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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 402: International Criminal Court calls on Russia to return abducted children to Ukraine

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 402: International Criminal Court calls on Russia to return abducted children to Ukraine
Article by: Zarina Zabrisky

International Criminal Court calls on Russia to return abducted children to Ukraine. The center of Bakhmut remains a hot spot.  Ministry of Culture sues Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate.

Daily overview — Summary report, April 1

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, April 1, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.


During the past day, Russian forces launched 5 missiles and 16 air strikes, carried out 39 attacks from MLRS.

On March 31, the Russian Federation launched another missile strike against civilian targets, using ballistic missiles.

To conduct airstrikes, Russian forces also used 6 strike UAVs of the Shahed-136 type. However, all of them were destroyed by our defenders.

The probability of further missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains quite high.

Russian forces continue to focus their main efforts on conducting offensive actions on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka axes. During the past day, thanks to the organized and coordinated actions of units of the Defence Forces of Ukraine, as well as the personal courage of each defender, 70 enemy attacks were repelled on the indicated axes. The most intense fighting continues for the settlements of Bilogorivka, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka.

The top political leadership of the Republic of Belarus continues to support Russian aggression and provides Russian forces with airspace and its territory. Territorial troops of the armed forces of the Russian Federation are being trained on Belarusian training grounds. At the same time, no signs of the formation of enemy offensive groups were detected. Russian forces will continue to maintain a military presence in the border areas of the Kursk and Belgorod regions. [As part of the combat training activities, the training of the Special Forces units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus has been completed.]

Kharkiv Battle Map. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Volyn’, Polissya, Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the operational situation has not changed significantly. During the past day, Russian forces shelled the settlements of Baranivka, Chernihiv Oblast; Katerynivka, Sosnivka, Starykove, Volfine, Kindrativka, Novomykolaivka, Myropyllya, Popivka, and Oleksandrivka in the Sumy Oblast, as well as Veterinarne, Hoptivka, Strelecha, Hlyboke, Neskuchne, Bochkove, and Budarki settlements in the Kharkiv Oblast.
Donetsk Battle Map. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Kupiansk axis: the settlements near the battle line were attacked by enemy fire: Kam’ianka, Figolivka, Masyutivka, Sinkivka, Krokhmalne in the Kharkiv Oblast and Novoselivske in the Luhansk Oblast.
  • Lyman axis: during the past day, Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near the settlements of Makiivka, Kreminna, Dibrova, Chervopopivka, Bilogorivka and in the area of Serebryansk forestry. Nevske, Chervonopivka, Dibrova, Belogorivka of the Luhansk Oblast, as well as Spirne – Donetsk, were subjected to artillery fire.
Bakhmut Battle Map. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces do not stop storming the city of Bakhmut, trying to take it under complete control. During the past day, our defenders repelled enemy attacks in the Bohdanivka and Ivanovske settlements. Vasyukivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Novomarkovka, Hryhorivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Ozaryanivka and Mayorsk of the Donetsk Oblast were affected by enemy shelling.
  • Avdiivka and Mariinka axes: Russian forces carried out offensive actions near the settlements of Novobakhmutivka, Avdiivka, Pervomaiske and Mar’yinka of the Donetsk Oblast, without success. Last day, at the Mar’yinka area alone, the servicemen of the Defense Forces repelled about 20 enemy attacks. At the same time, Russian forces shelled the settlements of Stepove, Tonenke, Severne, Mariinka, and Novomykhailivka.
  • Shakhtarske axis: during the past day, Russian forces actively used UAVs to adjust artillery fire, shelled the settlements of Vodyane, Vugledar, Velyka Novosilka, Krasnohorivka, and Novosilka of the Donetsk Oblast.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: Russian forces did not conduct active operations, improving defensive lines and positions. They carried out shelling of populated areas. Among them are Vremivka, Novosilka, Donetsk Oblast; Olhivske, Gulyaipole, Charivne, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanilivka, Orihiv, Mali Shcherbaki, Stepnohirsk of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, as well as Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. March 31, 2023. Source: ISW.

After effective shelling of the areas where Russian manpower and equipment were concentrated, the occupiers strengthened the counter-reconnaissance regime in the Troitsky district of the Luhansk Oblast. Local residents are being checked, mobile communications have been turned off in some localities.

Cases of invaders using civilian infrastructure and private property for their own purposes continue to be recorded. In particular, in certain settlements of the Shchastin district of the Luhansk Oblast, people were evicted from their own homes to house servicemen of the Russian occupation forces.

]There is a continuing trend of an increased number of cases when groups of enemy personnel escape from their units. Thus, the occupiers are looking for 50 deserters in the Starobilskyi district (temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk oblast).]

Over the past day, the Ukrainian Air Force has carried out 10 strikes on areas where the occupiers are concentrated. Units of missile and artillery troops struck 9 areas of concentration of enemy manpower, weapons and military equipment, a warehouse of fuel and lubricants, 2 anti-aircraft missile systems, an artillery unit at a firing position, as well as a radio-electronic warfare station.

Military Updates

Ukrainian commander says the battle for Bakhmut might be a turning point in the war and Ukraine is capable of holding the city, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The New York Times. “Colonel Yevhen Mezhevikin, commander of the Adam Tactical Group, said that he was confident that Ukrainian forces could keep holding the city and push Russian troops back farther. If the Ukrainians hold their recent gains, the battles of the last month at Bakhmut could prove a turning point in Ukraine’s defence against Russia, not only stalling the latest Russian offensive but also in setting themselves up to deliver a knockout blow, he said.

Mezhivikin told the NYT that the Russian assaults have slowed and the imminent threat of encirclement has been thwarted. He added that Russian forces exhausted all their reserves. The density of assaults dropped by several times. Before they could assault in all directions simultaneously and in groups of not less than 20, 30 or 40 people, but gradually it is dying down. Mezhivikin added that additional Ukrainian attack brigades were completing their training: We are holding Russian forces here for a bit more, and let them knock them back.

He explained that on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut, where Russian troops had tried to encircle the city in a pincers movement, the Russians were coming up against Ukraine’s most motivated units and no longer had momentum: When they try to reinforce their units, to rotate, they are being destroyed at the very start.

The centre of Bakhmut, however, remained a hot spot where Russian troops were still attacking with significant force, the commander said: All that’s left for them is to try to advance through the city because the buildings protect them from fire. Accounts from Ukrainian soldiers fighting inside the city indicated that Russian troops had concentrated their efforts on advancing through the city centre by using heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, demolishing resistance block by block. Some Ukrainian units have taken heavy losses and have had to be rotated out or reinforced by other units.

Mezhevikin said there were still strong Russian divisions guarding the critical points of defence but that regular Russian army units lacked morale and were easier to break. […] But Wagner units, which include convicts, were threatened with physical punishment if they retreated: They are scared to give up and to leave their positions. They prefer to die here.”

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

  • On 11 January 2023, Russian Chief of the General Staff (CGS) General Valery Gerasimov took personal command of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
  • Gerasimov’s tenure has been characterised by an effort to launch a general winter offensive with the aim of extending Russian control over the whole of the Donbas region. Eighty days on, it is increasingly apparent that this project has failed.
  • On several axes across the Donbas front, Russian forces have made only marginal gains at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties, largely squandering its temporary advantage in personnel gained from the autumn’s ‘partial mobilisation’.
  • After ten years as CGS, there is a realistic possibility that Gerasimov is pushing the limits of how far Russia’s political leadership will tolerate failure.
  • As of 23 March 2023, Ukrainian Special Operation Forces released footage of a Russian ZOOPARK-1M counter-battery radar being destroyed in the Donetsk area.
  • Efforts by both sides to neutralise their opponent’s counter-battery radars have been a constant element of the conflict. These systems are relatively few in number but are a significant force multiplier. They allow commanders to rapidly locate and strike enemy artillery.
  • However, because they have an active electromagnetic signature, they are vulnerable to being detected and destroyed. Russia has lost at least six ZOOPARK-1M and likely only has a very limited number left in Ukraine. Regenerating counter-battery radar fleets is likely a key priority for both sides, but Russia will likely struggle because the systems rely on supplies of high-tech electronics which have been disrupted by sanctions.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Saturday 1 April, 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 173990 (+630)
  • Tanks – 3616 (+1)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 6981 (+4)
  • Artillery systems – 2683 (+8)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 527 (+1)
  • Air defence means – 279 (+1)
  • Aircraft – 306 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 291 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5528 (+7)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2248 (+0)
  • Special equipment – 296 (+2)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 911 (+0)

Russia claims it has no plans for new mobilisation: it allegedly has enough volunteers, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RIA Novosti. “The Russian Defence Ministry has stated that it is not planning a second wave of mobilisation, as there are allegedly enough volunteers and conscripts who were called up earlier. […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on the spring draft, which will traditionally begin on 1 April and last until 15 July. The Institute for the Study of War (USA) believes that the spring draft, which will begin in Russia on 1 April, may prevent the occupiers from replenishing combat units fighting in Ukraine.”

50 Russian soldiers desert in occupied Luhansk Oblast – General Staff; Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainian General Staff. “The trend of increasing cases of escape of enemy personnel groups from subdivisions and military units continues. Thus, in the Starobilsk district of the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk Oblast, the occupiers are looking for 50 military deserters.”


UN human rights chief decries ‘shockingly routine’ abuses in Ukraine war, Reuters reports. “The United Nations Human Rights chief Volker Turk deplored on Friday how grave human rights violations were “shockingly routine” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said the number of civilian casualties was far higher than official figures. Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk said Ukraine was a nation struggling to survive in the face of Russia’s invasion. […] People across the country face massive suffering and loss, deprivation, displacement and destruction. Fighting is still raging in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian forces hold swathes of territory captured after they invaded in February last year.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities. […] Ukraine thanked the High Commissioner for his recommendations… while Russia continued its disinformation campaign and deflected all responsibility, Michele Taylor, the US representative, said of Friday’s Human Rights Council session. The High Commissioner has been very clear and we must be clear there is no equivalency.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths and more than 14,000 civilians wounded. These figures are just the tip of the iceberg, Turk said. Most of the casualties resulted from Russian forces’ use of wide-impact explosive weaponry in residential neighbourhoods.

The UN Human Rights Council is the only body made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide. It does not have legally binding powers but its debates can spur investigations that feed evidence to national and international courts. The Council next week is expected to adopt a resolution to extend and deepen the mandate of a UN investigative body set up to probe possible atrocities in Ukraine.”

ICC prosecutor calls on Russia to return abducted children to Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan called on Russia to return to Ukraine all abducted amid the invasion. The prosecutor stated this during the United for Justice conference, which took place in Bucha, timed to the anniversary of the city’s liberation from the Russian forces.

Stressing a priority focus on children’s rights, he called on Russia to provide an opportunity for these children to return to Ukraine “as soon as possible” – either directly to Ukraine or through third states, He also once again called on Russian authorities to provide information related to his Office’s work.”

Bucha summit participants sign declaration on Russia’s accountability for crimes committed in Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “About 50 states and international organizations signed the Bucha declaration on Russia’s accountability for crimes committed in Ukraine. The document was signed following the Bucha summit and published on the Ukrainian president’s website.

The summit participants condemned in the strongest possible terms the serious crimes under international law that have been committed on the territory of Ukraine, including the Bucha massacre which became a symbol of the horrors of the Russian aggression. They also expressed support for the efforts of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and expressed deep appreciation for the International Criminal Court’s unique and critical activities to ensure the prosecution of the perpetrators of the most serious crimes under international law and preventing their impunity.

The declaration also supports the efforts of States, including Ukraine, to investigate and prosecute crimes within their respective jurisdictions, committed on the territory of Ukraine or against Ukraine, in accordance with their national legislation and international law.

The summit participants recognized the need for the establishment of an international mechanism for reparation of damages, loss or injury, and arising from the internationally wrongful acts of the Russian Federation in or against Ukraine and supports the establishment of an international register of damage to serve as a record, in documentary form, ofevidence and claims information on damages, loss or injury to all natural and legal persons concerned, as well as the State of Ukraine.

The declaration emphasizes the need to ensure comprehensive accountability for the most serious crimes under international law committed on the territory of Ukraine through appropriate, fair and independent investigations and prosecutions at the domestic and international level, and stress the need to pursue practical steps towards this goal to ensure justice for all victims and to contribute to the prevention of future crimes.”

Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and International Criminal Court to create joint groups to investigate war crimes, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Interfax-Ukraine, with reference to Andrii Kostin, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, during the second United for Justice conference dedicated to crimes of genocide. “The International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General will create joint working groups to investigate specific criminal cases related to war crimes, the materials of which Ukraine will be able to later transfer to the ICC.”

Zelensky: There should be three elements in Russia’s full accountability, Ukrinform reports, citing President Zelensky. “There should be three elements in Russia’s full accountability. The first is the national justice of Ukraine, which will ensure the accountability of the majority of Russian murderers and terrorists. The second is the International Criminal Court, which is capable of prosecuting Russian war criminals of various levels within its jurisdiction. And the third mandatory element is a special tribunal; the mandatory element – we emphasize for certain countries and certain leaders who have a different opinion – the special tribunal for the crime of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which will bring to justice those guilty of the primary crime – the crime of aggression, the crime that made possible all other crimes of this Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, Zelensky said.

Zelensky stressed that justice is the foundation of peace. Justice, according to him, is also the foundation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula.”

Ministry of Culture sues Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate for not allowing its commission to enter Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Oleksandr Tkachenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy and Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. “On Friday, the Ministry of Culture was once again unable to enter the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves) and filed a lawsuit against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) for obstruction.

The commission for the acceptance and transfer of state property of the National Reserve Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was again unable to start its work due to the opposition of the UOC-MP. Because of this, the Reserve appealed to the Kyiv Commercial Court to remove the numerous obstacles that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Moscow Patriarchate is putting in the way of the legal transfer of the property of the Lavra to its legal owner – the state. We will solve the situation in a legal way. […]

Tkachenko added that according to Art. 381 of the Civil Code, the property owner is entitled to demand the removal of obstacles to the exercise of the right to use his property.”


Ukraine needs F-16 jets – Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyi, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, has stressed that Ukrainian defenders need Western F-16 fighter jets. Zaluzhnyi has released a video showing Ukrainian soldiers who describe how Ukraine’s military aircraft have been putting up unexpected resistance to the Russians since the beginning of the Russian invasion. One of the pilots says that the most challenging thing is not the ability to pilot, but the ability to use the aircraft in actual combat.

Ukraine has been repeatedly asking its Western partners, particularly the US, to send F-16 fighter jets. Joe Biden’s administration refuses to do this, saying that Ukraine does not need these jets at the moment. US Congress has called the supply of F-16s not a very wise use of resources.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated multiple times that Ukraine needs Western-type fighter jets. After the Russian attack on the night of 26-27 February, he explained that modern combat aircraft could help protect the Ukrainian skies as part of its air defence system. 

Colonel Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said that Ukraine urgently needs fourth or higher generation multi-purpose fighters, and relevant preparations must begin now.”

Ukraine’s Air Force now using JDAM “smart” bombs, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force. “We are using the so-called JDAM bombs. These are Western-made bombs, which our aircraft deploy quite successfully to strike critical targets. These bombs are slightly less powerful but are extremely high-precision. We would like to have more of these bombs to consolidate our success on the front.

Russia has recently ramped up its use of guided bombs. Normally Russian forces deploy FAB-500 Soviet-made bombs, which are retrofitted with “wings” and GPS targeting systems. Ihnat stressed that these Russian bombs are normally not very precise, and thus pose a great threat to civilian facilities. Ukraine needs long-range air defence systems and modern multi-purpose fighter jets in order to be able to counter this type of ammunition.”

Ukraine’s Defence Minister tells EU ambassadors what is needed for effective counteroffensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. “During a meeting with a delegation from the EU Political and Security Committee, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that Ukraine needs heavy equipment and training for reserves for its counteroffensive against the Russian invaders. […] We are interested in training the Ukrainian military at all levels: from individual soldier training to collective exercises for brigade-level units.”

Munitions, anti-tank rockets in next $2.6 bln US pledge for Ukraine -sources, Reuters reports. “A new $2.6 billion US military aid package that could include air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks for Ukraine’s fight against Russia is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, three US officials said on Friday.

A half a dozen types of munitions, including tank munitions, are also expected to be on the list of equipment that could be finalized over this weekend, the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said, adding that the dollar amount and specific equipment in the package could change.

Also slated for inclusion were precision aerial munitions, bridging equipment Ukraine would use to assault Russian positions, recovery vehicles to help disabled heavy equipment like tanks and additional rounds for NASAMS air defenses that the US and allies have given to Kyiv.

The aid was comprised of $2.1 billion in weapons aid coming from Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) funding that allows President Joe Biden’s administration to buy weapons from industry rather than from US weapons stocks.

The remaining $500 million, mainly comprised of munitions to help Kyiv push a spring offensive against Russia’s invasion, was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allow the president to take from current US stocks in an emergency.”

IMF board approves $15.6 bln loan for Ukraine -source, Reuters reports. “The executive board of the International Monetary Fund on Friday approved a four-year $15.6 billion financing package for Ukraine to help the country meet urgent funding needs as it continues to defend against Russia’s invasion, a source briefed on the decision told Reuters. The loan is Ukraine’s biggest since Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, and the first major package approved by the IMF to a country involved in an active conflict.

The decision formalizes an IMF staff-level agreement reached with Ukraine on March 21 that takes into consideration Ukraine’s path to accession to the European Union after the war. The agreement is expected to help unleash large-scale financing for Ukraine from international donors and partners, including the World Bank and other lenders.”

Ukraine receives USD 1.8 billion loan from Canada, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ministry of Finance of Ukraine. “The State Budget of Ukraine received a concessional loan of CAD 2.4 billion [equivalent to USD 1.8 billion – ed.] from Canada.”

New Developments

  1. Lukashenko states NATO plans to invade Belarus, Ukrainska PravdaSelf-proclaimed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in a message to the Belarusian people that NATO countries are preparing for an invasion of Belarusian territory. […] According to his estimates, the bloc’s grouping in Poland and the Baltic States alone has more than 21,000 military personnel. 250 tanks, almost 500 armoured vehicles, about 150 aircraft and helicopters. “And all this armada is demonstratively training near the borders of Belarus and Russia,” Lukashenko complained. In addition, Lukashenko began to warn that the West was also forming regiments and legions to carry out a coup in the country.”
  2. Lukashenka Threatens to Bring Strategic Nuclear Weapons from Russia, European PravdaSelf-proclaimed Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenka, in his address to the nation on Friday spoke about the stationing of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. As BelTA reports, in his annual address, Lukashenka first recalled the agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, for which, he said, the entire infrastructure is created and ready.”
  3. President Zelensky: deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus indicates unsuccessful meeting between Putin and Xi, Ukrainska PravdaThe sign that Russia will deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus indicates an unsuccessful meeting with China. [Russia – ed.] needed to show [it has] some agency, which Russia has completely lost under the leadership of President Putin. […] And the last is the complete loss of any agency by the president of Belarus. I think he no longer decides which weapons are on his territory.”
  4. At UNSC, China speaks up against nuclear powers deploying nukes in third countries, Ukrinform “China rejects the initiatives of any nuclear powers to deploy their nuclear weapons beyond their own borders. This was stated on Friday by the Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the UN Geng Shuang at the meeting of the UN Security Council, dedicated to the discussion of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Ukrinform’s own correspondent in New York reports.

  1. Russia says Ukraine ceasefire now would not achieve Moscow’s goals, ReutersRussia said on Friday that a ceasefire in Ukraine would not enable it to achieve the goals of its “special military operation” at the moment. The Kremlin was reacting after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – Russia’s closest ally – called for an immediate ceasefire, without preconditions, and for both Moscow and Kyiv to start negotiations on a lasting peace settlement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia had noted Lukashenko’s comments and that President Vladimir Putin would discuss it with him next week. But he said Russia’s goals in Ukraine could not be achieved at the moment through a halt in fighting.”
  2. China could facilitate, not mediate, peace in Ukraine -EU’s Borrelll, ReutersChina cannot be a mediator in the war in Ukraine as it leans too much toward the invader Russia, but it could play the role of facilitator to reach a peace deal with Moscow, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrelll, said on Friday. China does not distinguish between aggressor and victim of aggression,” Borrelll told a panel at the Spanish capital Madrid. China doesn’t call for a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. But China should use its influence over Russia to pressure for peace in Ukraine, he added. In Borrelll’s view, the only peace plan on the table is the one presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in November, including demands to withdraw Russian troops and restore Ukraine’s territory to the status quo before Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.”
  3. Putin adopts concept of Russia’s external policy, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Meduza. “During the meeting of the Security Council of Russia, Vladimir Putin, claimed that he signed a decree, which approves the updated concept of main directions of the country’s foreign policy. He had to make changes to key strategic documents due to significant changes on the international arena. […] In the updated concept, the US is considered the “main anti-Russian agitator. The Armed Forces of Russia must be used for repelling or preventing the attack on Russia or its allies; symmetric and asymmetric measures must be taken in response to the threats to Russia; anti-Russian steps made by unfriendly states must be firmly stopped if necessary; and China and India are considered Russia’s strategic partners.”
  4. Kremlin: Foreign journalists can carry on working in Russia, ReutersThe Kremlin said on Friday that all accredited foreign journalists could continue to work in Russia, a day after a Wall Street Journal reporter was remanded in custody on espionage charges brought by the FSB security agency. The Kremlin said Evan Gershkovich had been carrying out espionage under the cover of journalism. Russia has not published any evidence to support the charges – the first such case against an American reporter since the end of the Cold War – which have been denied by the WSJ.
  5. Russia bid to ‘weaponize energy’ on Blinken agenda at NATO meet, ReutersUS Secretary of State Antony Blinken will push back on Russia’s attempts to “weaponize energy” and rally support for a Ukrainian counteroffensive when he meets NATO foreign ministers in Brussels next week, an official said on Thursday. A meeting of the US-EU Energy Council will focus on joint efforts to blunt Russia’s attempts to weaponize energy … (and) bolstering energy supplies for the coming winters, Dereck Hogan, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters. The European Commission on Monday proposed that EU countries extend for a year an emergency measure to curb gas demand for the next 12 months, to help prepare Europe to get through next winter with scarce Russian gas. Russia cut off most gas supplies to Europe in the months following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine – squeezing supply and triggering record-high prices.”
  6. Finland to become NATO member in coming days — Stoltenberg, European PravdaFinland will officially become the 31st member of NATO, following Türkiye’s ratification of the Finnish Alliance bid. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, stated on Friday that all 30 NATO members have ratified the protocol on Finland’s accession. He congratulated Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. Finland will formally join our Alliance in the coming days. Their membership will make Finland safer and NATO stronger, Stoltenberg said. Stoltenberg points out that Finland has very capable forces, advanced capabilities, and strong democratic institutions, so its membership will bring a lot to NATO. He is looking forward to the opportunity to welcome Sweden as a full member of the NATO family as soon as possible.”


  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  March 31, 2022:

Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line on March 31. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Stelmakhivka (15km northwest of Svatove), Makiivka (22km northwest of Kreminna), Kreminna itself, Dibrova (5km southwest of Kreminna), Kuzmyne (3km southwest of Kreminna), Hryhorivka (9km south of Kreminna), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna) and Berestove (30km south of Kreminna). Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast Military Administration noted on March 31 that Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in 20 skirmishes in this direction over the past day. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks towards Stelmakhivka and Nevske (20km northwest of Kreminna). Former Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Interior Minister Vitaly Kiselev posted footage reportedly of snipers of the 3rd Separate Special Purpose (Spetsnaz) Brigade of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU) operating near Kreminna. Circulation of footage of the 3rd Spetsnaz Brigade over the past few may suggest they deployed to this area more recently and are helping support exhausted Western Military District (WMD) elements that have been committed to decisive operations in this area since the beginning of 2023. Footage released by Ukrainian soldiers in late February 2023 shows the aftermath of Ukrainian troops repelling an attack by the 237th Guards Airborne Regiment (76th Guards Air Assault Division) near Kreminna. […]

Russian forces continued offensive operations in and around Bakhmut and have made gains within the city as of March 31. Geolocated footage posted on March 31 shows a Wagner Group flag on a building in the center of Bakhmut within a few blocks (within 400 meters) of the city administration building. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner forces continued attacks in northern and southern Bakhmut and unsuccessfully attempted to attack westwards towards Khromove. One prominent milblogger noted that Wagner is failing to make significant progress in Bakhmut and that all attacks in and around the city are without success. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin stated that there are no signs that Ukrainian troops are leaving Bakhmut, claimed that Wagner does not report out on the full extent of its own gains in Bakhmut, and called for conventional Russian forces around Bakhmut to continue to hold the flanks and support Wagner’s operations within the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops continued storming the city of Bakhmut and conducted additional unsuccessful offensive operations northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (12km northwest).

Ukrainian troops regained positions around Bakhmut, and Ukrainian officials continue to emphasize the importance of Ukraine’s continued defense in this area on March 31. Geolocated footage posted on March 31 indicates that Ukrainian troops conducted a counterattack southwest of Bakhmut and regained lost positions south of Ivanivske (about 7km southwest of Bakhmut). Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Maliar stated on March 31 that Ukraine’s committed defense of Bakhmut has made it ”the most expensive” Russian effort of the war and noted that ”the time, weapons, equipment, and huge number of casualties spent by Russian forces on the capture of Bakhmut do not justify themselves from the point of view of military expediency.” Maliar’s statement supports ISW assessment that the Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut remains strategically sound as long as Ukrainian troops force Russian troops to attrit manpower and equipment without Ukrainian troops suffering excessive losses. Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi relatedly reported on March 31 that Russian forces in certain sectors of Bakhmut are noticeably nervous because time is against them, and they have fewer human resources with which to storm Ukrainian positions.

Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk frontline on March 31. Geolocated footage published on March 31 indicates that Russian force advanced in Vesele (6km north of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults near Stepove (9km northwest of Avdiivka) and Keramik (15km northwest of Avdiivka) and launched offensive operations on western parts of Avdiivka. The milblogger claimed that battles continued near Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka) and that Russian forces stormed Ukrainian positions in western Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). The milblogger also claimed that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) ”Somalia” Battalion of the 1st Army Corps is operating near Vodyane (8km southwest of Avdiivka) and that Ukrainian forces conducted assaults in the direction of Pisky (9km southwest of Avdiivka). The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka itself; within 14km northwest of Avdiivka near Novobakhmutivka, Novokalynove, and Stepove; and within 27km southwest of Avdiivka near Sieverne, Vodyane, Pervomaiske, Krasnohorivka, and Marinka.

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on March 31. Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Aleksandr Gordeev claimed that Russian forces repelled Ukrainian reconnaissance-in-force operations in unspecified areas of western Donetsk Oblast.[39] A Russian milblogger claimed that BARS-23 (Russian Combat Reserve of the Country) elements are fighting near Vuhledar (30km southwest of Donetsk City).

Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new Russian Foreign Policy Concept on March 31 that likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to promote a potential anti-Western coalition. The new Foreign Policy Concept paints the West as an anti-Russian and internationally destabilizing force to a far greater extent than Russia’s previous 2016 Foreign Policy Concept and explicitly states that the US and its “satellites” have unleashed a hybrid war aimed at weakening Russia. The new document also heavily stresses Russia’s goal of creating a multipolar world order and subordinates under that goal Russia’s broad foreign policy objectives, which include ending the United States’ supposed dominance in world affairs. The document asserts that most of humanity is interested in constructive relations with Russia and that a desired multi-polar world will give opportunities to non-Western world powers and regional leading countries. Putin previously used meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 20 through 22 to increase attempts to rhetorically rally the rest of the world against the West, and the new document likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to intensify proposals to non-aligned countries to form a more coherent anti-Western bloc. ISW assessed that Putin’s proposal to form an anti-Western bloc during Xi’s visit to Moscow was not positively received as Xi refused to align China with Putin’s envisioned geopolitical conflict with the West. Russia’s declining economic power and degraded military effort in Ukraine continue to offer little incentive to countries to express serious interest in the proposal. The Kremlin likely decided to release the new Foreign Policy Concept on the eve of assuming the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in order to set informational conditions for future rhetorical efforts at the UN aimed at forming an anti-Western coalition. ISW previously assessed that Russia will likely weaponize its presidency of the UNSC as a method of Russian power projection.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to use high-profile public statements to portray Belarus as a sovereign state despite its current de-facto occupation by Russian forces. Lukashenko reiterated boilerplate rhetoric about how he is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s equal partner in defense of Russia and Belarus by explicitly painting Belarus as the target of a Western hybrid war – a narrative Lukashenko has promoted since 2020. Lukashenko stated that he and Putin mutually agreed to deploy Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus to protect Belarus’ ”sovereignty and independence.” Lukashenko also stated that he and Putin mutually decided to partially deploy elements of the Union State’s Regional Grouping of Troops (RGV) to an unspecified area. Lukashenko stated that nobody should worry that Russia ”captured something” in Belarus and stated the Russian forces training in Belarus under Belarusian officers are subordinated to Belarusian forces’.  Lukashenko likely seeks to use the narrative that Belarus is a fully sovereign state and Russia’s equal partner in the Union State so that he can use informational leverage to request that Russian forces leave Belarus after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine concludes. Lukashenko also stated that he supports peace negotiations “as soon as possible” and offered to help mediate negotiations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promptly rejected Lukashenko’s suggestion of a ceasefire and indicated that the Kremlin is not interested in serious negotiations. Peskov responded to a question about Lukashenko’ suggestion on March 31 and stated that Russian forces will continue to carry out their missions in Ukraine. Peskov emphasized that Russian military operations in Ukraine are the only means by which Russia can achieve its goals. Peskov likely aimed to leave open the possibility for launching new information operations about Russian interests in a ceasefire by stating that Putin and Lukashenko may discuss the proposal for a truce in Ukraine. The Kremlin may decide to promote ceasefire narratives in coming weeks in an attempt to freeze the frontlines in Ukraine out of fears that a Ukrainian counteroffensive could result in Ukrainian forces liberating more territory.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev leveraged comments about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to continue information operations that portray the West as escalatory.  Medvedev likely responded to Viktor Orban’s March 31 statements regarding alleged European discussions about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine and stated that Russian forces would target the hypothetical peacekeepers. Medvedev argued that a Western-led peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would end in tragedies reminiscent of Yugoslavia and other conflicts. There are no indications outside of Orban’s comments that Western officials are seriously discussing such a proposal, and Medvedev likely used Orban’s comments to construct a straw man proposal to paint the West as trying to escalate the war in Ukraine.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new Russian Foreign Policy Concept on March 31 that likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to promote a potential anti-Western coalition.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to use high-profile public statements to portray Belarus as a sovereign state despite its current de-facto occupation by Russian forces.
  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promptly rejected Lukashenko’s suggestion of a ceasefire and indicated that the Kremlin is not interested in serious negotiations.
  • Russian Security Council deputy chairman Dmitry Medvedev leveraged comments about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to continue information operations that portray the West as escalatory.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces made gains within Bakhmut and Ukrainian forces regained positions in the Bakhmut area.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk frontline.
  • Ukrainian strikes against Russian concentration areas in southern Ukraine are likely causing the Russian grouping in the area to change tactics to avoid the risk of strikes.
  • Russian officials continue to state that Russian forces have no plans for a formal second wave of mobilization.

Russian officials continue to send Ukrainian children to camps in Russia.

Bracing for fights ahead, Russia and Ukraine step up recruitment, The New York Times reports. “After a winter of intense battles and heavy losses in Ukraine’s east, both Russia and Ukraine are taking steps to replenish their depleted forces. […]  President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed a decree on Thursday authorizing a larger-than-normal spring draft, with a target of about 147,000 men, about 10 percent more than the goal of Russia’s 2022 spring drive. Although the new recruits are unlikely to go to the battlefield immediately — and one Russian official claimed they would not be sent there at all — the draft will create a bigger pool of potential troops for Russia’s army, which has suffered immense casualties.

Ukraine, also trying to replenish its ranks, said that it had received more than 35,000 applications for a new force it is forming, the Offensive Guard. For several weeks, trying to entice volunteers, Ukraine’s government has plastered posters and billboards across the country and advertised its plan for a network of combat brigades meant to work under the Interior Ministry alongside the regular armed forces.

The moves to rebuild Russia and Ukraine’s battered militaries came alongside other signals that the countries, along with their supporters, are digging in on their respective sides. […]  All the while, more deliveries of Western weapons are arriving in Ukraine, where officials say they will soon launch a counteroffensive to reclaim territory lost in the east and south. Russia’s own recent offensive has struggled to make gains in eastern Ukraine, and Western analysts debate whether the Russian military, after suffering staggering casualtiesis capable of mounting another or resisting a Ukrainian attack.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia disclose their own casualty numbers, but Western officials and analysts say both have suffered huge losses in their militaries. American officials have estimated that about 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the full-scale invasion began last February, and that Ukraine has had more than 100,000 casualties.

The recent weeks of vicious battle in the east, in particular, in cities and towns like Bakhmut and Avdiivka, have cost Ukraine large numbers of troops, including some of their most experienced fighters. US officials said last month that, at times, hundreds of Ukrainian troops were being wounded or killed each day. [For balance: Officially, Ukraine estimates that for every one of its soldiers killed, Russia loses seven. NATO intelligence estimates that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russian forces have lost at least five.]

Since Russia invaded, the Ukrainian government has reached deep into all levels of society to fill the ranks, supplying a steady stream of motivated soldiers, in contrast to Russia’s mix of contract soldiers, draftees, convicts and mercenaries.

Twice a year, including starting in April, the Russian military conscripts young men for one year of training and service. Even once Mr. Putin’s army had exhausted its reserves during months of fighting last year, he resisted a broader national draft for much of last year, only ordering a “partial” mobilization of about 300,000 men in September after major battlefield defeats.

That draft drove tens of thousands of Russian men to flee the country, and many of those who were recruited were quickly sent into the war, which the Kremlin still refers to as a “special military operation.” Although he has quashed dissent within Russia, Mr. Putin remains sensitive to public opinion, and he has faced periodic outrage from relatives of soldiers and sailors […] This week, Russian officials appeared to try to tamp down concerns that the newest recruits would soon wind up in the fighting.

Not one serviceman called up will be sent to the zone of the special military operation, Vladimir Tsimlyansky, a rear admiral on the Russian military’s General Staff, told Russian state television on Friday, in remarks also reported by other state agencies. The number of contract servicemen and mobilized servicemen is fully sufficient to resolve the objectives set before us. Officials gave similar assurances about the mobilization in September, stating that the additional troops would not be used at the front, but within days some were killed in combat.

There has been persistent speculation in Russia about another large-scale call-up, but Admiral Tsimlyansky added in another statement, “I want to assure you all that there is no second wave of mobilization in the plans of the General Staff.” Russia continues to rely on reservists, experienced soldiers and convicts who were eager to get out of prison to fight its war in Ukraine. But the authorities have urged some conscripts to stay in the military after their year of mandatory service, offering cash bonuses as an incentive.

The Kremlin has also tried to ramp up pressure on Ukraine’s Western supporters, but its options for doing so have narrowed over 13 months of war. Europe has largely weaned itself from reliance on Russian gas and oil, and Moscow has not followed up on often vague vows of retribution. […]

And less than a week after Mr. Putin said he would position nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, the Belarusian president on Friday joined his close ally in raising the prospect of nuclear war. Because of the conflict in Ukraine, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko told Belarusian lawmakers, a third world war loomed on the horizon with nuclear fires.

Mr. Putin has repeatedly raised the specter of using nuclear weapons, a prospect that many analysts view as bluster aimed at igniting fear and pressuring Western leaders to halt the delivery of arms to Ukraine.”

NATO sees no change in Russia’s nuclear posture except dangerous rhetoric, Ukrinform reports, citing Colomina. “NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General Javier Colomina noted that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences. Russia’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible. NATO is vigilant, we are closely monitoring the situation, said the NATO official. He noted that the Alliance has not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own. […]

At the same time, he urged Belarus to stop acting as an enabler to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. As Ukrinform reported earlier, on March 25, Vladimir Putin said in an interview on Russian TV that the country intended to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.[…]

In an interview with AP, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine suggested that Putin’s statement on nuclear plans for Belarus signals that the Russian leader did not receive the desired guarantees during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow.”


  1. Consequences and what to do?

Denmark acknowledges military shortcomings as it hosts large NATO drill, Reuters reports. “Denmark has major shortcoming in its ability to defend its territory and meet its NATO commitments despite pledges to increase defence spending, its army chief said on Thursday, as the country hosted a large military exercise. Denmark, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, scaled down its military capabilities to wage a land war in Europe after the end of the Cold War.

But in response to the Ukraine crisis, the country has come under pressure to bring spending back up to a NATO target of 2% of GDP. Its government said in December it would aim to meet that target by 2030, three years earlier than planned.

We need to get more robust and fix all the things we have neglected throughout the years since the Berlin Wall came down, Major General Gunner Arpe Nielsen told Reuters. As part of its commitments to NATO, Denmark has been tasked with establishing a heavy infantry brigade. The project, however, has been marred by delays.”


Hans Petter Midttun: After having argued that it possesses one of Western Europe’s most capable militaries, a RAND report from 2021 concluded that France’s capacity to sustain a high-end, conventional conflict is limited. The French Armed Forces lacks depth, meaning that a conventional war would quickly exhaust both its human and material resources.

French military chiefs sound the alarm on the state of the armed forces. Speaking before the Assemblée Nationale’s defence committee, military leaders detailed France’s limits in the face of a potential ‘high intensity’ conflict. In a hearing on July 13, General Thierry Burkhard, French military chief of staff, was direct in describing the state of his troops. Our ability to be an expeditionary force does not instantly make us fit to conduct high-intensity warfare. The change of scale and recovering capabilities that we have let slip are challenges, the top French officer acknowledged, adding that 20 years of asymmetrical conflicts have led to trade-offs reducing certain capabilities.”

Public statements and research have since lent credit to the RAND report. France might – despite its military shortcomings – very well possesses one of Western Europe’s most capable militaries. Its capability gaps and inability to sustain a protracted, high-intensity war, however, find resonance among most NATO members.

UK defence spending as a proportion of GDP has halved since the 1980s – leading to a decline in equipment and a drop of one in six military personnel, Sky News analysis has shown. It comes after Sky News revealed […] that a senior US general privately told Defence Secretary Ben Wallace that cuts to the British Army meant it was no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.”

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.”

Spain pledged at a NATO summit held in Madrid [in June] that it would reach the 2% of GDP goal by 2029. Spain currently spends 1% of its GDP on defence. Only Luxembourg spends a lower percentage of GDP on defence than Spain in the North Atlantic alliance, according to NATO.”

Italy’s military expenditure has been rising since 2015, reaching an estimated budget of 28.7 billion euros ($30.4 billion) this year, or 1.54 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Rome plans to reach NATO’s 2 percent benchmark by 2028. […] In line with a long-standing trend, this year’s personnel expenses will swallow around 60 percent of the defence function’s budget — the second-highest share in NATO after Portugal’s — whereas only 11 percent will go to the operations and maintenance budget. ”

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.”

Denmark has major shortcoming in its ability to defend its territory and meet its NATO commitments despite pledges to increase defence spending, its army chief said […]. Denmark, a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, scaled down its military capabilities to wage a land war in Europe after the end of the Cold War.”

The abovementioned statements represent just a small number of EU and NATO members. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine served as a wake-up call for Europe. A report published by the European Parliament in June 2022, four months into the Russian full-scale invasion, highlighted many capability gaps. The most urgent gaps were assessed to include the replenishing of military stockpiles, replacing Soviet-era legacy systems, and reinforcing air and missile defence systems.

According to the analysis, the focus should be on upgrading and expanding existing main battle tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, strengthening naval forces, improving satellite-based secure connectivity, launching a fully-fledged cyber-defence capability, and enhancing military mobility. This is in line with NATO priorities.

The shortcomings are substantial after years of underfunding, downsizing and streamlining. Despite the “wake-up calls” – first in 2014 and then in 2022 – the ambitions are still framed in a medium- to long-term perspective.

Several countries have signalled that their Wales summit commitment to “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s capability shortfalls” has already shifted to the right by further 5-6 years.

Despite running low on stockpiles, suffering inadequate production capabilities and, consequently, experiencing problems generating new military forces and capabilities, and despite NATO members running out of weapons with which they can supply Ukraine, the lack of urgency is remarkable.

It’s probably not for lack of appraisal of the (not so) new security situation. It is likely a reflection of their inability to act upon the present challenges. It takes years to prepare for an industrial war and ramp up the production capabilities needed to close the capability gaps after decades of neglect.

The economic impact of the “tsunami of ripple effects” from the war makes prioritisation of the defence and security sector across Europe even harder. The defence budgets will be competing for funds desperately needed to meet the discontent of voters suffering higher costs of living. Especially since the war has consistently been framed as the “Russian war against Ukraine” and not as the broader confrontation it always was.

Either way, the lack of urgency lends credit to the former Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, Petr Pavel, presently the President of the Czech Republic, predicting a decrease in West support for Ukraine.

Worse still, it helps fuel President Putin’s belief that victory is within reach and that time is on Russia’s side.


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