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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 392: Russia targets Kyiv and Odesa

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 392: Russia targets Kyiv and Odesa
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Kyiv and Odesa are under fire. 3 drones attack Russian fleet in occupied Crimea, Sevastopol. Special tribunal for Russia: coalition of 33 states meeting in Strasbourg.

Daily overview — Summary report, March 22

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, March 22, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.

 

The Russian Federation continues its armed aggression against Ukraine and does not abandon its intentions to fully occupy Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The adversary is conducting offensive operations on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka, and Shakhtarske axes while defending on other axes. On March 21, Ukrainian Defence Forces repelled 114 enemy attacks in the eastern part of the frontline.

The Russian aggressor continues to ignore the laws and customs of war, shelling settlements and critical infrastructure.

On March 21, the occupants launched 10 missile, 32 air strikes, as well as 90 MLRS attacks, including at civilian targets.

The threat of attacks across Ukraine remains. Thus, on the night of March 22, the adversary launched another massive air strike with Shahed-136 UAVs. According to preliminary information, 16 out of 21 drones launched by Russian forces were destroyed by Ukrainian defenders.

Kharkiv Battle Map. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn, Polissya, Sivershchyna, and Slobozhanshchyna axes: no significant changes in the operational situation, and no formation of offensive groups of the adversary were found. The top leadership of the Republic of Belarus continues to support the armed aggression of the Russian Federation and provide its infrastructure for the training of Russian forces units. Russian forces maintain their military presence in the border areas. During March 21, the invaders shelled the vicinities of settlements of Khrinivka, Mykhal’chyna Sloboda (Chernihiv oblast), Atyns’ke, Iskryskivshchyna, Volfyne, Pavlivka, Basivka, Yunakivka, Popivka (Sumy oblast), Basove, Kozacha Lopan’, Strilecha, Hlyboke, Vovchans’k, and Velykyi Burluk (Kharkiv oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Kupiansk and Lyman axes: the adversary continues its attempts to break through the Ukrainian defence. Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the vicinities of the settlements of Kreminna, Dibrova, Bilohorivka, and Vesele. The invaders fired artillery at the vicinities of settlements of Krasne Pershe, Dvorichna, Masyutivka, Kup’yans’k, Krokhmal’ne, Berestove (Kharkiv oblast), Novoselivs’ke, Nevs’ke, Bilohorivka (Luhansk), Tors’ke, Spirne, and Fedorivka (Donetsk oblast).
Bakhmut Battle Map. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces continues to conduct offensive operations, suffering major casualties, and losing a significant amount of weapons and military equipment. Ukrainian defenders are repelling numerous round-the-clock attacks of the adversary in the vicinities of settlements of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Ivanivske, Bakhmut, Klishchiivka, and Maiors’k. Vasyukivka, Zaliznyans’ke, Min’kivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Stupochky, Predtechyne, Chasiv Yar, Kurdyumivka, Ozarianivka, and Pivnichne (Donetsk oblast), among others, came under enemy fire.
  • Avdiivka, Marinka, and Shakhtarske axes: the adversary conducted offensive operations in the vicinities of settlements of Novobakhmutivka, Novokalynove, Krasnohorivka, Stepove, Berdychi, Avdiivka, Sjeverne, Vodyane, Pervomais’ke, Mar’inka, and Pobjeda. To no success. Almost 20 unsuccessful offensive attempts were made by Russian forces in the vicinity of Marinka. Lastochkyne, Berdychi, Orlivka, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Heorhiivka, Nevel’s’ke, Krasnohorivka, Marinka, and Vuhledar (Donetsk oblast) came under enemy fire.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary is defending. The vicinities of settlements of Novopil’ (Donetsk oblast), Ol’hivs’ke, Malynivka, Chervone, Charivne, Hulyaipole, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Novoandriivka, Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Kherson, Beryslav, Ponyativka, Dar’ivka, and Antonivka (Kherson oblast) came under fire.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 21, 2023. Source: ISW.

[The Russian Federation does not give up its war of aggression, despite the numerous casualties. It is constantly taking action to replenish its losses in manpower. For example, one of the military units stationed in Krasnodar Krai (Russia) is actively working with its conscripts to get them to sign contracts. The servicemen who agree to sign the contracts are expected to be deployed to Ukraine in August 2023.]

On March 21, the Ukrainian Air Force launched 6 air strikes on the occupants’ concentrations. At the same time, Ukrainian defenders shot down 15 enemy UAVs of various types, as well as 2 Kh-59 guided aircraft missiles.

Missile and artillery units hit 1 ammunition depot, 2 anti-aircraft missile systems, 1 radar station, and 1 other important enemy target.

Military Updates

Kalibr missiles, which the occupiers carried by railway, were destroyed in Dzhankoi, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “An explosion in the city of Dzhankoi in the north of the temporarily occupied Crimea destroyed Russian cruise missiles Kalibr during their transport by railway. […] Kalibr – missiles designed for launching from surface ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The range of damage is more than 2,500 kilometres against land targets and 375 kilometres against sea targets.”

Explosions in Crimea’s Dzhankoi seriously damage key railway hub – Humeniuk, Ukrinform reports. “Recent explosions in the town of Dzhankoi in the north of occupied Crimea damaged a key railway hub and its use is currently impossible, according to Head of the United Coordinating Press Center of the Southern Defense Forces Natalia Humeniuk. […]  According to Humeniuk, this attack is one of the elements of the plan preceding active actions.

Humeniuk said […] that the destruction of Russian Kalibr cruise missiles in Dzhankoi is a signal to the invaders that it is time for them to leave the temporarily occupied peninsula by rail.”

Ukrainian Security Service Special Ops destroy two Russian Tor missile systems, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Security Service of Ukraine. “Special forces of the Security Service of Ukraine have struck two Russian Tor anti-aircraft missile systems, using loitering munitions.”

Wagner Group founder afraid of Ukrainian offensive in Bakhmut, asks Russian Defence Minister for help, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Prigozhin’s letter to Shoigu dated 20 March, posted on his Telegram channel. “Yevgeny Prigozhin, financier of the Wagner Group Private Military Company (PMC), has told Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu about the plans of the Ukrainian army to launch a large-scale offensive near Bakhmut and asked for help.”

No Kalibr missile carriers recorded in Black Sea in last two days, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ukrainian Navy on Telegram and Interfax Ukraine . “Seven warships of the Russian Federation are on combat duty in the Black Sea. For the second day in a row, no Kalibr cruise missile carriers were recorded amongst them. It is reported that two Russian ships are on duty in the Sea of Azov. These are also without Kalibrs.”

Sevastopol “authorities” say they called for evacuation from Crimea on radio after drone attack, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Mikhail Razvozhaev, the so-called “governor” of the occupied city of Sevastopol, has said that after a drone attack, some radio stations began to broadcast messages calling for evacuation from occupied Crimea.

There are reports of radio signals being intercepted on one or other radio station. They’re spreading information about evacuation from the peninsula using ferry crossings and other nonsense. According to Razvozhaev, this is not true. Razvozhaev warned that in the event of real danger, messages would be broadcast on all channels simultaneously.

Sevastopol “authorities” report downing of 3 drones that attacked Russian fleet, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the so-called “governor” of occupied Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev.”Our fleet repelled an attack by surface drones early this morning. In total, three targets had been destroyed by this time. They were trying to enter the bay, and our sailors fired on them using small arms. Air defence was also activated [to down] the air target.

The “governor” of Sevastopol claims that the Russian warships were not damaged. Explosions from destroyed enemy naval drones broke windows in buildings on Lenin 2 Street, in the House of Moscow. People were not injured, he wrote on social media.”

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

  • Over recent days Ukrainian forces initiated a local counterattack to the west of the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, which is likely to relieve pressure on the threatened H-32 supply route. Fighting continues around the town centre and the Ukrainian defence remains at risk from envelopment from the north and south.
  • However, there is a realistic possibility that the Russian assault on the town is losing the limited momentum it had obtained, partially because some Russian MoD units have been reallocated to other sectors.
  • In the coming weeks, thousands of Russian convicts who have fought for Wagner Group are likely to be pardoned and released. Wagner prisoner recruitment peaked in autumn 2022, with inmates being offered commutation of their sentences after six months of service.
  • Although approximately half of the prisoners recruited have likely been killed or wounded, evidence from Russia suggests the group is following through on its promise to free survivors. The certificates issued to freed Wagner veterans claim to have been endorsed by the decree of President Putin.
  • With Wagner now likely banned from recruiting more prisoners, this exodus will worsen its personnel problems. In addition, the sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience will likely present a significant challenge for Russia’s war-time society.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Wednesday 22 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 167490 (+920)
  • Tanks – 3557 (+5)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6887 (+8)
  • Artillery systems – 2589 (+3)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 509 (+2)
  • Air defence means – 272 (+2)
  • Aircraft – 305 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 290 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5434 (+6)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2183 (+16)
  • Special equipment – 270 (+4))
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 909 (+2)

General Staff: Ukraine’s missile and artillery units create ‘death net’ for Russians, Ukrinform reports, citing Colonel Serhiy Baranov, acting head of the Main Department of Combat Strike Systems of the Ukrainian General Staff. “To date, about 90% of fire damage to the Russian invaders accounts for missile and artillery units. Times change, weapons, people, ways and methods of armed fight change, and if we want to bring our victory closer, we must constantly adapt, invent new ways and methods of fire damage, improve our weapons, our ammunition, skills and capacities. And in this way, we will be able to bring our victory closer.

To date, the missile and artillery forces have managed to create a ‘death net’ – this is when reconnaissance means work very closely and effectively together with fire damage means,” Baranov said. He added that the defence forces use the concept of long-range fire damage and, upon detecting the enemy in the depth of the defence, launch a strike.

At the same time, he noted that the artillery of the Defense Forces is not always modern, Ukrainian defenders have to use old models of weapons, but due to the training of the personnel and the use of new products, the introduction of an automated fire control system, it was possible to reduce the time units stay in the areas of firing positions. It was also possible to improve the conduct of reconnaissance with the help of new technical means and, accordingly, to reduce the reaction time, increase the accuracy of fire, the accuracy of determining the location of systems, which allows adequately responding to all the challenges of the enemy. […]

The missile and artillery forces are transformed in several directions. First of all, this is the development of weapons. Second, the development of control systems, and then there is a change in the training system and approaches to it, Baranov emphasized. He added that the defenders are trained by instructors who have combat experience and know what front-line personnel needs.”

China does not supply Russia with weapons – Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ukrinform and Andrii Yusov, Spokesperson for Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence. “According to Yusov, information about China’s supply of rifles or body armour is being checked, but no facts of cooperation have been recorded. He also said that there are cases when Putin’s regime purchases drones and civilian goods from open sources that can be used for microchips, but there is no question of interstate aid.

We are not talking about weapons, and no such facts have been recorded. Of course, when we talk about today’s visit of the Chinese leader to the so-called Russian Federation, it is a visit of a strong country, a strong regional international leader to a country and to a regime that is suffering a geopolitical defeat and is in a dead end: an economic one, a foreign policy one and in all other respects.”

China sells over US$12 million worth of drones to Russia in a year, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The New York Times. “In the year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has sold more than $12 million in drones and drone parts to the country, according to official Russian customs data from a third-party data provider. It is reported that the shipments, a mix of products from DJI, the world’s best-known drone maker, and an array of smaller companies, often came through small-time middlemen and exporters. […] The official sales are likely only one part of a larger flow of technologies through unofficial channels and other nations friendly to Russia, like Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Belarus.

In particular, sales of DJI drones to Russia continue, even though the company has stated that it has suspended deliveries to both Russia and Ukraine. DJI products made up nearly half of the Chinese drone shipments to Russia, according to the customs data. A portion of them were sold directly by DJI, via iFlight Technology, a subsidiary of DJI.

In total, nearly 70 Chinese exporters sold 26 distinct brands of Chinese drones to Russia since the invasion. The second-largest brand sold was Autel, a Chinese drone maker with subsidiaries in the United States, Germany and Italy; exporters sold nearly $2 million of its drones, with the latest batch shipping in February 2023.”

Humanitarian

Enemy drone attack: three killed, seven injured in Kyiv region, Ukrinform reports, citing the Kyiv Regional Military Administration. “As a result of a drone attack overnight, a civilian object was damaged in Kyiv region. As of now, we know about 3 dead and 7 injured. The information is being clarified,/” the report says.

As of 05:50, the fire was contained, the Kyiv Regional Military Administration said. As reported by Ukrinform, on the night of March 22, about eight enemy Shahed UAVs were spotted and shot down over Kyiv.”

Explosions thunder in Odesa, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing ZN.ua. “On the evening of 21 March, explosions rang out in Odesa. The preliminary reports indicate that explosions were heard due to air defence operating. According to Ukrainan media, the activity of the enemy’s tactical aircraft over the Black Sea area is recorded.”

Ukraine’s exports through “grain corridor” grow 38% over past week – UCAB, Ukrinform reports. “From March 13 to March 19, 2023, Ukraine exported 1,081,000 tonnes of agricultural products through the sea ports of Odesa region, which is 38% more than in the previous week, according to the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UCAB). Over the reporting period, 22 vessels were loaded (six more than in the previous week).

According to UCAB, the largest export volumes over the 33rd week of the “grain corridor” operation were corn (66% of exports during this period), wheat (18%), and sunflower seed cake (11%). […] In general, from August 1, 2022 to March 19, 2023, Ukraine exported 25.1 million tonnes of agricultural products.”

Environmental

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1638284313576853505

Pollution caused directly by hostilities, according to EcoZagroza (Official resource of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine). “According to the International Coordination Center for Humanitarian Demining of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, from February 24, 2022, to March 15, 2023, 332,940 explosive objects, including 2,191 aircraft bombs, were neutralized in Ukraine. An area of 803.9 square kilometers was surveyed for explosives. There are still 174,000 square kilometers of potentially dangerous areas remaining, which is 30% of the country’s total area.

Ammunition and military equipment contain lead, mercury, and TNT. Even when the war in Ukraine ends, these heavy metals and explosive substances will remain in the soil with negative consequences for humans, animals, and the environment. As Katerina Smirnova from the Oleksiy Sokolovsky Institute of Soil Science and Agrochemistry, a leading scientific institution in soil science and conservation in Ukraine, explained, samples of soil taken from explosion sites of ammunition in the Kharkiv region already showed an increased concentration of carcinogenic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. More details about how ammunition is poisoning soils in Ukraine can be found in the Deutsche Welle article. […]

Ruslan Hrechanyk, the First Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, participated in an on-site meeting of the parliamentary Committee on Environmental Policy and Nature Management in the Kharkiv region. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Kharkiv region has been constantly under enemy shelling by the Russian army. Due to the actions of the occupiers, the environment of the Kharkiv region has already suffered damage worth almost UAH 346 billion [$ 9,37 Bln].

Members of the on-site meeting inspected one of the districts of Kharkiv, where most buildings and structures have been destroyed by shelling and bombing. In total, 6,116 buildings and structures have been damaged in the city. They discussed the problem of handling the demolition waste and the construction of new residential areas. The destruction of buildings and settlements leads to environmental pollution with construction waste and asbestos. The consequences of such pollution for the environment will last for years.”

Damage to freshwater resources, according to EcoZagroza. “Due to the attacks by the occupiers and the destruction of the Oskil Reservoir, the supply of fresh water to the Donbas region is under threat. The destruction of the hydroelectric complex has caused irreparable damage to the Chervonooskilskyi regional landscape park. Ukrainian environmentalists have recognized the destruction of the reservoir as one of the largest environmental changes caused by the full-scale Russian invasion.

Recently, the demining of the hydroelectric complex has been completed, and the debris removal is still ongoing. Work is underway to search for funding to restore the reservoir. To this end, the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, with the support of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, has applied a project to create a mobile laboratory for state environmental monitoring in the Kharkiv region to participate in the EU LIFE program.

According to research by the EPL NGO, the infrastructure of the Popasna water supply system, which was the main supplier of water to both the government-controlled areas of Ukraine and the occupied areas of the Luhansk region until February 24, 2022, has been almost completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of people who still live in temporarily occupied territories do not have access to drinking water that meets even minimal safety standards.

In the absence of a centralized water supply and delivery, people will use any available water sources to survive, including surface water bodies, wells, and springs. During the hostilities, Lysychansk Oil Refinery was shelled, resulting in a fire on an area of ​​approximately 5,000 square meters. At the Rubizhne Chemical Plant “Zorya” warehouses and tanks with products were damaged; PJSC “Azot” and other enterprises were shelled. Since the occupiers have not taken any measures to eliminate technological hazards, there is a significant risk of pollution of water bodies with surface runoff containing pollutants. Moreover, there is no information about the storage conditions of the remnants of the chemical substances used in production. Among other threats are sewage that flows into the Siversky Donets river, garbage and leachate from landfills of household waste that no one cleans up, and spontaneous burials that do not comply with sanitary requirements.”

Media uncovers general mood in Kremlin after warrant issued for Putin’s arrest, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Meduza. “The Kremlin proved to be unprepared for the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the arrest of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin; first and foremost, their worries concern the restriction of his movement around the world. Theoretically, the President of the Russian Federation can be arrested by The Hague Order in 123 countries. Sources close to the AP [Administration of the President – ed.] note that the Kremlin does not quite understand how it is possible to ‘ensure the safety’ of the president in these new conditions.

It is reported that in 2023 the Kremlin planned to promote the image of Putin as a “fighter against the West”, a “defender of Latin America and Africa from colonial oppression” and “one of the main leaders of a multipolar world”. But, according to the publication’s sources, this requires foreign trips, where Putin is now restricted due to the decision of the ICC.

In addition, the sources indicate, even some of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries have ceased to be a safe space for Putin. In particular, Tajikistan is one of the countries that ratified the Rome Statute [the treaty that established the ICC – ed.].

According to the publication’s sources, Putin’s trips were very important, including for Russian domestic propaganda, which, based on news about these visits, could tell citizens that “Russia has more friends than ill-wishers” and the country remains “one of the pillars of a multipolar world.”. Restrictions on foreign visits will work in the opposite direction. Before the arrest warrant, [Putin’s] trips were combined with the trips of foreign leaders to Moscow. Now it will not be possible to support the same frequency of meetings – one cannot constantly invite everyone to their state, said one of the sources.

Complications with Putin’s foreign visits have already begun: a summit of BRICS countries will take place in August 2023 in South Africa, but on 20 March, the South African authorities said that it had already “taken note” of the ICC warrant.”

Special tribunal for Russia: coalition of 33 states meeting in Strasbourg – Kuleba, Ukrinform reports. “On March 21-22, a coalition of 33 states working on the creation of a Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine will meet in Strasbourg. This was announced on Twitter by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba.

Today & tomorrow in Strasbourg, Ukraine is gathering the coalition of 33 states working to create a Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine. The tribunal is critical to ensure accountability for the initial crime that led to all subsequent Russian atrocities, said the head of Ukrainian diplomacy.”

Support

F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots could take less than six months, US evaluation found – Ukraine Air Force commander, Euromaidan Press reports. “An American assessment of Ukrainian fighter pilots has revealed they would be ready to fly F-16 jets after fewer than six months of training, Ukrainian Air Force Commander Gen. Serhii Holubtsov told The Times. He says two Ukrainian fighter jet pilots returned to Ukraine last week after an assessment by the US military:

They spent three weeks there and were trained on an F-16 simulator how to fly together as two pilots using weapons. The results came out very good: Ukrainian pilots can learn to fly and operate weapons systems on the F-16 in less than six months, Gen. Holubtsov said. Some NATO allies had previously thought it would take years to train Ukrainian pilots on Western aircraft. […]

I am losing some of my best people because of the lack of proper equipment. The sooner we have all the help we need, the sooner we win this war, the more lives we save. I’m grateful for everyone in Britain who cares, for every bit of help provided, Holubtsov said.

Currently, the Russians have newer and more advanced combat aircraft, which outclass a small number of antiquated MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft operated by the Ukrainian Air Force. The Russians have much longer-range radars and munitions on newer jets. They use a missile with a 200km range to take out our S-300 air defences, which have a range of 150km, then 1,500 kg guided bombs to attack front-line towns like Vuhledar, Bakhmut, and Mariinka. If we had F-16s with AIM 120 missiles and a range of 180km, we could push the Russian planes much further back, Gen. Serhii Holubtsov told The Times.

According to the general, it is impossible to put as many ground air defences as are needed to effectively cover the huge territory of Ukraine, and fighter jets are needed to cover the gaps between air defence systems.”

Even more than tanks and planes, Ukraine needs IFVs, Foreign Policy reports. “Listen to Ukrainian military officers, like I [Franz-Stefan Gady] was able to do during a research trip to Kyiv and the Donbas this month, and a different picture emerges. Not the tank, but it’s less glamorous cousin—the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV)—was at the top of its weapons wish list.“We need everything, but IFVs are probably the most urgent need we have” an officer in a Ukrainian mechanized brigade messaged me last week.

That’s because success in ground combat doesn’t depend on tanks alone but rather on how well tanks can be integrated with other platforms to conduct combined arms operations. The most important of these other weapons—the one Ukrainians on the front lines have been clamoring for—is the armored IFV. Without the main battle tank and IFV operating together, the choreography of the swift and effective combined arms attack would collapse. Without IFVs, there can be no rapid and successful Ukrainian offensive this spring—regardless of how many Western tanks arrive. Although the United States, Sweden, and Germany have each pledged Western IFVs to Ukraine, their actual delivery has yet to be confirmed.

First developed in the late 1950s in West Germany and the Soviet Union, IFVs are a hybrid between armored personnel carriers (APCs) and tanks. Lighter in terms of armament and armor than a tank, they are nonetheless designed to advance with tanks in battle, protecting their heavier cousins from enemy infantry and armor. Unlike an APC—a kind of infantry battle taxi that can’t do much else—the squad aboard an IFV does not have to dismount the vehicle to fight; it can engage Russian forces with the IFV’s main cannon, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), and machine guns. Another important role for the IFV’s role is to provide direct fire support to infantry when it dismounts—for example, for urban combat.

Ukraine has been just as desperate for Western IFVs as tanks despite the public debate’s focus on the latter. Currently, the majority of Ukraine’s IFVs still consist of older Soviet-era BMP-1 and BMP-2 models. According to the Military Balance+ database, Ukraine started the war with 1,212 Soviet-era IFVs of all variants. According to online database Oryx, Ukraine has lost more than 500 IFVs to date, almost all of them the old Soviet types.

Ukraine is in the process of receiving a number of Western IFVs for future offensive operations, including 109 US-made M2 Bradley IFVs. For the upcoming spring offensive, the importance of these deliveries—and the ongoing training of Ukrainians on them—could hardly be overstated. With the Ukrainian armed forces about to operate both Western-made main battle tanks and Western-made IFVs, the effective integration of these two types of armor into combined arms teams supported by artillery could increase Ukrainian forces’ offensive maneuver potential. That, in turn, would reduce Ukraine’s dependence on mass artillery fire on the front line.

Given how rare tank-on-tank warfare has been in Ukraine—and the fact that both sides most often use it as a kind of mobile artillery—Western-made IFVs could have an even greater impact than tanks. […] The M2 Bradley’s firepower, protected mobility, and battlefield awareness outclass the bulk of existing IFVs in Ukrainian or Russian service. […]”

German Marder IFVs on their way to Ukraine – Defence Minister of Germany, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “Boris Pistorius, Head of the Ministry of Defense of Germany, said that the German Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), the transfer of which Berlin announced in January, are already on their way to Ukraine. […]

Currently, more than 1,000 Ukrainian soldiers are undergoing training at air defence complexes, on Leopard, Marder. Marder is already on its way to Ukraine, he added. […]About 40 units of equipment should arrive in Ukraine by the end of the first quarter of 2023. The first Ukrainian military personnel arrived in Germany for training on the Marder infantry fighting vehicle at the end of January.”

Ukraine receives 8 Leopard 2 battle tanks and support vehicles from Norway, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, as reported by European Pravda. “The Norwegian Armed Forces announced the delivery of eight Leopard 2 tanks and four support vehicles to Ukraine. […] The tanks are already delivered, and personnel training is underway in Poland, under the auspices of the EU, the report says. The tanks were transported using the An-124 transport plane.

In addition to the transferred eight tanks and support vehicles, Norway also provides funds for ammunition and spare parts. Earlier, the Norwegian parliament approved a multi-year support program for Ukraine for almost EUR 7 billion.”

Ukraine to receive Abrams tanks from US as soon as this fall -officials, Reuters reports. “The United States plans to speed up the delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, a Pentagon official said on Tuesday, providing the vital equipment to Kyiv as soon as this fall to defend itself against Russian forces. In January, the US pledged to supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1A2 Abrams tanks after months of shunning the idea of deploying the difficult-to-maintain tanks to Ukraine […].

The new plan would give Ukraine the M1A1 SA Abrams tank variant, which can run on diesel fuel like the majority of the Ukrainian fleet, one of the officials said. The change also speeds up delivery by about a year, according to a congressional aide briefed on the matter.

The Pentagon “in close coordination with Ukraine has made the decision to provide the M1A1 variant of the Abrams tank which will enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.”

Additional Security Assistance for Ukraine, US Department of Defense announces. “[On Monday], the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs. This authorization is the thirty-fourth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021 and is valued at up to $350 million.

Ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS); 155mm artillery rounds; 25mm ammunition; High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs); 81mm and 60mm mortar systems and mortar rounds; AT-4 anti-armor weapon systems; Grenade launchers, small arms, and associated ammunition; Demolition munitions and equipment for obstacle clearing; Mine clearing equipment; Heavy fuel tankers; Thermal imagery systems, optics, and laser rangefinders;  Riverine patrol boats;  Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair; Spare parts and other field equipment.”

UK to send armour piercing rounds with depleted uranium to Ukraine, European Pravda reports. “Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium, Annabel Goldie, Minister of State for Defence of United Kingdom, responded to the request of Lord Raymond Jolliffe, member of the House of Lords, on the website of the British parliament. According to Goldi, such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles. Depleted uranium is uranium with a lower content of the fissile isotope-235 than natural uranium.

According to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Challenger 2 tanks will be in Ukraine in March 2023 (Ukr). As reported, Ukraine will receive twice as many Challenger 2 tanks (Ukr) from the UK than London originally promised.”

EU ministers agree plan to jointly procure one million shells for Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “EU ministers have agreed a plan to jointly procure one million shells for Ukraine, according to Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas. […] According to her, this helps to ramp up European defence industry and boost security.”

EU names countries participating in joint purchase of ammunition for Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the European Defence Agency (EDA). “So far, 18 countries plan to participate in the project on joint purchase of ammunition to help Ukraine and replenish the national reserves of member states. In addition, others expressed their readiness to join later. Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and Norway have signed the project agreement.

The project opens the way for EU Member States and Norway to proceed along two paths: a two-year, fast-track procedure for 155mm artillery rounds and a seven-year project to acquire multiple ammunition types, the report says. Some other EU countries have already expressed their intention to join the initiative shortly after the completion of national procedures.”

About 2,000 gun barrels: General Staff states Ukraine’s artillery needs, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing ArmyInform quoting Serhii Baranov, Acting Head of the Main Directorate of Combat Strike Systems of the Ukrainian General Staff. “I hope that in the near future we will definitely have our improved systems, said Baranov, noting that today the need is about 2,000 gun barrels, which fail due to time and intensive use and require updating.”

IMF staff reaches agreement with Ukraine for $15.6 bln program, Reuters reports. “The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday it had reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine for a four-year financing package worth about $15.6 billion, offering funds the country needs as it continues to defend against Russia’s invasion.

The agreement, which must still be ratified by the IMF’s board, takes into consideration Ukraine’s path to accession to the European Union after the war. The fund said its executive board was expected to discuss approval in the coming weeks.

The overarching goals of the authorities’ program are to sustain economic and financial stability in circumstances of exceptionally high uncertainty, restore debt sustainability, and support Ukraine’s recovery on the path toward EU accession in the post-war period, IMF official Gavin Gray said in a statement announcing the agreement.”

New Developments

  1. Kremlin says Putin and Xi discussed Chinese peace proposal, ReutersThe Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had held a “thorough” exchange of views during their first day of talks and had discussed Beijing’s peace plan for Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to give further details, telling reporters to wait for a joint statement later on Tuesday after the two leaders meet for a second day of talks. […] He said the two leaders had talked about China’s proposal – a 12-point paper calling for a de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine – but again declined to elaborate.”
  2. To be constructive, China should urge end of Ukraine invasion -White House, ReutersIf China wants to play a constructive role in Ukraine, its president, Xi Jinping, should urge Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine, John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, said on Tuesday. […] Kirby also said the US does not want to see a ceasefire in Ukraine because it would allow Russia to keep its territorial gains and let Putin regroup his forces.”
  3. Putin says Chinese proposal could be basis for peace in Ukraine, ReutersRussian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Tuesday that Chinese proposals could be used as the basis of a peace settlement in Ukraine, but that the West and Kyiv were not yet ready. In a joint statement issued at the end of Xi’s state visit to Moscow, the two men cautioned against any steps that might push the Ukraine conflict into an uncontrollable phase, adding pointedly that there could be no winners in a nuclear war. Putin accused Western powers of fighting to the last Ukrainian, while Xi reiterated China’s neutral position on Ukraine and called for dialogue. […] China’s proposal – a 12-point paper calling for a de-escalation and eventual ceasefire in Ukraine – lacks details on how to end the war. The United States has been dismissive of the Chinese proposal, given Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over Ukraine, and says a ceasefire now would lock in Russian territorial gains and give Putin’s army more time to regroup.”
  4. Zelenskyy: Kyiv proposed that Beijing join Ukraine’s peace formula, still waiting for response, ReutersUkraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that Kyiv had suggested to China that Beijing join a Ukrainian peace formula to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, but that it was still waiting for an answer. Beijing has proposed a 12-point peace proposal, but Kyiv insists on a full Russian troop withdrawal and has been promoting its own plan in recent months.
  5. Russia requested lethal aid from China – NATO Secretary General, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing CNNand European Pravda. “We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia, but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities, the NATO Secretary General said. He warned China against providing lethal aid to Russia, which, according to the Secretary General, would be to support an illegal war“.
  6. China and Russia are coming closer and closer – NATO Secretary General, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing CNNand European Pravda. “According to Stoltenberg, the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Russia and his meeting with Vladimir Putin signals the closer ties developing between Beijing and Moscow in recent years. We see how China and Russia are coming closer and closer in the military domain – joint exercises, joint patrols, naval and air patrols – in the economic domain and also in the political and diplomatic domain. So, the meeting in Moscow is part of that pattern where China and Russia are working more and more closely and building a stronger and stronger partnership, he said.
  7. China’s Xi appeared more relaxed than Putin in first Moscow meeting, experts say, ReutersBody language experts say Chinese President Xi Jinping came across as more relaxed and commanding than his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at Monday’s televised first meeting of Xi’s state visit to Moscow.”
  8. As no one able to help Ukraine liberate nuclear plant, other mechanisms needed – Zelensky, UkrinformToday we discussed ways to find a more effective mechanism for the de-occupation of our nuclear plant. Because the format in which we live, with all due respect and gratitude to what Mr. (IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano – ed.) Grossi has been doing to solve this situation, nothing is helping the Zaporizhzhia plant so far, no international institution has been able to solve the issue so far. That’s why we have to find other mechanisms,” Zelensky said.
  9. PACE Leadership Meets with “Good Russians”, European PravdaThe leadership of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has held an exchange of views with representatives of Russian democratic forces. As the Council of Europe reports, the meeting took place in Paris on March 20. The Council of Europe noted that there was an exchange of views with representatives of the Russian democratic forces. The purpose of the meeting is to step up dialogue and to explore ways of co-operating with PACE in the future.”
  10. NATO-Ukraine Commission may meet in early April – Stoltenberg, UkrinformNATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg intends to convene a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, which may take place in early April as part of a NATO meeting at the level of foreign ministers. […] The NATO meeting at the level of foreign ministers will be held on April 4-5, 2023 at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. It will be chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg also noted that he has the mandate to convene a meeting of the commission, and out of respect for Hungary’s position, he has not done so for some time.
  11. Hungary Complained about NATO’s Intention to Bypass Block of Meet up with Ukraine, Ongoing since 2017, European Pravda reports, citing Infostart. “The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Péter Szijjártó, claims that NATO is convening a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission at the ministerial level, which Budapest has blocked for the past six years. […] It violates the NATO unity and the unanimity procedure. At the same time, we cannot do anything else. We take our consideration of the Secretary General’s decision, he added. At the same time, he claims that Hungary will not support any significant integration step of Ukraine into NATO or the EU […]. According to EuroPravda, a meeting of the Commission at the ministerial level is being considered, but the final decision is yet to be made. If it works out, it is going to be the first meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission since 2017 when an education law opposed by Budapest was passed.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 21, 2022:

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Masyukivka (15km northeast of Kupiansk), Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), and Verkhnokamyanske (20km south of Kreminna).  Geolocated footage published on March 20 indicates that Russian forces have advanced towards Terny, about 15km northwest of Kreminna. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that the Kupiansk-Lyman direction is under the heaviest Russian artillery fire and that Russian forces use Soviet-era armored vehicles and older tanks more actively on this line. […] A Russian milblogger claimed that positional battles continue west of Ploshchanka and near the Zhuravka gully, within 18km northwest of Kreminna. A milblogger claimed that Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian positions in Novoselivske and conducted offensive operations towards Yampolivka, Terny, Nevske, and Makiivka. Another milblogger published footage on March 21 reportedly of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Army Corps operating in the forests near Kreminna.

Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut; within 11km northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, and Bohdanivka; and within 22km southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske, Predtechyne, and Pivnichne. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that there were 13 combat clashes in Bakhmut, a notable decrease from the 24 combat clashes in the city that he reported on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff specified that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults in northern Bakhmut, likely suggesting that Russian forces are concentrating offensive operations on the northern part of the city. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters continued assaults in the AZOM industrial complex in northern Bakhmut and that they control most of the complex, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced from southwestern areas of Bakhmut towards the city center on March 19 and 20, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation that Russian forces have done so. The Lystyan volunteer battalion of the Cossack Don Brigade published footage on March 18 claiming to show the formation fighting in Bakhmut itself, possibly indicating that the Cossack Don Brigade has ties with the Wagner Group in the area. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner fighters conducted an assault towards Khromove (2km west of Bakhmut) and broke through Ukrainian defenses in the direction of Hryhorivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut). Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults west of Kurdyumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut) and that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful counterattacks southwest of Bakhmut.

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka; within 14km north of Avdiivka near Novobakhmutivka, Berdychi, and Krasnohorivka; and within 36km southwest of Avdiivka near Sieverne, Pervomaiske, Marinka, Pobieda, and Novomykhailivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are attempting to advance towards Orlivka (8km northwest of Avdiivka) following the likely Russian capture of Stepove (9km northwest of Avdiivka). A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces still hold positions in Stepove. ISW assesses that Russian forces likely captured Stepove based on a Ukrainian General Staff report of Russian assaults near Berdychi (10km northwest of Avdiivka, and 1km west of Stepove) on March 19. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced near Stepove and Kamianka as well as towards the southern outskirts of Avdiivka, where fierce fighting has reportedly been ongoing for the past five days. Russian milbloggers also claimed that Russian forces are trying to advance north of Vodyane (8km southwest of Bakhmut). A Russian milblogger purportedly in contact with personnel from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 1st Slavic Brigade claimed that the formation has suffered heavy losses and conducts assaults without artillery support in the Avdiivka area. ISW previously reported that the increased tempo of Russian operations in the Avdiivka area has led to major losses and is likely a misguided effort to pull Ukrainian forces away from other areas of the front.[43]

Russian sources offered diverging views on the Russian military’s ability to encircle Avdiivka and the significance of the settlement. Some Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are threatening to encircle Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka from the north, east, and south and that the capture of Stepove cut the railway line that Ukrainian forces used to supply its grouping in Avdiivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are attempting to advance towards Orlivka to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that lead from Orlivka, Lastochkyne (4km northwest of Avdiivka), and Tonenke (7km west of Avdiivka) into Avdiivka and will soon encircle Avdiivka. Other prominent milbloggers argued that Russian forces are not close to encircling Avdiivka and called on other Russian sources to stop premature conversations about the topic. One milblogger stated that the current difficulties of the Russian advance in the Avdiivka area confirm that Russian forces are not closer to victory. Russian sources offered diverging views on the importance of capturing Avdiivka, with one Russian milblogger arguing that the settlement is a significant industrial area while another questioned how capturing Avdiivka would significantly change the operational situation along the outskirts of Donetsk City when Ukrainian positions in Karlivka (16km northwest of Avdiivka) and Kurakhove (25km west of Donetsk City) are just as fortified as those in Avdiivka. ISW continues to assess that Russian advances could prompt Ukrainian command to decide to withdraw from Avdiivka although that does not appear likely at this time.

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on March 21.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April. Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya stated during a press conference on March 21 that Russia plans to hold an informal UNSC meeting in early April to discuss the “real situation” of “Ukrainian children taken to Russia.” Nebenzya claimed that Russia planned to hold the meeting before the announcement of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrants for Putin and Russian Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Nebenzya’s announcement, as well as vitriolic denials of the ICC’s accusations by Russian officials, come as Kremlin-appointed occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia under a variety of schemes and guises. Putin additionally made a number of notable comments proclaiming Russia’s commitment to the UN, UNSC, and the UN charter during his press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 21. Taken in tandem, Nebenzya’s and Putin’s comments suggest that Russia continues to use its position on the UNSC as a base of power projection as the UNSC prepares for Russia to take the UNSC presidency in April. […].

The second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to suggest that Putin has not been able to secure the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he likely hoped for. Putin and Xi signed a “Joint Statement by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, Entering a New Era” on March 21, which stressed that Russian–Chinese relations are comprehensive, strategic, and at the highest level in history. The Joint Statement outlines a variety of bilateral intentions and affirms the commitment of Russia and China to each other’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, among other diplomatic promises. The commitments made by Xi and Putin were notably lopsided, however, indicating that Xi is agreeing to a more reserved version of Russian–Chinese relations than Putin likely desires, as ISW observed on March 20. Xi praised Putin, reaffirmed China’s commitment to Russia in the UNSC, and amplified China’s position on a political settlement of the war in Ukraine; but Xi did not go much further than offering those statements. Putin, by contrast, announced a number of measures that signal Russia’s continued orientation towards and dependence on China in the energy and economic sectors, which appear very one-sided compared to Xi’s relatively tempered commitments. Xi additionally did not signal an intent to provide support for Russia’s war in Ukraine beyond vague diplomatic assurances, which is likely a step down from what Putin hoped to secure in negotiations. Putin has likely failed to secure the exact sort of partnership that he needs and desires, and Xi will likely leave Moscow having secured assurances that are more one-sided than Putin intended them to be. Putin observed that Russia and China had “a very substantiative and candid exchange of views” on the prospects for the further development of Russian-Chinese relations. Such rhetoric notably lacks the language normally used in diplomatic readouts to indicate that the two parties have come to definitive and substantive agreements.

Putin portrayed the Western provision of depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to bolster information operations aiming to deter Western security assistance to Ukraine and to place the onus for negotiations on the West. Putin claimed on March 21, while discussing the Chinese peace plan, that the West is beginning to use weapons with a “nuclear” component in a response to the UK’s announcement that it would provide Ukraine with shells with depleted uranium. Putin claimed that the UK’s provision of depleted uranium shells indicated that the West is not ready for a “peaceful settlement.” Anti-tank munitions in the West are commonly made of depleted uranium—that is, uranium that is less radioactive than natural uranium—due to its high density and the penetrative effect it generates. Such munitions cannot be used to produce either nuclear or radiological weapons. Putin seeks to portray the provision of depleted uranium shells as escalatory in order to deter Western security assistance despite the shells not containing any fissile or radiological material.

The Wagner Group may lose most of its convict force in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) assessed that thousands of Wagner convicts who were recruited during fall 2022 will be pardoned and released, given that Wagner appears to be sticking to its promise of releasing convicts after six months of service. The UK MoD forecasted that the exodus of convict forces would worsen Wagner personnel shortages as the Kremlin has also blocked Wagner from recruiting additional prisoners. The Kremlin had previously confirmed on January 27 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is issuing preemptive pardons for convicts who serve in Russian combat operations in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s announcement aligns with the ISW-established timeline of Putin’s decision to completely distance himself from Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin following the fall of Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, on January 12–13. The Kremlin had likely deliberately authorized the publicization of pre-emptive pardons to incentivize more Wagner convicts to leave following the expiration of their contracts to further erode the Wagner force. Prigozhin has developed a brand consistently mocking the Russian MoD for its disregard for the troops’ wellbeing and is unlikely to anger a convict force by retaining them on the frontlines past the expiration of their contracts.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a criminal investigation into the Deputy Commander of the Rosgvardia’s Central District, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky on March 20. Russian State Duma Parliamentarian Aleksandr Khinshtein stated that Dragomiretsky is suspected of receiving multimillion-dollar bribes and abusing his power and will face subsequent dismissal from his position. Khinshtein said that officials forced Dragomiretsky to admit his guilt in a written confession. Dragomiretsky was suspected of having received bribes from a contractor who reconstructed a military unit in the Moscow Oblast. The accusations follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bill on March 18 that increased fines and jail time for the misappropriation of Russian military assets. Khinshtein stated that the Rosgvardia leadership’s investigation proves its dedication to “purifying their ranks.“ The Kremlin may use the premise of misappropriation of military funds to oust officials who have fallen out of favor. […]

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April.
  • The readouts of the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to suggest that Putin has not been able to secure the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he likely hoped for.
  • Putin falsely portrayed the Western provision of depleted uranium ammunition (not suitable for use in nuclear or radiological weapons) to Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to bolster information operations aiming to deter Western security assistance to Ukraine and to place the onus for negotiations on the West.
  • Wagner Group may lose most of its convict force in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts.
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a criminal investigation into the Deputy Commander of the Rosgvardia’s Central District, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky.
  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it authorized a presidential drawdown to provide around $350 million of security assistance to Ukraine.
  • Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City.
  • The Kremlin continues crypto mobilization campaigns to recruit men across Russia for contract service to avoid declaring a second mobilization wave.

Russian occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

US drones change routes over Black Sea after collision with Russian aircraft, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing CNN with reference to US officials. “According to CNN, the drone flights have remained in international airspace, but the US has moved its drone flights further away from airspace surrounding the Crimean peninsula and eastern portions of the Black Sea. One of the US officials told CNN that the routes are part of an effort to avoid provocations, as the Biden administration remains careful to avoid an incident that could potentially escalate into a direct conflict between US and Russian forces.

The official said the drone flights would continue this way, but the US wants to return to the routes closer to Russian-held territory. The officials also said Russia may try to unilaterally declare a broader closure of airspace around southern and eastern Ukraine in an attempt to force US drone flights further out.  

CNN noted that Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder confirmed that the US was continuing to operate drones in the Black Sea area, but he declined to say whether the US had changed its routes. I’m not going to, for operational security reasons, not going to get into the specifics of routes, missions, timelines, things like that, Ryder said.

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

NATO chief urges members to boost defence spending as only 7 hit target, Reuters reports. “NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged member countries to speed up increases in defence spending as new figures showed fewer than a quarter of them meeting the alliance’s target. Stoltenberg said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year showed the world had become more dangerous, and NATO allies had to respond by setting and meeting more ambitious military spending goals.

Seven of the alliance’s 30 countries met the current goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2022 – one fewer than in 2021, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – according to estimates in the NATO secretary-general’s annual report, released on Tuesday. Stoltenberg said NATO had expected two more members to hit the target but their economies had grown by more than anticipated so their spending came in lower as a share of GDP.

NATO members have been steadily increasing their defence spending overall since Russian forces annexed Crimea and entered Donbas in eastern Ukraine in 2014. But Stoltenberg said last year’s full-scale invasion showed a need to spend more. There’s no doubt that we need to do more and we need to do it faster, he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The pace now, when it comes to increases in defence spending, is not a high enough, he said. My message to allies is that we welcome what they’ve done but they need to speed up, they need to deliver more in a more dangerous world.

At a summit in Wales in 2014, NATO leaders agreed to the goal of moving towards spending at least 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade. Stoltenberg’s 2022 report showed Greece, the United States, Lithuania, Poland, Britain, Estonia and Latvia met that target. Overall defence spending by NATO allies was up 2.2% on the previous year.

NATO leaders are expected to agree a new target at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July and Stoltenberg said 2% of GDP should now be seen as a minimum, with members aiming to move more quickly than they have done to get to higher levels. I will advocate for a more ambitious pledge than the one we made in 2014, he said. If there was a need to increase defence spending back in 2014, this is even more obvious now.

The figures in Stoltenberg’s report showed Croatia and France were the closest to meeting the 2% target, with each spending about 1.9% of GDP on defence. Bringing up the rear were Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, whose defence spending was under 1.2% of GDP.”

Russia becomes China’s largest crude oil supplier earlier this year, Ukrinform reports, citing Reuters. “In the first two months of 2023, Russia increased its crude oil sales to China by almost a quarter. It overtook Saudi Arabia to become China’s largest oil supplier. According to the Chinese General Administration of Customs, in January-February, oil imports from Russia reached 15.7 million tonnes. This is almost 2 million barrels per day. It’s 23.8% more than in the same period in 2022. […]

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Western sanctions were imposed and a cap was introduced on Russian oil prices. This has reduced the number of buyers of Russian hydrocarbons. As a result, Russian oil is being sold at a steep discount.

Among the main beneficiaries of the Russian oil price cap were non-state Chinese refiners. Many of them are located in the eastern province of Shandong. Early in the year, they bought Russian crude at a discount of about $8 per barrel compared to the benchmark Brent. As Ukrinform reported on Monday, March 20, oil prices continued to fall after last week’s decline. The drop was the most significant since last summer.”

 

Hans Petter Midttun: Russia’s massive attack on Ukraine has created deep uncertainty in our part of the world, the Defence Analysis 2023 published yesterday by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) reads. According to the report, “the Norwegian Armed Forces are not able to solve its tasks in the most demanding scenarios. Even though we still remain to complete the analysis of FFI’s new scenario portfolio, we assess that the shortcomings within ground-based air defence and anti-submarine warfare persist. Furthermore, additional challenges have been revealed as readiness of supply, medical services and host nation support have been included in the analysis.” The Armed Forces are underfunded by at least NOK 30 billion [$2,85 Bln] until 2030.

Norway is one of the richest countries in the world per capita and 1 out of the 23 NATO members which does not meet its obligation to invest 2% of its GDP in defence. Its Armed Forces are still underfunded more than 9 years after Russia started waging war in Europe and its stockpiles are being depleted while supporting Ukraine.

Germany is in no better situation. At around 50 billion euros, its defence budget remains short of 75 billion euros, or 2% of economic output, Germany needs to meet its NATO obligations. In 2022, it only spent 1,49% of its GDP on defence. The German Defence Minister is asking for a 10 billion euro increase in the budget in 2024 to help refill depleted ammunition stocks.

After decades of underfunding, cutbacks, public disinterest and political neglect [the Bundeswehr] is no longer a credible fighting force. In a rare public intervention as Russia invaded, Alfons Mais, the head of the German army, expressed a deep sense of frustration that he had almost no options to bolster Germany’s military presence in eastern Europe to reassure NATO allies, because the Bundeswehr was ‘more or less bare’ in its capabilities.”

Similar assessments can be found for the other countries that have failed to invest in defence and security for the last decades.

There’s no doubt that we need to do more and we need to do it faster, NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, said. “The pace now, when it comes to increases in defence spending, is not high enough. My message to allies is that we welcome what they’ve done but they need to speed up, they need to deliver more in a more dangerous world.”

That is a gross understatement.

When the national defence structures no longer constitute credible fighting forces, the countries are running low on weapons and ammunition they can supply Ukraine and are concerned about their readiness and sustainability, and the European and US defence industries have not yet been able to ramp up production to meet the present demand resulting from a war in Europe nine years after it started, something is fundamentally wrong.

At the Madrid summit in June, NATO stated that we face a critical time for our security and international peace and stability.

We will agree a fundamental shift to our deterrence and defence. With more forward deployed combat formations. With more high-readiness forces. And also with more pre-positioned equipment. This is the biggest overhaul our collective defence since the end of the Cold War that will be agreed at this Summit.”

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, 29 June 2022

In June 2022, at NATO’s Summit, Allies agreed on a further fundamental shift in deterrence and defence to make clear that it will defend every inch of NATO territory. The Alliance upgraded its defence plans, put more forces at high readiness, and pre-assigned forces to defend specific Allies. It committed to stationing more troops and prepositioning more equipment and weapon stockpiles in the east of the Alliance. Heads of State agreed to significantly increase NATO’s Common Funding to ensure that our political decisions are supported with adequate resources.

We are witnessing a shift from defence by punishment of the attacking forces to defence by denying the enemy forces entry to NATO territory,” Marek Świerczyński, head of the security programme at Poland’s Polityka Insight think tank, told LRT.lt.

Commenting on the implementation of the declared transformation of NATO, Świerczyński said:

I have no idea where the resources will come from to implement all this, but if by some miracle NATO shows up with these forces, the effect will be enormous.

According to NATO General Secretary, 300,000 troops in high readiness are supposed to be ready by the end of this year. Against the backdrop of his annual report for 2022, however, we witnessed a decline in the number of countries that met the defence spending target last year.

That’s the exact opposite development one would expect with Europe at war.

That’s also the exact opposite strategic messaging NATO needs to convey as the Alliance faces a critical time for our security and international peace and stability, and the relationship between Russia and China deepens.

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