing contract. They also refused to return to Russia, because there is no one to work at the nuclear power plant. All this can lead to unpredictable consequences.

International Criminal Court to start two war crimes proceedings against Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The New York Times. “The International Criminal Court (ICC) has an intention to open two war crime criminal cases connected with the Russian invasion of Ukraine: one about the kidnapping of the Ukrainian children and the other about purposeful Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure facilities in Ukraine. The ICC will strive to issue arrest warrants for several persons, as reported by former and incumbent officials who are aware about this decision but have no right to speak publicly. However, the arrest warrants for the suspects are not expected to be issued in both cases in the near future. These cases are the first international accusations made since the beginning of the conflict after months of work of special working groups. […]

Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the ICC, must at first present his accusations in front of the pre-trial collegium of judges who will decide if legal norms for obtaining arrest warrants were observed, or the investigators still need more evidence. It is unclear who the court is planning to accuse in each concrete case. […]

Some external diplomats and experts stated that there is a possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be accused since the court does not recognise the immunity of the head of state in the cases related to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. But the probability of the trial being held remains low since the court cannot consider cases in absentia, and Russia is unlikely to extradite its officials.

The Kremlin denies the war crime accusations but international and Ukrainian investigators have collected strong evidence of a number of atrocities committed from the very first days of the Russian invasion.

The first case concerns the kidnapping of children of various age, from babies to teenagers. The New York Times and researchers discovered that within the framework of the program, sponsored by the Kremlin, these children were deported from Ukraine and settled in places where they became Russian citizens, or sent to summer camps for “re-education”. Some of them were from orphanages or boarding schools. The report published in February by the Yale University and the Conflict Observatory program of the US State Department stated that at least 6,000 Ukrainian children are being held in 43 camps in Russia. Ukraine reported that as of the beginning of March, this number could have surpassed 16,000.

As for the second case, it is expected that the Prosecutor General of the ICC will consider continuous Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure of Ukraine, including water supply, gas and power plants located far from the combat areas and are not considered “legitimate military targets”. The US government has proof, which sheds light on the Kremlin’s decision to purposefully attack vital civilian infrastructure facilities but President Joe Biden has not yet decided if he would approve the publication of these materials. The US Defence Ministry blocks the transfer of intelligence data out of fear of creating a precedent, which can open the way for the persecution of Americans. […]

Meanwhile the group of governments and international organisations act in favour of creating a separate international trial with authority to persecute Russia for the crime of aggression, which the ICC has no jurisdiction over.”

At least several thousand Ukrainian children forcibly displaced by Russia – HRW, Ukrinform reports. “The illegal deportation of Ukrainian children by Russia is a war crime, and all deported children must be returned home immediately. That’s according to a report issued by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). There needs to be a concerted international effort to identify and return children who were deported to Russia, and Ukraine and its allies should ensure that all children who were or remain institutionalized are identified and provided with support to live with their families and in communities, said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.

The report notes that according to the Ukrainian government, Ukraine had more than 105,000 children in residential institutions before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the largest number in Europe after Russia. Nearly half were children with disabilities, according to UNICEF. Human Rights Watch has documented Russia’s forcible transfer of children from Ukrainian residential institutions to Russia or Russian-occupied territory: a war crime. Based on Ukrainian government data, 100 institutions that had housed more than 32,000 children before 2022 are in regions under partial or total Russian occupation.

Statements by Russian authorities, Ukrainian activists and lawyers, and news reports indicate that at least several thousand children have been forcibly transferred to other occupied territories or to Russia, the report reads. It also states that Russia’s parliament changed laws in May 2022 to enable authorities to give Russian nationality to Ukrainian children, facilitating their guardianship and adoption by Russian families in Russia. A Russian adoption website lists children from Ukrainian regions, and Russian officials have said that hundreds of Ukrainian children have been adopted.

International standards prohibit inter-country adoption during armed conflicts. In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and 42 other organizations condemned the forcible transfers and adoptions and called on Russia to grant the United Nations and other impartial agencies access to identify these children, monitor their welfare, and facilitate their return to Ukraine, HRW said.”

Support

European arms imports climb, US dominance in exports grows, think tank says, Reuters reports. “European states increased their imports of major weaponry by 47% in the five years to 2022, while the United States share of global arms exports rose to 40% from 33%, a leading conflict think-tank said on Monday. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, following years of growing tensions, has prompted European countries to rush to bolster their defences.

Even as arms transfers have declined globally, those to Europe have risen sharply due to the tensions between Russia and most other European states, Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said in a statement. SIPRI defines major arms as aircraft, warships, tanks, artillery, missiles and various heavy defence systems.

European states in the US-led NATO alliance increased their arms imports by 65% from the previous five-year period. But worldwide, international arms transfers fell 5.1%, according to SIPRI.

The United States and Russia have been the world’s largest and second-largest arms exporters for the past three decades. US arms exports increased by 14% from 2013-17, and the US accounted for 40% of global arms exports. Russia’s share fell to 16% from 22%. It is likely that the invasion of Ukraine will further limit Russia’s arms exports, SIPRI’s Siemon T. Wezeman said. This is because Russia will prioritize supplying its armed forces and demand from other states will remain low due to trade sanctions on Russia.”

Ukrainian soldiers soon to complete training on Leopard 2 tanks in Germany, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Handelsblatt. “Training of the Ukrainians that arrived in Germany to practise with Leopard 2 main battle tanks is approaching its end. After several weeks of training, soldiers performed combat exercises at the military training field in Bergen, Lower Saxony, on Monday. […]

Germany will send 18 Leopard 2A6 modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, and Portugal will send another 3. It is part of the military aid destined to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia. Experts are firmly convinced that Leopard 2 has a significant advantage in battles against Russian armoured tank troops. The Ukrainian soldiers have to come back home with tanks this month.”

Ukrainian soldiers wrap up Leopard 2A4 tank training in Spain, Reuters reports. “Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers on Monday wrapped up a four-week training in Spain on how to operate the Leopard 2A4 battle tank, of which Madrid is set to deliver six mothballed units to Kyiv this spring.

A total of 40 tank crew members and 15 mechanical specialists underwent training on their use at a military base in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, Spain’s armed forces said in a statement. […]

Last month, Spain said it plans to send six German-made Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine after they undergo repairs, a number that could increase to 10. Other NATO countries, including Germany, Poland and Portugal, have said they would deliver a total of 48 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.”

Ukraine world’s third largest arms importer in 2022 – SIPRI, Ukrinform reports, citing a press release from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “From 1991 until the end of 2021, Ukraine imported few major arms. As a result of military aid from the USA and many European states following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine became the 3rd biggest importer of major arms during 2022 (after Qatar and India) and the 14th biggest for 2018–22, the press release reads.

SIPRI said Ukraine accounted for 2% of global arms imports in the five-year period. Due to concerns about how the supply of combat aircraft and long-range missiles could further escalate the war in Ukraine, NATO states declined Ukraine’s requests for them in 2022. At the same time, they supplied such arms to other states involved in conflict, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia, said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Program.”

Japan’s assistance for Ukraine reaches $1.6B, Ukrinform reports, citing Kyodo with reference to the data issued by the Foreign Ministry of Japan. “Japan’s ODA [Official Development Assistance] might have also increased in 2022 as the government decided to take various support measures worth around $1.6 billion in total for Ukraine, which has been fighting against Russia’s invasion since February last year,” the report reads.”

Russian propaganda exploiting European pacifists – Poland’s intelligence, Ukrinform reports. “Russian propaganda is employing the narratives of false pacifism in Moscow’s favour. That’s according to Stanislaw Zaryn, Poland’s Commissioner for Security of Information Space, who addressed the issue via Twitter.

According to the Polish agencies responsible for information security, Russia is using the narratives of “false pacifism” in order to win the minds of part of the global audience. Zaryn emphasized that since Russia is interested in an operational pause in its war on Ukraine, propaganda has boosted media support for European pacifist movements, which come up with ideas to cease hostilities for humanitarian reasons.

In Poland, the environment of false pacifism is consolidating around L. Sikulski, who promotes narratives that are in line with the efforts of Russian propaganda, accusing the Polish government, the West, and the USA of provoking war, and calling for partnership with Russia, he noted. According to Poland’s Information Security Commissioner, such actions are part of the mechanisms of psychological pressure, aiming at forcing the West to drop support for Ukraine. However, the implementation of such ideas would lead to Russia quickly achieving a victory over Ukraine, Zaryn stressed.”

New Developments

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1635570210987032576

 

  1. Kremlin claims there are no conditions for peace, only war is possible, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Dmitry Peskov, press secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin and RIA Novosti. “There are no reasons for the situation in Ukraine to obtain a peaceful course at the moment. Achieving our goals continues to be our absolute priority and will always remain such. This is currently only possible through military means.”
  2. Biden wants an $886 billion defence budget with eyes on Ukraine and future wars, ReutersPresident Joe Biden’s biggest peacetime US defence budget request of $886 billion includes a 5.2% pay raise for troops and the largest allocation on record for research and development, with Russia’s war on Ukraine spurring demand for more spending on munitions.
  3. Biden’s request earmarks $842 billion for the Pentagon and $44 billion for defence-related programs at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Energy and other agencies. The total amount of the 2024 budget proposal is $28 billion more than last year’s $858 billion.[…] Congress and the administration both have an eye on a possibly prolonged war in Ukraine and potential future conflicts with Russia and China.”
  4. Ukraine’s MFA reacts to unfriendly statements of Georgian leadership regarding Ukraine, European PravdaAlmost verbatim repeating the theses of Russian propaganda, the representatives of the Georgian authorities accused Ukraine of preparing a coup d’état in Georgia, drawing it into a war with Russia, sending forces to incite a civil war, Oleh Nikolenko, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said on his Facebook page. We flatly reject such insinuations that have nothing to do with reality. That’s not the right place for the Georgian authorities to look for an enemy, Nikolenko said.

On Sunday, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ukrainian politicians to refrain from interfering in his country’s internal affairs. He also called Ukrainian politicians losers. On Friday, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Gia Volski, said that the supporters of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had fought in Ukraine, returned to the country to push the youth toward a revolution.

  1. China’s Xi plans Russia visit as soon as next week – sources, ReutersChinese President Xi Jinping plans to travel to Russia to meet his counterpart Vladimir Putin as soon as next week, people familiar with the matter said, which would be sooner than previously expected. Plans for a visit come as China has been offering to broker peace in Ukraine, an effort that has been met with scepticism in the West given Beijing’s diplomatic support for Russia.
  2. Chinese President plans to speak with Zelenskyy, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Wall Street Journal(WSJ). “Chinese leader Xi Jinping plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, likely after he visits Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A direct conversation with Mr Zelenskyy, if it happens, would mark a significant step in Beijing’s efforts to play peace-maker in Ukraine, which have so far been met with scepticism in Europe. It would also bolster Beijing’s credentials as a global power broker after it facilitated a surprise diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran last week.”
  3. Russia and China threaten to create global ‘danger and disorder’, says UK’s Sunak, ReutersBritain cast China as representing an “epoch-defining challenge” to the world order, in an update to its foreign policy framework published on Monday which declared that the UK’s security hinged on the outcome of the Ukraine war. In the refresh of Britain’s blueprint for securityand international policy, the government warned of China’s deepening partnership with Russia, and Moscow’s growing cooperation with Iran following the invasion of Ukraine.”
  4. Forests being cut down in Moscow to deploy air defence systems – The Insider, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Insider’s investigation. “As the news agency states, active deforestation started after the New Year in several districts of Moscow. […] Four S-400 air defence systems are deployed in the Timiryazevsky District in Moscow’s north; all launchers are operational. A 92N6E multifunctional radar is also deployed at the site, detecting and tracking air targets. […] Another site for the air defence system was the territory of the Losiny Ostrov National Park in the Bogorodskoye district in Moscow’s northeast. The distance from the air defence system to residential high-rise buildings is roughly 200 metres as well. Four of the nine S-400 launchers are reported to have been moved to a vertical firing position. The radar stations are also in their operational positions. […] Another site, presumably for deploying an air defence system, appeared in the Izmailovsky forest park. […] The Insider also emphasises that, apart from the S-400s in Moscow’s residential areas, several Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems have been deployed in the city centre.”
  5. EU Criteria assessment for Ukraine expected in may; Kyiv keen to meet all but one, European PravdaThe Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Olha Stefanishyna states that the first evaluation of the European Commission regarding Ukraine’s progress in fulfilling the candidate criteria will be presented in May, and by then, Kyiv will complete the implementation of most of them. […] The official EU assessment will be known first in October. However, to help Kyiv identify problematic issues, the European Commission agreed to present an “oral interim assessment” of Ukraine’s progress in the spring. The date is yet to be announced.”
  6. EU extends sanctions against Russia’s 1,473 individuals and 205 entities, Ukrinform reports, citing a statement published on the European Council’s website. “The EU Council has decided to extend the restrictive measures targeting those responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine for the next six months.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 13, 2022:

Russian forces have made marginal territorial gains northeast of Kupiansk as of March 13. Geolocated footage posted on March 13 shows that Russian forces advanced south of Hryanykivka (17km northeast of Kupiansk). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions northeast of Kupiansk near Masyutivka (13km northeast of Kupiansk), Dvorichna (17km northeast of Kupiansk), and Hryanykivka on March 12 and 13.

Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line on March 12 and 13. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Kreminna, Nevske (18km northwest of Kreminna), Chervonopopivka (6km northwest of Kreminna), Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna), and the Serebrianska forest area (10km south of Kreminna) on March 12 and 13. Ukrainian Luhansk Oblast Head Serhiy Haidai stated that Russian forces are focusing on operations near Kreminna and Bilohorivka and constantly attack near the Kreminna area. Haidai also stated that Russian forces dedicated new T-90 tanks to offensive operations near Kreminna but ran out after two weeks and are now using T-72s. Russian sources claimed that Russian forces achieved localized successes along the Svatove-Kreminna line on March 12 and 13, including in the Serebrianska forest area. One milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks near Terny, (17km west of Kreminna), Nevske, and Makiivka (23km northwest of Kreminna), but made marginal gains near Ploshchanka (17km northwest of Kreminna) and the Zhuravka gully (18km west of Kreminna) after repelling a Ukrainian counterattack on March 12. The milblogger claimed on March 13 that Ukrainian forces conducted a counterattack near Karmazynivka (13km southwest of Svatove).

Russian forces made marginal territorial gains east of Siversk as of March 13. Geolocated footage posted on March 13 shows that Russian forces made slight advances northeast of Verkhnokamianske (7km east of Siversk). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Verkhnokamianske on March 13.

Russian forces continued making advances in and around Bakhmut on March 12 and 13 but have not succeeded in completing a turning movement, envelopment, or encirclement of the city as of March 13. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops attacked towards Minkivka (15km northwest of Bakhmut) on March 12 and 13, indicating that Russian forces have likely advanced along the E40 Bakhmut-Sloviansk highway in order to launch assaults further northwest of Bakhmut. Geolocated footage posted on March 12 indicates that Russian forces have also made advances about 8km northwest of Bakhmut in the area between Dubovo-Vasylivka and Bohdanivka. Geolocated footage posted on March 13 shows that Russian forces have advanced to new positions in southwestern Bakhmut along the T0504 Kostiantynivka-Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces spokesperson Colonel Cherevaty reported on March 12 that over 39 combat clashes took place within Bakhmut over the past day, and the Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut itself; north of Bakhmut near Vasyukivka (15km north); northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (12km northwest) and Hryhorivka (10km northwest); and west of Bakhmut near Ivanivske (5km west) and Chasiv Yar (10km west) between March 12 and 13.

Russian sources continued to make claims about Russian gains in and around Bakhmut on March 12 and 13. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin notably refuted claims that Wagner took control of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, despite conflicting reports by other Russian sources that Wagner captured the settlement. One milblogger noted that Russian forces control the southern half of Orikhovo-Vasylivka and are clearing two recently captured strongholds. Russian milbloggers widely circulated claims on March 12 that Wagner fighters began assaults on underground sections of the AZOM complex in northwestern Bakhmut and strengthened their positions at the complex on March 13. Several Russian sources also discussed purported Russian attacks and gains in southern Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers also claimed that the Wagner Group has further advanced towards the T0504 and is conducting positional battles near Ivanivske, Stupochky (10km southwest of Bakhmut), and Khromove (5km west of Bakhmut). Russian sources notably warned that Ukrainian forces are massing near Bakhmut in preparation for a counterattack to break Wagner’s blockade of the city, with one milblogger reporting that Ukrainian forces conducted counterattacks along the Klishchiivka-Chasiv Yar line west of Bakhmut on March 13. A Wagner Group-affiliated milblogger remarked that Wagner troops are trying to extend their flank west of Bakhmut along the Siversky Donetsk-Donbas water canal to create an artificial operational encirclement of the Bakhmut area, suggesting that Wagner will likely continue efforts to push west to reach the banks of the canal.

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on March 12 and 13. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive operations on Avdiivka itself; in the Avdiivka area near Krasnohorivka (9km north of Avdiivka), Kamianka (4km northeast of Avdiivka), and Severne (5km west of Avdiivka); on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Nevelske, Vodyane, and Pervomaiske; on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka and Pobieda. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces gained new positions in Krasnohorivka on March 12 and are clearing Kamianka as of March 13. Milbloggers highlighted these claims as evidence that Russian sources are close to encircling Avdiivka, but ISW has not observed visual confirmation of Russian advances near Avdiivka, and several Russian milbloggers, including former officer Igor Girkin, disputed reports that Avdiivka is near encirclement. Russian sources additionally claimed that Russian forces are fighting on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City and within Marinka on March 12 and 13.

Russian forces conducted a ground attack in western Donetsk Oblast on March 12. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensives near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City) on March 12 and did not confirm any ground attacks in the area on March 13. A Russian source posted footage on March 10 of scouts of the 5th Guards Tank Brigade (36th Combined Arms Army, Eastern Military District) targeting Ukrainian drones near Vuhledar.

A member of the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of pursuing political objectives in Russia that are endangering Wagner forces in Bakhmut. Russian political scientist Aleksey Mukhin—who contributes to the Valdai Discussion Club and Russian state media—commented on Prigozhin’s March 11 sarcastic announcemen  that he will be running in the Ukrainian presidential election in 2024. Mukhin stated on his Telegram channel that the Russian public began to interpret Prigozhin’s statement as an announcement that he will run for the Russian presidential elections, which are also scheduled for 2024. Mukhin rhetorically asked if Prigozhin notified Russian President Vladimir Putin about his “presidential ambitions.” Mukhin argued that Prigozhin’s presentation of himself as the “commander” of the Wagner private military company (PMC) “directly affects the planning and management of the assault squads’ combat operations.” Mukhin also sarcastically stated that Prigozhin is a “prospective politician” who searches for scapegoats to blame for Wagner’s high losses among personnel. Mukhin observed that everyone knows that the Russian government pays for Prigozhin’s forces and their ammunition and stated that Prigozhin’s failure to acknowledge the support from conventional Russian forces alienated him from other Russian battlefield commanders. Mukhin concluded that Prigozhin “has placed the Wagner fighters in danger of encirclement during the expected Ukrainian counterattack” as a result of his actions. Mukhin stated that Prigozhin now is demanding that Russian conventional forces “cover his flanks,” and that Russian forces may need to put aside their distaste for Prigozhin to prevent further Wagner losses in Bakhmut.

Mukhin’s attack on Prigozhin is in line with ISW’s March 12 assessment that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may be deliberately expending Wagner forces in Bakhmut in part to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations. Mukhin’s accusations also support ISW’s assessment that the Kremlin and Russian MoD may be attempting to blame Prigozhin for the slowed pace of advance in Bakhmut and for high casualties among Wagner mercenaries. Mukhin’s statement showcases how the Kremlin may be perceiving Prigozhin’s controversial statements and his threat to Putin’s regime. ISW previously observed harsh criticism towards Prigozhin from milbloggers such as disgraced Russian officer Igor Girkin, but Mukhin’s statement is notable because of his existing affiliation with the Kremlin institution that is the Valdai Club.

Prigozhin likely indirectly responded to Mukhin’s accusations on March 12 but has not scaled back his hostile rhetoric towards the Russian MoD. Prigozhin responded within an hour of Mukhin’s statement, stating that the situation in Bakhmut remains “really hard” and that his “550 attempts” to procure ammunition for Wagner were ignored. Prigozhin, however, emphasized that servicemen subordinated to the Russian MoD have been bringing 12 to 15 cars full of ammunition to Wagner in Bakhmut from Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk City, and Avdiivka frontlines. Prigozhin noted that “there is no conflict between Wagner PMC fighters and Russian MoD fighters,” and claimed that he is confident that Wagner will continue to receive such donations due to friendly relations with these units. Prigozhin doubled down on his statements on March 13 and reportedly met with an unnamed commander of an unspecified Russian brigade. Prigozhin claimed that he had developed a relationship with unspecified conventional forces after they had suffered a year of “betrayal” and stated that these forces are not covering one of Wagner’s flanks—a statement that mimics Mukhin’s claim that Russian conventional forces are not interested in assisting Wagner.

A Wagner-affiliated milblogger also directly responded to Mukhin’s commentary stating that while Prigozhin was simply “trolling” about his presidential ambitions in Ukraine, he does not need to notify Putin of his political ambitions according to Russian law. The milblogger further echoed Prigozhin’s claims that Wagner is on good terms with conventional forces, which further confirms that Prigozhin’s March 12 and March 13 statements were in response to Mukhin’s accusations.

Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues efforts to maintain Chechnya’s relevance in the Russian political and military sphere. Kadyrov met with Putin on March 13 to discuss Chechnya’s socioeconomic achievements and domestic developments in 2022. Kadyrov also used the meeting to laud the success of Chechen fighters in Ukraine and emphasized that Chechen fighters are dutifully fulfilling Putin’s orders and “aim to act to the bitter end,” to which Putin responded by acknowledging the role of Chechen fighters and thanking Kadyrov. Kadyrov appeared visibly nervous during the meeting, potentially indicating that he felt considerable pressure to present Chechnya, himself, and his troops to Putin in a positive and productive light. Chechen troops are currently playing a very minimal role on the frontline in Ukraine and mainly appear to be conducting offensive operations near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast, and are otherwise carrying out law enforcement tasks in rear areas of occupied Ukraine. Kadyrov may therefore fear that he is losing favor with Putin because he has very little to show in terms of Chechen combat gains, and likely hoped to correct and bolster his reputation over the course of this meeting. Putin, in turn, likely hopes to pressure Kadyrov into increasing the role of Chechen fighters in combat operations due to continued losses to both the Wagner Group and conventional Russian forces in ongoing offensive operations in Ukraine.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Iranian officials in Tehran on March 13 to expand bilateral cooperation and bolster sanctions mitigations. Iranian state media reported that Lukashenko met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber. Raisi and Lukashenko signed eight cooperation agreements in the spheres of comprehensive cooperation, trade, transportation, agriculture, and culture and noted that Belarus and Iran tripled bilateral trade in 2022 compared to 2021. Raisi notably stated that cooperation with Belarus could be a way for both nations to counter sanctions. Lukashenko has frequently acted as a Kremlin vassal in recent trips to foreign countries, and his visit to Tehran is likely a component of the Kremlin’s wider effort to secure continued Iranian support in the face of international sanctions. Iranian state media notably announced on March 11 that Iran has finalized a deal to buy Su-35 combat aircraft from Russia, indicating that military, political, and economic agreements between Tehran and Moscow are continuing to prove mutually beneficial for both parties. The Kremlin will likely continue to leverage Lukashenko’s influence to deepen cooperation with Tehran.

Russian milbloggers continue to speculate about a prospective Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, suggesting increasing concern in the Russian information space about Ukrainian combat capabilities as Russian forces pin themselves on offensive operations in Bakhmut. The milbloggers largely agreed that Ukrainian forces would prioritize an offensive in the south against Berdiansk-Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia Oblast or Mariupol-Volnovakha in Donetsk Oblast, but some claimed that Ukrainian forces have enough combat power to conduct a second counteroffensive either in another area of southern Ukraine or along the Kupiansk-Svatove line in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast. A Wagner-affiliated milblogger agreed with ISW’s prior assessments on the Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut, claiming that Ukrainian forces are grinding Russian forces’ best available infantry around Bakhmut to reduce Russian forces’ capability to stop any Ukrainian advances. The milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces would be able to drive south and face minimal Russian resistance in southern Ukraine, unlike other areas of the front line. Another milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces would target southern Ukraine because a “destroyed Crimea” holds strategic importance while a “destroyed Donbas” does not. Russian State Duma Deputy Dmitry Kuznetsov claimed that Ukrainian forces would target the Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea in a months-long interdiction campaign like the Antonivskyi Bridge in Kherson Oblast and called on Russian forces to quickly develop anti-drone warfare to defend the critical ground lines of communication (GLOCs) connecting Crimea to mainland Russia. […]

The Russian military is reportedly employing the newly created “assault detachments” in different manners across different tactical situations. A Ukrainian reserve officer who has previously reported on a captured Russian military manual on the new “assault detachment” reported on March 12 that Russian forces are using both formalized permanent assault (“storm”) units and ad hoc temporary assault detachments in Ukraine. The Ukrainian officer reported that Russian forces have integrated permanent assault units into battalion, regiment, and brigade structures and that their size ranges from that of a company to that of a reinforced battalion.  Russian forces reportedly assemble temporary assault detachments within a regiment or battalion for specific operations and do not give these temporary detachments a number, name, defined structure, regular commander, or specific armaments. Permanent Russian assault detachments reportedly have designated commanders and are most often comprised of one or two tanks, several armored personnel carriers, and 40 to 80 personnel. Russian forces reportedly will form temporary assault detachments to respond to situations as they arise, and these formations apparently often retreat after initial losses and suffer from significant communication and coordination problems. Russian forces reportedly designed permanent assault units to break through Ukrainian positions and may have modeled them after the Wagner Group‘s small-scale assault tactics in the Bakhmut area. Russian forces have also reportedly used some of these permanent assault units for punitive reasons and forcibly staff them with problematic and disobedient soldiers to retaliate against them for bad behavior.

The Russian military is likely attempting to concentrate combat-ready forces and equipment in permanent formations trained to conduct small-scale assaults while distancing severely degraded formations from offensive operations of tactical importance. Russian forces are reportedly employing these assault formations to attack well-fortified Ukrainian positions and conduct urban warfare. These non-doctrinal formations would likely struggle to conduct a mechanized advance across open country in Ukraine, and Russian forces are likely implementing them for conditions on the current frontlines and not for any wider operational goals.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that Russia has illegally deported 2,161 Ukrainian orphans to Russia. The Ukrainian government previously verified the illegal deportation of a total of 16,207 children to Russia, including those deported alongside their families, and estimated that the total number of children may be closer to 150,000. ISW previously reported on a Russian documentary series following Ukrainian children after adoption into Russian families that claimed that Russian officials “evacuated” over 150,000 children to Russia from Donbas alone. ISW continues to assess that the forcible deportation and adoption of Ukrainian children is a violation of the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and a potential constituent element of a wider ethnic cleansing campaign.

Key Takeaways

  • A member of the Kremlin-affiliated Valdai Discussion Club accused Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin of pursuing political objectives in Russia that are endangering Wagner forces in Bakhmut. This attack on Prigozhin is in line with ISW’s March 12 assessment that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) may be deliberately expending Wagner forces in Bakhmut to derail Prigozhin’s political aspirations.
  • Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov continues efforts to maintain Chechnya’s relevance in the Russian political and military sphere.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Iranian officials in Tehran on March 13 to expand bilateral cooperation and bolster sanctions mitigations.
  • Russian milbloggers continue to speculate about a prospective Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, suggesting increasing concern in the Russian information space about Ukrainian combat capabilities as Russian forces pin themselves on offensive operations in Bakhmut.
  • A Russian State Duma bill aiming to raise the conscription age suggests that the Kremlin is not planning to conduct full mobilization in the future.
  • The Russian military is reportedly employing the newly created “assault detachments” in different manners across different tactical situations.
  • Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that Russia has illegally deported 2,161 Ukrainian orphans to Russia.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks throughout the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line and made marginal gains northeast of Kupiansk and east of Siversk.
  • Russian forces continued making advances in and around Bakhmut but have not succeeded in completing a turning movement, envelopment, or encirclement of the city as of March 13.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast front line.
  • Ukrainian forces continue to conduct raids against areas in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.
  • Subordination of mobilized Russian military personnel to Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic (DNR/LNR) formations is generating increasing discontent.

Russian occupation officials continue to introduce new provisions to discourage and restrict the use of the Ukrainian language in educational facilities.

The Russian Army Is Running Out Of T-72 Tanks—And Quickly, Forbes reports. “Russia’s tank shortage is worse than some observers previously thought. The Kremlin’s stocks of its most numerous tank, the Cold War-vintage T-72, are running out fast. […]

The Russians have lost potentially two-thirds of the T-72s that are in active service or in recoverable storage. So it makes a lot more sense why the Kremlin is pulling out of storage T-62 tanks that are even older than any T-72 is, as well as T-80Bs that are roughly contemporaneous with early T-72s. Russian industry can produce just a handful of new tanks every month—far too few to make good monthly losses in the triple digits.”

Russia considers raising conscription age to enlist more people within next 2 years, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RIA Novosti and BBC News Russian. “A draft law submitted to the State Duma of the Russian Federation proposes to gradually raise the conscription age in Russia: from 18 to 21 years old at the lower end, and from 27 to 30 years old at the upper end. It envisages a transitional period of mixed conscription for military service. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu first proposed changing the conscription age in Russia in December 2022, during a Defence Ministry meeting also attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin. […]

The draft law envisages a transitional period lasting until 2026. In 2024, Russian citizens aged 19–30 will be called; in 2025 it will concern those aged 20–30, and in 2026, the Defence Ministry will draft those aged 21–30. When unveiling the bill, Kartapolov said that it would take one to three years to raise Russia’s conscription age, but the process would start as early as spring 2023. The bill creates legal conditions for adults to join the army before the age of conscription if they wish to do so. […]

According to Russian law, conscripts cannot be sent to combat zones, but Russia has used conscripts in the war from the first days of its invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin euphemistically calls a “special military operation”.

Most Ukrainians support liberation of Crimea by military means, Ukrinform reports, citing a nationwide survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). “As many as 64% of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine should try to retake all of its territory, including Crimea, even if there is a risk of less support from the West and a protracted war.

KIIS recalled that according to the Institute’s latest data, the absolute majority of Ukrainians – 87% – are against any territorial concessions, whereas 9% are ready for them. However, this question was asked in general about “territorial concessions,” without specifying the territories and possible “compromise” proposals.”

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

State Statistics Service: Real GDP fell by 31.4% in 4th quarter, Ukrinform reports. “In the 4th quarter of 2022, real GDP decreased by 4.7% compared to the previous quarter (taking into account the seasonal factor) and by 31.4% compared to the 4th quarter of 2021, the State Statistics Service of Ukraine reports.

The State Statistics Service notes that following the third quarter of 2022, the decline in GDP reached 30.8%, the second – 37.2%, compared to the corresponding periods in 2021.

As reported, according to the estimates of the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, the fall in GDP in February 2023 is 26% (±2%), in January – 32% (±2%). According to preliminary data, the Ministry of Economy estimated the decline in Ukraine’s GDP for 2022 at the level of 30.4% (±2%).

 

Hans Petter Midttun: We have been facing an increased and unacceptable risk of a nuclear disaster since 24 February 2022. The risk has, however, been elevated since 2014 already.

Russia is conducting conventional war around and over Ukraine’s 4 Nuclear Power Plants (NPP) and 15 Nuclear Reactors. This constitutes a risk bigger in scale and scope than the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Missile overflights and near impacts have been recorded. Six reactors are regularly exposed to artillery and MLRS attacks. Several attacks have been documented.

Generating nuclear power in the heart of a conventional war “is unprecedented,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Manuel Grossi told CNN. “These are completely uncharted waters.”

Russian occupation and control of the Zaporizhzhia NPP have long been deemed outright unsafe and in breach of its international commitments. The IAEA’s work emphasises seven “indispensable” pillars of nuclear safety. These are the physical integrity of nuclear facilities, the functionality of safety equipment, the ability of staff to act “free of undue pressure”, an off-site power supply, uninterrupted supply and transport chains, effective and widespread radiation monitoring with readiness in case of emergency, and reliable communications.

During the last 13 months, the violation of these pillars by Russian forces at Zaporizhzhia has dominated the concerns of the IAEA. Frequent shelling and loss of power, the stationing of military equipment on its premises and the intimidation of the staff increase the risk of a nuclear accident with potentially disastrous results. Russian troops have broken nearly every safeguarding principle, from fire safety protocols to the very basics of not shelling nuclear reactors.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has six Soviet-designed water-cooled and water-moderated reactors containing Uranium 235, which have a half-life of more than 700 million years. Construction began in 1980 and its sixth reactor was connected to the grid in 1995. All six reactors are now in cold shutdown after reactor No. 6 was shut down on Sept. 12.

Less than a week ago, Zaporizhzhia NPP was knocked off the power grid for the sixth time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. While its six nuclear reactors are “in a cold shutdown state – meaning that the plant is no longer producing electricity – they still require power to maintain necessary safety functions. The reactor’s temperature is below boiling point but electrical pumps moving water through the reactor core must still keep working to cool the fuel. According to the IAEA, the electricity needed is coming from Ukraine through backup power lines or on-site diesel generators.

Lack of power increases the risk of nuclear fuel overheating. According to Reuters:

If the power was cut and auxiliary systems such as 20 diesel generators (which have enough diesel for 10 days) failed to keep the reactors cool, then the fuel could melt down and the zirconium cladding could release hydrogen.

A meltdown of the fuel, which remains extremely hot for some time even after the reactor shutdown, could begin a fire or explosion that could release a plume of radionuclides into the air where they could be spread over a large area.

The Chornobyl accident spread Iodine-131, Caesium-134, Strontium-90 and Caesium-137 across parts of northern Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, northern and central Europe. Nearly 8.4 million people in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were exposed to radiation, according to the United Nations.”

The present manning situation at Zaporizhzhia NPP further increases the risk. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, “the shortage of skilled workers who can ensure the vital activity of the nuclear power plant is growing catastrophically”. The manning consists of a mix of Russian (Rosatom) and Ukrainian (Ukrenergo) specialists, the latter being under immense pressure by the occupation authorities.

The nuclear risks, however, go beyond the 15 Nuclear Reactors.

The Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology (KIPT) has been heavily damaged by shelling during the last year. The centre which contains nuclear material and a reactor suffered damage from heavy shelling on both 6 March and 25 June. The risk of further damage is high as Kharkiv city is exposed to near-daily attacks by Russia. An inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November concluded that there is presently “no indication of radiological release or diversion of declared nuclear material”.

Additionally, another existing nine-year-old nuclear environmental risk remains a critical vulnerability. In November 2021, Ukrinform published the article “The ghost of the nuclear threat is rising in Donetsk”. It stressed that neither Ukrainian authorities nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has had access to nuclear facilities and materials in the occupied territories of Ukraine since 2014, pointing out that little attention is allotted to environmental disasters resulting from armed conflict. 

«A radioactive time bomb is ticking away as a result of the war in Ukraine, at the Yuny Komunar (Yunkom) mine. In 1979, an industrial underground nuclear explosion with a TNT energy equivalent yield of 200-300 tonnes (0.2-0.3kt), the first of its kind in a densely populated and intensively exploited coalmining district, was produced there. The section, codenamed Klivazh Facility, contains the chamber of the underground nuclear explosion and adjacent jointing zone. The purported idea behind the underground nuclear explosion was to assess its effectiveness for reducing the rate of sudden coal and gas outbursts in the process of coal bed workings. […]

In 2018, Russian-backed occupation forces in Donetsk ceased drainage works at the Yunkom mine. Located in the town of Bunhe, (temporarily occupied area of Donetsk region), the mine is hydraulically interconnected with several other chemically polluted ones. Their saturation creates a risk of nearly uncontrolled flooding of the Klivazh facility.

Like a dirty bomb, this radioactive-chemical cocktail poses a large-scale environmental threat affecting the ecology, human health and lives in areas far beyond Ukrainian borders should it seep through to the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea making its way into the Mediterranean

I have been accused of being irresponsible for arguing in favour of military intervention. I have, however, presented seven arguments for why an intervention is in NATO’s interest. The risk of a nuclear disaster due to warfighting around 15 nuclear power plants and the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, and the potentially far-reaching consequences of the Yunkom mine “dirty bomb”, is yet another argument in favour.

I made the case in November, arguing that “a NATO intervention in Ukraine would prevent nuclear disaster. I argued that if the USA and Europe genuinely want to guarantee that a nuclear catastrophe does not happen – irrespectively whether another “Chernobyl” or the potential use of nuclear weapons – the West must:

  1. Publicly acknowledge the true scope and scale of the war: The Russian aggressions are part of a broader confrontation with the West, in which the defeat of Ukraine is only one out of several crucial objectives. The recognition would signal a shift in NATO’s policy, triggering the countermeasures needed to deter further transgressions. It would help rebuild deterrence and credibility.
  2. Forward deploy military forces to Ukraine to establish a tripwire: Any Russian further conventional or potential nuclear attacks against Ukrainian territory run the risk of NATO casualties, triggering a military response and an escalation.
  3. Establish 3-dimensional safety zones around the 4 Ukrainian NPPs, evicting Russian forces based at ZNPP.
  4. Fast track a Ukrainian NATO membership to ensure that its collective defence guarantee extends to Ukraine, again triggering an Allied response in case of continued warfighting. The starting point would be to offer Ukraine the same security guarantees several NATO members have extended to Finland and Sweden.

Admittingly, it is presently hard to see NATO member states finding the moral courage to agree on these measures. But then again, if they don’t, they must accept the ever-increasing risk of a nuclear disaster in Europe, irrespectively of its cause or origin.

For all of those who still don’t find it important to do the right thing, stop the meaningless suffering and destruction, fulfil past commitments, defend international law and democracy, and stop the “tsunami of ripple effects” from changing the political landscape in Europe:

An intervention is the only way to counter the Russian nuclear “fait accompli” strategy and, consequently, effectively curb its aggressive foreign policy.

 

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