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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 446: Zelenskyy visits Europe, works on air jets coalition

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 446: Zelenskyy visits Europe, works on air jets coalition

Zelenskyy visits Europe, works on air jets coalition. Another massive drone and missle attack on Ukraine, 25 drones, 3 missiles destroyed by Ukrainian air defense. Lukashenko does not appear at the Belarusian National Flag Day celebration.

Coming up: a meeting with Illia Samoilenko, the legendary commander of the Azov Regiment.

Euromaidan Press patrons can submit their questions or join the meeting on 18 May:

Daily overview — Summary report, May 15

 

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, May 15, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. May 14, 2023. Source ISW.

 

[The Russian Federation does not cease its plans to occupy our territory and keeps targeting both civilian and military objects across Ukraine.]

Last night, Russian terrorists attacked Ukraine with Shahed kamikaze drones yet again. Information on the aftermath of this attack is currently being updated.

On May 14, the adversary launched 11 missile attacks, in particular on the cities of Kharkiv, Kostyantynivka, and the village of Zolochiv. In addition, the invaders launched 41 air strikes and 74 MLRS attacks at the positions of Ukrainian troops and various settlements. The attacks caused civilian casualties, damage and destruction of private housing and other civilian infrastructure.

The likelihood of missile and air strikes across Ukraine remains high.

The adversary continues to focus its main efforts on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka axes, with 46 combat engagements taking place. Bakhmut and Marinka remain at the epicentre of the fighting.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: no significant changes or signs of the formation of enemy offensive groups were found.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary continues to maintain a military presence in the areas of Russia bordering Ukraine. The invaders shelled Hirs’k, Leonivka, Popivka (Chernihiv oblast), Volfyne, Sadky, Mohrytsya (Sumy oblast), Oleksandrivka, and Starytsya (Kharkiv oblast) with mortars and artillery.
  • Kupiansk axis: the occupiers conducted unsuccessful offensives in the vicinities of Masyutivka and Syn’kivka. The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of the settlements of Vil’shana and Kyslivka. The adversary fired artillery and mortars at Kam’yanka, Topoli, Krasne Pershe, Fyholivka, Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, Zapadne, Kindrashivka, Tabaivka (Kharkiv oblast), and Stel’makhivka (Luhansk oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. May 14, 2023. Source ISW.
  • Lyman axis: Russian forces did not conduct any offensive The adversary launched airstrikes in the vicinities of settlements of Yampil’, Dibrova, Bilohorivka, Verkhn’okam’yans’ke, and Spirne. Makiivka (Luhansk oblast), Bilohorivka, Verkhn’okam’yans’ke, Spirne, and Berestove (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. May 14, 2023. Source ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces continue their offensive operations. Heavy battles for the city of Bakhmut continue. In addition, Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations towards the settlements of Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, and Predtechyne on May 14. The invaders launched airstrikes near Ivanivske and Stupochky. Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Chervone, Kostyantynivka, Druzhba, Pivnichne, Toretsk, Shumy (Donetsk oblast) suffered from enemy shelling.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Novokalynove and Avdiivka, shelled Stepove, Lastochkyne, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Netaylove, Pervomais’ke, and Karlivka (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: Ukrainian defenders repelled numerous enemy attacks in the vicinity of the city of Marinka. At the same time, Krasnohorivka, Heorhiivka, Pobjeda, and Novomykhailivka (Donetsk oblast) were shelled by Russian forces.
  • Shakhtarske axis: Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations on May 14. The invaders shelled the settlements of Vuhledar, Novoukrainka, and Prechystivka.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map.May 14, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary stays on the defensive. The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of settlements of Kizomys and Stanislav (Kherson oblast). Also, Russian forces shelled around 40 settlements, including Vremivka, Novopil’ (Donetsk oblast), Hulyaipole, Zaliznychne, Bilohir’ya, Mala Tokmachka, Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Nikopol’ (Dnipropetrovsk oblast), Zolota Balka, Vesele, L’vove, Antonivka, Dniprovs’ke, Kizomys (Kherson oblast), and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. May 14, 2023. Source: ISW.

The adversary continues its attempts to replenish casualties through forced mobilization in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Thus, in a number of settlements of Kherson oblast, men who had previously renounced Ukrainian citizenship in favour of Russian citizenship were reported to be forcibly detained. After the detention, during the initial interview, the occupiers demand that these citizens pay an illegal monetary reward to postpone the mobilization. Persons who refuse or do not have the required amount of money to pay the bribe are sent to field camps and undergo an accelerated boot camp course. After that, these people are sent to settlements bordering the line of contact.

[The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation continues to take measures to integrate illegal armed formations of the so-called “DNR” into its own armed forces. Thus, military personnel from the so-called “DNR” serving in the 1st army corps of the Russian Federation have been ordered to replace their military IDs with Russian military IDs and to re-sign contracts with the Russian Federation minimum of a 2-year term. In case of refusal, service members are threatened to be sent to the most dangerous segments of the front to participate in assault operations as part of advanced units.]

On May 14, Ukrainian Air Force launched 17 airstrikes on the concentrations of troops and military equipment of the adversary. Also, Ukrainian defenders intercepted 2 Orlan-10 reconnaissance UAVs and 1 Supercam UAV of Russian forces.

The Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 1 command post, 6 concentrations of troops, 4 artillery units at their firing positions, 1 air defence asset, and 7 other important targets of the adversary.

Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

On Sunday, Ukrainian defence forces captured more than ten Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Deputy Minister of Defence Hanna Maliar. “On Sunday, the Defence Forces captured more than ten Russian positions in the north and south of the outskirts of Bakhmut. They cleared a large area of the forest massif in the Ivanivske district, capturing the occupiers. […]

Maliar says it is “very hot” in Bakhmut. The invaders have gathered all their forces there and are trying to advance, destroying everything in their path. Fierce battles are continuing, she wrote.”

Three helicopters and two aircraft shot down in Russia’s Bryansk Oblast on Saturday – Ukraine’s Air Force Spokesman, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Colonel Yurii Ihnat, Ukraine’s Air Force Spokesperson, reported that three helicopters were shot down by air defence forces in the country’s Bryansk Oblast on 13 May, not two as previously reported. Colonel Ihnat stated that Russia lost a total of five aircraft that day. […] He clarified that these vehicles were on their way to carry out a combat mission at the front. 

On 13 May, different information on the downing of a helicopter, two helicopters, or an aircraft emerged simultaneously. Initially, Russian propagandists said that the helicopter crashed because of an engine fire, keeping silent about its destruction and an explosion before the fire. Then they acknowledged the shooting down of two helicopters and one aircraft, customarily blaming it on Ukrainian saboteurs.”

Russian air defence units involved in aircraft crashes in Bryansk region – Air Force spox, Ukrinform reports. “Helicopters were used, the aviation strike group attacked Ukraine from the north of Bryansk region. They do this every day. They launched strikes with guided aerial bombs. They are already talking about a third helicopter, so five in total, I guess. Actually, they ran into some trouble. They wanted to bomb our civilians, our peaceful regions, Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said.

He noted that the Russian Federation itself was involved in aircraft crashes. A black day for aviation. They acknowledged it, there is already an analysis of who is to blame, who they are going to fire for this, punish for this mess that is happening. I’m glad to read such news from the enemy, the spokesman added.”

Two Russian colonels eliminated in Bakhmut during the past day, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RIA Novosti with reference to the Russian Defence Ministry. “The Russian Ministry of Defense reported the death of two of its colonels in a day on 13-14 May in the Bakhmut region. It is noted that the commander of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade, Colonel Vyacheslav Makarov, and the deputy commander of the army corps for military-political work, Colonel Yevgeny Brovko, allegedly died while repelling attacks.”

Russian attack on night of 14 May: Ukrainian air defence destroys 3 cruise missiles and 25 drones, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Ukrainian Air Force Command. “The Air Force reports that on the night of 14 May 2023, the Russian occupiers attacked Ukraine from different directions with Shahed-136/131 attack drones, Kalibr missiles from ships stationed in the Black Sea, Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 cruise missiles from Tu-95MS strategic aircraft.

During the night attack, 3 cruise missiles and 25 unmanned aerial vehicles were destroyed: 18 Shahed-136/131 attack drones, 1 Lancet attack UAV; 2 Orlan-10 tactical UAVs; 4 UAVs (type to be established); and 3 Kh-101/Kh-555/Kh-55 cruise missiles

In addition, during the day of 13 May and at the beginning of the day of 14 May, the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine conducted up to 50 sorties to engage the invaders and provide air cover.”

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

https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1658053375961825283

  • On 03 May 2023, several uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) struck Russia’s Seshcha Airbase, 150km north of the Ukrainian border. One An-124 heavy transport aircraft of Russia’s Military Transport Aviation (VTA) was likely damaged.
  • Seshcha is a hub for the VTA in western Russia and has played a major role in enabling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia also uses the site to launch Iranian-produced one-way-attack UAVs towards Kyiv.
  • The VTA is a well-resourced element of the Russian Air Force, essential for transport across the vast country. Russian leaders will be concerned that Russia’s air defences continue to be compromised, holding at risk key strategic assets such as VTA bases.
  • On paper, the Russian Combined Grouping of Forces (CGF) in Ukraine is similarly organised to the invasion force of 446 days ago. It still likely consists of over 200,000 personnel organised into around 70 combat regiments and brigades divided into five Groups of Forces. It still struggles with limited freedom to conduct air operations.
  • However, in February 2022 it consisted of professional soldiers; was largely equipped with reasonably modern vehicles; and had been regularly exercised, aspiring to complex, joint operations. Now the force is mostly poorly trained mobilised reservists and increasingly reliant on antiquated equipment, with many of its units severely under-strength. It routinely only conducts very simple, infantry-based operations.
  • Critically, it is unlikely that CGF has been able to generate a large, capable, mobile reserve to respond to emerging operational challenges. It is unlikely to be an organisation which will effectively cohere large-scale military effect along the 1,200 km front line under stress.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Monday 15 May, 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 198880 199460 (+580)
  • Tanks – 3759 (+3)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7336 (+11)
  • Artillery systems – 3137 (+21)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 562 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 316 (+2)
  • Aircraft – 308 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 294 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 6034 (+16)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2720 (+24)
  • Special equipment – 407 (+3)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 973 (+3)

 

Melitopol mayor: 90% of enterprises in occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region not operating, Ukrinform reports, citing Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov. “Some 90% of enterprises in the occupied territories are not operating. Only a few enterprises captured by the enemy are operating, where the enemy has placed repair bases for its military hardware or is creating a picture that everything seems to be normal. All enterprises have been captured,” Fedorov said.

According to him, there are cases of businesses being looted. The enemy steals equipment and takes away warehouse stocks. As an example, Fedorov cited the machine-building and foundry enterprise in the village of Obilne near Melitopol. Now it is completely looted, he said

Humanitarian 

New barriers between countries threaten whole of Europe – Zelensky on grain export ban, Censor.net reports. “President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on European countries not to erect barriers but to strengthen ties between countries.

Europe’s longest lasting peace and reliable security were ensured by building ties between the peoples of Europe instead of barriers reflecting one or another national selfishness. When we now see, instead of strengthening our ties, any fresh barriers that are so reminiscent of old mistakes – whether barriers in politics or barriers in trade policy – then we see a threat not to one European nation, but to the whole of Europe, he said during a speech at the Charlemagne Prize ceremony in Aachen on Sunday.

The President of Ukraine addressed the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki. “Mateusz! Any seeds of misunderstanding between anyone in Europe should not give rise to conflict! This is in the fundamental interests of our nations. Europe gains strength and prosperity every time there is a minus barrier on the continent, he said. Earlier, Poland and other Eastern European countries banned imports of Ukrainian grain and other food products.”

Environmental

IAEA Director General Statement on Situation in Ukraine, published on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) website on 12 May. “Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) still has enough essential staff for its current reduced level of operations, but the continued lack of maintenance personnel on-site could negatively impact nuclear safety and security and is not sustainable, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today.

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant (NPP) – located by the frontline – has seen a considerable reduction in staffing numbers since the armed conflict in Ukraine began nearly 15 months ago. Concerns about the difficult and challenging circumstances for plant personnel and their families have deepened further amid signs of a growing military presence and activity in the region.

It is not sustainable to maintain this major nuclear power plant for extended periods with only essential staffing. The safety of the plant, even in a shutdown state, requires adequate maintenance of plant equipment, as well as other regular and important work. It is concerning that the established maintenance programme was not followed for many months now, Director General Grossi said.

Last week, IAEA experts at the ZNPP learnt that a voluntary evacuation of residents from the nearby town of Enerhodar – where most plant personnel live – had begun, creating further uncertainty about the staffing situation. The IAEA team observed that there have been fewer staff on-site over the past week, but they were still able to confirm that essential personnel working in the main control rooms were available and present during each shift. […] Director General Grossi expressed concern that the challenging staffing situation could affect the ZNPP’s ability to properly maintain systems that are important for nuclear safety and security.

In the medium and longer term, this is increasing the risk of a nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. There must be staff available to properly maintain the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and to ensure it remains in a safe state at all times, he said.

The Director General – who has repeatedly expressed concern about the welfare of staff and their families and the potential impact on nuclear safety and security – said the IAEA team was closely monitoring developments and that the experts, in recent days, had visited Enerhodar, and also engaged with staff in the plant’s reactor control rooms and elsewhere. There is little doubt that the plant is experiencing a very difficult staffing situation. As the plant’s six reactors are all in a shutdown state – thereby requiring fewer operating staff – our assessment is that the current level of operating staff is sufficient, for now. But this is not a way to operate a major nuclear power plant safely, securely, and sustainably, he said.

The IAEA team at the ZNPP has also previously reported about a significant impact on the plant’s maintenance capability due to reduced staff, absence of external contractors who performed part of the maintenance work in the past, and a lack of spare parts needed for the maintenance, including critical components. Director General Grossi said he was increasingly concerned about nuclear safety and security in general at the ZNPP at a time of heightened speculation of future military operations in the area and elsewhere. The IAEA experts at the site have continued to hear shelling and gunfire.

I remain engaged in intense negotiations with all the involved parties to secure the protection of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Everybody would lose if there were a nuclear accident that could have serious consequences for human health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond. Protecting the plant should be a clear win-win for all sides. I will not give up until this has been achieved, Director General Grossi said.

Further underlining the nuclear safety and security risks, the ZNPP continues to rely on the only remaining functioning 750 kilovolt (kV) power line for the external electricity it needs for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. Before the conflict, the plant had four such off-site power lines available. The last functioning back-up 330 kV power line that was damaged on the right bank of the Dnipro River on 1 March has still not been repaired.

The IAEA team continues to monitor the actions taken for restoring other sources of off-site power but has not had access to the nearby Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP), despite assurances by Rosatom that this would be granted. The ZTPP operates its 330 kV open switchyard, through which back-up power has in the past been provided to the ZNPP. Director General Grossi underlined the importance of the IAEA gaining access to the ZTPP as soon as possible.

The IAEA experts also monitor the height of the Kakhovka Reservoir. The height of the reservoir has risen significantly over the past month and on 6 May it was at historically high levels of 17.12 metres, which had raised concerns that the high levels could adversely affect the plant. The height is currently 17.07 metres. The elevation of the ZNPP site is 22 metres, approximately five metres above the current height of the reservoir. The possible effects on the plant from flooding were analysed as part of stress tests conducted following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011. Based on the conservative scenario of all upstream dams failing, the analysis demonstrated that the water levels could reach 19.6 metres, still below the site elevation. At water heights above 17.7 metres, water from the reservoir would flow directly into the cooling pond of ZNPP. This could adversely affect the quality of the cooling water but would not affect the nuclear safety of the plant.”

Russia has already killed 481 children in Ukraine, Ukrinform reports. “As of the morning of May 14, 2023, more than 1,452 children were killed and injured in Ukraine as a result of the full-scale armed aggression of the Russian Federation. According to the official information from juvenile prosecutors, 481 children were killed and more than 971 children received injuries of varying degrees of severity, the Prosecutor General’s Office posted on Facebook.

It is noted that the numbers are not final. Efforts are underway to establish casualties in the areas of military operations, in temporarily occupied and liberated territories.”

Parliamentary elections will not take place this fall if martial law is in effect at that time, – Zelensky, Censor.net reports, citing ZN.UA. “There will be no parliamentary elections in Ukraine in the fall of 2023 if martial law is in effect. If there is no martial law, then there will be. Well, it is written in the law that according to the Constitution of Ukraine, after the end of martial law, I think, elections are held in 90 days, the head of state emphasized.

We remind you that the next elections to the Verkhovna Rada are scheduled to take place on October 29.”

Support

https://twitter.com/EuromaidanPress/status/1657778043837095936

Zelenskyy believes in “coalition of fighter jets” after visiting Europe, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he believed in the success of the agreement to supply Ukraine with fighter jets as he visited European capitals. Partly, my visits to European capitals are aimed at this very thing [the formation of a coalition of fighters – ed.]. I think we will be successful. Today, I will also appeal to the German side to support Ukraine in this coalition. It is very important for us.

In this context, Zelenskyy noted, it is important to coordinate efforts and be powerful in the airspace. We are not talking about superiority; today Russia has the advantage in the Ukrainian sky. But our task is to be powerful in airspace, Zelenskyy said.”

Germany to supply Ukraine with largest aid package yet, worth nearly $3 billion, CNN reports. “Germany announced on Saturday that it would supply Ukraine with an aid package worth nearly $3 billion to strengthen the country’s defense, marking Berlin’s largest pledge in military aid since the start of the war. The German Ministry of Defence said in a statement that the package may include a variety of military hardware, including armoured personnel carriers, 30 Leopard tanks, reconnaissance drones and ammunition.

With this valuable contribution of urgently needed military material, we are once again showing that Germany is serious about its support, Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said. We all wish for a speedy end to this terrible war waged by Russia against the Ukrainian people, which is contrary to international law. Unfortunately, this is not yet in sight. Germany will therefore provide all the help it can – as long as it takes, Pistorius added. […]

The development comes after the US on Tuesday announced a $1.2 billion aid package to Ukraine intended to “bolster its air defenses” and “sustain its artillery ammunition needs,” with Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces looming.”

Ukrainian intelligence officers to receive 105 more Vector UAVs from Germany, Ukrinform reports, citing the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “Ukrainian intelligence officers will receive 105 Vector unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) under the contract between the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the German UAV manufacturer Quantum-Systems GmbH. This is the second batch of Vector drones for the Ukrainian army, funded by the German government. In August 2022, Ukraine ordered and received 33 German UAVs of the same model, and they have shown their high efficiency on the battlefield, the report says.

The [DIU] notes that it takes two minutes to start working with the Vector drone. The assembled UAV has a wingspan of 2.8 meters and can be launched by hand. The Vector UAV is equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors, which allows it to detect enemy targets round-the-clock, while the robust design of the drone reduces the impact of weather factors. The speed is up to 72 km/h. The duration of one flight is 120 minutes.

Due to secured data transmission channels, Vector can broadcast video to ground stations in real time during combat missions. The UAV is equipped with advanced artificial intelligence capabilities for data analysis: built-in algorithms allow it to automatically identify objects and immediately transmit critical intelligence information to the ground, the report says.”

France to send armoured vehicles, light tanks to Ukraine, Reuters reports. “France said it will send dozens of armoured vehicles and light tanks, including the AMX-10RCs fighting vehicles, to Ukraine in the coming weeks. It made the announcement after a working dinner between French President Emmanuel Macron and Zelenskyy in Paris.”

Rheinmetall and Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom form JV to build, repair tanks, Reuters reports. “Rheinmetall has founded a joint venture with Ukrainian state-owned conglomerate Ukroboronprom to build and repair tanks in Ukraine, the company said on Saturday. Closing of the agreement to set up the joint venture is scheduled for late June with operations to begin from mid-July.

The venture will begin by maintaining and repairing vehicles transferred to Ukraine by Germany, but will later seek to jointly produce some Rheinmetall products in Ukraine, the statement said, leading to the possible joint development of military systems to export from Ukraine.

Rheinmetall’s chief executive Armin Papperger revealed the plans for the venture to business paper Handelsblatt on Friday, stating Rheinmetall will hold a 51% stake and provide management. The German company expects to sign contracts for two more joint ventures in the coming days for ammunition and air defence, according to Handelsblatt.”

New Developments

  1. Russia has ‘already lost geopolitically’ its war in Ukraine – Macron, Ukrinform reports, citing The Guardian. “De facto, it has entered a form of subservience with regards to China and has lost its access to the Baltic, which was critical, because it prompted the decision by Sweden and Finland to join NATO. […] This was unthinkable just two years ago. So it’s already a geopolitical defeat, Macron said in an interview with the Opinion newspaper. He said that for Russia to lose the war, Ukraine needs assistance in its upcoming counteroffensive. Let’s be clear, Russia must not win this war militarily. So it’s up to us to see how to help the Ukrainians with their counteroffensive, and how to prepare the issue of security guarantees in the negotiations that will inevitably take place, he said.”
  2. Russia says European armed forces treaty contrary to its security interests, ReutersThe European armed forces treaty from which Moscow is to withdraw is contrary to Russia’s security interests, Russia’s envoy in charge of the withdrawal said in remarks published early on Monday. Russia’s parliament is to decide on Monday when to formally denounce the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), following President Vladimir Putin’s decreeon May 10. Any illusions of those who still hoped that Russia will return to the treaty – they will disappear” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with Parliamentskaya Gazeta, a weekly published by Russia’s parliament, The CFE Treaty, due to the changed situation, is contrary to our security interests. This obvious fact will now have to be recognised in the West. Ryabkov was appointed last week to represent Putin during parliamentary proceedings on denouncing the treaty, which aimed to regulate the number of forces deployed by Warsaw Pact and NATO countries.”
  3. “A few more visits to Europe”: Zelenskyy announces Armed Forces offensive at front, Ukrainska PravdaPresident Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that the Armed Forces have almost enough assets and weapons to start moving forward and that Ukrainian defenders are primed for success. Zelenskyy answered briefly that he needed several more visits to European capitals. […] Zelenskyy said he believes in the success of the agreement to supply fighter jets to Ukraineagainst the backdrop of his visits to European capitals.
  4. Zelenskyy heads to Paris after Berlin visit, Ukrainska PravdaFollowing his visit to Germany on 13 May, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is said to be heading for Paris. According to Le Figaro, Zelenskyy will arrive at the Vélizy-Villacoublay air base near Paris, where he will be met by Prime Minister Elisabeth Born and Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna. A meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled for Monday at Versailles. Zelenskyy visited Berlin on Sunday morning, following his visit to Rome and the Vatican on Saturday. At the joint briefing of the two leaders, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated, among other things, that the with-drawal of Russian troops is anecessary prerequisite for peace in Ukraine.”
  5. Top Chinese envoy to visit Ukraine, Russia on ‘peace’ mission, Reuters “A top Chinese envoy will begin a tour of Ukraine, Russia and other European cities on Monday in a trip Beijing says is aimed at discussing a political settlement to the Ukraine crisis. Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs and former ambassador to Russia, will also visit Poland, France, Germany on the multi-day trip, the foreign ministry announced Friday without providing a detailed schedule.”
  6. No talk of peace without withdrawal of Russian troops – Scholz, Ukrainska PravdaUkraine is ready for peace, but Ukraine, quite understandably and justifiably, wants this not to mean any kind of freezing of the war and dictation from Russia. We are talking about an imperialist, aggressive attack on Ukrainian territory, and therefore the peace and security of Europe are under threat. Scholz has stressed that it is necessary to talk about peace based on the Ukrainian president’s peace proposal. But Russia has to withdraw its troops, because without it, there is nothing to talk about at all.”
  7. Ukraine not attacking Russian territory – president, UkrinformAs for attacks on Russian territory, we are not attacking Russian territory. We are liberating our legitimate land. We are not interested in [attacks on Russian territory]. We have neither the time nor the strength to do so and we have no weapons to do so,” [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] said. He added that Ukraine is currently focused on preparing a counter-offensive to de-occupy its own territory in accordance with international law.”
  8. Zelensky: There’s no rational reason why our soldiers still not in NATO, UkrinformThere is no rational reason why our soldiers who fight so heroically and successfully for our shared freedom, for our shared values, are still not in the same organization as all other soldiers of the Alliance. Judging by the results of our actions, Ukraine is already in the Alliance, but the de jure decision has not yet been made. It is worth making this decision, it is worth defining the algorithm – it motivates our soldiers, and it is important,” Zelensky said.”
  9. Italy has expressed full support for Ukraine’s future in NATO, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing European Pravda. “In the text of the joint declaration dated 13 May, which was signed during the visit of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Rome, Rome expressed its support for the Ukraine-NATO Commission as a platform for expanding current cooperation – to help Ukraine make its way to the Euro-Atlantic family following the Bucharest Declaration (it will be recalled that itmentions that Ukraine and Georgia should become NATO members). We look forward to resolving all these issues at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, the text adds.”
  10. G7 leaders to target Russian energy, trade in new sanctions steps, ReutersNew measures announced by the leaders during the May 19-21 meetings will target sanctions evasion involving third countries, and seek to undermine Russia’s future energy production and curb trade that supports Russia’s military, the people said. Separately, US officials also expect G7 members will agree to adjust their approach to sanctions so that, at least for certain categories of goods, all exports are automatically banned unless they are on a list of approved items. The Biden administration has previously pushed G7 allies to reverse the group’s sanctions approach, which today allows all goods to be sold to Russia unless they are explicitly blacklisted. That change could make it harder for Moscow to find gaps in the sanctions regime.”
  11. Lukashenko does not appear at Belarusian National Flag Day celebration, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Motolko Help, a project by Belarusian journalist and analyst Anton Motolko, on Telegram. “It is noted that Lukashenko did not appear at the ceremony of honouring the national flag, emblem and anthem, which took place on 14 May at State Flag Square in Minsk. Instead, Lukashenko’s speech was delivered by Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko. Dzerkalo, an independent media outlet, noted that it was important for Lukashenko to attend the ceremony, because he has not been seen in public for five days. There is no information about the state of Lukashenko’s health.”
  12. The search for an aerial object flying from Belarus continues in Poland, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing RMF24. “In Poland, additional soldiers of the territorial defence were recruited to search for an object that flew into the country’s airspace from Belarus on Friday. The search for the object – probably an observation balloon – is concentrated in the area of Rypin settlement in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship. […] On Saturday morning, the Ministry of Defence of Poland reported that an object that had flown in from Belarus was detectedin the country’s airspace – probably a surveillance balloon. Also, a scandal is unfolding in the country surrounding the situation with a missile, probably a Russian one, which landed on the territory of Poland back in December. The public learned about it only in May.

Assessment 

https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-may-14-2023*

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  May 14, 2022:

Russian forces conducted ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Kupiansk-Svatove line on May 14. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Masyutivka (12km northeast of Kupiansk), Synkivka (8km northeast of Kupiansk), Novoselivske (14km northwest of Svatove), and on the eastern outskirts of Stelmakhivka (15km northwest of Svatove). A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Russian and Ukrainian forces continue “sluggish” fighting between Novoselivske and Kuzemivka (13km northwest of Svatove), and that elements of the Russian 1st Guards Tank Army (Western Military District) have established first lines of defense along the eastern side of the rail line near Novoselivske. The milblogger claimed that Russian forces withdrew from Novoselivske on an unspecified date because the settlement is destroyed and not worth defending, and emphasized that Russian forces still control Kuzemivka.

Russian and Ukrainian sources did not report any Russian ground attacks near Kreminna on May 14. Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov, citing a Chechen Akhmat Spetsnaz commander, denied reports that Ukrainian forces broke through Russian defensive lines near Kreminna but acknowledged that Ukrainian forces may be conducting sabotage and reconnaissance in the area. ISW has not observed claims or confirmation of significant Ukrainian offensive activity near Kreminna.

Russian forces have not made additional confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut as of May 14. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations within Bakhmut itself; within 9km northwest of Bakhmut near Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, and Khromove; and within 14km southwest of Bakhmut near Bila Hora and Predtechyne. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on May 13 that Wagner fighters advanced up to 500m in Bakhmut and that Ukrainian forces currently control 1.78 square kilometers of the city. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks near Orikhovo-Vasylivka (11km northwest of Bakhmut).

Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front on May 14. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled numerous Russian assaults near Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). Russian Southern Grouping of Forces (Southern Military District) Spokesperson Vadim Astafyev claimed that Russian forces prevented Ukrainian forces from conducting reconnaissance-in-force operations near Marinka. A Russian milblogger claimed that there are ongoing battles near Novobakhmutivka (13km northeast of Avdiivka) and Kruta Balka (4km northeast of Avdiivka) but that the frontline remains unchanged along the Avdiivka-Donetsk front.

Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on May 14. The Russian Eastern Grouping of Forces (Eastern Military District) Spokesperson Alexander Gordeev claimed that Russian forces thwarted an attempted Ukrainian reconnaissance-in-force operation in an unspecified area of western Donetsk Oblast.

Russian forces conducted another series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of May 13 to 14. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces launched an unspecified number of drones of varying models at Ukraine and that Ukrainian forces destroyed 25, including 18 Shahed 131/136s. The Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian forces launched 23 Shahed-136/131 drones in total. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Russian forces launched an unspecified number of Kalibr missiles from the Black Sea as well as an unspecified number of Kh-101/555/55 cruise missiles, and that Ukrainian forces shot down three Kh-101/555/55 missiles. Ukrainian sources reported that Russian forces struck civilian infrastructure in Ternopil and Mykolaiv cities as well as Kharkiv City and Zolochiv in Kharkiv Oblast with S-300 missiles. […]

Increasingly regular series of Russian drone and missile strikes are likely a part of a new Russian air campaign in Ukraine aimed at degrading Ukrainian abilities to conduct counteroffensive offensive operations in the near term. Russian forces have conducted at least 10 series of strikes throughout Ukraine, particularly in rear areas, since April 19. Russian forces have used significantly fewer high precision missiles in these latest series of strikes in comparison to their failed campaign against Ukrainian critical infrastructure from the fall of 2022 through the winter of 2023. ISW previously assessed that Russian forces likely expended a significant proportion of their precision missiles in the previous air campaign, and the current Russian air campaign may be using far fewer of these missiles in an effort to conserve the limited remaining stocks. Russian forces have instead relied heavily on launching large numbers of Iranian-made Shahed drones to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses, although Ukrainian forces have been more effective in shooting down Russian precision systems than during the previous Russian air campaign. The new Russian air campaign appears to be focused on Kyiv and alleged Ukrainian military industrial and logistics facilities in deep rear areas. The more limited air campaign has so far been more regular than the previous wider Russian campaign against critical infrastructure, and ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may be attempting to conduct almost daily series of strikes to portray themselves as successfully constraining potential upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. The alleged targets and limited nature of this campaign indicates that Russian forces are immediately concerned with current Ukrainian capabilities to launch counteroffensive operations, although the diminished effectiveness of these strikes are likely not significantly constraining Ukrainian capabilities writ large.

Ukrainian forces continued counterattacking around Bakhmut on May 14. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Ukrainian forces captured over 10 Russian positions on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut over the course of the day on May 14. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian troops attacked towards Berkhivka, Klishchiivka, and Kurdiumivka and took up new unspecified positions near the settlements and additionally advanced towards Yahidne from the direction of Bohdanivka. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Ukrainian forces did not conduct any attacks on the night of May 13 to 14, however. ISW has not observed visual confirmation of new Ukrainian positions around Bakhmut. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty emphasized on May 14 that Ukraine’s main goal in Bakhmut is to destroy Russian concentration areas and encircle the city, not to conduct frontal assaults. Cherevaty noted that Ukrainian forces have recently advanced up to 300m in some areas, and Maliar reported that Ukrainian forces are advancing in two directions in the suburbs of Bakhmut.  

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is attempting to distract from recent Ukrainian successes near Bakhmut by praising Russian defensive efforts against the Ukrainian counterattacks. The Russian MoD praised the defensive efforts of the Russian 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic Army Corps) south of Ivanivske, 200th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade (14th Army Corps, Northern Fleet) east of Bohdanivka, and the 6th Guards Motorized Rifle Division (20th Guards Combined Arms Army, Western Military District) in an unspecified area on the Soledar-Bakhmut line. […] The Russian MoD noted that it presented combat medals and state awards to defending Russian personnel at their combat positions, and later posted footage of Russian military leadership presenting over 120 personnel with various awards, including “For Courage,” “For Military Distinction,” and “For Military Valor.” The Russian MoD likely seeks to assuage information space criticism of the MoD’s failure to acknowledge Ukrainian battlefield successes in a timely manner without actually acknowledging the degree of these successes, which is consistent with recent Kremlin guidance to not downplay Ukrainian military successes. The MoD also notably highlighted the efforts of its regular forces over those of irregular forces, including Wagner Group forces operating in Bakhmut. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin criticized reports on May 14 that Russian Airborne (VDV) forces are helping Wagner forces, instead claiming that VDV forces are failing to support Wagner’s offensive operations, defending captured positions, or recapturing positions recently lost to Ukrainian forces.

Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin’s newly formed “Club of Angry Patriots” is continuing efforts to expand its presence and influence public discourse. The Club of Angry Patriots announced on May 14 that it is forming regional branches and called on experienced politicians, public opinion leaders, and heads of Russian organizations to participate. The Club of Angry Patriots also stated that it will hold a news conference in Moscow on an unspecified date in June, during which it will address how Russia can win the war in Ukraine.[21]

Key Takeaways

  • Russian forces conducted another series of drone and missile strikes against Ukraine on the night of May 13 to 14.
  • Increasingly regular series of Russian drone and missile strikes are likely a part of a new Russian air campaign in Ukraine aimed at degrading Ukrainian abilities to conduct counteroffensive offensive operations in the near term.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counterattacking around Bakhmut on May 14.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is attempting to distract from recent Ukrainian successes near Bakhmut by praising Russian defensive efforts against the Ukrainian counterattacks.
  • Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin’s newly formed “Club of Angry Patriots” is continuing efforts to expand its presence and influence public discourse.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Kupiansk-Svatove line.
  • Russian forces have not made additional confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued limited offensive operations on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian forces continued to fire on areas west of Hulyaipole in southern Ukraine.
  • Russian forces continue efforts to replenish manpower losses using prisoners.

Russian officials and occupation authorities continue to prepare for the September 2023 elections in occupied territories.

Zelenskyy advisor: Bakhmut is only a prelude to the counteroffensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Podoliak in an interview with Bild. “Mykhailo Podoliak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, believes that the eventual liberation of the eastern city of Bakhmut will be a prelude to the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukraine has seized the initiative. It doesn’t mean that Bakhmut will be liberated tomorrow, but fierce fighting will continue, and Russia’s combat capability will continue diminishing. In a broader sense, Bakhmut is just a prelude to the counteroffensive, a door that will open opportunities for Ukraine to launch a successful counteroffensive.”

Asked when the counteroffensive might begin, Podoliak explained that the counteroffensive was not a one-off event that might start today and end tomorrow, but a multitude of actions, dozens, even hundred of actions, some of which are already being undertaken. He noted that attacks on Russian logistics undermine the Russian army’s capabilities. We have also made some small-scale, localised advances in parts of Donetsk Oblast, he added.

I believe that we will see catastrophic events befalling the Russian army. It will be forced to rapidly withdraw from the occupied territories. […] I believe that this spring-summer season will be heated. The myth of the mighty Russian army, which has haunted Europe and Germany for so long, is finally being dispelled.”

Zelensky talks about Ukraine’s preparations for counteroffensive, Ukrinform reports, citing The Washington Post. “There are issues in a number of areas. The first issue is, of course, ammunition. I say this as a priority — not because I want to complain, but because it is a resource without which a counteroffensive is impossible. But I want to clearly say that without this resource, the defence of the state is impossible, he said. Zelensky said that it’s not just an issue with regards to the counteroffensive, but the issue is to have a counteroffensive and to not lose the territories that we have.

Despite the fact that we are stronger — I think we are more motivated than Russia. But nevertheless, we have to prepare everything and be stocked with weapons and motivated people in order not to lose our own people. Therefore, the most important thing we need are resources for the plans that have already been made. To be honest, this is also influenced by the weather. This is an absolute fact because let’s just say, the ground has to be suitable for our weapons. We don’t have such a wide range of armoured vehicles, Zelensky said.

According to him, one of the priority tasks for Ukraine’s military and political leadership is to minimize human losses. […] We understand that despite the counteroffensive — and we will do it — we must ensure that we minimize losses as much as possible. And so, when we say what we need, we need everything that enables us to protect people — artillery systems and long-range artillery, Zelensky said. […] As soon as the delivery of weapons that were agreed upon with our partners is completed, we will be ready for a counteroffensive, of course taking into account the changes in weather. And the goal remains the same — the de-occupation of our territory, Zelensky said.

Commenting on doubts about the transfer of long-range missiles by other countries due to fears that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will carry out strikes inside Russia, Zelensky said that Ukraine is not interested in the aggressor’s territory. I would always tell our partners, Listen, our task is to de-occupy our territory. […] We have a priority target for which we are spending the ammunition package we have. And we spend it on the de-occupation of purely Ukrainian territories. But we would need to do that with long-range missiles and systems. So now I don’t quite understand, I’ll tell you frankly, why we can’t get long-range artillery. Because the objective of long-range artillery is definitely not to use it on Russian territory. And I believe that we will cope with this deficit, he said.

He also emphasized the need for modern fighter jets for the complete liberation of Ukrainian territories. We are currently losing in the sky. We always say that the strength of our people outweighs the strength of the Russian Federation. I think we are also stronger than Russia in terms of motivation. On the battlefield, on the ground, we have shown what we can do. [..] If they have absolute superiority in the sky, then so be it. To solve such a problem, you have to be honest about it. And our partners as well, we would like to get their support to provide us with Western-standard fighter jets, certainly the F-16. There are other fighter jets, [Eurofighters] and so on. There are different names. We work with all of them to obtain something in this area, Zelensky said.”

Ukraine lost fewer than 15,000 troops, EU countries’ intelligence says, EURACTIV reports. “Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, very few numbers related to personnel and equipment losses on the Ukrainian side have been made publicly available, with Kyiv and its Western allies reluctant to reveal any critical information to Russia.

In November, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen came under fire for publishing and then unpublishing a video containing what appeared then to be a very high estimate of 100,000 killed Ukrainian military officers, prompting a backlash from Kyiv. Around the same time, nine months into the war, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General, Mark Milley, estimated that both Ukraine and Russia had lost around 100,000 people each before the winter started.

In what appears to be one of the first semi-official estimates that made its way to the West, an internal document in the hands of the EU diplomatic service, seen by EURACTIV, put the losses of Ukraine’s armed forces at 13,000 personnel killed during combat, with an additional 35,000 wounded in action. The document also noted that according to US estimates, Kyiv has lost 17,500 personnel killed in action, and a total of 124,000 to 131,000 people disabled, whether from wounds, death or disappearance, or other reason.

Still, the document, based on the Ukrainian communication to member states, media reports, and intelligence leaks, assessed that the Ukrainian losses are lower than the US estimates. The figures in the document seen by EURACTIV show that the volume of losses is globally very big on both sides, Romain Mielcarek, a journalist specialised in influence strategies in conflict, told EURACTIV.

The internal memo seen by EURACTIV said Ukrainian officials’ asses that 185,000 Russians were killed during the course of the war and 555,000 were wounded. It compared these figures with the data leaked from US intelligence, reported by the New York Times, suggesting that the Russian Armed Forces have suffered 189,500 to 223,000 casualties, including 43,000 killed in action, since February 24 last year. US figures match British intelligence estimates that around 200,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded since the invasion.

This shows that wounded Russians will most likely not make it from the frontline, whereas the evacuation, rescue, and casualty management protocols appear to be much more effective on the Ukrainian side, Mielcarek said. Research shows that if the soldiers have trust in their side to save them, they are more inclined to take initiatives and risks, which makes these figures interesting, strategically. This Ukrainian’s ability to save their wounded is also a testament to the training they receive from Western military powers, Mielcarek said. […]

Western diplomats and military officials have told EURACTIV that although loss estimates are frequently cited in Western intelligence and media reports, it is nearly impossible to have the casualty toll on either side officially confirmed. Both sides refrain from giving figures, in order for them to avoid the other side using it as a tool for propaganda, Mielcarek told EURACTIV.

On the Ukrainian side especially, it is a communication strategy: they must take into account the impact on their troops, on their populations, on the opposite side, on their allies’ morale [in providing military support], Mielcarek also said. General Claudio Graziano, the former chairman of the EU’s military committee, told EURACTIV on the sidelines of the European Defence and Security Summit on Thursday (11 May), that full Russian losses will probably be known only after the end of the war. In any case, it’s going to be one the bloodiest war in the European territory.

Russia is still mobilising and training fresh troops to send to the battlefield, whereas Western ammunition production and the EU’s delivery plans for Ukraine will not come into effect earlier than a year from now, he warned.

The Kremlin ordered a war mobilisation last September, calling up around 300,000 Russian men to fight in Ukraine. According to the United Kingdom’s intelligence, 97% of the Russian army is currently in Ukraine, EURACTIV has learned. […]

One of the most important aspects is in the organisation of the Russian Federation’s army, which is largely inherited from the Soviet model, is that they rely on two main pillars to get the edge: the large volumes of men sent to the front, and the massive use of artillery, Mielcarek said. […] Russia has already lost, but for Ukraine to win, it will take time, General Graziano said.”

Zelenskyy suggested invading Russian villages and blowing up oil pipeline – Washington Post, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The Washington Post with reference to previously unpublished secret US intelligence documents leaked on Discord . “According to one of the documents marked “top secret”, Zelenskyy proposed at a meeting in late January that Ukraine conduct strikes in Russia, while simultaneously deploying Ukrainian ground forces to Russian territory to occupy unspecified Russian border cities in order to give Kyiv leverage in talks with Moscow. 

In a separate meeting in late February with Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Zelenskyy expressed concern that Ukraine does not have long-range missiles capable of reaching Russian troop deployments in Russia nor anything with which to attack them. Zelenskyy then suggested that Ukraine attack unspecified deployment locations in Rostov using drones instead, according to another classified document.

At a meeting in mid-February with Deputy Prime Minister Yuliia Svyrydenko, Zelenskyy apparently suggested that Ukraine blow up the Soviet-built Druzhba oil pipeline, which supplies oil to Hungary. Zelenskyy highlighted that … Ukraine should just blow up the pipeline and likely destroy Hungarian [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán’s industry, which is based heavily on Russian oil, the document says. Describing the conversation in detail, intelligence officials conceded that Zelenskyy was expressing rage toward Hungary and therefore could be making hyperbolic, meaningless threats.

When asked by the Washington Post whether he had proposed to occupy parts of Russia, Zelenskyy dismissed the leaked US intelligence documents’ claims as fantasies but defended his right to use unconventional tactics to defend Ukraine. […]

The Biden administration said that Zelenskyy’s intercepted comments were not a reason to refuse to provide ATACMS. Ukraine has repeatedly committed to employ US-provided weapons responsibly and strategically when needed to counter Russian aggression, and we are confident that will continue to be the case, a US Department of Defense spokesman said anonymously. Zelenskyy promised that Ukraine would not use US weapons to strike Russian territory, and the White House believes he has kept that promise.”

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

Hans Petter Midttun: Asked when the counteroffensive might begin, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podoliak explained that “the counter-offensive was not a one-off event that might start today and end tomorrow, but a multitude of actions, dozens, even hundreds of actions, some of which are already being undertaken. He noted that attacks on Russian logistics undermine the Russian army’s capabilities. We have also made some small-scale, localised advances in parts of Donetsk Oblast.”

His message is very much in line with the strategic messaging of both President Zelensky, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: The first important steps” (as in the first of many steps) of a highly-anticipated military counteroffensive against Russian forces “would be taken soon”. Ukraine is just waiting for the optimal weather conditions and the pledged weapons to be delivered. Recognising that the offensive will start without sufficient air power, he continues to stress Ukraine’s urgent need for Western-produced combat aircraft to support and protect the Ground Forces.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba:  Do not assume that the expected counteroffensive is the last one. We don’t know what will come out of it. “If we succeed in liberating our territories with this counteroffensive, you can say it was the last one, but if not, we have to prepare for the next“, Kuleba said.

Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov: Acknowledging Ukrainian shortcomings (e.g. lack of air power and long-range weapons) and Russia’s extensive preparations for the forthcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive, he has been trying to manage expectations. “The expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world”.

The bottom line is that the preparations started 24 February and the counteroffensive is already ongoing. Ukraine has both achieved stunning success (e.g. in Kharkiv and the west bank of Kherson last autumn) as well as many smaller, but no less important operational and tactical victories shaping the battlespace.

The latter include (but are not limited to):

  • the destruction of an amphibious vessel and damage to two other vessels in Berdiansk (24 March 22), the sinking of the Russian flagship Moskva (14 April 22) and several air and surface drone attacks on the Russian Navy in Sevastopol (29 October 22 and 22 March 2023) designed to reduce the amphibious threat from the south and limit the freedom of action of the Black Sea Fleet.
  • attacks on the Saki Air Base (9 August 22), Dyagilyaevo and Engels Air Base (5 December) and Seshcha airbase – a hub for Russia’s military transport aircraft (3 May), forcing Russia to relocate its strategic bombers and strengthen its air defence across the Russian Federation at the cost of its frontline units.
  • Multiple attacks on Russian logistical hubs, command and control nodes, ammunition, and fuel depots on occupied territories and beyond, including spectacular attacks like the Kerch Bridge (8 October 22) and the destruction of 10 oil tanks near Sevastopol (29 April 23). The increasing number of attacks helps shape the battlefield.

Ukrainian forces have been “shaping” the battlefield for 446 days already. Shaping involves striking targets such as ammunition and fuel depots, command posts, key capacities and communication hubs to create the conditions for success.

It has eliminated nearly 200,000 Russian soldiers and wounded additionally 340,000 more (of which 65% will be unable to return to military service due to the extent of the trauma experienced). Russia has lost its most experienced troops and is presently waging a war with an Army mostly consisting of poorly trained mobilised reservists, increasingly reliant on antiquated equipment, with many of its units severely under-strength. According to UK Defence Intelligence, it routinely conducts only very simple, infantry-based operations.

The battles for Soledar, Vuhledar and Bakhmut are just some of the many hotspots that have helped bleed the Russian forces to a state where fighting skills, morale and motivation are at rock bottom. Its tactic of a human wave has led to catastrophic losses and has helped demoralize its soldiers since last spring.

Ukraine has not least, been targeting some of Russia’s key capabilities protecting its entrenched forces. While the number of tanks and armoured vehicles lost has steadily dropped, the number of artillery pieces and air defence systems has increased substantially. The former is meant to protect the minefields and decimate the advancing ground forces, while the latter denies Ukrainian Air Force the ability to support the counteroffensive. Taking out these capabilities will help reduce the Ukrainian losses during the initial assaults.

While a stunning success and a quick liberation of occupied territories is the desired outcome, it is important to acknowledge that Ukraine has not received the tools it needs to achieve a decisive win. The West has for several reasons, failed to set up Ukraine for a quick victory.

Managing expectations are, therefore, important. This is a war Russia has already lost – it just hasn’t realised it yet. Ukraine will be victorious. It will only take longer than necessary due to the slow and incremental defence support.

That said, the human factor is the big uncertainty. One or several Ukrainian breakthroughs might trigger the panic needed to ensure a Russian withdrawal in disorder.

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