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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 424: IAEA chief “deeply concerned” about Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant situation

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 424: IAEA chief “deeply concerned” about Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant situation
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Several dozen anti-tank minefields and barriers have been set up in Ukraine’s north past week. Russia denied entry to own wounded soldiers, some of them die. IAEA chief “deeply concerned” about ZNPP situation.

Daily overview — Summary report, April 24

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, April 24, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.


During the past day, the Russian Federation launched 8 missile strikes, 37 air strikes and carried out about 45 rounds from MLRS on the positions of our troops and populated areas. There are dead and wounded among the civilian population, and destroyed and damaged private residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure.

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

The main efforts of Russian forces are focused on conducting offensive operations on the Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinka axes – 58 enemy attacks were repelled. The fiercest battles continue for Bakhmut and Mariinka.

  • Volyn’ and Polissya axes: the operational situation has not changed significantly.
Kharkiv Battle Map. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: during the day, Russian forces carried out an airstrike on Orlykivka and shelled the settlements of Karpovychi and Khotiivka, Chernihiv Oblast; Ulanovka, Brusky, Stukalyvka, Volfine, Korenivka and Yunakivka in the Sumy Oblast, as well as Timofiivka in the Kharkiv Oblast.
  • Kupiansk axis: Novomlynsk, Zapadne, Masyutivka, Synkivka, Kislivka and Berestov of the Kharkiv Oblast were hit by enemy artillery fire.
Donetsk Battle Map. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Lyman axis: Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations. Makiivka, Nevske and Bilogorivka of the Luhansk Oblast and Dibrova, Spirne and Verkhnokamianske of the Donetsk Oblast were hit by artillery fire.
Bakhmut Battle Map. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: fierce battles for the city of Bakhmut continue. Near the settlements of Hryhorivka, Khromov and Ivanivske, Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions. Rozdolivka, Vasyukivka, Orihovo-Vasylivka, Novomarkove, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Oleksandro-Shultyne, Bila Gora, Diliivka, Zalizne, Severny, South, and New York of the Donetsk Oblast were affected by enemy shelling.
  • Avdiivka axis: Russian forces carried out offensive actions in the areas of Novokalynovo, Donetsk Oblast, without success. Shelled, in particular, Novokalynov, Stepove, Avdiivka, Tonenka, Pervomaiske and Nevelske in the Donetsk Oblast.
  • Mariinka axis: during the past day, our defenders repelled enemy attacks in the Mariinka area. In addition, Krasnohorivka, Georgiivka, and Novomykhailivka in the Donetsk Oblast got under enemy fire.
  • Shakhtarske axis: Russian forces shelled Vugledar, Prechistivka, Novoukrainka, Zolota Niva and Velika Novosilka in Donetsk Oblast last day.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: Russian forces continue to conduct defensive operations. Over the past 24 hours, mortar and artillery fire has been carried out on more than 30 settlements. Among them are Vremivka, Zelene Pole, Donetsk Oblast; Gulyaipole, Zaliznychne, Gulyaipilske, Biloghirya, Mala Tokmachka, Novoandriivka and Kamianske of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast; Sablukivka, Beryslav, Kozatske, Tokarivka, Ingulets, Inzhenerne, Antonivka, Bilozerka, Berehove, Kizomys in the Kherson Oblast and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. April 22, 2023. Source: ISW.

[The Russian occupiers continue to strengthen the counter-intelligence regime in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Thus, in Energodar of the Zaporizhzhia region, the number of patrols has been increased, and personal documents and vehicles have been inspected more carefully at checkpoints. Occupiers restricted visits to forest areas. Employees of the FSB of the Russian Federation take control of citizens of Ukraine who have been spotted in these locations and check their personal data.]

[At the same time, representatives of the Russian special services in the city organized covert surveillance of Ukrainian citizens who refused to obtain a Russian passport. They take into account, in particular, the sources of financial income of such citizens. Representatives of the FSB of the Russian Federation are interested in how funds are transferred from the territory under the control of the Government of Ukraine to the temporarily occupied territories of the region and how these funds are converted into cash.]

[At the same time, due to the critical shortage of qualified workers at the Zaporizhzhia NPP who are ready to work for the occupiers, Russian forces increased psychological and physical pressure on the Ukrainian workers of the ZNPP. Using intimidation, threats, blackmail and torture, Russian forces continue to force the latter to obtain Russian citizenship and sign employment contracts with the Russian state corporation Rosatom.]

During the day, the Ukrainian Air Force carried out 8 strikes on areas where the occupiers were concentrated.

Also, an enemy Mi-24 helicopter and 4x enemy unmanned aerial vehicles (2 reconnaissance – “Orlan-10” and “Zala”, as well as 2 kamikaze drones of the “Lancet” type) were shot down.

During the day, units of missile troops and artillery struck 4 areas of concentration of manpower, 2 ammunition warehouses and two more important military objects of Russian forces.

Military Updates

“Ukraine can retake Crimea within months, if we let it” – Ben Hodges

Several dozen anti-tank minefields and barriers have been set up in Ukraine’s north past week, Ukrinform reports, citing Lieutenant-General Serhiy Naiev, Commander of Ukraine’s Joint Forces. “Throughout the past week alone, Ukraine’s defence forces have planted several dozen more anti-tank minefields and erected special barriers in the Northern Operational Zone, also digging nearly 3,000 meters of trenches and 4,500 meters of anti-tank ditches.[…]

As Ukrinform reported earlier, General Naiev stated that Ukraine had strengthened all types of intelligence work in order to prevent spot signs of any potential Russian offensive from the north.”

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

  • The Russian MoD has launched a major new drive for volunteer recruits. A pervasive campaign has seen advertising appear on Russian social media sites, on billboards, and on TV.
  • The new adverts appeal to potential recruits’ masculine pride, appealing for ‘real men’, as well as highlighting the financial benefits of joining up.
  • Since its access to prisoner recruitment was stopped, the Wagner Group private military company is also competing for the limited pool of Russian fighting-age men. It remains highly unlikely that the campaign will attract the MoD’s reported target of 400,000 volunteers. The authorities are almost certainly seeking to delay any new, overt mandatory mobilisation for as long as possible to minimise domestic dissent.
  • The Russian state is struggling to maintain consistency in a core narrative that it uses to justify the war in Ukraine: that the invasion is analogous to the Soviet experience in the Second World War.
  • On 18 April 2023, Russian state media announced the cancellation of this year’s Immortal Regiment ‘Great Patriotic War’ remembrance marches on ‘safety’ grounds. In reality, the authorities were highly likely concerned that participants would highlight the scope of recent Russian losses.
  • This follows Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin publicly questioning whether there are actually any ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine, going against Russia’s justification for the war. The authorities have continued attempts to unify the Russian public around polarising myths about the 1940s.
  • On 12 April 2023, state news agency RIA Novosti reported ‘unique’ documents from FSB archives, implicating the Nazis in the murder of 22,000 Polish nationals in the Katyn Massacre of 1940. In reality, FSB’s predecessor agency, the NKVD, was responsible. Russia’s State Duma officially condemned Joseph Stalin for ordering the killings in 2010.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Sunday 23 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 186420 (+690)
  • Tanks – 3675 (+3)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7131 (+1)
  • Artillery systems – 2837 (+5)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 539 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 289 (+0)
  • Aircraft – 308 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 294 (+1)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 5730 (+12)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2402 (+4)
  • Special equipment – 339 (+2)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 911 (+0)

Russia denied entry for wounded occupiers, some of them die, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Ukrainian General Staff. “On 17 April, the enemy attempted to carry out a medical evacuation from temporarily occupied Luhansk Oblast towards the village of Urazovo, Belgorod Oblast. 14 trucks were used to transport the wounded occupiers. While attempting to cross the state border of Ukraine, the Russian side did not allow the military convoy to pass and turned it back.

It is known that during this movement, some of the enemy soldiers did not survive due to a lack of proper medical care. The General Staff has clarified that after an unsuccessful attempt to enter the territory of the Russian Federation, more than 50 seriously wounded invaders were taken to a hospital set up at the Troitske Central District Hospital in Luhansk Oblast.”


Russian forces shell Kharkiv, using S-300 missiles, Ukrinform reports, citing Mayor Ihor Terekhov. “On the evening of Saturday, April 22, the Russian army shelled Kharkiv region, where five hits were reported. Kharkiv is under fire,” wrote Terekhov.

Unfortunately, one of the enemy missiles hit a residential neighborhood in the village of Kotliary in the Kharkiv district. Rescuers and emergency services scrambled to the scene. Details are are yet to be reported. In Kharkiv, a civilian infrastructure object was hit. Rescuers are putting out a large-scale fire. Tentatively, at least five hits were recorded in the city and region, [the head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration, Oleh] Syniehubov wrote in an update.”

European Commission and 5 EU countries to continue negotiations on Ukraine’s agricultural imports on Sunday, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RMF FM and European Pravda. “Negotiations between the agriculture ministers of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, which have been affected by excessive imports of agricultural products from Ukraine, and Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President of the European Commission, will resume on Sunday. The idea is to replace unilateral decisions by states on Ukrainian agricultural imports with an EU decision. […]

The talks will focus on expanding the list of EU products that Brussels wants to ban from imports to these countries. It includes wheat, rapeseed, corn and sunflower seeds. At the same time, they plan to grant permits for the transit of these products. The Ministers of Agriculture of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, in a letter to the European Commission sent on Friday, stated they want to include sunflower oil, flour, honey, sugar, soft fruits, eggs, meat, milk and dairy products in the list of banned items.

Black Sea grain deal could start winding down next week ahead of ‘expected’ closure, Reuters reports. “A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain could start winding down next week after Russia said it will not approve any new vessels unless their operators guarantee the transits will be done by May 18 – the expected date of … closure. Russia has strongly signaled that it will not allow the Ukraine Black Sea export deal – agreed in July last year – to continue beyond May 18 because a list of demands to facilitate its own grain and fertilizer exports has not been met. […]

Based on public data from the JCC, on average in April the outbound inspection was 21 days after the inbound inspection. It is not clear if Russia’s interpretation of participation in the initiative is that a ship needs to have completed its final inspection by May 18 or if it simply needs to have exited the maritime humanitarian corridor by May 18. If a ship has to complete its final inspection by that date, it means Russia may not approve any new ships for transit under the deal from as early as next week.”


Ukraine’s Defence Ministry reports number of landmine fatalities since start of full-scale invasion, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Ruslan Berehulia, Head of the Department of Environmental Safety and Anti-mine Action of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence. “As of today, according to the available data, 124 Ukrainians have been killed, six of whom were children. 286 have been injured, 33 of them children. Berehulia added that the highest numbers of deaths and injuries caused by Russian mines are observed in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Kherson oblasts. 

In total, around 174,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian land and sea waters are considered to be potentially contaminated by explosive devices. The area of the liberated territories that has been inspected is 45,000 square kilometres, of which 17,000 square kilometres are agricultural land, Berehulia added.”

IAEA chief “deeply concerned” about ZNPP situation, Ukrinform reports, citing IAEA website. “In an update released on Friday regarding the situation of Ukraine, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, said he was “deeply concerned” about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Grossi said he saw clear indications of military preparations in the area when he visited the ZNPP just over three weeks ago. I’m deeply concerned about the situation at the plant.

IAEA experts present at the ZNPP heard gunshots almost every day for the past week. At one point, they were ordered to take cover at the site due to the potential danger posed by the ongoing hostilities in the region. The director general added that agency experts stationed at the station often reported about hearing detonations, sometimes suggesting intense shelling not far from the site. […]

In addition to nuclear safety risks, ZNPP continues to rely on the only remaining functioning 750 kV power line for the external electricity it needs for reactors cooling and other essential functions. Before the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, there were four such off-site power lines at the plant.

Plant management informed the IAEA that the scope of maintenance performed during outages on all units in 2022 was reduced due to reduced maintenance staff, the absence of external contractors and a lack of spare parts. Currently, only about a quarter of full-time maintenance staff is available while the plant has no maintenance plan in place. The IAEA team has also identified extensive damage to windows in the turbine hall of Unit 4.”

Nuclear and radiation safety threats, as reported by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine. “As reported by Energoatom, the situation at the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is becoming increasingly tense: once again, the Russian invaders have kidnapped workers from the plant. Checks and searches for “unreliable” individuals are intensifying, and even cooperation with the occupiers does not protect against detention or interrogations.

In the city of Energodar, the occupiers are kidnapping employees of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for “preventive talks” in torture chambers in order to force them to obtain Russian passports. By creating a pseudo-trade union at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the invaders are forcibly pushing Ukrainian personnel to join this fake structure.

Ukraine building critical infrastructure protection system, Ukrinform reports, citing the State Special Communications Service. “Ukraine is starting to build a critical infrastructure protection system in line with the best global practices and current requirements of European legislation. Ukraine is studying the EU directives NIS 2 (EU 2022/2555) and RCE (EU 2022/2557) on the protection of critical infrastructure and cooperating with countries that have already started their implementation, the press service quotes the deputy head of the SSCS, Oleksandr Potiy, as saying.

Ukraine fruitfully cooperates with the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which has leading experience in the protection of critical infrastructure facilities (CIF). The SSCS and CISA have signed a memorandum of cooperation and training has already been conducted in accordance with the CISA methodology.

The Ukrainian agency, as an authorized body in the field of protecting critical infrastructure, is currently developing the necessary regulatory and legal framework. […] Among crises, the regulation designates missile attacks, sabotage, and cyber-attacks, with the relevant state bodies assigned to address these threats accordingly. […]

As reported, from October 2022 to February 2023, Russia’s forces launched some 1,500 missiles and kamikaze drones targeting the Ukrainian energy system. Nearly 100 hit large energy facilities. As a result of the strikes, Ukraine lost 61% of its generation capacities. In order to get through the next winter, it is necessary to intensify efforts to address the existing threats and protect the energy infrastructure.”

Ukraine needs more than $1B to restore power system – VR committee head, Ukrinform reports, citing the Head of the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on Energy and Housing and Utilities Services, Andriy Gerus, and the parliament’s website. “Russia fired more than 1,200 missiles and drones at key energy infrastructure facilities across Ukraine. The total damage inflicted on the Ukrainian power system exceeds $1 billion. […]

As of the end of the autumn-winter period, due to destruction and occupation of territories by Russian forces, the Ukrainian power system temporarily lost 44% of nuclear generation, 78% of TPPs, 66% of CHPPs, 12% of HPPs, 75% of wind generation, and more than 20% of solar generation capacity.

According to the World Bank estimates, the damage caused to the Ukrainian infrastructure of power, gas, and heating systems, as well as coal mining stands at about $11 billion.”

Up to 20 small modular reactors will be built in Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “State Enterprise National Nuclear Energy Generating Company “Energoatom” and Holtec International concluded an agreement to build small modular reactors (SMRs) in Ukraine. The agreement envisions the construction of up to 20 SMR-160 reactors, with the implementation of the first pilot project and turning to the minimum regulated capacity of the reactor and connection to the grid by March 2029. The document also provides for more profound cooperation between the companies aimed at strengthening of energy security of Ukraine, Energoatom posted.”

In occupied part of Kherson region, Russian forces evicting civilians from their homes, Ukrinform reports, citing the Center for National Resistance. “The Russian occupiers demand that the residents of the occupied part of Kherson region vacate their homes along the Dnipro River. In Nova Kakhovka and the urban-type village of Dnipryany, the Russians told the local residents who live at the riverside that they must leave their homes immediately.

It is noted that enemy troops are moving their equipment toward the Dnipro shore, deploying military hardware in residential areas of local populaces. Also on temporarily occupied lands, the Russians continue to loot Ukrainian infrastructure. In particular, in the village of Brylivka, nearly 150 occupiers dismantled an elevator for scrap, the CNR reported.”

West favouring “hybrid tribunal” for Russian crime of aggression – Deutsche Welle, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Deutsche Welle. Brussels and the G7 countries are tending to believe that a “hybrid tribunal” would be the most realistic prospect of bringing those responsible for the crime of aggression against Ukraine to justice. The “hybrid tribunal” could combine Ukraine’s national jurisdiction with a trial based on international law, with judges from different countries.

The official clarified that, according to EU experts in international law, an international tribunal based on Ukrainian jurisdiction is the most likely option for administering justice in this case. The tribunal will serve the political imperative of bringing people to justice, the official said. He also added that it is crucial for the EU that Ukraine ratifies the Rome Statute, which is the basis for the International Criminal Court.

The European Commission stressed that establishing both a hybrid tribunal and a special international tribunal requires strong UN support. This is because Russia’s highest political and military leadership is responsible for the crimes of aggression. However, it enjoys international immunity, which means that such a tribunal would need to lift the immunity of, for example, the head of the aggressor state, the head of its government and the foreign minister.

Kyiv does not support the hybrid tribunal for Putin promoted by the West. In an interview with European Pravda, Anton Korynevych, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that a decision on what the tribunal for the Russian crime of aggression would look like has not yet been made. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that a special tribunal for the crime of aggression by Russia against Ukraine should be established through the adoption of a corresponding resolution by the UN General Assembly.”

Data company Palantir to help Ukraine prosecute alleged Russian war crimes, Reuters reports. “Ukraine plans to deploy software from US data analytics provider Palantir Technologies Inc to help it prosecute alleged war crimes committed by Russia, the company told Reuters. Palantir, which has supplied Ukraine with systems to help it target Russian tanks and support refugees, is now working with the prosecutor general’s office to help investigators across Europe pool and process data, the company said.

Its software will combine intelligence and satellite imagery to build a map of evidence, for instance establishing the proximity of Russian equipment to crime scenes or aggregating photographs that Ukrainians have uploaded to social media and investigators see as relevant evidence, Palantir said. Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said in a statement provided by Palantir: Analysing this amount of evidence would be virtually impossible without modern IT solutions.

The data that Palantir’s software will process relates to allegations of unlawful killing, rape, torture and destruction among the more than 78,000 crimes reported in Ukraine since Russia invaded more than a year ago. […] Any successful war crimes prosecution will require Ukraine to navigate overlapping court jurisdictions and furnish evidence despite often restricted access to suspects or crime scenes.

Palantir said its technology would allow investigators to access otherwise ring-fenced data while guarding against evidence tampering. […] Its partnership with Ukrainian prosecutors will centre on alleged crimes of aggression ordered by Russia’s leadership and on claims of systematic attacks on the Ukrainian people, Palantir said. A UN-mandated investigative body last month accused Russia of war crimes, though its chair said it had not found evidence of genocide, which is being investigated by Ukraine.”


Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry: Ukraine needs 10 times more military support to end war this year, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “We are thankful to our allies for their military help. But it is not enough. Ukraine needs 10 times more to end Russian aggression this year,” [Andrii Melnyk, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs,] tweeted. He called on Ukraine’s partners to cross all artificial red lines and devote 1% of GDP to supply weapons to Ukraine.

In addition, during Novyi Vidlik [New Countdown], a talk show produced by the public broadcaster Suspilne, Melnyk reminded viewers that according to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the participants of the international coalition have provided Ukraine with US$55 billion worth of support in total. That seems like a large number. But to contrast it with the Second World War, with which, unfortunately, more and more parallels can be drawn, over US$50 billion worth of help was supplied under US lend-lease alone in the 1940s. The equivalent today would be around US$700-800 billion… Our allies have to comprehend the scale of this war. The support needs to be 10 times bigger right now, the Deputy Minister asserted.”

For counteroffensive, Ukraine needs fighter jets, long-range missiles – Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ukrinform reports, citing and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Andriy Melnyk. “Ukraine requires fighter jets to support a counteroffensive, but allies are currently unwilling to provide them. The senior diplomat noted that the help Ukraine’s allies vowed to provide at the Ramstein meeting was insufficient. Air defence systems are indeed important for Ukraine, Melnyk notes, but now it is about launching an offensive rather than remaining in defence. For offensive operations, fighter jets are primarily needed to back the advance.

Unfortunately, this ‘red line’ has not yet been crossed in Ramstein. For these offensive actions to be successful, we need offensive weapons, primarily long-range missiles and fighter jets. The F-16 is the best option, but there are others, too, Melnyk explained.”

Allies move to bolster Ukrainian tank forces ahead of counteroffensive, Reuters reports. “The United States said it will soon start training Ukrainian troops to use its Abrams tank and Germany announced a deal to establish a Polish hub to repair tanks as the US hosted a meeting of allies on Friday. The meeting at Ramstein Air Base, the latest in a series of arms-pledging conferences since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, made no major announcements on weapons but said its focus was air defence and ammunition. It also reassured Ukraine of unwavering support and backed its aspirations to join NATO at some point but officials stressed the immediate focus was the battlefield.

Ukraine has pressed its allies for long-range weapons, jets and ammunition before a counteroffensive expected in the coming weeks or months. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on weapons deliveries at a meeting in Kyiv on Thursday. I have asked (him) to help us overcome our partners’ reticence to supply some weapons, namely long-range weapons, modern aviation, artillery and armoured vehicles, Zelensky said. […]

NATO member states and their allies have provided Ukraine with weapons and armour, but Kyiv has repeatedly asked for more powerful weapons and quicker supplies. Asked about the demands for advanced jets, Milley said what Ukraine needed first was ground-based air defence. The Russians are cautious to come into Ukraine because of the effective use of the Ukrainian air defence system. That is the most critical thing right now, Milley said.

Also at Friday’s meeting, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced a deal to establish a hub in Poland to repair the German-made Leopard tanks being deployed in Ukraine. All parties agreed on how to finance such a hub, which costs around 150-200 million euros ($384 million) a year and could begin operations at the end of May, Pistorius told reporters.

He also said Ukrainian troops would begin to receive training on using the Leopard tanks and said Berlin’s pledge to deliver around 80 of them by mid-2023 was progressing swiftly. […]  Asked about Ukraine’s prospects of joining NATO, Pistorius said all members agreed that they saw Ukraine as a future member but first things first.”

US Press Conference after the Ukraine Defence Contact meeting at Ramstein Air Base, as reported by US Department of Defense. “Our collective efforts have made a huge difference on the battlefield, and now, in just a few short months, the Contact Group has delivered more than 230 tanks, more than 1,550 armored vehicles and other equipment and munitions to support more than nine new armored brigades. We’ve also expedited our M1 Abrams timelines to supply Ukraine with more armored capability in the coming months, and the M1s that the Ukrainians will use for training will arrive here in Germany in the next few weeks. And all of this is huge progress, and I am confident that this equipment and the training that accompanied it — it will put Ukraine’s forces in a position to continue to succeed on the battlefield, [Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin, said]. […]

Russia has continued its assault on civilian targets in Ukraine, including schools and theaters and apartment buildings, and those targets have absolutely no military value whatsoever.  So we’re helping Ukraine defend its citizens and its skies against Russian missiles and Iranian drones. Now, many Contact Group members have stepped up with new air defense systems and critically needed ammunition for those systems, and we’re going to stay focused on the key capabilities that Ukraine needs right now, as well as in the medium term. 

Now, we also heard today from the European Union on its proposal to speed up the production and delivery of ammunition for Ukraine, and more countries are thinking about how they can increase industrial production not just for the near term, but also for the medium term and the long term, and that is a powerful reminder that we stand with Ukraine’s defenders for the long haul. 

You know, Putin made a series of grave miscalculations when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.  He thought that Ukraine wouldn’t dare to fight back, but Ukraine is standing strong with the help of its partners.  Putin thought that our unity would fracture, but Russia’s cruel war of choice has only brought us closer together.  And I’d note that Finland, which has long taken part in this contact group, is here today as a new NATO ally.  I expect that Sweden will soon follow, and that makes something crystal clear — Putin’s war of choice is not the result of NATO enlargement, Putin’s war is the cause of NATO’s enlargement. […]

Our countries and the countries of Europe have pledged that Ukraine will have the capabilities it needs to execute their missions on their own timeline and we have pledged that support for as long as it takes, as the Secretary just said, [General Mark A. Milley said]. […] As we stand here today, the Ukrainian military continues to perform very well. Intense fighting in and around Bakhmut continues and has for several months.  Russia is expending significant manpower for very little gain. […]Russia continues to pay severely for its war of choice

Unlike the Ukrainian forces who are highly motivated to fight for their country, to fight for their freedom, their democracy and their way of life, the Russians lack in leadership, they lack will, the morale is poor, and their discipline is eroding. Russia has resorted to tightening conscription laws as they indiscriminately feed their citizens into the chaos of war, and so far, they’ve been quite ineffective in their coordination or direction of combined arms maneuver on the battlefield. Over the past year, Russia’s temporary territorial gains have come with enormous losses. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their country, in addition to the casualties.  They are trying to avoid fighting in Putin’s war. 

Russia continues to fail in achieving its strategic objectives. They failed to seize Kyiv, they failed to topple the Ukrainian government, and they failed to fracture NATO.  In fact, they’ve done just the opposite. Kyiv stands, the people of Ukraine are emboldened, and NATO has never been stronger. As President Biden and Secretary Austin have repeatedly said, the United States remains committed for as long as it takes. […]

Our task and our commitment to Ukraine was to provide the training and the equipment for up to nine brigades, armored brigades, armored mech brigades to conduct either offensive or defensive operations.  Those brigades are trained, they’re manned and they’re equipped, and they are prepared for combat operations.  So whenever and wherever Ukraine chooses to use them, we will continue that support, and I am very confident in those units’ ability to succeed, [General Milley said]. […]

So on the F-16 or any other fourth generation aircraft from any other country, […] from a military perspective, the task is to control the airspace, [General Milley said]. […] The most cost effective, efficient and — way to do that right now for Ukraine and the fastest way to do that for Ukraine is through air defense. They’ve been doing it for over a year now. They’ve been denying the airspace to effective Russian use. The Russians have been flying some sorties in Ukraine but limited amounts of sorties over Russian-occupied Ukraine. […] Russians are cautious to come into Ukraine because of the effective use of the Ukrainian air defense system. That is the most critical thing right now, is that air defense system, to make sure that it is robust, it’s rigorous, it’s deep, and it’s layered from high altitude to mid altitude to low altitude and from short range, mid-ranger to long range. And the front-line forces — the Ukrainian front line forces need to be protected. […]

In terms of the aircraft themselves, there’s a long lead time for — for training of pilots, et cetera, and the Russians have a significant amount of air power. And to take the Ukrainian Air Force from where it is today and to build it up to match the Russian Air Force, that’s a significant level of effort by lots of countries, and those policy choices may or may not be made down the road and we’ll see where that goes. But right now, the immediate need is air defense.”

Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked if he really believe in a Ukrainian counter-offensive. He avoided answering the question.

New Developments

  1. G7 countries consider almost complete ban on exports to Russia, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Kyodo. “The G-7 countries have already stopped exporting a wide range of items to Russia, including products that can be used for military purposes and luxury goods. But the latest plan could expand the trade embargo to used cars, tyres, cosmetic items and clothing, the source said. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has invited President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to join the meeting online. The summit takes place on May 19-21.”
  2. Ambassador reproaches Chinese diplomat in France who says “it is not that simple” with status of Ukraine and Crimea, Ukrainska PravdaAmbassador of Ukraine to France Vadym Omelchenko has reacted to the scandalous statements that the Chinese ambassador in this country made about Crimea and the status of Ukraine in international law. China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, said in an interview that the former Soviet countries do not have an effective status in international law because there is no international agreement that would materialise their status as a sovereign country. When asked whether he considers Crimea to be a part of Ukraine, the ambassador said that it depends on how you perceive the problem, adding that it is far from being simple. The Chinese diplomat also said that Crimea was Russian from the beginning, but did not specify what he meant by the beginning.”
  3. Estonia’s Foreign Ministry to summon Chinese ambassador due to doubts about post-Soviet countries’ sovereignty, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Margus Tsahkna, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia, in the interview with Delfi. “The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will summon the Chinese ambassador to seek clarification on comments made by a Chinese diplomat in France about the sovereignty of Estonia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. […] According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, such statements of the Chinese diplomat are regrettable.”
  4. This is why we do not trust China – Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Ukrainska PravdaLithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, reacted to the scandalous statements of the Chinese ambassador to France regarding “Russian Crimea” and the status of post-Soviet states in international law. If anyone is still wondering why the Baltic States do not trust China to ‘broker peace in Ukraine’, here is the Chinese ambassador arguing that Crimea is Russian, and our countries’ borders have no legal basis, wrote Landsbergis on his Twitter.”
  5. Belarus units complete training on Russian tactical nuclear missile systems, ReutersUnits from Belarus returned home from Russia on Saturday after training on how to use the Iskander tactical missile system to launch nuclear weapons, the Belarusian defence ministry said. It made the announcement exactly four weeks after President Vladimir Putin said Russia would stationtactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus, sending a warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine.”
  6. G7 backs extension, expansion of grain deal, Ukrinform reports, citing Reuters. “The Group of Seven has called for the extension, full implementation and expansion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed last year to help Ukraine export its grain through the sea corridor. The communique came amid news that the grain deal is under threat from Russia, which is sabotaging the initiative. […] We condemn Russia’s attempts to use food as a means of destabilisation and as tool of geopolitical coercion and reiterate our commitment to acting in solidarity and supporting those most affected by Russia’s weaponisation of food, communique reads.”
  7. Zelenskyy imposes sanctions against Russian parties and Central Committee, Ukrainska PravdaPresident Volodymyr Zelenskyy imposed sanctions against hundreds of Russian individuals and legal entities on 22 April, including the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. […] Sanctions are imposed on all of them for 10 years. The latest list includes more than 320 names of Russian joint-stock companies.
  8. Russia responds to mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from Germany, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that the German authorities have decided on a mass expulsion of Russian diplomatic mission staff in Germany. In response to Berlin’s “hostile actions”, the Russian side has decided on a ‘mirror’ expulsion of German diplomats from Russia, as well as on a significant restriction of the maximum number of employees of German diplomatic missions in our country, of which Geza Andreas von Geyr, Germany’s ambassador to Russia, was officially notified during a conversation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia on 5 April 2023.”
  9. Russia’s Foreign Ministry specifies number of expelled German diplomats, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, in an interview with Russian state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti. “More than 20 German diplomats are being expelled from Russia,” Zakharova said.”


  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  April 23, 2022:

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on April 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian ground attacks near Lyman Pershyi (12km northeast of Kupiansk) and Bilohorivka (12km south of Kreminna). Russian milbloggers claimed that elements of the Russian 98th Guards Airborne (VDV) Division advanced in the forest area near Kreminna. Milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted ground attacks towards Terny (16km west of Kreminna) and Nevske (19km northwest of Kreminna), and near Kuzymivka (13km northwest of Svatove) and Bilohorivka.

A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted ground attacks in the Siversk area on April 22. The milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted ground attacks near Vasyukivka (14km southwest of Siversk), Rozdolivka (12km south of Siversk), Vesele (12km southeast of Siversk), and Spirne (11km southeast of Siversk). Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted limited counterattacks near Kreminna. […] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces conduct periodic counterattacks near Chervonopopivka (6km northwest of Kreminna).

Russian forces continued to advance around Bakhmut on April 22, although Russian forces have not completed a turning movement around the city. Geolocated footage published on April 21 indicates that Russian forces have advanced up to a section of the O0506 highway northwest of Khromove (immediately west of Bakhmut). Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters are conducting assaults along the road in the area but reiterated that Russian forces have not encircled Bakhmut as of April 22. Russian and social media sources claimed that Ukrainian forces have not been using the O0506 highway for some time because Russian forces have been heavily interdicting the road. Russian and social media sources claimed that Ukrainian forces rely on roads that pass through Ivanivske and on numerous field roads in the area to supply the Ukrainian grouping in Bakhmut. One Russian milblogger claimed that heavy rains washed out Ukrainian controlled dirt roads into Bakhmut making withdrawals from the city impossible. Another Russian milblogger continued to claim that heavy rains are preventing wheeled vehicles from using field roads but asserted that Ukrainian forces are able to use tracked vehicles along these roads into Bakhmut. […] Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced in southern and central Bakhmut as well as closer to the Olympic reserve school in western Bakhmut, although ISW has not yet observed visual confirmation of further Russian advances within the city. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Hryhorivka (9km northwest of Bakhmut), Bohdanivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut), Khromove, and Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut).

Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front on April 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Novokalynove (13km N of Avdiivka) and within 27km SW of Avdiivka near Nevelske, Pervomaiske  and Marinka. Russian milbloggers claimed that the main battles in the Avdiivka area are occurring west and north of Krasnohorivka (8km N of Avdiivka) and that elements of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 132nd Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade conducted a positional attack on Ukrainian positions east of Novokalynove. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces thwarted Ukrainian attempts to regain lost positions west of Novobakhmutivka (13km NE of Avdiivka) near the H-20 highway between Donetsk City and Kostyantynivka. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults northwest of Vodyane (8km SW of Avdiivka) and near Paraskoviivka (36km SW of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are increasing pressure on Marinka and have recently reinforced the area. Spokesperson for the Ukrainian Defense Forces in the Tavriisk operational direction […] stated on April 22 that Russian forces have deployed poorly trained assault detachments to the Marinka area with orders not to retrieve wounded personnel from the battlefield or to keep track of the number of dead.

Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack in western Donetsk Oblast on April 22. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations around Vuhledar (30km SW of Donetsk City). Russian milblogger claimed that battles near Vuhledar are positional in nature. Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Alexander Gordeev claimed that Russian forces repelled a Ukrainian reconnaissance-in-force operation in an unspecified location in western Donetsk Oblast.

Russian milbloggers have provided enough geolocated footage and textual reports to confirm that Ukrainian forces have established positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast as of April 22 though not at what scale or with what intentions. Geolocated footage published by a Russian milblogger on April 22 shows that Ukrainian forces have established positions on the Dnipro River bank north of Oleshky (7km southwest of Kherson City) and advanced up to the northern outskirts of the settlement on the E97 highway, as well as west of Dachi (10km south of Kherson City). This footage also indicates that Russian forces may not control islands in the Kinka and Chaika rivers less than half a kilometer north of the geolocated Ukrainian positions near the Antonivsky Bridge. Russian milbloggers claimed on April 20 and 22 that Ukrainian forces have maintained positions in east bank Kherson Oblast for weeks, established stable supply lines to these positions, and regularly conduct sorties in the area—all indicating a lack of Russian control over the area.] Another milblogger’s battle map claimed that Russian forces do not control some Dnipro River delta islands southwest of Kherson City as of April 22, suggesting possible Ukrainian advances on these islands. Some milbloggers complained that the slow rate of Russian artillery fire due to the over-centralization of the Russian military command allowed Ukrainian forces to land on the east bank. Russian forces may be prioritizing maintaining defenses in urban areas such as Oleshky and Nova Kakhovka, leaving the islands in the Dnipro River delta unmanned. The extent and intent of these Ukrainian positions remain unclear, as does Ukraine’s ability and willingness to maintain sustained positions in this area. ISW is recoding territory on the east bank of the Dnipro River to Ukrainian-held only now because this is the first time ISW has observed reliable geolocated imagery of Ukrainian positions on the east bank along with multi-sourced Russian reports of an enduring Ukrainian presence there.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely attempting to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to go over to the defensive ahead of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive. Prigozhin argued on April 21 that Russia needs to “anchor itself in such a way that it is only possible to tear out [Russian forces from their positions] with the claws of the opponent.” Prigozhin’s comment followed a discussion of the Ramstein meeting results, Western commitments to train more Ukrainian personnel and continuous military support for Ukraine. Prigozhin also noted that Ukraine will try to “tear” Russian forces apart and that Russia needs to resist such attacks. Prigozhin has been increasingly alarmist in his recent rhetoric and has made similar statements about the uncertain future of Russian offensive operations in Donbas. Prigozhin’s calls for strengthening Russian defenses in occupied territories and frequent discussions of the prospects of Ukrainian counteroffensives are notable as they indicate that he is trying to amplify the discussion in the Russian domestic information space. Russia, however, continues to conduct offensive operations in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Prigozhin is also advocating for Russia to focus on holding the current frontlines rather than seeking more gains so that Russian forces can regain their combat effectiveness for later offensive operations. Prigozhin is not arguing for Russia to end the war and negotiate with Ukraine and the West as some Russian and Western sources reported, as ISW previously observed, but is instead condemning the faction within the Kremlin that is hoping to end the war in negotiations. Prigozhin is actually arguing that Russia needs to meet the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive at full strength and try to hold the current frontlines without ending the war or entering into peace negotiations. He argues that a pause after the Ukrainian attack culminates would allow Russia to regain combat power and build nationalist support within the Russian society for renewing the fight even in the event of a defeat. Prigozhin is also attempting to redefine and undermine some of Putin’s key maximalist goals in Ukraine—namely the “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine—likely to minimize the informational impact that might result from going over to the defensive and abandoning efforts to gain more ground now. Russian far-right paramilitary formation Rusich (Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group), which facilitates recruitment of Russian ultranationalist and irregular forces, echoed Prigozhin’s rejection of the “denazification” and “demilitarization” goals. Rusich noted that Russia is fighting Ukraine to avenge Donbas, for living space, and for combat experience—rather than fighting claimed Ukrainian “fascism” and “Nazism.” By reframing Putin’s goals, Prigozhin and some factions within the ultranationalist community may be attempting to condition the Russian domestic information space for the prospect of frozen frontlines, potentially near the initial lines of February 23, 2022.

The Russian military command is likely attempting to convince Putin to turn to defensive operations as well—but may be unable to bluntly deliver this message to Putin. Some ultranationalist figures argued that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) signaled efforts to recruit 400,000 contract servicemen to ensure that Russia has enough military personnel to defend existing frontlines and to efficiently freeze the current frontlines in Ukraine. The Russian military command is also reportedly transferring conscripts to hold Russian lines in Crimea and may be planning to prepare other resources to ensure that Russia can retain some lines once the potential Ukrainian counteroffensive culminates. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov are likely sensible to the threat of the Ukrainian counteroffensive but are likely continuing to send contract servicemen to reinforce senseless offensive operations at Putin’s insistence. Kremlin sources previously revealed that Putin favors loyalty over competence, and this sentiment likely prevents Shoigu and Gerasimov from focusing on setting optimal conditions for an efficient defense by refusing to expend Russian elite units in grinding attritional battles for marginal gains. ISW previously observed that Shoigu and Gerasimov were likely unable to convince Putin to conduct mobilization in May 2022—despite the fact that Russia needed such a measure to reconstitute forces necessary to maintain offensive operations in Ukraine.

The Russian military command may have partially repaired its strained relationship with Prigozhin to persuade Putin to halt offensive operations via the Russian information spaceISW has observed a sudden improvement in Prigozhin’s relations with the Russian MoD and the Kremlin since early April. The Russian MoD, for example, began to directly acknowledge Wagner forces in its daily situational reports and provided Wagner with ammunition and mobilized personnel as reinforcements in early April 2023. Prigozhin and Kremlin-affiliated milbloggers amplified claims that Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s son Nikolai Peskov is reportedly serving with Wagner in Ukraine—likely an information operation to publicly mend the relationship and possibly elevate Prigozhin’s loyalty to the Kremlin. Prigozhin had previously been able to impact Putin’s decision-making by engineering the appointment of Wagner-affiliated commanders and the dismissal of inept military officials and breaking through Putin’s close circle with his critiques of the progress of the war. A Russian political expert observed that different Kremlin officials have historically voiced their plans and projects publicly to convince Putin to implement changes, and it is likely that Prigozhin follows the same model of influence. The Russian military command and select Kremlin officials who are advocating for Putin to freeze the war may have reapproached Prigozhin to influence Putin one more time.

Putin’s continued insistence on Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine suggests that the group that wants to freeze the war along the current front lines has not fully persuaded Putin. Russian forces are continuing attritional offensives to capture Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka in Donetsk Oblast as well as limited offensive operations in Luhansk and western Donetsk Oblast, despite increasing Russian fears about the threat of a potential imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russian winter offensive failed to achieve the Kremlin’s ambitious goals of seizing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblast administrative borders by March 31, but it appears that Russian forces have not subsequently deemphasized their operational focus on tactical gains, no matter how marginal and costly those gains are. Russian forces suffered significant manpower and equipment losses during the winter offensive campaign that are currently constraining their abilities to maintain offensive operations along more than one axis and that will likely limit the Russian military’s ability to respond to possible Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. Russian forces have not responded to these constraints by prioritizing one axis or by conducting an operational pause along any axis that would allow Russian forces to replenish and reconstitute for a decisive defensive effort. Russia forces are continuing to deploy contract servicemen and remaining combat-effective units to support offensive operations in eastern Ukraine instead of conserving this critical pool of combat power to respond to a Ukrainian counter-offensive. Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka offer no significant operational benefits to Russian forces, and any marginal tactical gains along any axis are unlikely to improve the Russian military’s ability to defend against a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Putin may be hesitant to commit to a ceasefire due to the influence of select unknown pro-war figures or out of concern for the implications for his regime’s stability. The insistence on tactical gains suggests that the pro-war camp advocating for maintaining offensives at any cost is likely still influencing Putin’s decision-making for the war. A possible shift to preparing for defensive operations ahead of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive would likely indicate that Putin had finally rejected the pro-war camp’s views in favor of the more pragmatic group’s. The possible success of the upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive could determine the outcome of this struggle for influence over Putin’s decisions.

Russian occupation authorities are continuing to oppress Roman Catholics in occupied Ukraine, likely in an effort to suppress Ukrainian religious institutions beyond Moscow’s control. Head of the Ukrainian Berdiansk City Military Administration Viktoria Halitsina reported on April 22 that Russian forces seized the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in occupied Berdiansk. Halitsina stated that Russian propagandists accused the clergy of hiding weapons and collaborating with Ukrainian forces because of their previous service as chaplains for the Ukrainian Armed Forces in 2015. ISW has also reported on two other instances of Russian occupation authorities persecuting Roman Catholics in occupied Ukraine. ISW has previously reported on Russian authorities’ weaponization of religion in occupied territories as part of an ongoing cultural genocide. […]

Key Takeaways

  • Russian milbloggers have provided enough geolocated footage and textual reports to confirm that Ukrainian forces have established positions in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast as of April 22 though not at what scale or with what intentions.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is likely attempting to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to go over to the defensive ahead of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • The Russian military command is likely attempting to convince Putin to turn to defensive operations as well—but is unable to bluntly deliver this message to Putin.
  • The continued insistence on Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine suggests that the group that wants to freeze the war along the current front lines has not fully persuaded Putin of its views.
  • Russian occupation authorities are continuing to oppress Roman Catholics in occupied Ukraine, likely in an effort to suppress Ukrainian religious institutions beyond the Kremlin’s control.
  • A Russian fighter-bomber accidentally bombed Belgorod on April 21 with two FAB-500 bombs, one of which likely malfunctioned.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line and near Siversk.
  • Russian forces continued to advance around Bakhmut on April 22, although Russian forces have not completed a turning movement around the city.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front and conducted a limited ground attack in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian authorities have made headway in their attempts to compel international recognition of Russian ownership over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • Continued Russian efforts to block evacuations of wounded soldiers, likely to prevent soldiers from leaving the combat zone, have contributed to the deaths of some Russian soldiers.

Russian occupation officials are expanding patronage networks in occupied territories.

Ukraine trains 40,000 storm brigade troops for counter-offensive, Reuters reports. “Border of Steel is one of eight new storm brigades totalling 40,000 soldiers that Ukraine wants to use during a counter-offensive against Russian occupiers in coming weeks or months. […] The units have benefited from an aggressive recruiting campaign on social media and billboards with the aim of attracting highly motivated volunteers. The drive comes as Kyiv may face growing challenges recruiting new troops.

Its forces have been weathering a Russian onslaught for months in towns like Bakhmut in the east, where thousands of soldiers have died. Kyiv does not disclose its military losses. The new brigades, drafted by the Interior Ministry, will fight alongside regular army units bolstered by new Western battle tanks and thousands of fresh troops trained by allied armies outside Ukraine.

The brigades have catchy names: Hurricane, Spartan, Chervona Kalyna, Frontier, Rage, Azov and Kara Dag, a mountain in Crimea. Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko told Reuters he believed Ukraine still had considerable mobilisation potential and that his recruits included women, people with no military experience and former police officers and servicemen.

A great deal is riding on the counter-offensive for Kyiv. A bungled and bloody attempt to seize back territory from Russian forces could dim optimism among key Western backers and push them to encourage Kyiv to seek negotiations with Moscow. […] President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukraine wants every inch of its land back from Moscow, which has unilaterally declared five regions of Ukraine to be part of Russia despite not controlling them all. […]

Ukraine launched its recruitment campaign for the storm brigades at the beginning of February. Klymenko said it would take up to four months to train civilians without experience, but that ex-police officers or soldiers could be trained in two. […] Border of Steel is commanded by Valeriy Padytel, who led Ukraine’s border guard forces in the defence of now-occupied Mariupol where he was captured after holding out in a huge steel works. He was freed in a prisoner swap last September. […]

Rather than the army, the brigades are overseen by the Interior Ministry, like other units including the Azov Regiment, which gained global prominence for holding out against invading forces at Azovstal steel works in besieged Mariupol last year. Klymenko said 2.5% of the brigades were made up of female fighters: Our women are patriotic enough, strong and they hate the enemy no less than men, they want to serve.”

Ukrainian forces critically lacking in sky control to stop Russians – The Times, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Times. “The Ukrainian Armed Forces are seriously lacking in anti-aircraft assets and may lose control of its skies to Russia, according to secret Pentagon documents obtained by the media. The journalists spoke to the Ukrainian military, who noted that Russia has the technology of better defence against the Stinger MANPADS. A soldier states that the Ukrainian troops launched two missiles, hoping the second one will hit the target.

We have used anti-tank missiles against them too and it stopped them from sending helicopters far into our territory because they were scared they would get hit. But now the Russians know we are running low on ammunition, and they are getting bolder. There are more and more helicopters and aircraft coming every day and they are starting to realise we can’t stop them.

The top-secret Pentagon documents revealed weaknesses in the Ukrainian army and made a wake-up call. They have suggested, among other things, that Ukraine is so short of anti-aircraft assets that it could lose control of its skies to Russia as early as May, just as it is preparing for a ground offensive to regain lost territory.

The leaked documents state that Russia has improved its FAB-500 bomb by giving it wings and a GPS system, allowing it to be dropped from a military aircraft and fly to its intended target without the aircraft ever entering hostile airspace or coming under fire. […] Ukrainian military officials are now considering how to provide air cover for troops in an offensive. The country’s allies have not yet responded to its requests for F-16 jets.

Ukrainian soldiers showed the news agency how their ammunition supplies were dwindling at a drone control base in an abandoned house a few miles from the Russian foxholes. A large monitor showed a feed from a Ukrainian drone hovering near the Russian positions, showing several men moving forward. If there are less than ten of them, it’s a waste of a mortar; we need them to hit their artillery, said one of the soldiers.

The US $6,000 drone, equipped with night vision cameras, is one of the most expensive used by the unit. As the journalists write, other commercial models cost about US $3,000, many of which were purchased through crowdfunding. However, the Russians are improving their UAV jamming assets, using systems the military believes have recently arrived from China. The most popular drone used by the Ukrainians is a Chinese commercial model. Russia’s greater success in jamming them has led to speculation on the Ukrainian side that Beijing is helping them do so.

According to the media, there are concerns that Russia’s advances in jamming drones will result in thousands of Ukraine’s UAVs being put out of action, with little prospect of finding replacements. While drones have been recognised as one of Ukraine’s most effective and cheapest weapons since the beginning of the conflict, they have become even more important now that ammunition is running low and accurate targeting is critical to preserve supplies.”

  1. Consequences and what to do?

Russian elites trying to get security guarantees after Russia’s defeat – intel, Ukrinform reports, citing Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “Russian elites are wary of their future and are therefore looking for contacts with Ukraine and other countries in order to seal security guarantees for themselves after Russia loses the war. They are reaching out, of course. And not only to Ukraine. There’s a quite wide range of countries where they are trying to get personal security guarantees for themselves, for their wealth, and for their families,” the spokesperson said.

Yusov noted that the Russians are primarily undertaking these efforts in order to avoid possible prosecution in the future. Now this mostly concerns the conditional business elite, but there are already also representatives of the political segment from the top Kremlin offices. This process will only gain momentum, Yusov said. […]

As Ukrinform reported earlier, Yusov said that the Russians should get used to the fact that while they are waging an unjust war of aggression, there are no safe places on their territory.”

Hans Petter Midttun: Two days ago and before the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting at the Ramstein Air Force Base, I suggested that the West could choose to either do nothing, do something or do what is needed.

Unfortunately, NATO is still committed to doing close to nothing in Ukraine while the coalition of the willing – because that is what the Ukraine Defence Contact Group is – decided to continue doing something instead of what is needed.

Please misunderstand me correctly: Western support for Ukraine has been crucial for its survival after the Russian full-scale invasion.

The members of the Contact Group have delivered MANPADS, anti-tank systems, artillery and HIMARS, as well as ground-based air defence capabilities and munitions. The coalition has delivered more than 230 tanks, more than 1,550 armoured vehicles and other equipment.

The coalition of (quite) willing has provided the training and the equipment for up to nine brigades, armoured brigades, and armoured mech brigades that on paper are prepared to conduct offensive operations to evict Russian forces.

Only they haven’t provided Ukraine with all the bits and pieces to succeed.

Throughout the war, Ukraine has shot down more than 600 Russian fighter jets and helicopters and 900 cruise missiles. 1,500 Russian aerial targets have been destroyed only in the last five months. According to the Pentagon leaks. Ukraine is about to run out of missiles for its Soviet legacy air defence systems, which constitute 89% of its total air defence capacity.

According to The Times, Russia knows Ukraine is running low on ammunition, and they are getting bolder. Russia has also improved its defence against the Stinger MANPADS.

“There are more and more helicopters and aircraft coming every day and they are starting to realise we can’t stop them.”

Both US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, agree that increased ground-based air defence capability has a high priority.

Still, no new Air Defence systems have been pledged during the latest meeting. Some of the systems previously pledged will not be delivered before 2024-25.

Ukraine has been urgently asking for F-16 (or similar Western-made combat aircraft) for months. Its argumentation ranges from the need to counter Russian quantity with Western quality; the urgent need to create the conditions for a counteroffensive by enabling air support; the importance of shaping the battlespace before a ground offensive, including the destruction of Russian air defence, field artillery, command and control nodes, logistical hubs and ground lines of communications; to the crucial importance of filling the many gaps in air defence due to the lack of ground-based air defence systems and the problems of integrating modern weapons and sensors into Soviet legacy aircrafts operating way beyond their expected lifespan.

Russia outnumbers us […] by five to six times. This is the grouping that today is located at those 40 airfields around Ukraine and in occupied Crimea alone. In addition, technologically, they are several times better.”

Still, General Milley argues that the supply of modern combat aircraft is a policy decision that may or may not be made down the road. He argues that Ukrainian ground-based air defence – which Ukraine is about to run out of – has successfully denied Russia to use the of Ukrainian airspace. He discusses air defence while carefully avoiding the topic of combined and joint operations, including the need for air support during a counteroffensive.

F-16 continue to be a red-line for the coalition of the (quite) willing as Ukraine is running out of ground-based air defence means.

On 25 March, President Zelensky stressed that Ukraine can’t start a counter-offensive yet due to a shortage of weapons, including heavy equipment and fighter jets.

We cannot send them (our troops) under such conditions,” he said.

Still, the US and Europe insist that “Ukraine will have the capabilities it needs to execute their missions on their own timeline” and that the combined efforts of the coalition will “put Ukraine’s forces in a position to continue to succeed on the battlefield”.

Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked if he really believe in a Ukrainian counteroffensive. He did not answer the question. General Milley carefully avoided talking about the need for air control and air support when discussing the potential upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive. He limited his response to short-term solutions based on the assumption that Ukraine has sufficient ground-based air defence. It has not.

In my opinion, the media fail to ask the right questions: Would the US undertake an offensive operation without long-range fire, air control and air support? Would it endeavour to conduct a counteroffensive without having follow-up forces and sufficient logistics?

Russia needs to succeed only once. Ukraine, however, must succeed every time it conducts a major offensive operation.

In my opinion, the latest Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting failed to set up Ukraine for success. Since Ukraine must both evict Russian forces from its territory and break the maritime embargo to survive, I advise patience.

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