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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 386: Russia gained 0.039% more territory in Ukraine in one month

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 386: Russia gained 0.039% more territory in Ukraine in one month

20-30,000 Russians killed and wounded around Bakhmut. 13% Russian survival rate near Vuhledar. Russia gained just 0.039% more territory in Ukraine between 31 January and 28 February.

Daily overview — Summary report, March 16

https://twitter.com/War_Mapper/status/1636157904779718656

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, March 16, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Siutation in Ukraine. March 15, 2023. Source: ISW.

 

The Russian Federation does not give up its intentions regarding the occupation of Ukraine and continues to conduct offensive actions, regardless of losses. Russian forces are concentrating their main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Shakhtarsk axes. Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces have carried out more than 75 attacks on the indicated axes.

Receiving strong resistance from the Defense Forces, the Russian Federation continues to use terror tactics against the civilian population of Ukraine and does not stop striking and shelling populated areas.

Over the past day, Russian forces launched 3 missile strikes, in particular, on the object of the civil infrastructure of the city of Kharkiv. Also, Russian forces carried out 29 airstrikes and launched 79 attacks from MLRS.

The probability of further enemy missile strikes throughout the territory of Ukraine remains high.

Kharkiv Battle Map. March 15, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn’, Polissya, Siverhchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the operational situation has not changed significantly, and the formation of offensive groups has not been detected. The training of units of the Russian occupation forces continues at the training grounds of the Republic of Belarus. Russian forces maintain a military presence in the border areas. During the day, Russian forces shelled the areas of Hrinivka, Tymonovychy, Berylivka settlements of Chernihiv Oblast; Yelyne, Starykov, Atynske, Volfyne, Stepne, Kindrativka, Pokrovka and Grabovske of the Sumy Oblast and Lemishchyne, Strelecha, Krasne, Staritsa, Vovchansk, Bochkove, Budarky, Ambarne and Kolodyazne of the Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Kupiansk and Lyman axes: Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Hryanikyvka, Belogorivka, and Spirny. They carried out artillery shelling of the districts of Dvorichna, Hryanikyvka, Kupiansk, Krokhmalne settlements of the Kharkiv Oblast; Novoselivske, Nevske, Dibrova and Bilogorivka in the Luhansk Oblast, as well as Kolodyazi, Siversk, Spirne and Fedorivka in the Donetsk Oblast.
Donetsk Battle Map. March 15, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces do not stop trying to storm the city of Bakhmut. Our defenders repelled numerous enemy attacks in the vicinities of Orihovo-Vasylivka and Bohdanivka settlements. Settlements near the contact line were shelled by Russian forces, including Privillia, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Chasiv Yar, Predtechine, Oleksandro-Shulgyne, Kurdyumivka, Ozaryanivka, Dachne and Shumy of the Donetsk Oblast.
  • Avdiivka, Mariinka, and Shakhtarsk axes: Russian forces carried out unsuccessful offensive actions in the areas of Stepove, Kamianka, Avdiivka, Severne, Netaylove, Pervomaiske, Nevelske, Mariinka, and Vugledar settlements. On the specified section of the front, during the past day, the most attacks were recorded in the Mariinka area – 12, all of which were repelled by our defenders. Areas of Novokalynovy, Kam’ianka, Lastochkiny, Avdiivka, Tonenkoy, Georgiyivka, Nevelskyi, Pobyeda, Vugledar, Vremyvika, and Velikay Novosilka of the Donetsk Oblast were under enemy shelling.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 15, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: Russian forces are conducting defensive Areas of settlements near the contact line, in particular, Olhivske, Malynivka, Gulyaipole, Charivne, Yehorivka, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanilivka, Novoandriivka, and Kam’ianske of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, were shelled; Manganets – Dnipropetrovsk; Chervonyi Mayak, Tokarivka, Antonivka, Dniprovske of Kherson Oblast and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 15, 2023. Source: ISW.

[Due to being powerless against the Ukrainian Defense Forces, the occupiers are fighting against the civilians in the temporarily occupied territory of Kherson oblast. After Russian forces concentrations were effectively hit over March 12-13 and the resulting heavy losses, the invaders are intensifying security measures in certain settlements. The Russian occupiers usually travel in civilian cars taken from local residents. Also, a convoy of occupants carrying looted property was reported moving towards Crimea on March 14.]

[In another village in Kherson oblast, Russian forces is conducting counter-sabotage activities. To justify their actions, they accuse the villagers of killing a Russian soldier whose body was found.]

During the past 24x hours, the Ukrainian Air Force carried out 16 strikes on the areas of concentration of personnel and military equipment of the occupiers. Our soldiers shot down an enemy Su-25 aircraft and 13 unmanned aerial vehicles of various types.

Units of missile and artillery troops hit the control post, 3 areas of concentration of personnel and military equipment of Russian forces, as well as 2 radar stations, an electronic warfare station and an anti-aircraft missile complex at the firing position.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

Analysts calculate how much Ukrainian territory Russia captured in one month of offensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Business Insider with reference to military analysts. “According to the newspaper, the Institute for the Study of War told Insider that its mapping data showed that Russia had gained just 0.039% more territory in Ukraine between 31 January and 28 February.

At the same time, according to Business Insider, according to the war Mapper tracking group, Russia managed to increase the territory it controls in Ukraine by less than 0.01% in February, the same month it launched its long-awaited new offensive, experts say.

The ISW told Insider that “both numbers are small enough” that a tiny miscalculation could be why they are different, but that ultimately, both accurately portray the limited state of Russia’s territory gains. Russia gained this tiny amount of land while losing thousands of soldiers and haemorrhaging military equipment, the publication concludes.

Syrskyi: Enemy unsuccessfully trying to encircle Bakhmut and advance, Ukrinform reports. “Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, has stated that the Russian troops are unsuccessfully trying to encircle Bakhmut in Donetsk region and move forward.

Russian forces continues making unsuccessful attempts to encircle the city and move forward. There, the fighters of the 93rd Brigade, together with other defenders, resist the furious pressure of Russian forces. Thanks to their work, enemy tanks, IFVs, MLRS, and ammo depots fly up into the air, Syrskyi emphasized.

The invaders are also pressing in Kupiansk and Lyman directions. Soldiers of the 92nd Ivan Sirko Separate Mechanized Brigade destroyed Russian forces radar systems, MLRS, and command posts. Such decisive actions of our army greatly exhaust and demoralize Russian forces and bring our victory closer, Syrskyi emphasized.”

Ukrainian troops destroy six enemy artillery depots in Bakhmut direction, Ukrinform reports. “The Russians have a tendency towards ammunition decrease: they deliver ammunition from remote regions, the projectiles are of lower quality due to obsolescence, and the delivery period is also longer. And we are constantly working to destroy their field artillery depots. In particular, six such depots were destroyed in Bakhmut direction today, Cherevaty, Spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said.

At the same time, he noted that Russian troops continue to actively use artillery in Bakhmut and Lyman–Kupiansk directions. In particular, 191 and 395 strikes, respectively, were recorded in these directions today. The spokesman noted that Ukraine needs missile and artillery superiority to win.”

Russian hackers preparing new cyber assault against Ukraine – Microsoft report, Reuters reports. “Russian hackers appear to be preparing a renewed wave of cyber-attacks against Ukraine, including a “ransomware-style” threat to organizations serving Ukraine’s supply lines, a research report by Microsoft said on Wednesday.  The report, authored by the tech giant’s cyber security research and analysis team, outlines a series of new discoveries about how Russian hackers have operated during the Ukraine conflict and what may come next.

Since January 2023, Microsoft has observed Russian cyber threat activity adjusting to boost destructive and intelligence gathering capacity on Ukraine and its partners’ civilian and military assets, the report reads. One group“appears to be preparing for a renewed destructive campaign”

The findings come as Russia has been introducing new troops to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, according to Western security officials. Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov last month warned that Russia could accelerate its military activities surrounding the Feb. 24 anniversary of its invasion. […] Experts say the tactic of combining physical military operations with cyber techniques mirrors prior Russian activity.”

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

  • Over the last week, Russian attempts to assault the Donetsk Oblast town of Vuhledar have almost certainly slowed. This follows repeated, extremely costly failed attacks over the previous three months.
  • One factor in Russia’s heavy losses in this sector has been Ukraine’s successful adoption of Remote Anti-Armour Mine systems (RAAM). RAAM is a specialist artillery shell which scatters anti-armour mines up to 17km away from the firing unit. In some instances, Ukraine has launched the mines over and behind advancing Russian units, causing disarray when Russian vehicles attempt to withdraw.
  • Russia’s only notable recent tactical success has been in the Bakhmut sector, which is dominated by Wagner Group mercenary forces, currently engaged in a public feud with the Russian Ministry of Defence. There is a realistic possibility that Russia’s MoD has been insistent in its drive for success in Vuhledar, partially because it wants its own success to compete with Wagner’s achievements.
  • Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian public officials and workers have been subject to increasingly severe foreign travel restrictions. Some officials have likely had to forfeit their passports to the Federal Security Service. Employees closer to the centre of power face more severe restrictions; Kremlin officials are banned from all international leisure travel.
  • This is a widening of existing measures which date from the Soviet era. Travel restrictions were tightened after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
  • The measures are likely designed to prevent the flight or defection of increasingly disaffected officials. There is a realistic possibility that as the securitisation of the Russian state continues, travel restrictions will be tightened for an increasing number of public sector employees.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Thursday 16 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 162560 (+1040)
  • Tanks – 3504 (+12)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6810 (+11)
  • Artillery systems – 2539 (+11)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 503 (+1)
  • Air defence means – 265 (+3)
  • Aircraft – 305 (+1)
  • Helicopters – 289 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5394 (+17)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2145 (+13)
  • Special equipment – 257 (+0)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 907 (+0)

General Milley: Russian military stocks rapidly depleting, soldiers demoralized, Ukrinform reports. “General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that the Russian leadership is throwing undertrained, poorly led, poorly equipped Russian forces in mindless frontal attacks and sacrificing them hundreds per day.

Russia remains isolated. Their military stocks are rapidly depleting, the soldiers are demoralized, untrained, unmotivated, conscripts, and convicts, and their leadership is failing them, having already failed in their strategic objectives, Milley said during a press conference at Pentagon following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, an Ukrinform correspondent reports. Russia is increasingly relying on other countries such as Iran and North Korea, he noted.

At the same time, Russian soldiers are thrown into the chaos of war wave after wave. “The severely undertrained, poorly led, poorly equipped Russian forces are conducting mindless frontal attacks and sacrificing hundreds per day… It’s obvious to the world and it should be obvious to Putin that these objectives are no longer achievable by continuing this war, Milley believes.”

Russian army to be replenished with 400,000 new contract service personnel, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Radio Svoboda. “The Russian Defence Ministry will start new recruitment of professional soldiers to the Russian army from 1 April, their aim being to add 400,000 new recruits to the army.

As Radio Svoboda reported, the Russian Defence Ministry has sent documents to the regions indicating the number of people with whom contracts should be signed.

Radio Svoboda noticed that several Russian regional media outlets immediately published the total number of contract service personnel needed to replenish the Russian army. […] Radio Svoboda indicated that the main part of the work will be carried out by military enlistment offices, and governors will be responsible for the implementation of the plan.”

Kremlin claims that new mobilisation wave in Russia is “not in question”, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing TASS. “Dmitryi Peskov, the press secretary of the President of Russia, assures fellow citizens that the new wave of mobilisation in the Russian Federation “is not under consideration”, and that the serving of summonses is a common practice.”

Some 20-30,000 Russians killed and wounded around Bakhmut, Ukrinform reports, citing Ian Stubbs, a senior military advisor at Britain’s delegation to the OSCE. “Over the past week, we have seen intensive combat as Russia continues its grinding offensive in the Donbas. Russia is suffering extremely heavy casualty rates. Since May last year, between 20 – 30,000 Wagner and regular Russian forces have been killed and wounded in the area around Bakhmut alone – a huge loss of human life for a total territorial advance of approximately just 25km, he said. […]

Separately, Ian Stubbs pointed out that Russia also seems to be running out of missiles, as evidenced by the longer interval between Russian strikes on critical infrastructure across Ukraine. According to the official, the Russian military supply issues are just as acute at the front line. Russia has suffered huge heavy armored vehicle losses forcing it to deploy 60-year-old T-62 main battle tanks onto the frontline. Since summer 2022, approximately 800 antiquated T-62s have been taken out from storage. More recently, Russian BTR-50 armoured personnel carriers have also been deployed in Ukraine, vintage vehicles which were first fielded into the Russian military in 1954, said the senior military adviser.

He added that in this regard, an obvious question” arises: why is Russia’s much vaunted new generation of military hardware absent from the battlefield? The truth is, Russia’s over hyped new generation T14 Armata Main Battle Tank is proving a white elephant, barely capable of taking part in a parade let alone performing on the battlefields of Ukraine. And, the Russian air force has so little confidence in the Su57 5th generation multi-role aircraft that they dare not operate it over Ukraine, Stubbs said, replying to a question.

He emphasized that the Russian military command demonstrates a striking lack of military competence and squanders strategic resources to gain small tactical gains. Everyone can see the truth. Russia’s military and its defense industry are failing in Ukraine, the British diplomat emphasized.”

Humanitarian 

Energy system operates with power reserve, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Ministry of Energy. “On Wednesday, the power grid continues to operate with almost no limitations to consumers and has a power reserve, with short-term outages possible in Zhytomyr and Kyiv oblasts.

It is noted that as a result of damage to the power grid and its repairs, short-term power outages are possible in some oblasts, in particular in Zhytomyr and Kyiv oblasts. Over the past day, power supply has been restored to the districts of Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro oblasts affected by Russian attacks.”

European Energy Commonwealth to help Ukraine in rebuilding energy sector, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal. “The Energy Community, which includes most of the European countries, will help Ukraine in rebuilding the energy sector. According to him, the relevant memorandum was signed on Wednesday, 15 March, during a meeting with the delegation of the Secretariat of the Energy Commonwealth led by Artur Lorkovsky.

This concerns support for priority projects of construction and reconstruction of the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, as well as support for the restoration of alternative energy facilities. In addition, the memorandum envisages cooperation in the direction of preparing lawsuits against Russia to collect compensation for damage to the energy infrastructure, the Prime Minister wrote.

According to him, during the meeting they also discussed steps to further synchronise the energy systems of Ukraine and the EU and increase the capacity of export and import of electricity.”

Environmental

The war in Ukraine is a human tragedy. It’s also an environmental disaster, The Washington Post reports. “Since the war began more than a year ago, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or wounded on the battlefield while the country’s civilians have contended with a near-constant bombardment by missiles and drones. But the Russian invasion has created a lower-profile killer as well — one that could haunt Ukrainians for years, if not decades, scientists say. The war has scarred Ukraine’s natural environment — polluting its rivers and lakes, contaminating its soil, eviscerating its forests — a circumstance that experts fear could lead to a long-term increase in cancers and other illnesses among civilians. […]

The attack on the oil depot here is just one of the thousands of reported environmental disasters across the country that Ukrainian and international scientists are in the earliest stages of documenting as the conflict continues. […]In cities that have been hit by airstrikes, the chemicals used to extinguish fires are leaching into the groundwater, and asbestos and other pollutants from the rubble of destroyed buildings are cleanup hazards. Across Ukraine, the electrical transformers and substations that Russia has been targeting are leaking heavy fuel oil and carcinogenic chemicals.

And in front-line areas, ferocious trench warfare is damaging fields, forests and rivers. The slow-moving tank and artillery fighting is different from the targeted urban combat of many conflicts of this century. As a result, soldiers on both sides are destroying forests and littering Ukraine’s rich farmland with chemical-laden artillery shells. […]

The most comparable impact would probably be the Second World War or Vietnam […], said Paulo Pereira, a professor at Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania. He and colleagues have used satellite imagery to identify the explosion of “dozens and dozens” of bombs over farmlands, raising the potential of heavy metals entering the country’s food chain, and higher rates of cancer resulting from soil and water contamination. […]

In Kalynivka, a town about three hours southeast of Kyiv, a cruise missile attack in March 2022 engulfed three dozen tanks used for storing diesel and other fuel, setting off fireballs that were visible up to 12 miles away. Soil and water samples taken by Ukrainian officials showed oil-product contamination of between 40 and 60 times the legal government standard, according to the nonprofit Conflict and Environment Observatory, a U.K.-based organization supporting the United Nations Environment Program’s response to the invasion. […]

No public database exists showing how many Ukrainians live near industrial or energy infrastructure that has been attacked. But environmental monitoring groups have identified across the country more than 50 incidents similar to the one in Kalynivka, and analysts think there are almost certainly hundreds more. […] Russia’s widespread and indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in Ukrainian towns and cities has created acute and chronic environmental risks to people and ecosystems.

The threat to human health has alarmed scientists because of the scale of the urban destruction. Dozens of cities and towns in Ukraine’s industrial heartland in the east have been pulverized by shelling, with many entirely leveled into wasteland and some even rendered uninhabitable. […] This destruction can be hazardous. Chemicals used to put out fires can linger in the rubble or seep into the ground, Ukrainian officials say. Soviet-era buildings often used asbestos as a fireproof construction material, so cleanup crews face exposure to its cancer-causing fibers and other dangerous pulverized building material as they do their work. Asbestos exposure can cause cancer in the colon, and the lungs and other organs. Olivia Nielson and Dave Hodgkin, of Miyamoto International, a global disaster management firm, have written that the war’s destruction of buildings has generated “millions of tons of highly hazardous, asbestos-contaminated rubble.”

Many of the energy facilities being hit contain heavy fuel oil, asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are carcinogenic, according to the UN Environment Program. PAX, a Dutch group that works to protect civilians in conflict zones, says it has documented at least 126 strikes on energy and fuel sites […]. There’s exposure to toxins and chemicals, but also in the long term, because of damage to water infrastructure, which leads to diseases, and also a collapse of environmental governance itself, said Wim Zwijnenburg, a researcher for PAX.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, which for months was on the front lines of the war, the Conflict and Environment Observatory documented repeated attacks on facilities that line the Pivdennyi Buh river, which runs through the city. Strikes hit an alumina refinery and damaged warehouses containing fuel and caustic soda, potentially leaking highly alkaline bauxite residue into the waterway. The pollutant makes its way into fish and can destroy cropland. A bulk carrier ship hit repeatedly while in port now lies abandoned in the middle of the river. With the city’s water treatment network damaged, raw sewage flowed into the Pivdennyi Buh for weeks in June and July. And an October drone attack on a port terminal led to two tanks of sunflower oil leaking into the river, creating a slick that stretched for more than a mile and, local media reported, killed birds and fish. Because the oil can solidify and kill wildlife beneath it, it can leave a legacy for decades, the group said.

In the regions affected by hostilities, there has been pollution by petroleum products, by heavy metals, said Mariia Shpanchyk, the head of water monitoring at the State Agency of Water Resources, of the country’s water supplies. Elsewhere, the conflict appears to be taxing Ukraine’s natural resources on such a large scale that it could have a significant ecological impact. In one of the most prominent examples, the water level of the Kakhovka Reservoir […] plunged for two months starting in December and is now at its lowest level in decades. The reservoir is formed by a hydroelectric power plant, the final of a series on the Dnieper River, which courses through the heart of Ukraine. Access to the water was a top Russian strategic objective in last year’s invasion: The Kremlin wanted to restore a supply to Crimea that was cut off after Moscow’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. […]

Ukrainian officials say that as Russian forces retreated across the hydroelectric power plant in November, gates on the Russian-controlled side of the dam were opened to allow water to rush out, draining it. The water level in the reservoir dropped two meters between December and mid-February before recovering slightly, according to data from Theia, a French governmental organization that monitors water levels with satellites. The exact motivation remains unclear, because the reduced water supply will affect both sides of the front lines. But no matter the reason, the impact is plain to see as the shoreline retreats — including from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which uses the reservoir’s waters to cool its reactors. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been trying to prevent a radiation incident at the plant, has expressed concern about the situation. […]

Forests, for instance, have been decimated, as soldiers use them as hiding places and consume their wood. The lush woods east of Izium that once beckoned campers and backpackers now hold the mass graves of hundreds of civilians who were executed by retreating Russians during fighting last fall. No one dares venture farther inside the booby-trapped woods, locals say. Ukraine’s forest ecosystem is “becoming totally destroyed,” said Bohdan Vykhor, the head of the Ukrainian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The war also is destroying significant portions of the country’s fertile farmland, which historically has been crucial to the world’s food system. It used to feed the entire Soviet Union. More recently, it supplied 10 percent of global wheat exports. Ukraine’s Institute for Soil Science and Agrochemistry Research estimates that the war has degraded at least 40,000 square miles of agricultural land […].”

Largest mass graves discovered in Kharkiv and Kyiv regions, Ukrinform reports. “The largest mass graves were found in Izium, Kharkiv region, where 941 people were killed, and in Kyiv region, where the bodies of 1,374 people were found, Maksym Tsutskiridze, Deputy Head of the National Police of Ukraine – Head of the Main Investigative Department of the National Police of Ukraine, said the press service of the National Police.

Tsutskiridze noted that the documentation of Russia’s war crimes was ongoing and the collected evidence would help hold those guilty to account in Ukrainian and international courts.”

Support

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Ukrainian pilots will be allowed to train on Mirage, @INtel_ONLINE_FR reports. “After asking for it without success” for months, Ukraine has obtained training for fighter pilots from Paris, in order to eventually be able to acquire Mirage planes” .

Government of Slovakia Takes up the Issue of Sending MiG-29 to Ukraine, European Pravda reports. “On March 15, the Slovakian government began discussing the transfer of their old MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. As the Slovak news outlet Pravda reports, several ministers confirmed to the media before the meeting that they plan to consider fighter jets. […]

Earlier, the minister said that Slovakia was considering sending 10 of their 11 MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine (Ukr), which was decommissioned last year. […] Previously, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday that Poland might hand over Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

Rockets, shells, kamikaze drones: Ukraine’s Defence Ministry announces list of its most urgent needs, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “The Ministry of Defence’s communicators have summarised the information on what Ukraine urgently needs to win on the battlefield. “Due to the high intensity of combat actions, as well as to protect and liberate the territories occupied by Russia, Ukraine needs to supply both defensive and offensive weapons from international partners. The most necessary types of weapons include:

Missiles for HIMARS systems; rockets for MARS systems; 155 mm shells; 120 mm mines; missiles for air defence systems; missiles for ATGM systems (anti-tank missile systems); aircraft munitions; gliding munitions (kamikaze drones), 105 and 125 mm tank shells.

The Military Media Center explains that Western weapons demonstrate greater effectiveness on the battlefield than their Soviet counterparts in service with the Russian army due to their better technical specifications. This allows the Ukrainian military to spend less ammunition and still achieve all tasks with less life hazard.”

Leopard tanks, air defence components, NASAMS: Austin sums up 10th Ramstein format meeting, Ukrinform reports. “We’ve just completed our 10th, highly successful meeting of Ukraine Defense Contact Group,” [US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] said during a press conference at the Pentagon. He emphasized that the allies and partners representing countries from all over the world reaffirmed our unity and resolve in supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

Austin also praised the clear message from the Ukrainian defence minister for the next steps in resistance to Russian aggression, which, according to the Pentagon chief, underscores the urgency of international support for Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t have any time to waste. And I heard clearly today that our fellow Contact Group members also know that we have to deliver swiftly and fully on our promise commitments, the US Secretary of Defense stressed. According to him, that includes delivering armoured capabilities to the battlefield and ensuring that Ukrainian soldiers get the training, spare parts and maintenance support for the delivered equipment.

We will continue to dig deep for new donations, and today we heard updates on our progress and some significant new commitments, Austin noted.

In particular, Sweden announced that it would provide Ukraine with 10 Leopard tanks and key air defense components. Norway is partnering with the US to donate two NASAMS systems to Ukraine. The Netherlands initiates new contracts to ensure the delivery of new weapons to the battlefield in Ukraine. In addition, Slovenia announced a contribution that will help meet several of Ukraine’s priority requirements, including armor.

The Pentagon chief underscored that the donations have been crucial to Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty. However, in his opinion, for Ukraine to be able to protect its sovereign territory and defend its citizens over the long term, these efforts must be continued. Therefore, Austin continued, the international coalition will help Ukraine sustain the tanks, IFVs, and other armoured vehicles, and continue training the Ukrainian military on new types of weapons.”

Ramstein to develop innovative solutions to increase ammunition production, European Pravda reports. “The Pentagon chief points out that the contact group must provide Ukraine with the full capabilities for the fight ahead, including the spare parts and maintenance packages to sustain the critical capabilities, and additional equipment. The contact group is focused on coordinating long-term sustainment, Austin added.

We also need to find ways to get new donations of ammunition and air-defence systems to Ukraine. To increase ammunition production, members of this Contact Group are coming together to develop innovative solutions to industrial-production problems, Lloyd Austin, US Defense Secretary, said before the online meeting on March 15. Austin expressed confidence that we’ll continue to step up to meet Ukraine’s needs into this spring and well beyond.”

Denmark provides Ukraine with new military aid package worth 130 million euros, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “The Danish Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday the allocation of another, so far ninth, package of military aid with military equipment specifically requested by Ukraine amounting to one billion Danish kroner [approximately EUR 130 million].

The aid package includes, among other things, ammunition for small arms, heavy machine guns, anti-tank mines and missiles for air defence systems. Denmark is also providing Ukraine with 21 demining robots, 15 generators for military needs, 15,000 sets of clothing to protect against rain, nine mobile heavy equipment repair stations and six hangar tents.”

Canada to send Ukraine thousands of ammunition rounds, air defence missiles, Ukrinform reports. “Canada will donate approximately 8,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition, as well as 12 air defence missiles sourced from Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) inventory, to sustain the air defence systems currently deployed in Ukraine,” Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand announced following the 10th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Moreover, Canada will donate more than 1,800 rounds of 105mm tank training ammunition for Leopard tanks.

Defence Minister Anita Anand also confirmed that the CAF started the shipments of the additional Leopard 2 main battle tanks pledged by Canada at the end of February. Canada has committed eight Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine in total, four of which have already been delivered to Poland with a team of CAF personnel training Ukrainian soldiers on their use. All eight Leopard 2 main battle tanks, as well as the previously announced armoured recovery vehicle, ancillary equipment, and ammunition donated by Canada, are expected to be in Ukraine in the coming weeks, reads the statement.”

Nine Countries Promised More than 150 Leopard Tanks to Ukraine — Austin, European Pravda reports. “In just the past three months, members of this Contact Group have shown great leadership in building up the capabilities that Ukraine needs to defend its sovereignty and create momentum on the battlefield, including more than nine brigades of tanks and other armoured vehicles, Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of Defence, announced before the tenth Ramstein meeting on March 15.

The coalition of countries that are donating Leopard tanks to Ukraine continues to grow. And nine countries have now committed to providing more than 150 Leopard tanks, Austin underlined. The Pentagon chief did not name the countries.

As known from public statements, so far only Poland has delivered the promised Leopard to Ukraine – 14 tanks. Meanwhile, operational training of Ukrainians on Leopard battle tanks has been completed in Germany (Ukr). Also, the first ten Ukrainian military crews completed four-week training on Leopard tanks in Zaragoza, Spain (Ukr).

Denmark establishes $1 bln fund to aid Ukraine, Reuters reports. “Denmark’s government said on Wednesday it will establish a fund of 7 billion Danish crowns ($1.01 billion) for military, civilian and business aid to Ukraine this year.

The fund, which was agreed with a broad majority of parties in parliament, will direct 5.4 billion crowns towards military aid, 1.2 billion towards civilian aid and 0.4 billion towards efforts by Danish companies to rebuild Ukraine.”

AFU received over 117.5 thousand military equipment units, munitions in 2022, Ukrinform reports, citing the Ukrainian Defence Ministry. “The Armed Forces of Ukraine received approximately 117,575 advanced military equipment units and munitions from international partners last year, the report states.

The Ukrainian military are extremely fast in terms of mastering the new weapons and are using them efficiently and resourcefully on the battlefield. This encourages international partners to revise their position regarding the supply of more advanced and high-technology types of weapons. Thanks to arms supplies from the West, Ukraine can liberate the temporarily occupied areas faster and more efficiently.”

EUR 50B in support of Ukraine: European Commission publishes report on EU activities, Ukrinform reports, citing a press release posted on the website of the European Commission. “The report presents the key activities of the EU in 2022, with a strong focus on EU’s response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the unwavering solidarity with Ukraine. In particular, the EU adopted more than 200 measures to help the Ukrainian state and people, and support the Member States in dealing with consequences especially on Europe’s economy and energy security, the press release reads.

Among the measures is the adoption of the Temporary Protection Directive, which has already been used by more than four million Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s war in the EU.

The EU has already applied ten packages of sanctions against Russia as an aggressor country, which significantly affect the economy and significantly reduce the Kremlin’s ability to finance its brutal war.

At the same time, the EU provided about EUR 50 billion in support of Ukraine, including economic, financial and military assistance.

The EU also acted decisively to phase out its dependency on Russian fossil fuels, support citizens facing high energy bills and accelerate the EU’s clean-energy transition.”

New Developments

  1. Russia should be expelled from UN Security Council, where it sits on throne of impunity – Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Hill. “Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, insists on the need to expel Russia from the UN Security Council. Kuleba noted that Russian representatives illegally usurped the USSR’s seat in the UN Security Council in December 1991. Then, as he states, no legal procedure defined by the UN Charter was followed.”
  2. Russia plans to establish political control over Moldova by 2030, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing theDossier Centre [non-profit project, aimed at promoting the rule of law and civil society in Russia] and RISE (Moldova). “Moldovan investigative journalists, in cooperation with news agencies from 10 other European countries and the United States, have learned about Russia’s strategy of influence on Moldova, which was developed in the Kremlin about two years ago. […] The strategy defines 2030 as the “deadline” for taking political control of Moldova and distancing it from its Western partners.”
  3. S. says Russia’s suspension of new START treaty “invalid”, Ukrinform reports. “Russia’s claimed suspension of the New START Treaty is legally invalid so Russia remains bound by its obligations under the treaty. That’s according to a statement by the US Department of State. The United States remains ready to work constructively with Russia to fully implement the treaty, the statement reads.”
  4. Putin says Russia is fighting for its very existence, ReutersPresident Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that what was at stake in Ukraine was Russia’s very existence as a state. […] Putin expanded on his familiar argument that the West was bent on pulling Russia apart. So for us this is not a geopolitical task, but a task of the survival of Russian statehood, creating conditions for the future development of the country and our children, he said. Putin has [falsely] accused the West of using Ukraine as an tool to wage war against Russia and inflict on it a “strategic defeat”. The United States and its allies say they are helping Ukraine to defend itself from an imperial-style invasion that has destroyed Ukrainian cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced millions to flee their homes.”
  5. Russian Su-27 fighter jet collides with US drone over Black Sea, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing a US European Command statement. “Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a US Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft that was operating within international airspace over the Black Sea today. At approximately 07:03 AM (CET), one of the Russian Su-27 aircraft struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing US forces to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters. Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner.”
  6. Russian pattern of behaviour- US general, ReutersThere is a pattern of behavior recently where there is a little bit more aggressive actions being conducted by the Russians,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters.”
  7. Russia says US drone threatened Crimea and fell in Black Sea itself, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “As the Russian Defence Ministry states, the American UAV was flying towards the state border of the Russian Federation with transponders turned off and violating the borders of the area of a temporary airspace use regime. In order to identify an intruder, fighter jets of air defence units took off. As a result of a manoeuvre, MQ-9 UAV started to fly uncontrollably, losing the flight altitude and crashing with the water surface. The Russian Defence Ministry said that Russian fighter jets have not had any contact with the UAV and successfully returned to the airfield.”
  8. Kirby said on Wednesday morning: “First of all, they don’t belong in Ukraine. Secondly, they certainly don’t belong in Crimea. And we were flying, again, well outside of the airspace that was, that’s claimed by Ukraine or any other country. The Black Sea doesn’t belong to Russia. … We’re going to continue to operate, again, in complete accordance with international law.”
  9. US State Dept says Black Sea drone incident likely unintentional from Russia, ReutersA US military surveillance drone’s crash into the Black Sea after being intercepted by Russian jets was likely an unintentional act from Russia’s side, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told MSNBC on Wednesday. I think the best assessment right now is that it probably was unintentional. It probably was the result of profound incompetence on the part of one of these Russian pilots, Price said in an interview on MSNBC. Moscow warnedWashington on Wednesday to keep well away from its air space after the incident from a day earlier, which took place in international air space near territory Russia claims to have annexed from Ukraine.”
  10. S. drone forced down over Black Sea may never be recovered, Ukrinform reports, citing CNN and John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council. “The MQ-9 Reaper drone that the US military said was forced down over the Black Sea by a Russian fighter jet on March 14 has not been recovered — and it may never be [because of water depth].
  11. Russia Announced to Try to Retrieve Remnants of US Drone from the Black Sea, European PravdaRussia will try to retrieve the wreckage of an American drone that crashed over the Black Sea after being dangerously collided by a Russian fighter jet. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to retrieve it or not but it has to be done. We will certainly work on it, RIA Novostiquotes Nikolai Patrushev, Russian Security Council secretary. Patrushev also stated that the incident with the drone confirmed evidence that Americans are taking part in the hostilities in Ukraine.”
  12. Russian spy network planning sabotage exposed in Poland, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda and RMF FM. “The Polish Internal Security Agency (ABW) has exposed a spy network that worked for Russia and was tasked with preparing sabotage operations in Ukraine. The ABW workers detained six people during the investigation. An alert was issued on railroads and national critical infrastructure facilities due to the network’s activities. The arrested persons are foreigners “from the eastern border” allegedly working for the Russian secret services. The ABW agents detained them after hidden cameras were discovered on important routes and railroad junctions. The cameras recorded movement on railway tracks and transmitted images to the network. As the RMF FM reports, the cameras had been mainly installed at the railroad sections in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship, specifically near the airport in the settlement of Jasionka near the town of Rzeszów. The airport is the main transit point for the Western armaments and ammunition going to Ukraine.”
  13. New Russian law would strip acquired citizenship for discrediting Ukraine operation, ReutersProposed amendments to Russia’s citizenship law would allow for the stripping of acquired citizenship for treason and discrediting the military operation in Ukraine, Russian media reported on Wednesday. Soon after sending its army into Ukraine just over a year ago Russia introducedsweeping wartime laws to silence dissenting voices. It has been extending censorship ever since.”

Assessment 

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-15-2023*

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 15, 2022:

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks northwest of Svatove on March 15. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that six Russian assault groups of the 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) seized part of an unspecified industrial zone and unspecified Ukrainian positions in the Kupiansk direction, but ISW is unable to confirm the MoD’s vague claim.

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line and south of Kreminna on March 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna) and Spirne (26km south of Kreminna). A Russian source claimed that the Russian 144th Motorized Rifle Division (20th Guards Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) is conducting positional battles along the Ploshchanka-Zhuravka gully line northwest of Kreminna and southwest of Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna). Another Russian source claimed that Russian forces attacked Bilohorivka, Nevske (18km northwest of Bilohorivka), and Makiivka (23km northwest of Kreminna), and advanced towards Yampolivka (17km west of Kreminna). A Ukrainian source claimed that a Ukrainian tank used foggy weather to conduct a surprise indirect fire attack against Russian positions 20km away near Lysychansk.

Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut on March 15. Geolocated footage posted on March 14 shows Wagner Group forces fighting for new positions about 4km northwest of Bakhmut, indicating that Wagner has advanced northwest of Bakhmut towards the Bohdanivka-Khromove line. Geolocated footage posted on March 15 additionally shows that Russian forces have advanced to new positions in northern Bakhmut, just east of the AZOM complex. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Wagner fighters captured Zaliznianske (9km northwest of Bakhmut) and are ”expanding the encirclement of Bakhmut,“ which was amplified by numerous milbloggers. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner made additional gradual advances northwest of Bakhmut near Bohdanivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, and Orikhovo-Vasylivka, and one milblogger suggested that these gains may allow Russian forces to open an avenue of advance towards Siversk (about 30km northeast of Bakhmut). Russian milbloggers also claimed that Wagner fighters continue to fight in the tunnels of the AZOM complex in northern Bakhmut and have advanced across Korsunskoho Street towards the Bakhmut Industrial College in southern Bakhmut. Russian sources reported fighting near Ivanivske (5km west of Bakhmut) and claimed that Ukrainian forces are counterattacking in this area. One milblogger claimed that Russian troops completely cover the Bakhmut-Khromove route with ATGM fire. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled Russian attacks northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (12km northwest), Yahidne (1km northwest), and Bohdanivka (6km northwest) and west of Bakhmut near Khromove (3km west).

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City frontline on March 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the Avdiivka area near Stepove, Kamianka, Severne, and Novokalynove; on the northwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Nevelske, Pervomaiske, and Vodyane; and on the southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City near Marinka, Pobieda, and Novomykhailivka. The spokesperson for the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavriisk Defense Forces, Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, stated that Russian forces conducted five attacks against Ukrainian positions on the night of March 14 to 15 in this direction. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces continue to attack towards Ukrainian fortifications in Avdiivka and near Nevelske and Pervomaiske and are fighting in western Marinka, where geolocated footage shows Russian forces have made marginal advances toward Lesi Ukrainky street. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia posted footage of the 5th Brigade of the 1st DNR Army Corps striking Ukrainian forces in Marinka.

Russian forces continued offensive operations in western Donetsk Oblast on March 15. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Vuhledar, 30km southwest of Donetsk City. […] A Russian milblogger posted footage of mortarmen of the 5th Separate Guards Tank Brigade (36th Combined Arms Army, Eastern Military District) firing on Ukrainian strongholds in the dacha area southeast of Vuhledar. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense posted an image on March 14 reportedly of a Russian diary found near Vuhledar that shows huge losses during Russian assaults in the area. The diary details that during assaults over the course of four days, 57 of the 434 Russian soldiers sent into battles survived, which is just over a 13% survival rate. A milblogger affiliated with Southern Military District (SMD) tank elements discussed footage of elements of the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade detonating a mine near Vuhledar and noted that this demonstrates that Russian forces are rushing operations and failing to employ sound mine-clearing practices.

The overall pace of Russian operations in Ukraine appears to have decreased compared to previous weeks. A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Joint Press Center of the Tavriisk Defense Forces, Colonel Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi, stated on March 15 that Russian offensive actions have decreased significantly over the last week and noted that daily Russian ground attacks have decreased from 90 to 100 attacks per day to 20 to 29 per day. Dmytrashkivskyi reported that Russian forces have somewhat lost offensive potential due to significant manpower and equipment losses. Dmytrashkivskyi’s statements are consistent with ISW’s general observation regarding the pace of Russian operations along the entire frontline in Ukraine. The Russian offensive operation in Luhansk Oblast is likely nearing culmination, if it has not already culminated, although Russia has committed most elements of at least three divisions to the Svatove-Kreminna line. Russian forces have made only minimal tactical gains along the entire Luhansk Oblast frontline over the last week, and Ukrainian forces have likely recently managed to conduct counterattacks and regain territory in Luhansk Oblast. ISW has been unable to confirm the commitment of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division (1st Guards Tank Army, Western Military District) to the offensive in Luhansk Oblast since certain unspecified elements reportedly deployed to Luhansk Oblast in January–the only large formation assessed to be operational but not yet engaged. It is unclear if the 2nd Motor Rifle Division has already deployed and has not been observed or if it is waiting to deploy to either Luhansk Oblast or other areas of the front. The commitment of two or three of the 2nd Motor Rifle Division’s constituent regiments, however, is unlikely to significantly delay or reverse the culmination of the Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast, especially considering that at least five Russian regiments have definitely been fully committed in this area, likely along with several others, but Russian forces have still been unable to make substantial gains.

The overall Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut additionally appears to be nearing culmination. Ukrainian military sources have noted a markedly decreased number of attacks in and around Bakhmut, particularly over the last few days. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has recently emphasized the toll that a reported lack of ammunition is having on Wagner’s ability to pursue offensives on Bakhmut and stated on March 15 that due to ammunition shortages and heavy fighting, Wagner has had to expand its encirclement of Bakhmut. Prigozhin notably claimed that Wagner captured Zalizianske, a tiny rural settlement 9km northwest of Bakhmut on the east side of the E40 Bakhmut-Sloviansk highway, which indicates that Wagner forces are likely conducting opportunistic localized attacks on settlements further north of Bakhmut that are small and relatively easier to seize. Recent Wagner gains north of Bakhmut suggest that manpower, artillery, and equipment losses in fights for Bakhmut will likely constrain Wagner’s ability to complete a close encirclement of Bakhmut or gain substantial territory in battles for urban areas. The capture of Zalizianske and other similarly small towns north of Bakhmut and east of the E40 highway is extremely unlikely to enhance Wagner’s ability to capture Bakhmut itself or make other operationally significant gains. It therefore is likely that Wagner’s offensive on Bakhmut is increasingly nearing culmination. Russian forces would likely have to commit significant reserves to prevent this culmination. They may be able to do so, as ISW has observed elements of Russian airborne regiments in and around Bakhmut that do not seem to be heavily committed to the fighting at the moment. The Russians might also commit elements of other conventional units, including possibly the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division, or units drawn from elsewhere in the theater. But it seems that the Wagner offensive itself will not be sufficient to seize Bakhmut. Russian forces are not pursuing active or successful offensive operations elsewhere in theater, and as the pace of operations slows along critical sectors of the front, Ukrainian forces likely have an increased opportunity to regain the initiative. […]

The Russian State Duma adopted the law on punishment for “discreditation” of all participants of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on March 14 to foster self-censorship within Russian society. Individuals found guilty of discrediting participants in combat operations will receive a fine of up to five million rubles ($65,530), up to five years of correctional or forced labor, or up to seven years in prison. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to a journalist’s question about the law on March 15 stating that while he initiated and supported this law, he expected that it would not protect Wagner commanders and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) from criticism. Prigozhin noted that he is not worried about being accused of discrediting the Russian MoD because he ”only speaks the truth” and has lawyers review all of his ”carefully worded” social media posts. Prigozhin also implied that Russia cannot physically arrest 146 million Russians, further indicating that this law aims to encourage self-censorship among Russians and hinting that many Russians share his views critical of the MoD. […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his March 15 meeting with the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to continue to bolster his reputation as an involved and effective wartime leader. Putin identified several lines of the war effort for the Prosecutor General’s Office to regulate and improve upon, including timely payment and social support to Russian military personnel and their families, timely payment for defense industrial base (DIB) workers, proper usage of the DIB’s allocated funds, law enforcement efforts in occupied Ukraine, and measures to support and protect orphaned children. Putin praised the Prosecutor General’s Office for its ongoing efforts but emphasized throughout his speech that Russia needs more weapons and protection against external threats. Putin has attempted to reinvigorate his image as a wartime leader since late 2022 by framing himself as mobilizing the Russian DIB to a robust wartime footing.  He is also working to mobilize the DIB, but publicized meetings of this type are more likely staged for imagistic purposes than effective. […]

Key Takeaways

  • The overall pace of Russian operations in Ukraine appears to have decreased compared to previous weeks.
  • The overall Wagner Group offensive on Bakhmut appears to be nearing culmination.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin commented on the reports about the dismissal of the Russian Commander of the Airborne Forces Mikhail Teplinsky – likely revealing Teplinsky’s affiliation with Wagner.
  • The Russian State Duma adopted the law on punishment for “discreditation” of all participants of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on March 14 to foster self-censorship in Russian society.
  • Continued Russian efforts to portray the war in Ukraine as existential to Russian domestic security by establishing additional air defense installations in areas that will never see hostilities is reportedly sparking internal backlash.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin used his March 15 meeting with the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office to continue to bolster his reputation as an involved and effective wartime leader.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Moscow, Russia on March 15.
  • Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks northwest of Svatove and conducted limited ground attacks on the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued advancing in and around Bakhmut and conducted ground attacks along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces attempted to conduct offensive actions across the Kakhovka Reservoir in Kherson Oblast.
  • The Kremlin reportedly tasked the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to recruit 400,000 contract servicemen starting on April 1.

Ukrainian partisans killed a Russian collaborator in an IED attack in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

Number of Ukrainian servicewomen has increased 2.5-fold since 2014, Ukrinform reports. “We see more women in all categories of personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In 2014, the total number of women was 49,926, including 16,557 military personnel, 1,633 officers, 4,754 sergeants, 9,707 soldiers, 370 students, and 33,369 civilian personnel.

As of March 1, 2023, we already have 60,538 women in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Of them, 42,898 are military personnel, Liubov Humeniuk, a specialist at the Department of Gender Issues and Relations with Religious Organizations of the Humanitarian Directorate at the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said during a round-table meeting. She noted the number of servicewomen increased 2.5-fold since 2014.”

Russia plans to establish political control over Moldova by 2030, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Dossier Centre [non-profit project, aimed at promoting the rule of law and civil society in Russia] and RISE (Moldova). “Moldovan investigative journalists, in cooperation with news agencies from 10 other European countries and the United States, have learned about Russia’s strategy of influence on Moldova, which was developed in the Kremlin about two years ago.

The document is called Strategic Goals of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova and was drawn up in 2021. The investigators note that attempts to implement a number of its points in recent years have been seen in the public narrative of some Russia-oriented political forces.

Investigators believe that the document was prepared by the Russian Presidential Directorate for Border Cooperation, i.e., the same one that has plans to absorb Belarus by 2030, in cooperation with the secret services and the General Staff of Russia. […]

The strategy defines 2030 as the “deadline” for taking political control of Moldova and distancing it from its Western partners. The strategy has three main areas: military-political, economic and humanitarian.

Its goals are defined as: 1) countering the influence of NATO and the EU on Moldova; 2) involving Moldova in the CSTO and other international projects under the auspices of the Russian Federation; 3) “settlement of the Transnistrian conflict” through Russian mediation on the basis of the special status of the so-called “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”; 4) strengthening pro-Russian sentiment in society through information influence and educational programmes, and countering “Romanisation”. The document suggests that Russia had no plans for military intervention at the time, as its main goals were to put pressure on Moldova over the Transnistrian issue.

The Kremlin’s plans included supporting pro-Russian political forces in Moldova and exploiting the country’s dependence on Russian imports, including gas, to achieve its political goals. […] To expand its informational influence, Russia wanted to prevent restrictions on its media resources (which ultimately failed, as in 2022 the Moldovan authorities closed six TV channels), as well as to create a network of loyal non-governmental organisations, such as the Moldovan-Russian Business Union, founded by former President Igor Dodon. The plan was to “discredit NATO” among Moldovans by 2025. The same medium-term goal was to “counter Romania’s expansionist policy in Moldova”.

The Kremlin hoped to increase the number of Russian media outlets by 2030, preserve the status of the interethnic communication language for Russian and reduce the presence of third-country currencies in settlements with Russia.

The goal is not to insidiously annex the country, but to strengthen pro-Russian influence in Moldova, primarily to prevent pro-NATO, pro-European trends. The Kremlin sees Moldova as a buffer to Russia rather than a part of the Russian Empire. As with Georgia, it is more about putting a stop sign to the West and preventing the country from joining the EU and NATO in every way possible, a Moldovan intelligence source told journalists. […]”

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

Putin is preparing for a nuclear showdown – we must be ready, an op-ed in The Telegraph reads. “Russia downing a US drone yesterday was a deliberate provocation. It is a concerning incident, but such brinkmanship feels destined to get worse. It is small fry compared to where things could go if we are not prepared. Putin is in a corner, his position weakening every day as western tanks start to appear over the horizon and Zelensky’s spring offensive approaches. The great Russian push in eastern Ukraine appears to be petering out at massive human cost to the aggressors. Last weeks’ huge volley of missiles, including the much-vaunted ‘unstoppable’ hypersonic ones, have passed with a whimper, and sanctions are at last sending the Russian economy into freefall.

The Ukrainians intend to kick Russian troops out of eastern Ukraine but also the Crimea. Doing so would no doubt signal the end of Putin’s rule. But it would mark a dangerous moment. The dictator has relished repeating in public the story about his youth in Leningrad when he watched a cornered rat fight back. For years, the Kremlin has assiduously curated Putin’s image as a ruthless former KGB officer who is not afraid to take bold action to defend the Motherland, especially when facing off against the combined forces of the West.

Western audiences have largely fallen for this narrative. The reality is much more nuanced. Putin is far more rational and calculating than many of his opponents give him credit for. He has a nose for weakness, including for his own fragility, but it is not infallible. He is fond of the good life. As Garry Kasparov pointed out, ‘Putin wants to rule like Stalin but live like Abramovich’.

In our study for the Heritage Foundation, we argue that there is another area where Western audiences have oversimplified the reality of Putin’s abilities – specifically on the nuclear question. We argue that the threat of Russian use of nuclear weapons is primarily a tactic to scare selected Western audiences, and thus weaken the link between Ukraine and its Western allies. Those who believe that the Russians themselves view them as conventional weapons of war are incorrect.

Even so, we cannot be sure that Russia will not use nuclear weapons as a ‘last resort’ in Ukraine. The Kremlin has laid the linguistic framework for their use. There are four circumstances in Russia’s latest nuclear doctrine which can justify nuclear weapons deployment: an imminent use of nuclear weapons against Russia, actual nuclear use against Russia, a threat to inhibit Russia’s control of its nuclear weapons, and a threat to the existence of Russia. Whilst none of those conditions apply in the Ukraine war, the notion of “threat” is being re-interpreted by the Russian leadership.

At a recent conference, President Putin, citing his country’s military doctrine, said that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction; “to protect its sovereignty, territorial integrity and to ensure the safety of the Russian people.”  Second, Putin and his allies have framed the Ukraine war in existential terms. If NATO ‘seizes’ Ukraine, then Russia itself will be next, they argue.

So what must Western governments do?

First, they must reassure the public that they are aware of the threat of Russian nuclear weapons in extremis. Nuclear threats are not mere bluff. Constantly downgrading the threat fails to prepare us to dissuade Russia if, or when, a crisis point comes.

Second, one of the key lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima civil nuclear disaster in Japan was that a lack of information, in particular an accurate assessment of radiation levels, can lead to ill-informed decisions. The US and its allies should improve how they detect and monitor radiation in case of nuclear use, a missile strike on a nuclear facility, or an accident stemming from a nuclear plant located in an area of military operations. This will primarily help protect civilian populations from civil nuclear accidents, but could also help in times of war. Related to this, we should maintain medical stockpiles, such as of potassium iodide, and supplies of personal protective equipment.

Thirdly, ensure that any use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia is met by a robust Western and global response that is calibrated, relies on conventional weapons, and is informed by an understanding of Russian behaviour and thinking. More importantly, Russia should know exactly what the response would be long in advance. Strategic ambiguity is simply too risky in this case.

Fourth, we need to keep channels of communication with Moscow open, even if the Kremlin is not responsive.

Putin’s dreams of Ukraine re-incorporated into Russia, of breaking up NATO, and of Russia leading a global anti-Western alliance are collapsing about him. Disaster for Russia’s imploding armed forces may well await, and at some point, Ukraine’s armed forces will likely threaten to break Russia’s land corridor linking Crimea to the Donbas. At that point, Putin will make one of the most fateful decisions of the century: whether to employ nuclear or chemical weapons. The US and UK must act now to minimise that threat and to ensure the protection of the American and British publics and allies.”

 

Hans Petter Midttun: The US response to the Russian downing of the MQ-9 Reaper drone will send a strategic message to both the Russian Federation as well as any other potential antagonist.

Make no mistake: The downing – whatever the cause – is no different than sinking a US Warship or shooting down a US combat aircraft. All are a part of US military power and legitimate tools of the state. The destruction of any of the systems carries the risk of repercussions.

According to the US, the unarmed MQ-9 surveillance drone was flying in international airspace when two Russian SU-27 fighter jets dumped fuel on the drone before colliding with it. The Russian Defence Ministry claimed that the fighters were scrambled to identify and intercept the American UAV flying towards the state border of the Russian Federation with transponders turned off and violating the borders of the area of a temporary airspace use regime. It alleged that UAV crashed at its own accords and claimed that Russian fighter jets had no contact with the UAV.

The Russian claim has little implications for what follows. The US has categorically stated that Russia is to blame and is, therefore, forced to respond.

The Russian statements have, however, implications beyond the downing of the drone itself. It claims that the US violated “the borders of the area of a temporary airspace use regime” established as a result of its unprovoked and unjustified war and illegal occupation of parts of Ukraine.

If the US was to acknowledge the Russian claim of airspace and stop operating over the Black Sea, it would also indirectly recognise its claims to the illegally annexed Ukrainian territories.

However, if it chose to uphold its UAV surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions over the Black Sea, it runs the risk of “escalating the war into a broader confrontation”.

This is the argument that has made the US and NATO step back from their past commitment to stop conflicts that threaten the security and stability of its member states; stopped the Alliance from conducting a military intervention in Ukraine according to its late strategic concept and the UN Responsible to Protect doctrine; and stopped if from conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations in the Black Sea to protect commercial shipping.

The US and NATO have chosen to disengage and avoid operating military forces close to Russian forces out of fear of close encounters by military forces, misunderstandings, accidents, and military clashes, all of which could potentially lead to an escalation of the war into a broader confrontation (that ironically, is already taking place, and against which Eastern Europe is already defending itself in Ukraine).

The West has gone to the extreme to de-escalate (a war Russia continues to escalate) to avoid risking that the war (Russia is waging against Ukraine and the West) spreads (which it already did).

If the US decides to stop UAV operations out of fear that they might lead to an escalation of the war (that it refuses to acknowledge has already escalated way beyond the borders of Ukraine), it will be taking yet another step backwards. It will be the opposite of a demonstration of the strength and resolve needed to solve the war.

If it continues to operate drones over the Black Sea, the US acknowledge the risk of future military close encounters, misunderstandings, accidents, and clashes. Even more so, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley assesses the Russian pattern of behaviour as increasingly aggressive.

According to John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, the US does not recognise the Russian claim of airspace and will continue to operate following international law.

In my opinion, this renders the US and NATO’s arguments against “boot on the grounds”, a No-Fly zone over Ukraine and maritime presence in the Black Sea, as partly redundant.

The latest incident is a consequence of an increasingly belligerent Russia. The situation in the Black Sea has deteriorated over time and includes a very long list of close calls, military aggressions, and aggressive military posture. This includes simulated attacks against HMS Defender and HNLMS Evertsen in 2021, a high number of overflight and manoeuvring close to NATO units operating in and over the Black Sea, and multiple incidents of spoofing and jamming of both commercial and military units.

While the downing of the MQ-9 Reaper drone most likely was an unintentional act – a demonstration of profound incompetence on the part of one of the Russian pilots – it was also a manifestation of the inherent risk of operating in close vicinity of an aggressor.

In my opinion, it is also a demonstration of an increasingly belligerent Russia. This is a consequence of an over time progressively more aggressive military posture. This has implications far beyond the Black Sea.

It is time to acknowledge that Russia the Western strategy has failed to deter Russia; de-escalate the war; stop Russia from waging a hybrid war against Europe; effectively uphold the security and stability of Eastern Europe; stop Russia from forcibly integrating Belarus; stop Russia from destabilising Moldova and, not least, stop Russia from causing massive suffering and destruction in Ukraine, risking an unprecedented nuclear disaster and causing massive environmental damages for generations to come.

If the US and NATO accept the risk of operating drones over the contested area, they should also accept the risk of operating military power according to the UN Charter. Russia only responds to a show of strength and resolve.

It is high time to intervene militarily in Ukraine and stop the war Russia is waging in Europe. It is time to tackle the “tsunami of ripple effects” undermining European stability.

As a minimum, the downing of the MQ-9 Reaper drone must have consequences. Providing Ukraine with MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) would send Russia a message: Your actions have consequences. Step back and keep your distance.

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