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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 450: Russia in retreat near Bakhmut

Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 450: Russia in retreat near Bakhmut
Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Russia in retreat near Bakhmut. Russia continues to launch missile strikes on Ukraine. Grain corridor hasn’t resumed operations yet, 62 vessels waiting for inspection.

Daily overview — Summary report, May 19

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, May 19, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. May 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

 

[The Russian Federation continues to wage a war of aggression, despite significant losses. Russian forces continue to disregard international humanitarian law, strikes and bombards not only military but also civilian objects.]

On May 19, the Russian Federation once again launched a massive missile and air strike against Ukraine. A detailed update will follow.

On May 18, the adversary launched 39 missiles and 39 air strikes, as well as 50 MLRS attacks.

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

Russian forces continue to focus their main efforts on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Mariinka axes. 29 combat engagements took place in the above areas of the frontline on May 18. The fiercest fighting is in Bakhmut and Mariinka.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: [the operational situation has not changed significantly, and no signs of the formation of offensive groups have been detected.]
Luhansk Battle Map. May 18, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: on May 18, the adversary fired mortars and artillery at the vicinities of settlements of Leonivka (Chernihiv oblast), Studenok, Boyaro-Lezhachi, Pavlivka, Basivka, Myropillya, Mezenivka (Sumy oblast), Starytsya, Synel’nykove, Ohirtseve, Hatyshche, Nesterne, Budarky (Kharkiv oblast).
  • Kupiansk axis: the adversary fired artillery and mortars at Kam’yanka, Kolodyazne, Fyholivka, Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, Zapadne, Masyutivka, Lyman Pershyi, Tabaivka, Berestove (Kharkiv oblast), and Stel’makhivka (Luhansk oblast).
Donetsk Battle Map. May 18, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Lyman axis: Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations on May 18. The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinity of the settlement of Bilohorivka. Makiivka, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Spirne and Verkhn’okam’yans’ke (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. May 18, 2023. Souce: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces continue their offensive operations. Heavy battles for the city of Bakhmut continue. In addition, on May 18, the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives towards the settlement of Ivanivske. The occupiers launched airstrikes in the vicinities of the settlements of Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, and Predtechyne. Vasyukivka, Zaliznyans’ke, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Bila Hora, and Pivnichne (Donetsk oblast) came under enemy fire.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary conducted offensive operations towards the settlements of Sjeverne and Pervomaiske, to no success. On May 18, the invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of Novokalynove and Avdiivka. The occupant forces fired artillery at the settlements of Novokalynove, Berdychi, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Pervomais’ke, Karlivka, and Nevel’s’ke (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: the troops of Ukrainian Defenders Forces repelled numerous enemy attacks in the vicinity of the city of Marinka, as well as an attack towards Novomykhailivka. At the same time, Russian forces continue to destroy settlements along the line of contact, firing artillery at Krasnohorivka, Marinka, and Pobjeda (Donetsk oblast).
  • Shakhtarske axis: Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations on May 18. The occupant forces launched airstrikes near Zolota Nyva and Velyka Novosilka. The invaders shelled settlements near the line of active combat, including Vuhledar, Prechystivka, Novoukrainka, and Shakhtars’ke.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. May 18, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary stays on the defensive. The adversary launched an airstrike on the settlement of Novopil’ (Donetsk region), shelled various settlements, including Burlats’ke (Donetsk oblast), Ol’hivs’ke, Charivne, Bilohir’ya, Mala Tokmachka, Novodanylivka, Novoandriivka, Stepove, Kam’yans’ke, Plavni (Zaporizhzhia oblast), and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. May 18, 2023. Source: ISW.

Due to the large sanitary losses, the Russian occupiers are increasing the use of civilian medical facilities for their own purposes. In particular, the Railway Hospital in the temporarily occupied Luhansk is used by the invaders as a military hospital to treat wounded Russian servicemen and mercenaries from PMC Wagner.

[The Russian invaders continue to put pressure on the local population in the temporarily captured territories of the Kherson region, in particular the Heniche district. Thus, threatening deportation, the occupiers force Ukrainian citizens to obtain Russian passports.]

[Enemy manpower has arrived in individual settlements of the Kakhovsky District. Invaders are placed not only in vacant houses but also in houses where peaceful residents currently live. People who are outraged are threatened with eviction.]

[Recently, Russian forces have intensified counterintelligence measures in the temporarily occupied Kherson district. The number of roadblocks has significantly increased on the roads between populated areas, meticulous checks of vehicles and documents are carried out, and special attention is paid to the contents of telephones.]

On May 18, Ukrainian Air Force launched 7 air strikes on the concentrations of troops and military equipment of the adversary.

On May 18, 21 cruise missiles and 8 enemy UAVs of various types were intercepted.

The Ukrainian missile and artillery troops struck 1 concentration of weapons and military equipment, 1 ammunition depot, 3 artillery units at their firing positions, 1 enemy air defence system, 7 electronic warfare stations, and 1 radar station.“

3rd Separate Assault Brigade breaks through on Bakhmut’s outskirts – this is a springboard for a further counteroffensive, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. “The third assault brigade carried out offensive actions on the western outskirts of Bakhmut, creating a springboard for a further counteroffensive. The width of the breakthrough strip was 2,000 metres, and the depth was 700 metres.”.

According to the defenders, the Russians have at least 50 [killed soldiers] and up to a hundred [wounded soldiers]. Another four Russians were captured. The reserves of the occupiers in this direction were liquidated, in particular several Russian ammunition depots.

Military Updates

Russian forces in retreat near Bakhmut, Ukraine and Wagner say, Reuters reports. “The Ukrainian military and Russia’s Wagner private army both reported further Russian retreats around the city of Bakhmut on Thursday, as Kyiv pressed on with its biggest advance for six months ahead of a planned counteroffensive. Ukrainian troops near the front line said Russia was bombarding access roads to slow the Ukrainian assault, which has shifted the momentum after months of slow Russian gains in Europe’s deadliest ground combat since World War Two.

Now, for the most part, as we have started to advance, they are shelling all the routes to front positions, so our armoured vehicles can’t deliver more infantry, ammunition and other things,” said Petro Podaru, commander of a Ukrainian artillery unit. […]

Despite the fact that our units do not have an advantage in equipment … and personnel, they have continued to advance on the flanks, and covered a distance of 150 to 1,700 metres (1.1 miles), military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi said in televised comments.”

Russian forces maintain a significant advantage in terms of artillery and mortar numbers, @Tatarigami_UA reports on Twitter. “I had discussions with several officers in Bakhmut and its surrounding area today, and it is disheartening to note that the situation remains very challenging in the city itself. The problem stems from the fact that the Russian forces maintain a significant advantage in terms of artillery and mortar numbers. Regardless of the training, experience and preparation of our soldiers, if positions are reduced to rubble by non-stop shelling, we will be unable to hold them.

We continue to hear assurances about an increase in ammunition production and the time required for production to be rebuilt. However, despite being a year and a half into this conflict, we find ourselves in the same situation as we were a year ago. The political impotence and reluctance to increase the pace of production and deliveries directly translate into Ukrainians paying with their lives for every instance of missing ammunition that remains undelivered.”

British defence minister confirms that Storm Shadow missiles have been used in Ukraine, Ukrinform reports, citing Sky News. “All I can say is it is my understanding that it [Storm Shadow] has been used since we announced its deployment to Ukraine, but I’m not going to go into further details, [British Defense Minister Ben Wallace] said.”

Russia launched 6 cruise missiles and 22 drones on 19 May, the Ukrainian General Staff reports. “On the night of May 19, 2023, Russian invaders attacked Ukraine from the north and south-east with Shahed attack drones and Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea. The launches of 22 “Shakheds” and six “Calibres” were recorded.

During this night attack, 3 cruise missiles and 16 attack drones were destroyed by the forces and means of our air defence.”

Air defence forces destroy all enemy air targets on approach to Kyiv, Ukrinform reports, “All identified air targets that were moving towards Kyiv were destroyed by the forces and means of our air defence. No strikes on Kyiv were allowed!” the Kyiv City Military Administration posted on Telegram.

As noted, the air raid alert in the capital last night was declared as the aggressor launched UAVs. According to preliminary data, the Russians again launched Shahed loitering munitions to attack the capital.”

Russian forces continue to launch missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine, the Ukrainian General Staff reports. From 21:00 on May 17 to 05:30 on May 18, the Russian invaders launched several waves of missile attacks from different directions. A total of 30 sea-, air-, and land-based cruise missiles were launched.

22 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles were fired from strategic aircraft: two Tu-160s and eight Tu-95s. Six Kalibr cruise missiles are among the ships in the Black Sea. And also two “Iskander-K” cruise missiles from ground-based operational-tactical missile systems.

The forces and means of air defence of the Air Force, in cooperation with other components of the Defense Forces of Ukraine, destroyed 29 cruise missiles. Two Shahed-136/131 strike UAVs and two reconnaissance UAVs of the operational-tactical level were also shot down.”

Blast occurs on the railroad in Crimea, carriages derailed – media, Ukrinform reports, citing the Telegram channel Baza. “An explosion on the railway in the Simferopol district of Crimea occurred at 8:20 am. As a result of the incident, five railroad cars with grain derailed. The movement of electric trains on the Simferopol-Sevastopol stretch has been suspended,” the article says.

It is specified that it happened near the village of Chystenke. About 50 meters of the railroad tracks were damaged. A large crater was found at the site of the explosion. A total of 8 cars derailed, 5 of them overturned.

As Ukrinform reported, in March, an explosion at a substation in the village of Fedorivka, Melitopol district, Zaporizhzhia region, cut off power to a hub railway station through which the enemy is moving heavy weapons to the front. Earlier, after the explosion in Dzhankoi, Kalibr missile systems transported by rail were destroyed in Crimea.”

Anti-tank fortifications appear on the Belarusian border with Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Belaruski Hajun Monitoring Project. “It is reported that the line of dragon’s teeth is located 10 kilometres from Homieĺ, near the M8 highway towards the border with Ukraine. In addition, construction of what are presumably fortifications is ongoing very close to the border as well.”

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

https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1659503395835609092

  • On 18 May 2023, a train derailed near Simferopol, blocking the only rail line into the port of Sevastopol, the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BSF). The railway authorities said it was a result of “interference by outsiders.”
  • Russia will move to repair the line quickly, but the incident will disrupt deliveries of supplies and potentially also weaponry, such as Kalibr cruise missiles, to the BSF.
  • Any sabotage in this sensitive area will further increase the Kremlin’s concerns about its ability to protect other key infrastructure in Crimea. The peninsula retains a vital psychological and logistical role in enabling Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • The Russian state is likely effectively banning senior officials from resigning from their jobs while the ‘Special Military Operation’ continues. The measures likely extend to at least regional leaders, security officials and members of the powerful Presidential Administration.
  • In private, many officials are likely highly sceptical about the war, as well as often experiencing work stress within the dysfunctional wartime apparatus. The ban is likely enforced with strong hints that resignees will face trumped up criminal charges.
  • As well as being concerned about capability gaps resignees would leave, the authorities are likely also attempting to prevent any impression of defeatism, and to bolster a sense of collective responsibility for the war.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Friday 19 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 201760 (+660)
  • Tanks – 3777 (+4)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7377 (+4)
  • Artillery systems – 3210 (+12)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 564 (+1)
  • Air defence means – 319 (+1)
  • Aircraft – 308 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 294 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 6083 (+10)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2769 (+10)
  • Special equipment – 419 (+1)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 1011 (+21)

The most you can get is a slight injury, if you get something more – that’s it, you will die,” says a Russian military paramedic, ChrisO_wiki reports on Twitter, citing iStories. “His comments highlight the terrible state of medical care in the Russian army, which is causing untold tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. The head of the Kalashnikov Center for Tactical Medicine, Artem Katulin, says that more than half of the Russian soldiers who have died in Ukraine lost their lives because of improperly provided medical care, with a third of amputations due to improper tourniquet application.

‘Important Stories’ has interviewed a Russian army paramedic about the poor training and antiquated equipment which has cost many soldiers their lives. Medical training, he says, is minimal even for medics. In 10 years as a paramedic, he only received four training sessions. Training is even more basic for ordinary soldiers. Twice a year the army has a class where the paramedic shows us how to put a splint on and how to put bandages on. And in the last class I attended, the paramedic did the bandage wrong. […]

Medical equipment is notoriously bad, as Important Stories’ interviewee notes. What we were issued with on the front line was an ancient Soviet PPI [individual wound dressing bag] (although the Soviet one was still good, but the Russian one was shit) and an Esmarh tourniquet. That’s some rubbery red shit that’s been lying in talcum powder for 500 years. They gave them to the soldiers and one tube of Promedol. Are you fucking serious? Or now, a lot of people have got their own fucking first-aid kits, but nobody knows how to use them.

For instance, there’s these shitty domestic hemostatics [blood thinners] for burn injuries. And in addition to having to treat the wound itself, you then have to treat the burn. Just using the wrong pressure dressing can cause a lot of blood loss or dirt to get in, which can lead to infection and putrefaction.

He says that the best medical equipment he has used is Israeli and American, which is very cool, but very expensive. Imported disposable kits to stop arterial bleeding cost as much as 52,000 rubles ($645). No one in the army buys them, and no one knows how to use them. His own American-made medical kit “cost 110 thousand rubles ($1,360). Nobody gave me that money. It was bought out of my own money, and my boys contributed. That is, all the normal medicine in the units is collected by people themselves, no one gives anything away.

Most Russian medics appear to be far less well equipped. When paratrooper Pavel Filatyev was evacuated from the front line near Mikolaiv in April 2022, his medic asked him to report that he doesn’t have any syringes and painkillers, there’s not even that on the front line. When Dr Zelenkov arrived at his post, he had a similar experience. In terms of medical equipment, there was practically nothing there. You only administer first aid and get sent on your way, so there was nothing in line with what the medical unit was initially designed for.

Rather than learning from the army, Important Stories’ medic had to learn from his own doctor friends and other combat medics, before teaching his comrades how to perform essential treatments. However, Russian law prohibits him from carrying out life-saving interventions. I have the right to provide first aid to a soldier, but if, for example, I understand that an artery has been severed, I can’t just take a scalpel, cut it, clamp the artery, fix it, tie it up and prepare a person for immobilisation. I’m not allowed by law to do that. If I do that, they will take him to surgery and write a complaint and put me in jail for having performed a surgical intervention without proper authorisation. He says that this has actually happened to other medics.

He says that soldiers need to learn to help themselves, as they are as good as dead if they sustain anything more than a light injury. He advises his comrades: ‘You will die, no one will help you, no one will come, no one will do anything if you can’t do it yourself’. Nobody gives a fuck about the soldier, nobody will do anything about him. That’s the main problem with all these traumas. A lot of people die not because they get killed, but because they can’t get proper medical care. Medical support in the ‘red zone’ (the battlefield) is virtually non-existent, so if you are badly wounded and cannot help yourself, there is no one there to help you. Very few paramedics will go in there to get you out. […]

He also dismisses claims that Russian troops are using drugs to help them fight. We tried such tests in practice, we made cocktails. You can last two or three days, but then you just turn into a vegetable and have to be dug out, [need] vitamins, sleep, normal food. In short, recovery is very long. The more so when you’re drugged up, you’ll die quicker because the blood pumps faster, so the blood loss will be greater. Yes, there are junkies everywhere. Someone does [take drugs] just because he’s scared, but not to be a super-duper berserker.”

Over 1,000 Russians flee from conscription to Finland, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing  Sky News. “Finland is waiting to hear the European Union’s stance on the fate of Russians who have fled conscription before making any decisions about granting them asylum. A total of 1,109 Russian citizens have sought refuge in Finland to avoid military conscription in Russia so far, the Finnish Immigration Service has said.

There has been no indication as to when the EU will finalise its guidance on the issue. In January, Finland suspended the consideration of asylum applications for Russians fleeing from conscription.”

Humanitarian 

Zelensky approves composition of advisory council on de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea, Ukrinform reports. “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has approved the personal composition of the Advisory Council on the De-occupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. The decree to that effect, No. 283/2023, was published on the website of the head of state on May 18.”

Kremlin says it needs to see more progress after Black Sea grain deal renewal, Reuters reports. “The Kremlin on Thursday confirmed that Russia had renewed the Black Sea grain deal for two months after achieving some results in talks which had given it “certain hopes”, but said more progress had to be made to advance its own interests.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension in a televised speech on Wednesday and it was later confirmed by Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations.

The United Nations and Türkiye brokered the agreement – which allows Ukraine to export grain from Black Sea ports – for an initial 120 days in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that has been aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine […].

Grain corridor hasn’t resumed operations yet, 62 vessels waiting for inspection, Ukrinform reports, citing Yuriy Vaskov, Deputy Minister for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine stated this in an interview with the Voice of America. “Our Turkish partners have confirmed 120 days (the duration of the grain corridor agreed in March – ed.). The United Nations confirmed 120 days. Russia said that we would leave in 60 days. So, what was said yesterday by all the parties to the agreement – that it was extended – we believe that it was simply unblocked. But so far, it’s just lip service. Because despite yesterday’s statements, both yesterday and today, not a single vessel has been inspected. That is, 62 vessels remain awaiting entry inspection. Not even one has been agreed upon by Russia, he said.”

Environmental

Putin’s energy blackmail of Europe has failed, commissioner says, Reuters reports. “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to blackmail Europe using energy resources has failed, but next year will still be challenging, the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, said on Thursday. Speaking at a meeting of EU Mediterranean energy ministers in Malta, Simson said the Mediterranean region had played a key role in helping the EU 27 respond to an extraordinary year of energy crisis and hardship created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The EU launched the REPowerEU plan in May 2022 in response to the market disruption caused by Russia’s invasion, aiming to bring about energy savings, increase the production of clean energy and diversify energy supplies. One year on, we can say that Putin’s attempt to blackmail Europe using energy has failed and more importantly for the long term we have massively invested in renewables, Simson said.

The commissioner underlined the Mediterranean’s potential for floating wind technology and said the Commission had prepared an indicative budget of 50 million euros to back up its call for innovation in floating technology as part of its Horizon programme for funding research and innovation.

We are not yet out of the energy crisis and the year ahead will still be challenging. Europe needs to get even better in nurturing its own industry for the clean transition and deliver on its renewable energy objectives in order to be better able to leverage Europe’s energy independence, the commissioner said.

Maltese energy minister Miriam Dalli, who chaired the meeting, said the nine participating states had agreed that the Mediterranean had an important role to play in the transition to clean energy and that the pace of the transition needed to be speeded up. Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Slovenia, Italy, Portugal and Spain, along with Malta agreed to establish the Mediterranean as a centre for clean energy with a focus on offshore renewables and interconnections between EU and non-EU countries in the Mediterranean, she said.”

Russians “arrest” civilians on occupied territories and train them to fight against Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar reported that the Russian invaders are conducting raids in the occupied Ukrainian territories, arresting men there and trying to create a “reserve” of them to participate in hostilities. […] The goal is to urgently replenish the personnel of the front-line units of their troops, which are experiencing significant losses in manpower on a daily basis. […]

During these raids, men old enough to be drawn for military service are arrested, mostly on false pretexts. Next, these men are sent to field camps, where convicts imported from Russian prisons who have agreed to participate in hostilities are held.

Several such camps have been set up near the settlements of Rohove and Mozhnikivka in Luhansk Oblast, to which batches of recruited convicts are delivered under convoys from the Russian Federation. Together with them, local men detained for minor offences who did not agree to support the occupiers are held there.

By the end of May, the number of personnel in the camps is expected to increase with the arrival of two more batches of convicts from Russia, convicted mainly for committing murders with particular cruelty. Currently, over 800 people in these camps are undergoing intensive combat training, which is planned to be completed within a month. After completing the combat training course, contracts will be signed with the convicts, which provide for participation in combat operations.”

Russia began deporting Ukrainian children in occupied Crimea in 2015 – Lubinets, Ukrinform reports. “Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, said that Russia’s first program of forced deportation of Ukrainian children began in occupied Crimea in 2015. […]

According to the ombudsman, war crimes with signs of genocide are currently being recorded on the territory of Ukraine: the invaders are forcibly deporting children and massively taking civilian hostages. However, Russia has started doing this since in 2014. In particular, the first official program of forced deportation of Ukrainian children began in Crimea in 2015. All this time, we have been shouting that Ukrainian children are already being deported – but the world has been silent, expressing deep concern, he said.”

Support

Zelensky: More missiles, air defense systems, jets among Ukraine’s priorities for near future, Ukrinform reports, citing President Zelensky’s evening video address. “Ukraine’s priorities for this and next week and for the near future include additional air defence systems, additional missiles, training and fighter jets, and long-range weapons.”

Ukraine’s Allies concerned military support will fade after US elections – FT, European Pravda reports. “According to the Financial Times, Ukraine’s allies fear military support for its battle against Russia is nearing a peak, with senior European officials increasingly concerned about the flow of aid next year as the US enters a divisive presidential campaign.

Washington has been Ukraine’s dominant source of weaponry and US officials say sufficient preapproved funds remain to sustain Kyiv for about five more months, covering a crucial counter-offensive planned for the coming weeks. US officials say that funds for supporting Ukraine for the next five months are already secured.

European allies are increasingly uncertain about whether the US will come close to matching its existing $48bn package, adopted in 2022, particularly as it requires a vote in Congress this autumn against the backdrop of more partisan debate on the war. One European interlocutor added that we can’t keep the same level of assistance forever, arguing the current rate of support could be sustained for a year or possibly two but not more.

Western officials are also hopeful that Ukraine’s counter-offensive, backed by unprecedented supplies of NATO-standard weapons, will deliver major gains that could force Putin to negotiate peace terms of some form. There are no doubts about the Biden administration’s intentions to continue supporting Ukraine. However, its key opponent in the elections appears to be Donald Trump who refused to answer the thrice-voiced question of who he wants to see as the winner in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

What Donald Trump says has a lot of impact on how difficult this issue becomes in Congress… His position on Ukraine funding will have a lot to do with what happens if we need to reauthorise support, said US Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee.

Some allies in regular contact with the US over Ukraine say Washington sees the next five months as critical to the outcome of the conflict and the last real chance for Kyiv to change the situation on the ground. Some of the officials pointed to the UN General Assembly and G20 leaders’ summit taking place consecutively in early September as two crucial diplomatic events where both sides would come under large pressure to come to the table.

If we get to September and Ukraine has not made significant gains, then the international pressure to bring them to negotiations will be enormous, said one of the officials on condition of anonymity. The same is true for Russia if the counter-offensive leaves them routed. […]

US military assessments say Ukraine is unlikely to be able to achieve all its political goals on the battlefield this year, even if it does make gains during the counteroffensive. Ukrainian and European officials also acknowledge this view privately.”

Pentagon accounting error overvalued Ukraine aid by $3 billion – sources, Reuters reports. “The Pentagon overvalued US equipment it sent to Ukraine by around $3 billion, a Senate aide and a defense official said on Thursday, an error that opens up the possibility of more weapons being sent to Kyiv for its defense against Russian forces.

The error was the result assigning a higher than warranted value on weaponry that was taken from US stocks and then shipped to Ukraine, two senior defense officials said on Thursday. […] The defense official said it is possible the amount of overvalued weaponry could grow as the Pentagon examines the situation more thoroughly, increasing the $3 billion.

In its accounting, the Pentagon used replacement cost to value the weapons aid, instead of the weaponry’s value when it was purchased and depreciated, the senior defense officials said. Since August 2021, the United States has sent weapons valued at about $21.1 billion to Ukraine from its stockpiles.

While it is uncertain how Congress will react to the news, changing the valuation of the equipment could delay the Biden administrations’ need to ask Congress to authorize more funds for Ukraine as the debt ceiling fight intensifies.”

NATO Secretary-General believes in backing Ukraine even if war takes long, European Pravda reports. “The Secretary-General reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin made two major strategic mistakes, invading Ukraine.

One of them is underestimating the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian people, the armed forces, and the political leadership. But he also underestimated NATO and its partners. I am impressed by the unity and determination of allies and partners in supporting Ukraine. NATO will support Ukraine as long as necessary, Stoltenberg said in an interview with Spiegel, answering about the risks of reduced support for Ukraine if the war prolongs.

Of course, in 31 democratic countries, there are different voices, different opinions, and listening to them is part of democracy. But I believe that our open societies will realise how dangerous victory for Putin is for freedom, democracy, and pluralism, the Alliance Secretary-General believes. According to him, if Putin prevails in Ukraine, it will signal that the use of military force allows authoritarian leaders to get what they want.”

NATO Defence Ministers to discuss question of supplying fighter jets to Ukraine in June, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in an interview with Spiegel. “Commenting on the possible supply of Western-produced combat aircraft to Ukraine, Stoltenberg noted that the supply of weapons developed as the war progressed. Initially, light anti-tank weapons were important. Then there were howitzers and anti-aircraft guns, and then tanks, he said.

Some countries, such as Poland and Slovakia, have already delivered combat aircraft, albeit old Soviet-style MіG-29s. We are constantly discussing whether modern Western fighters are needed, both in NATO and with Ukraine. I expect that this topic will also be discussed at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in June, the secretary general said.

However, according to him, no less important than the supply of weapons platforms is ensuring their functioning. This involves a huge amount of ammunition and spare parts, as well as round-the-clock maintenance, Stoltenberg explained.

Earlier, the Pentagon stated that it would not object to the transfer of American F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine by third countries. The UK has also announced the start of an international coalition of countries aimed at procuring of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine.”

US does not allow Ukrainian pilots to train on F-16 in Europe – NYT, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The New York Times. “The United States does not allow Ukrainian pilots to begin training on F-16 fighter jets in Europe, despite the readiness of several countries to conduct such training. The official noted that without US permission Ukrainian pilots can only be familiarised with the technical language and conduct tactical lessons. Test flights on the F-16 are not possible.

According to The New York Times, President Joe Biden’s administration, which must approve the transfer of any American-made aircraft, is still not convinced that Ukraine needs expensive fighter jets. A senior US official said the White House opposes F-16 deliveries to Ukraine because the fighter is too expensive. As a result, a very large share of the budget for supporting Ukraine may go to the sending of these fighters. Instead, the US administration is going to focus on supplying other weapons.

At the same time, the source did not rule out that Biden’s administration may allow European countries to transfer their F-16s to Ukraine. On 17 May, following the results of a meeting on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit in Reykjavík, the prime ministers of UK and the Netherlands agreed to lead a “coalition of fighter jets” to provide Ukraine with F-16s.”

In the US Congress, there are calls for Biden to unblock supply of F-16 fighters to Ukraine – NYT, Ukrinform reports, citing The New York Times. “A group of 14 members of the US Congress, comprising Democrats and Republicans, has sent a letter to President Joe Biden’s administration urging the immediate unblocking of the supply of F-16 fighters to Ukraine.

As we saw with the initial hesitancy by our allies to provide tanks to Ukraine, US leadership is crucial for providing Kyiv with additional resources and new capabilities, the quoted letter, initiated by Democratic Congressman Jared Golden, states according to the journalists. The congressmen emphasized the importance of providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine for the effective resolution of the Russian-Ukrainian war on fair terms.”

Head of Ukrainian parliament announces more NASAMS for Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Stefanchuk during his visit to Norway on Thursday, as reported by European Pravda. “Ruslan Stefanchuk, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament – ed.], has said that supplies of Norwegian NASAMS air defence systems to Ukraine may soon increase.”

Norway announces additional defence support, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Norway’s Defence Minister said that Norway provides military assistance to Ukraine through the UK-led International Fund for Ukraine and through Operation Interflex, a UK-led training programme for Ukrainian recruits.

Norway is a substantial contributor to the Fund and we also contribute to the training of Ukrainian soldiers, both here in the United Kingdom and in Norway. From the summer, Norway will double our number of instructors in Operation Interflex, he announced.

Gram also said that Norway will give Ukraine additional long-range artillery systems and radars. Norway [is providing] three Arthur artillery location radars and up to eight long-range rocket artillery [systems], MLRS type. These donations are made in close collaboration with the United Kingdom, he said.

Like the US-made HIMARS systems, M-270 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) can strike targets up to 80 kilometres away. Ukraine received several shipments of MLRS from the UK last year.”

New Developments

  1. Pope Francis plans to send delegations to Ukraine, Russia to end war, UkrinformPope Francis hopes to send personal delegations to the Ukrainian and Russian presidents to mediate a ceasefire. That’s according to Orthodox Times, which refers to II Sismografo, Ukrinform reports. According to II Sismografo, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi from Bologna will travel to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, will travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both presidents agreed to meet with the Holy Father’s special envoys.”
  2. Chinese envoy met with Zelenskyy: “There is no panacea for the crisis”, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Bloomberg. “According to a report by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday, Li told Zelenskyy that “there is no panacea for the crisis”. The Chinese envoy added that ending the war will require all parties to build up trust and create conditions for ceasefire and peace talks. Also, according to him, China will help Ukraine within its own ability. The readout does not say how Zelenskyy responded, Bloomberg says, and the Ukrainian side has not acknowledged their meeting. Kuleba said that Ukraine would not accept proposals that would entail loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict. Li Hui is a former Chinese ambassador to Moscow. He will also visit Poland, France and Germany as part of his tour. According to a Western diplomat in Beijing familiar with Li’s route, the Chinese government’s special representative also added a visit to Brussels to his trip.”
  3. Podoliak: Any ideas of ‘frozen conflicts’ not discussed in any offices, UkrinformAny ideas of ‘frozen conflicts’ that are periodically heard in the media are a fiction, a pseudo-analytical product and a focus of lobbying efforts by Russian diplomacy, Podoliak said. According to him, all players are well aware of the limited resources and time available to the Russian Federation and Putin’s elite. Therefore, Ukraine’s path is unchanged: we will finish it off, Podoliak said. Some media reports said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin had allegedly agreed to the participation of Pope Francis’s envoys in Ukraine peace talks. However, no one has confirmed this information.”
  4. Kremlin called freezing of Finnish diplomatic missions’ accounts a response to unfriendly actions, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, quoted by theTASSThis is not an proactive move on the Russian side – we are reacting to the situation created by the authorities of several countries of the collective West, including, unfortunately, Finland, said the representative of the Kremlin. We always say that we cannot and will not leave unfriendly actions unanswered, Peskov stated. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland said that Russia had frozen the accounts of the country’s representative offices, forcing the diplomatic missions to make all payments in cash.”
  5. Moldova wants to join EU as soon as possible due to Russian threat – Sandu, Ukrinform reports, citing the President of Moldova Maia Sandu in an interview AFP. “Moldova wants to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible because of the threat from Russia and hopes for a decision to start negotiations in the coming months. As noted, for Sandu, EU membership is the only guarantee that Moldova will not become Russia’s next target.”
  6. Lukashenko on Ukrainian counter-offensive: says it’s disinformation, but asks for talks, Ukrainska PravdaAlexander Lukashenko, self-proclaimed President of Belarus and an ally of the Russian dictator, has said that all the statements about the Ukrainian counter-offensive are disinformation. Lukashenko has traditionally stated that Ukraine and Russia should sit down at the negotiating table without any preliminary demands from Kyiv.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  May 18, 2022:

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on May 18. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful ground attacks near Masyutivka (13km northeast of Kupiansk), Novoselivske (14km northwest of Svatove), and Nevske (19km northwest of Kreminna). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russia forces attacked near Masyutivka and Stelmakhivka (15km northwest of Svatove) and failed to advance near Novoselivske. The Ukrainian National Guard’s Main Administration Department of Application Planning Deputy Director Colonel Mykola Urshalovych reported that Russian forces are recruiting additional BARS (Russian Army Combat Reserve) and “Storm-Z” formations composed of criminals to operate in the Lyman direction and that this recruitment signals that Russian forces are critically exhausted. […]

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on May 18. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations towards Sieverne (5km west of Avdiivka) and Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger complained that Marinka is the only area of the front where Russian forces advance, and another source claimed that Ukrainian forces control less than one square kilometer of territory in Marinka. Footage published on May 18 purportedly shows artillery elements of the 114th Brigade and 2nd Infantry Battalion of the 87th Regiment (1st Donetsk People’s Republic Army Corps) operating near Avdiivka, and elements of the 110th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (1st Donetsk People’s Republic Army Corps) operating near Nevelske (15km southwest of Avdiivka).

Russian forces did not conduct confirmed or claimed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on May 18. Video footage published on May 17 purportedly shows artillery elements of the 40th Naval Infantry Brigade of the Pacific Fleet operating near Vuhledar.

Ukrainian forces have seized the tactical initiative and made tactically significant gains around Bakhmut in counter-attack operations on May 18. These operations are a continuation of the localized counter-attacks Ukrainian forces have been conducting for some days and do not reflect the start of a major new operation. Multiple Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces drove through the Russian defensive lines south and southwest of Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut) and northwest of Klishchiivka (6km southwest of Bakhmut) from the northwest. The milbloggers also claimed that Russian forces retreated from positions north of Sakko i Vantsetti (15km north of Bakhmut) to positions south of the settlement, but that Ukrainian forces have not yet entered the settlement. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that Russian forces yielded 570 meters of territory north of Bakhmut, which is consistent with Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar’s statement that Ukrainian forces had advanced 500 meters north of Bakhmut and 1,000 meters south of Bakhmut. Ukrainian Eastern Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Ukrainian forces advanced up to 1,700 meters in the past day, and the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade stated that the brigade’s counterattacks expanded the Ukrainian salient in the Bakhmut area to 2,000 meters wide by 700 meters deep.

Ukrainian officials indicated that Ukrainian forces have seized the battlefield initiative in the Bakhmut area. Cherevaty stated on May 18 that Ukrainian forces regained the battlefield initiative and are forcing Russian forces to respond to Ukrainian actions, including by transferring Russian Airborne (VDV) elements to Bakhmut’s flanks to defend against the Ukrainian advances. Maliar stated that Russian forces have deployed most of their reserves to the Bakhmut area, very likely to the detriment of other areas of the frontline. ISW recently assessed that the Russian military command is reallocating military assets to the Bakhmut area in order to augment Wagner’s offensive capabilities and to gain a tactical victory ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The limited nature of Wagner’s offensive operations in Bakhmut compared to the localized Ukrainian counterattacks underscores the loss of Russian initiative in the area. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner forces began assaulting one of the final Ukrainian fortified areas in western Bakhmut. Zaporizhzhia Oblast occupation official and prominent Russian information space voice Vladimir Rogov claimed that Wagner forces cut the Bakhmut-Chasiv Yar road in western Bakhmut on May 17, although ISW is unable to confirm this claim. Prigozhin claimed that Wagner forces advanced 260 meters in Bakhmut and that Ukrainian forces only control 1.28 square kilometers of the city. One milblogger optimistically claimed that Wagner forces increased their pace of advance following Russian ammunition deliveries to Wagner, though Prigozhin’s claimed daily rate of advance has remained largely consistent.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted on May 18 that Wagner mercenaries are unable to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut due to the loss of stable flanks north and south of Bakhmut. Prigozhin accused the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) of losing advantageous positions after MoD-subordinated units retreated from their positions on Bakhmut’s flanks necessary for an encirclement. Prigozhin and Wagner sources have long indicated Wagner’s intent to encircle Bakhmut and trap Ukrainian forces but proved unable to do so after the Ukrainian military command decided to defend the city. ISW had previously assessed that Russian forces were unlikely to encircle Bakhmut after Wagner forces made several rapid breakthroughs north, south, and east of the city in winter-spring 2023. Prigozhin likely anticipated that Ukrainian forces would entirely withdraw from Bakhmut out of fear of imminent encirclement and even offered to allow President Volodymyr Zelensky to withdraw Ukrainian forces from the city on March 3. The Ukrainian defensive operation, however, prioritized the defense of the Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) west of Bakhmut, which forced Wagner forces into urban warfare and grinding directly through the city itself. Prigozhin’s admission further supports Ukrainian officials’ statements that Wagner is losing the initiative on the battlefield.

Prigozhin and Wagner-affiliated milbloggers are blaming Russian conventional forces for military failures in and around Bakhmut. Prigozhin directly appealed to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the Russian General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov to hold Sakko i Vantsetti for at least few more days. Prigozhin also blamed Gerasimov for the retreats of Russian conventional forces from Bakhmut‘s flanks. A prominent Wagner-affiliated milblogger stated on May 18 that Russian forces lack the organization, fire support, coordination, and training necessary to defend the Bakhmut’s flanks. The milblogger complained that Russian forces allow Ukrainian forces to “drive a BMP [infantry fighting vehicle] for 15 minutes” into the Russian rear without destroying it, with the Ukrainian assault lasting only 16 minutes. The milblogger claimed that Russian forces would not be able to drive an infantry fighting vehicle into the Ukrainian rear without Ukrainian forces destroying it. The milblogger also claimed that Russian airborne forces attempted to occupy territory in the “grey zone” and Ukrainian forces immediately interdicted their efforts with artillery fire, making it impossible for Russian forces to move and gain a foothold in the targeted location. A non-Wagner-affiliated milblogger noted the lack of coordination between Wagner and conventional Russian forces and claimed that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) needs ”competent command and control” to strengthen interactions between Russian forces and Wagner fighters for operations after Bakhmut.

Prigozhin’s efforts to blame the Russian military for failures around Bakhmut are causing some ultranationalists to accuse him of using the Battle for Bakhmut to satisfy his personal ambitions. Russian serviceman and prominent ultranationalist Andrey Morozov (known under the alias Murz) criticized a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel for wrongfully attributing successful artillery fire of the 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 2nd Army Corps to Wagner mercenaries. Morozov argued that Prigozhin’s claims that Russian conventional forces are abandoning the flanks is another part of Prigozhin’s narratives aimed at saving his forces at the expense of other units that deployed to reinforce Wagner forces. Morozov accused Prigozhin of improving his financial standing at the expense of the war while setting up reinforcement units for failure and claimed that elements of 4th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade nearly all died when attempting to secure the flanks southwest of Bakhmut near Klishchiivka. Morozov also claimed that Prigozhin is blaming conventional units in order to promote himself. ISW assessed on May 17 that Russian strongmen (siloviki) are attempting to discredit Prigozhin by accusing him of attempting to use victory in Bakhmut to further his political aspirations in Russia. Morozov’s criticism is notable as it may indicate a shift in ultranationalists’ perception of Prigozhin. […]

The Kremlin continues to strengthen domestic repression measures likely to encourage self-censorship and prepare Russian society for a prolonged war. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on May 17 amending the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Regulations to expand the responsibility and reach of the FSB. The amendment explicitly states that the FSB is responsible for state security issues within its powers, strengthens the FSB and its director’s powers in matters of information security. This allows the FSB head to determine the conditions for FSB personnel combining FSB work and military service. These amendments are likely part of a prolonged effort to expand the FSB’s domestic power, and ISW has previously reported on the FSB expanding its powers and involvement in the war in Ukraine. Russian opposition news outlet Meduza reported on May 18 that Russian authorities conducted mass searches of residences of individuals allegedly associated with the Congress of People’s Deputies and former Russian State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomarev under the accusation of spreading false information about the Russian military. Russian opposition outlet Verstka reported on May 18 that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDNR) Russian State Duma deputies are preparing a bill to punish “Russophobia” with fines of 100,000 to 300,000 rubles (about $1,250 to $3,730), and up to five years in prison, or service in a forced labor colony. ISW previously reported on Russian efforts to criminalize “Russophobia” as another method of domestic repression and censorship. […]

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian forces have seized the tactical initiative and made tactically significant gains around Bakhmut in counter-attack operations on May 18.
  • Ukrainian officials indicated that Ukrainian forces have seized the battlefield initiative in the Bakhmut area.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin admitted on May 18 that Wagner mercenaries are unable to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut due to the loss of stable flanks north and south of Bakhmut.
  • Prigozhin and Wagner-affiliated milbloggers are blaming Russian conventional forces for military failures in and around Bakhmut.
  • Prigozhin’s efforts to blame the Russian military for failures around Bakhmut are causing some ultranationalists to accuse him of using the Battle for Bakhmut to satisfy his personal ambitions.
  • Russian forces conducted another large-scale missile strike across Ukraine on the night of May 17 to 18, targeting Kyiv for the ninth time since the beginning of May.
  • The Kremlin continues to strengthen domestic repression measures likely to encourage self-censorship and prepare Russian society for a prolonged war.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO may discuss the possible provision of Western fighter jets to Ukraine at the June Defense Ministers meeting.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Unknown actors, possibly Ukrainian partisans, attacked a Russian rail line in Crimea.
  • The Russian Supreme Court ruled on May 18 that Russian military personnel who voluntarily surrender on the battlefield will be prosecuted under treason charges.

Russian occupation authorities continue to announce patronage programs with Russian federal subjects to support infrastructure projects in occupied territories.

Head of Ukraine’s Mission to NATO: Don’t Pin All Hopes on Single Counteroffensive, European Pravda reports. “Ukraine is currently sending signals to Western allies urging them not to have exaggerated expectations regarding Ukraine’s counteroffensive and not to consider it decisive. In our communications with international partners, we are saying: be patient, don’t exert excessive pressure. It is more important now to think about what else can be done to ensure the success of this counteroffensive, said Natalia Halibarenko, Head of Ukraine’s Mission to NATO, in an interview with LRT.

Halibarenko underlines any counteroffensive aims for the best possible results, but it is important not to rely solely on a single operation and not to inflate its significance. This is a complex situation. One counteroffensive cannot determine the course of the entire war. It may require multiple counteroffensives – we’re not disclosing that. This counteroffensive will be important, but let’s not overly focus on it, even if the extent of liberated territories is not impressive, noted Natalia Halibarenko, adding that Ukraine’s ability to continue counteroffensive operations depends on international support.

She also stated that there are currently no grounds for peaceful talks with Russia. Putin has long made it clear what his negotiation position regarding Ukraine is. They want to destroy us. We want to live. So I don’t see much room for maneuvering here. Moreover, considering that sooner or later this war will be declared finished through negotiations, we believe that these negotiations should take place on Ukraine’s terms. […] As the President of Ukraine has stated, our goal is the liberation of all occupied territories. The issue of territorial integrity cannot be subject to any compromises with Russia, points out Natalia Halibarenko.

What Does Ukrainian Victory Look Like, Mick Ryan, Retd Army Major General (@WarintheFuture) asks? “Recently, the pending Ukrainian offensives have received a lot of attention. However, we should also understand how these offensives, and those likely to follow in the future, comprise one part of a larger view of victory for Ukraine. Victory is a central concept in our understanding of war. […]

In a May 1940 speech, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked “What is our aim? Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” […] Basil Liddell Hart, writing in US Naval War College Review in 1952, described how “the object in war is a better state of peace – even if only from your own point of view. Hence, it is essential to conduct war with constant regard to the peace you desire.”

In modern war, victory should include winning the war as well as winning the peace. The remainder of this article explores what this might look like in the context of Ukraine and its current – and likely long term – struggle against Russia. It is important we normalize the discussion of a Ukrainian victory over Russia. Russia must be defeated, and know it has been beaten. Western assistance should be designed to bring this about.

The Ukrainian president speaks of victory often in his speeches. It is a unifying idea behind Ukrainian strategy. And it ensures that Ukrainian citizens and their soldiers have a sense of purpose for fighting and supporting the ongoing efforts to resist the Russian invasion. While Zelensky has described his ten principles for war termination, war termination and victory are not the same.

Victory is a larger concept that looks beyond military success to ensure that the cost of such success is balanced by the improvements in the nation’s prospects and future prosperity that were underpinned by the costs of war. What might this look like for Ukraine? I propose 7 components: 1. Defeat Russia in Ukraine; 2. Security guarantees for the future of Ukraine; 3. Economic prosperity; 4. Reconstruction; 5. Social reintegration; 6. Justice; and finally, 7. Russia eschews its imperial strategic culture.

Many of these elements also comprise part of Ukraine’s future deterrent against Russian aggression. Afterall, even after Ukraine wins the war, it will still have a lengthy land border with Russia. It will take some time before Ukraine and its partners in the West can reduce the sources of conflict with Russia. This essentially requires Russia to shun its imperial ambitions and could be a very long-term undertaking. Therefore, while that is in progress, the Ukrainians and their partners will need to work on the other six components of victory.

  1. Defeat Russian forces in Ukraine. There is no prospect for long term stability if Russian retains illegally seized territories – victory requires the Ukrainians must continue to fight to push all Russian forces from all its territory. This requires ongoing support.
  2. Security guarantees. Once Russia has been ejected from Ukraine, Ukraine must be in a position to keep them out. Therefore, Ukraine will require a strong military in the wake of the war, as well as security guarantees of future assistance, including NATO membership.
  3. Economic assistance and prosperity. Throughout the war, Ukraine has received economic assistance to allow it to pay salaries and keep the government solvent as Russia seeks to strangle the Ukrainian economy. Such assistance is likely to be required for some time to come.
  4. Reconstruction. The physical reconstruction of Ukraine will be a significant undertaking. In March 2023, the World Bank updated its estimates of the cost of recovery and reconstruction for Ukraine with a figure of 411 billion US dollars. Agriculture, commerce, transport as well as public housing, education, health and culture have all been impacted by the war. A key need is the reconstruction of society, communities, and the basics of life for Ukraine’s citizens. This includes removing unexplored ordnance.
  5. Social reintegration. War causes schisms in society Hundreds of thousands of demobilised soldiers will return to civil society. There will also be the challenge of psychological damage many returning veterans (and civilians) must deal with for the remainder of their lives. Returning refugees must also be reintegrated into a society that has been indelibly changed by war since their departure at the beginning of the war. Finally, the Ukrainian government and broader society must decide how to deal with those who collaborated with the Russians.
  6. Justice. Russia has overseen wide-ranging and systemic war crimes and abuses of human rights since the beginning of its invasion – accountability be established for those responsible for such abuses in Ukraine.

Embracing victory as a construct that incorporates ‘winning the war’ and ‘winning the peace’ provides for a pragmatic and durable strategy for Ukrainian victory. […] As vital as the coming Ukrainian offensives are, we must also keep eye on the context against which military activities are conducted. Military operations serve a larger political purpose. For Ukraine, the highest political purpose can only be a just and durable victory.”

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

The war likely caused the death of every second Russian who died between the ages of 20 and 24, @ChrisO_wiki reports on twitter, citing Люди Байкала on Telegram. “The demographic impact on Russia of the war in Ukraine is starkly revealed by the statistic that in 2022, the war likely caused the death of every second Russian who died between the ages of 20 and 24. ‘People of Baikal’ reports that according to Russia’s national statistics agency, Rosstat, 1,905,778 people died in Russia in 2022. Independent sociologists have found that young men had a much higher mortality rate than in 2021.

The data in categories older than the 18-29 group are not taken into account, as they are distorted because of excess mortality caused by COVID-19. People of Baikal’ comments that the share of war deaths in the category of 20-24 years old is half of all the deaths of young men of this age. That is, every second man of that age who died in Russia last year died in a combat zone.

It notes that these figures do not contradict the figures for Russian war dead in Ukraine which have been collected from open sources, such as relatives (the Russian government keeps its own figures secret). As of 5 May, 6,698 young men are confirmed to have died in the war.

However, this figure is known to be greatly less than the actual number, as coverage is patchy – many deaths have not been publicly reported – and the bodies of many of those killed in the war have not been recovered, or are still listed as missing in action.”

Hans Petter Midttun: “According to the Financial Times, Ukraine’s allies fear military support for its battle against Russia is nearing a peak, with senior European officials increasingly concerned about the flow of aid next year as the US enters a divisive presidential campaign. […]

European allies are increasingly uncertain about whether the US will come close to matching its existing $48bn package, adopted in 2022, particularly as it requires a vote in Congress this autumn against the backdrop of more partisan debate on the war. One European interlocutor added that we can’t keep the same level of assistance forever, arguing the current rate of support could be sustained for a year or possibly two but not more.”

The report is hardly surprising. In August, I argued that NATO is running out of weapons with which it can supply Ukraine. I have been continuously raising concerns over the failure to mobilise the defence industry.

I have, however, also been arguing that concessions to Russian demands at “peace talks” will only bring further aggression and that Russia must not get another “Minsk agreement” in Ukraine. More importantly, I have stressed that Peace at any cost will lead to more war

Still, the not-so-subtle message in the FT article is that sooner or later negotiations need to take place.

Western officials are also hopeful that Ukraine’s counter-offensive, backed by unprecedented supplies of NATO-standard weapons, will deliver major gains that could force Putin to negotiate peace terms of some form. […] Some allies in regular contact with the US over Ukraine say Washington sees the next five months as critical to the outcome of the conflict and the last real chance for Kyiv to change the situation on the ground. […] If we get to September and Ukraine has not made significant gains, then the international pressure to bring them to negotiations will be enormous, said one of the officials on condition of anonymity. The same is true for Russia if the counter-offensive leaves them routed. […] US military assessments say Ukraine is unlikely to be able to achieve all its political goals on the battlefield this year, even if it does make gains during the counteroffensive. Ukrainian and European officials also acknowledge this view privately.”

To be fair, negotiations have been the driving force behind the international efforts to resolve the war since 2014. In my opinion, the Western attempt to coerce an aggressive military power to give up its strategic aim and objectives through political negotiations rather than military force – or from weakness rather than strength – is one of the main reasons for President Putin’s strategic blunder to invade. He believed the West was unwilling to defend Ukraine, and ultimately international law and its own security and stability.

Signalling a return to a strategy of political talks and negotiations will only help lift Putin’s hope for victory.

The notion of a negotiated peace on Ukrainian terms is impossible unless Russia is facing the risk of losing its conventional forces and, consequently, its present position as a Great Power wannabe.

Additionally, Putin needs an off-ramp to “save face”. Not a French off-ramp in which Ukraine must sacrifice parts of its territory to achieve temporary peace but one where Putin’s regime is offered hope of survival. An off-ramp that makes withdrawal the only strategic sound decision and that “saves” the Russian Federation from being defeated by NATO (or a coalition of the willing). A decision that might be presented as a “tactical withdrawal that allows Russia to regroup to continue to defend itself against the existential threat from the Alliance”.

Understand me correctly: I am not in favour of the survival of Putin’s regime. I am simply saying that Russia will not accept an unconditional surrender or accept peace on Ukrainian terms unless the regime can survive the outcome.

Make no mistake. An imperialistic country that has grown for centuries will continue to do just that as long as its expansion is not stopped.

On 20 November 2021 – just months before Putin launched the full-scale invasion – Vladislav Surkov, the former presidential advisor and the author of “Putinism” (Putin’s long state) argued that:

Throughout the centuries, the Russian state, with its austere and sedentary political interior, has survived solely thanks to the relentless pursuit of its own boundaries. It has long forgotten how to survive, and most likely never knew how to survive in other ways. For Russia, constant expansion is not just one of the ideas, but the true existential of our historical being.

Complaints from Brussels and Washington about Moscow’s interference, and the impossibility of settling significant conflicts around the globe without Russian participation show that our state has not lost its imperial instincts.

Russia will receive its share in the new global collection of lands (or rather, spaces), confirming its status as one of the few globalizers, as it happened in the era of the Third Rome or the Third International.

Russia will expand not because it is good, and not because it is bad, but because it is physics.”

The Western experts and advisors that failed to assess Russian intent and develop strategic countermeasures for 8 years should not be left in a position to defend past mistakes. When Ukraine and Eastern Europe argue that lasting peace is not possible unless Russian forces are evicted from all of Ukraine, it is time to sit down and listen.

Equally important, recognising that the mind is a part of the battlespace in the ongoing hybrid war, it is crucially important that Western Heads of State and officials choose their words carefully. Strategic messaging must be based on strength, resolve, resilience, unity, and courage. No doubt, discord, weakness, and a waning resolve.

It is high time to unite behind Ukraine’s vision of victory in not just words but deeds.F

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