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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 452: Russia’s Wagner claims Bakhmut

Russia’s Wagner claims Bakhmut. Russian forces have concentrated most of their available reserves in the Bakhmut area. Ukraine’s annual agricultural production to cut by 10% compared to 2022.

Daily overview — Summary report, May 21

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, May 21, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.

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On May 20, the adversary launched 7 missiles, 70 air strikes, and 48 MLRS attacks at the positions of Ukrainian troops and in 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, as Russian forces continue to use terror tactics.

The adversary continues to focus its main efforts on Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka axes. These areas of the frontline saw a total of 53 combat engagements on May 20, with Bakhmut and Marinka remaining at the epicentre of the fighting.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: no significant changes or signs of the formation of offensive groups were found.
Luhansk Battle Map. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary continues to maintain a military presence in the areas of Russia bordering Ukraine. On May 20, the invaders launched an airstrike near the settlement of Nesterne (Kharkiv oblast), fired mortars and artillery at the settlements of Halahanivka (Chernihiv oblast), Holyshivs’ke, Volfyne, Kindrativka, Yunakivka, Uhroyidy (Sumy oblast), Udy, Kozacha Lopan’, Ternova, Hatyshche, Vovchans’k, Pletenivka, Pokalyane, Nesterne, Budarky, Zemlyanky, Ustynivka, and Khatnje (Kharkiv oblast).
  • Kupiansk axis: the adversary keeps trying to improve its tactical situation. On May 20, Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the vicinity of Masyutivka. The invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of the settlements of Kyslivka and Kotlyarivka (Kherson oblast). Topoli, Fyholivka, Novomlyns’k, Dvorichna, Zapadne, Masyutivka, Kyslivka, Kotlyarivka, Tabaivka (Kharkiv oblast), and Stel’makhivka (Luhansk oblast) came under artillery and mortar fire of the adversary.
Donetsk Battle Map. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Lyman axis: Russian forces did not conduct any offensive operations On May 20. The adversary launched airstrikes in the vicinities of settlements of Bilohorivka, Dibrova, Yampil’, and Spirne. Makiivka, Nevs’ke, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Tors’ke, Verkhn’okam’yans’ke, and Spirne (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: Russian forces continue their offensive operations. Fighting for the city of Bakhmut continues. Also, the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensive operations towards Bila Hora on May 20. The invaders launched missile attacks in the vicinities of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, and airstrikes in the vicinities of Sloviansk, Druzhkivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Bila Hora, and Kurdyumivka. Toretsk. Vasyukivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, Bohdanivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Chasiv Yar, Stupochky, Predtechyne, and Bila Hora (Donetsk oblast) came under enemy fire.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary conducted offensive operations towards Novokalynove, Avdiivka, and Sjeverne, to no success. On May 20, the invaders launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Avdiivka, fired artillery in the vicinities of settlements of Novokalynove, Berdychi, Stepove, Avdiivka, Tonen’ke, Pervomais’ke, Karlivka, and Nevels’ke (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: Ukrainian Defence Forces again repelled numerous enemy attacks in the vicinity of the city of Marinka. Russian forces launched airstrikes in the vicinities of the settlements of Krasnohorivka and Marinka. At the same time, Hostre, Heorhiivka, Mar’inka, and Pobjeda (Donetsk oblast) were shelled by Russian forces.
  • Shakhtarske axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives in the vicinity of Novomykhailivka. At the same time, the invaders launched airstrikes in the vicinities of the settlements of Vuhledar and Prechystivka. The Russian occupant forces shelled the settlements of Paraskoviivka, Kostyantynivka, Novomykhailivka, Novoukrainka, Vuhledar, and Prechystivka.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary stays on the defensive. The invaders launched airstrikes on the settlements of Poltavka (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Beryslav, and Kyndyika (Kherson oblast). At the same time, the occupiers shelled more than 40 settlements, including Vremivka, Novosilka, Zelene Pole, Novopil’ (Donetsk oblast), Ol’hivs’ke, Hulyaipole, Bilohir’ya, Mala Tokmachka, Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Nikopol’ (Dnipropetrovsk oblast), Zolota Balka, Vesele, L’vove, Antonivka, Dniprovs’ke, Veletens’ke (Kherson oblast), and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. May 20, 2023. Source: ISW.

The Russian occupiers continue to repurpose educational institutions in the temporarily occupied settlements of Ukraine as military medical facilities. In particular, the invaders have turned a secondary school in the village of Azov (Zaporizhzhia oblast) and a preschool in the village of Hladkivka (Kherson oblast) into field hospitals. About 50 occupants with injuries of varying severity are undergoing treatment there.

[Russian forces continue to use civilian medical facilities in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine for their own purposes. Thus, the occupiers turned the upper floors of the Lutuginsky District Territorial Medical Association into a military hospital, and to cover it up, they left a children’s ward on the first floor. Currently, about 100 Russian soldiers with injuries of varying degrees of severity are being treated at the medical facility. This number is the peak of the military hospital’s capacity. At the same time, medical assistance to the civilian population is not provided by the personnel of the military hospital.]

On May 20, Ukrainian Air Force launched 10 airstrikes on the concentrations of troops and military equipment of the adversary. Also, 4x combat and 7 reconnaissance UAVs of various types were intercepted.

The Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 4 concentrations of weapons and military equipment, 1 ammunition depot, 4 artillery units at their firing positions, 1 air defence asset, and 1 other important target of Russian forces.

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Russia’s Wagner claims Bakhmut; Kyiv says situation critical, Reuters reports. “Russia’s Wagner private army claimed on Saturday to have finally captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war, while Kyiv denied the city had fallen though it called the situation there critical. If confirmed, the announcement by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin that his troops had finally pushed the Ukrainians out of the last built-up area inside the city would amount to claiming Moscow’s first big prize for more than 10 months.

But any sense of victory for Russia appears likely to be fleeting. The announcement comes after a week in which Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains for six months on Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks, which Prigozhin has said put his troops inside the city at risk of encirclement.

Prigozhin, who has repeatedly denounced Russia’s regular military for abandoning ground captured earlier by his men, said his own forces would now pull out of Bakhmut in five days to rest, handing the ruins of the city over to the regular military.”

Prygozhyn wants to escape from Bakhmut because Wagner PMC is defeated – Cherevaty, Censor.net reports, citing “Free radio“. “The spokesman for the Eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Serhiy Cherevaty, explained Yevhen Prygozhyn’s statement about the complete capture of Bakhmut by the intention of the leader of the Wagner PMC to withdraw his mercenaries from the destroyed city, which could be surrounded by Ukrainian defenders. […]

Cherevaty also assured that Ukrainian defenders are holding a number of buildings in Bakhmut. […] We have actually wiped out his (Prigozhyn’s – ed.) very powerful group. It is close to destruction. You understand that he says he will withdraw his troops, and he took Bakhmut. That’s the only reason he says it. […] He turned tail (and ran away – ed.) because he lost his best people. In fact, his Wagner group is broken.”

The situation in Bakhmut is critical, but defenders control certain areas – Defence Ministry, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Deputy Minister of Defence of Ukraine Hanna Maliar and Colonel Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in a comment for Reuters. “Despite the recent statement by Yevgeny Prygozhin, the founder of the Wagner PMC, the Ukrainian military denies that Russian mercenaries have taken complete control of the destroyed city of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast; the defence forces of Ukraine are still holding the line in the area at the entrance to the city from the direction of Kostiantynivka.

There are heavy battles in Bakhmut. The situation is critical. At the same time, our troops maintain defence in the Litak district. Currently, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area and the private sector.

Before that, Prigozhin said that his forces had completely taken the city.”

Russian forces have concentrated most of their available reserves to the Bakhmut area, ISW reports. “Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar stated on May 19 that Russian forces concentrated most of their reserves in the Bakhmut direction, which has slowed the rate of Ukrainian advances. Maliar also stated that Ukrainian forces continue to counterattack on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut and advanced 500 meters on one flank and 1,000 meters on the other. […]

Russian forces on Bakhmut’s flanks likely remain weak, however; Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continued to criticize the Russian 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Luhansk People’s Republic Army Corps) on May 19 for retreating from defensive lines southwest of Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut). Ukrainian counterattacks near Bakhmut have notably likely eliminated the threat of a Russian encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut and forced Russian troops to allocate scarce military resources to defend against a limited and localized offensive effort, as Ukrainian command likely intended.”

Russia’s losses on the southern front in one day amount to almost four companies, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Tavriia (South) Grouping of Forces. “We continue to destroy Russian forces. Units of missile troops and artillery of the Defence Forces of the Tavriia front carried out 988 fire missions during the day.

Russian forces lost almost four companies of soldiers, killed and wounded. 31 units of Russian force’s weapons and military equipment were destroyed and damaged – in particular, 7 tanks, 3 infantry fighting vehicles, 2 Orlan-30 unmanned aerial vehicles, a Zala unmanned aerial vehicle, an Eleron unmanned aerial vehicle, 2 Msta-B 2A65 howitzers, and an S-300 air defence system. Also, 2 enemy ammunition storage points were destroyed.”

Ukraine destroyed 20 “Shahediv” and reconnaissance UAV “Merlin-VR”, the Ukrainian General Staff reported. “After midnight on May 20, 2023, the Russian occupiers attacked Ukraine from the north with 18 “Shahed” attack drones, which were directed to the Kyiv region. All of them were destroyed by the forces and means of the air command “Center” of the Air Force.

Also, at the end of the day on May 19, in the eastern direction, in the area of responsibility of the air command “East”, two strike drones of the “Shahed” type were destroyed, and in the southern direction, in the area of ​​responsibility of the air command “South”, the reconnaissance UAV “Merlin-VR” “.

The uptick in Russian drone, missile and artillery strikes are meant to disrupt Ukrainian preparations for counteroffensive, ISW reports. “Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skibitsky noted that the recent uptick in Russian drone and missile strikes, as well as artillery strikes along the entire frontline, are meant to disrupt Ukrainian counteroffensive plans and preparations. […]

Skibitsky additionally noted that Russia can only produce 25 Kalibr cruise missiles, 35 Kh-101s, two Kinzhals, and 5 ballistic 9M723 Iskander-Ms per month. Considering that Russian forces have launched missile strikes at rear areas of Ukraine on a near daily-basis thus far in May, it is likely that they are rapidly expending their stocks of precision munitions, potentially at a rate that exceeds production capabilities.”

Russians increase missile number in Black Sea and might attack against G7 background – Ukraine’s military official, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Natalia Humeniuk, Head of the Joint press centre of the Defence Forces of Ukraine’s south. “Yesterday evening [20 May – ed.], the enemy increased the presence of missile carriers in the Black Sea. There are two submarines, and two missile carriers, that is, 8 Kalibr missiles.

They are trying to keep the tension for now. The enemy always tries to increase the tension during significant world events, such as the G7 summit, and then, quite likely, uses a missile attack as a reaction to the pressure of the world community on the aggressor country.”

Adviser to Mariupol mayor reports on aftermath of explosions in city, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “24 Russian occupiers were killed as a result of explosions in Mariupol on 19 May as Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, reports. According to Andriushchenko, 37 Russians were allegedly wounded in addition to the 24 killed in Mariupol.

Also, according to the advisor, “many” Russian Tiger tanks and other pieces of equipment were destroyed.”

Military Updates

  • Since early May 2023, Russia has restarted frequent long-range missile strikes deep into Ukraine. They are likely primarily aimed at degrading Ukrainian air defences.
  • Innovating on earlier waves of deep strikes, Russia has started more frequently integrating unarmed, surveillance uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) into operations. These have included Russian-produced SuperCam UAVs which are relatively cheap and have sufficient range to fly over the cruise missiles’ targets.
  • Russia has highly likely adopted this tactic in an attempt to obtain more timely battle damage assessment and improve its targeting cycle. The Russian military’s slow and inefficient targeting process has been a major weakness in its performance in Ukraine. However, slow surveillance UAVs are highly vulnerable to Ukrainian air defences.
  • In the last four days, Russia has highly likely redeployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut
  • This follows Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the contested Donetsk Oblast town through mid-May and publicly aired doubts about the commitment of Wagner Group forces to continue fighting in the sector.
  • With Russia likely maintaining relatively few uncommitted combat units in Ukraine, the redeployment represents a notable commitment by the Russian command.

Russia’s leadership likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim which would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.

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

  • Since early May 2023, Russia has restarted frequent long-range missile strikes deep into Ukraine. They are likely primarily aimed at degrading Ukrainian air defences.
  • Innovating on earlier waves of deep strikes, Russia has started more frequently integrating unarmed, surveillance uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) into operations. These have included Russian-produced SuperCam UAVs which are relatively cheap and have sufficient range to fly over the cruise missiles’ targets.
  • Russia has highly likely adopted this tactic in an attempt to obtain more timely battle damage assessment and improve its targeting cycle. The Russian military’s slow and inefficient targeting process has been a major weakness in its performance in Ukraine. However, slow surveillance UAVs are highly vulnerable to Ukrainian air defences.
  • In the last four days, Russia has highly likely redeployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut
  • This follows Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the contested Donetsk Oblast town through mid-May and publicly aired doubts about the commitment of Wagner Group forces to continue fighting in the sector.
  • With Russia likely maintaining relatively few uncommitted combat units in Ukraine, the redeployment represents a notable commitment by the Russian command.
  • Russia’s leadership likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim which would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.

Losses of the Russian army 

As of Sunday 21 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 203160 (+730)
  • Tanks – 3783 (+2)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7398 (+16)
  • Artillery systems – 3258 (+29)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 564 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 327 (+2)
  • Aircraft – 308 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 294 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 6115 (+12)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2822 (+21)
  • Special equipment – 425 (+2)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 1011 (+0)

Russians using up to 35,000 shells in Bakhmut and Kupiansk directions daily, Ukrinform reports. “At the beginning of the full-scale aggression, they had much more shells. But only on our part of the front near Bakhmut and Kupiansk, they use an average of 33,000-35,000 shells per day,” Serhiy Cherevaty, the spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said during the United News telethon, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.

He noted that the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed 13 enemy ammunition depots in Bakhmut direction over the past day.

In general, according to Cherevaty, the Russians are now concentrating on priority areas. It’s not the enemy’s ammunition shortage, it’s probably a decrease in operational capabilities compared to those that were limitless at the beginning of the war. Now they are concentrating on priority directions and densely firing our positions with artillery, Cherevaty said.”

Humanitarian 

Ukraine’s annual agricultural production to cut by 10% compared to 2022 – Vysotskyi, Ukrinform reports, citing Ukrainian Agrarian Policy and Food First Deputy Minister Taras Vysotskyi, referring to the ministry’s press service. “Ukraine’s agricultural sector has shown that it can quickly adapt to work amid the war, even despite the loss of production, Vysotskyi noted. In his words, Ukraine’s agricultural production volumes will reduce by 10% in 2023 compared to last year. Meanwhile, the productive capacity, exports, and the domestic market performance will be maintained.

In recent weeks, the issue of preserving the export of Ukrainian products has been important. According to Vysotskyi, due to the limited performance of the grain corridor, Ukraine is exporting more agricultural products to the EU. In this regard, the European Commission’s decision to extend the zero duty on exports from Ukraine for another year is a very positive signal and assistance.”

Russians shelling two frontline towns to force locals to “evacuate” – mayor, Ukrinform reports, citing  Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov. “Yesterday, there were enemy strikes at Tokmak and Molochansk, but the Russian propaganda media immediately blamed our armed forces. At the same time, residents report that they see where the strikes are coming from – that’s from the occupied territories. With such shelling, the enemy is trying to coerce people to go for an evacuation, which they launched two weeks ago, he said.

Fedorov added that the local population is not willing to evacuate as people are awaiting their area to be liberated by Ukraine’s forces. In addition, Fedorov says that even those who earlier evacuated to Berdiansk are now returning home. Earlier it was reported that the Russian invaders announced the evacuation of almost two dozen temporarily occupied settlements.”

Russian general, who ordered to break through border to Kharkiv Oblast, served notice of suspicion, Ukrainska Pravda reports, siting SSU. “The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) has collected evidence on Lieutenant General Andrei Ruzinski, the commander of the 11th Army Corps of the Baltic Fleet of the Western Military District of the Russian Armed Forces and served him with notice of the suspicion. It is noted that at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, he ordered subordinate units of Russian troops to break through the state border of Ukraine to capture Kharkiv Oblast.

Under his command, the invaders occupied the territories of the Kharkiv, Chuhuiv and Izium districts. He engaged more than 4,000 Russian soldiers, who were part of the occupation group Balakliya, to storm Ukrainian settlements in Kharkiv Oblast. It was established that the invaders used tanks, tubed artillery, anti-aircraft missile systems and Buratino and Solntsepyok heavy flamethrower systems to conduct hostilities against the Defence Forces.

For waging an aggressive war against Ukraine, the Kremlin awarded more than 1,000 occupiers who were under the command of Ruzinski. He received a promotion in military rank and was transferred for further service to the territory of Russia.

The Security Service of Ukraine served him with a notice of suspicion under the article Conducting aggressive military actions committed by a group of persons based on a prior conspiracy. He faces up to 15 years in prison.”

Russia adds ICC prosecutor who sought Putin’s arrest to wanted list, media report, Reuters reports. “Russia has issued an arrest warrant for the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor who in March prepared a warrant for President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges, Russian media reported on Friday. The British prosecutor, Karim Khan, was added to the Interior Ministry’s wanted list, state-owned news agency TASS said, citing the ministry’s database.

Moscow opened cases against Khan and three ICC judges on March 20, days after the order for Putin’s arrest. The ICC and its office of the prosecutor had no immediate comment. The ICC warrant orders the arrest of Putin and Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, on war crimes charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children.”

ICC reacts to Moscow putting court prosecutor on wanted list, Ukrinform reports, citing the ICC website. “The ICC said that the institution is “profoundly concerned” about the unwarranted and unjustified coercive measures reportedly taken against ICC officials, notably the Prosecutor of the Court and the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber II by the authorities of the Russian Federation. It is noted that the ICC considers such measures “unacceptable” therefore the Court will remain undeterred in the conduct of its lawful mandate to ensure accountability for the gravest crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.

The ICC said it stands firmly by its personnel and officials and, in line with the statement issued earlier today by the Presidency of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC, called on all States Parties and Rome Statute stakeholders to enhance their efforts to protect the Court, its officials and its personnel, and ensure it is capable to continue to deliver on its independent mandate, the statement emphasizes.

Support

Ukraine’s Defence Minister announces next Ramstein meeting, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov has announced that the regular meeting of the Contact Group for the Defence of Ukraine in the Ramstein format will be held next week.

Commenting on the formation of the so-called fighter jets coalition, which will ensure the training of Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighters, Reznikov emphasised that strengthening air and missile defence remains a priority for Ukraine.

Ground systems – from MANPADS [man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems – ed.], powerful batteries and missiles for them are always in focus. We will talk about this, in particular, with colleagues at the next meeting in the Ramstein format next week, he noted.”

Biden to announce $375 million military aid package for Ukraine, including ammunition, Reuters reports. “US President Joe Biden will announce a $375 million military aid package for Ukraine while in Hiroshima, Japan, where he is attending the 2023 G7 Summit of world leaders, a US official said on Friday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the package will include artillery, ammunition and HIMARS rocket launchers.”

White House says precondition for Ukraine to receive F-16, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor of the United States, during a briefing on Friday, 19 May, as reported by European Pravda. “All of the capabilities that the United States has proven to Ukraine come with the basic proposition that the United States is not enabling or supporting attacks on Russian territory. That will go for the support for the provision of F-16s by any party as well, he noted.

The White House representative emphasised that Ukraine agrees with this position and has consistently followed it when receiving long-range Western weapons.

Earlier this week, the UK announced the launch of an international coalition of countries to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighters, including the F-16. It already includes the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, the United States and Portugal. The White House also confirmed that in the coming months, the US and its allies will discuss when and in what quantity Ukraine will receive modern fighter jets.”

US confirms participation in “fighter jets coalition”: states to discuss when to give F-16 to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor of the United States, during a briefing on Friday. “The White House representative recalled that over the past few months, the US and its allies and partners have really focused on providing Ukraine with the systems, weapons, and training that it needs to be able to conduct effective offensive operations this spring and summer.

We have delivered what we promised. We have given Ukraine what it needs based on close consultations between our military and theirs. And now we have turned to discussions about improving the Ukrainian air force as part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defence, he elaborated. Sullivan confirmed that in the coming months, the US and its allies will work to determine when planes will be delivered, who will be delivering them, and how many fighter jets Ukraine will receive.

Asked why the US had not granted Ukraine’s request for F-16 earlier, Biden’s adviser emphasised that the priority for Washington was to prepare Kyiv for a counteroffensive and provide the appropriate assets, from tanks to combat vehicles, rocket launcher systems and artillery ammunition. F-16s are not part of that mix [of assets]. And the President [Biden] was indicating that for the purposes of this counteroffensive, the F-16 capabilities, compared with everything else I said, was not at the top of the list, Sullivan added.”

Conditions for training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 will be created in coming weeks, Censor.net reports, citing Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte. “The Netherlands welcomes the decision of US President Joe Biden to support the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. The conditions for this will be created in the coming weeks.

“Together with my British, Danish and Belgian colleagues, we welcome the news that the United States is ready to approve training for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. The conditions for this will be developed in the coming weeks, he said in a statement.”

Netherlands terminates deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to private company, Censor.net reports, citing Oryx. “The Netherlands canceled the deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to the private company Draken International. […] The message does not specify where the Netherlands will send the combat fighters. At the same time, analysts suggest that it’s not hard to guess where they will end up.”

G7 leaders agreed on joint communiqué in advance: reaffirming their unwavering support for Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing  the communiqué. “In the document, the G7 leaders stressed that they are more united than ever in determination to meet the global challenges of this moment and set the course for a better future in compliance with the UN Charter and international partnership. We are taking concrete steps to support Ukraine for as long as it takes in the face of Russia’s illegal war of aggression, the communiqué says.

The G7 leaders reaffirmed their condemnation of Russia for its full-scale aggression against Ukraine, which undermines the international community’s fundamental norms, rules, and principles. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, they said.

The communiqué mentions a separate G7 leaders’ statement on Ukraine, in which they pledge their commitment to intensifying diplomatic, financial, humanitarian and military support for Ukraine, to increasing the costs to Russia and those supporting its war efforts, and to continuing to counter the negative impacts of the war on the rest of the world, particularly on the most vulnerable people.

Other goals that the Group of Seven leaders have committed to include strengthening efforts in the disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the transition to environmentally friendly energy sources, global food security and infrastructure development.”

New Developments

  1. G7 issues ultimatum to Russia’s war enablers, PoliticoCountries supporting the Russian military will bear severe costs if they do not cease that activity immediately, the G7 countries said in a joint statement Friday, pledging to further prevent circumvention of sanctions against Moscow over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. […] We will starve Russia of G7 technology, industrial equipment and services that support its war machine, the G7 countries said in the statement after high-level talks on Friday. We reiterate our call on third parties to immediately cease providing material support to Russia’s aggression, or face severe costs. We will reinforce our coordination to prevent and respond to third parties supplying weapons to Russia and continue to take actions against third-country actors who materially support Russia’s war, they added.”
  2. G7 urges China to put pressure on Russia over war in Ukraine, net reports. “The leaders called on China to put pressure on Russia to immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine completely and unconditionally and stop its military aggression against our country. Beijing was called upon to support a comprehensive and just peace based on the territorial integrity, principles and purposes of the UN Charter.”
  3. Russia’s Lavrov says G7 is bent on “double containment” of Russia and China, ReutersRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that decisions taken by the Group of Seven countries at their summit in Japan were aimed at the “double containment” of Russia and China. Addressing a televised conference, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s claim that the West is using Ukraine as tool to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia. The United States and its allies reject that narrative, saying they are helping Kyiv defend itself against an illegal war.”
  4. ‘Fundamental principles’ must be respected to mediate Ukraine conflict, says Kuleba, ReutersUkrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday that every country could act as a mediator in the war between Moscow and Kyiv, but would have to follow what he called fundamental principles. […] Kuleba said mediation efforts should lead to the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and should not freeze the conflict. Everybody can play role if he or she respects these two principles and acts in good faith, Kuleba said when asked what he thought of an offer earlier on Fridayby Saudi Arabia to continue mediating efforts between Russia and Ukraine.”
  5. G7 approves plan to counter Russian energy blackmail, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing CNN. “We will work together to ensure that attempts to weaponize economic dependencies by forcing G7 members and our partners, including small economies, to comply and conform will fail and face the consequences, the statement said.The G7 representatives added that using energy and other economic dependencies is unacceptable. Russia has been trying to use energy as a weapon, manipulating prices and supplies to gain political leverage, since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine.”
  6. Ukraine’s Ambassador outraged by Polish Foreign Ministry’s advice about how Zelenskyy should “apologise for Volyn”, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Vasyl Zvarych, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Poland. “Zvarych referred to an interview of Łukasz Jasina, the speaker for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Onetportal, where he said that the president of Ukraine lacks understanding of the importance of the topic of Volyn for Poles. According to Jasina, there is a lack of dialogue on problematic relations between Ukraine and Poland at the presidential level. President Zelensky should take on more responsibility as Ukraine… Apologise and ask for forgiveness, please. This formula works very well in the case of Polish-Ukrainian relations, and it is still lacking, he said. […] In response, the Ukrainian ambassador to Warsaw said that any attempts to impose on the president of Ukraine or Ukraine what we should do concerning our common past are unacceptable and unfortunate. We remember history, are ready for dialogue and mutual understanding, and at the same time call for respect and balance in statements, especially in the complex reality of the genocidal Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people, Zvarych stressed. The diplomat also recalled the formula for true reconciliation in Ukrainian-Polish relations: we forgive and ask for forgiveness, which recognises mistakes on both sides.”
  7. PACE President: Up to Ukraine to decide on election date, Ukrinform reports, citing the PACE press service. “It is clear that your Constitution does not allow to organize elections when martial law is applicable. That is the situation. So, at this moment, your country is not allowed to organize elections. That is clear, and I do not want to have any misunderstanding on that, said PACE President. At the same time, he pointed out that without the elections, democracy cannot properly function. What I want to say to the Government and the Parliament and the people of Ukraine – it is in your hands to decide whether and when elections will take place. As long as martial law is there and your Constitution is as it is, there will not be elections. But at a certain moment, there will be elections. And my advice is to start preparing for it as soon as possible, Kox said.”
  8. New EU sanctions against Russia affect more than 90 foreign companies, including those from China – von der Leyen, net reports, citing ZDF. “European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the new EU sanctions package against Russia contains restrictions against a number of foreign companies that help Moscow circumvent sanctions. The President of the European Commission emphasized that the EU is serious about putting an end to sanctions evasion by Russia. And that is why in the eleventh package of sanctions we have more than 90 companies around the world for which we have clear evidence that they are violating sanctions, i.e. supplying sanctioned goods directly to Russia from the European Union, bypassing third countries, she said. According to von der Leyen, about eight of these companies are registered in China. […] As it is known, as part of the draft of the next, eleventh package of sanctions, the EU for the first time proposed a new mechanism with third countries that are considered to be involved in circumventing sanctions against Russia by helping it import dual-use goods.”
  9. Georgia to resume flights to Russia this week, drawing EU and Ukrainian criticism, ReutersGeorgian Airways will resume direct flights to Russia from Saturday, the country’s civil aviation authority said, drawing criticism from Ukraine and the European Union. The move comes after Moscow lifted a flight ban last week in a significant warming of ties with Georgia, with which it has had no formal diplomatic relations since Russia defeated its southern neighbour in a short war in 2008. “The world is isolating Russia to force it to stop the war, but Georgia is welcoming Russian airlines and sending its own to Moscow. All while 20% of Georgian territory remains occupied by Russia with impunity, Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter. The Kremlin will surely be delighted with such a result.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  May 20, 2022:

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks in the Kreminna area on May 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast (12km south of Kreminna). A Russian miblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults in the Serebrianska forest area and advanced towards Hryhorivka (11km south of Kreminna). Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated on May 20 that the tempo of Russian assaults along the Kupiansk-Svatove-Kreminna line has decreased over the past month from five to seven daily assaults to one daily assault.

A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful counterattacks to regain lost positions near Masyutivka (13km northeast of Kupiansk) on May 19. The milblogger also claimed that Russian forces continue to successfully hold a bridgehead on the west (right) bank of the Oskil River in the area. ISW has still not observed visual confirmation of the Russian capture of Masyutivka or the establishment of a Russian bridgehead on the west bank of the Oskil River.

Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line on May 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Novokalynove (8km north of Avdiivka), Stepove (2km north of Avdiivka), Avdiivka, Sieverne (5km west of Avdiivka), Pervomaiske (11km southwest of Avdiivka), and Novomykhailivka (36km southwest of Avdiivka). A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces unsuccessfully attacked Pervomaiske and Nevelske (14km southwest of Avdiivka) but advanced to the railway north of Avdiivka from Krasnohorivka (8km north of Avdiivka). Another Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces made several successful advances in the Donetsk direction in the past week but that Russian forces have stabilized the front near Krasnohorivka. The General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces repelled over 20 ground attacks in the Marinka (27km southwest of Avdiivka) area. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Ukrainian defenses in Marinka forced Russian forces to attack on the northern and southern flanks instead.

Ukrainian forces struck the Mariupol airport on the night of May 19. Geolocated footage shows four Ukrainian rounds striking the Mariupol airport area, and some sources speculated that the strikes hit a Russian military concentration point. Some Russian sources speculated that Ukrainian forces used Storm Shadow missiles to target the airport area. Ukrainian forces last struck Mariupol in February prior to the delivery of the Storm Shadow missiles. Some sources speculated that Ukrainian forces used Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDBs) in those strikes. Russian milbloggers amplified geolocated imagery of smoke trails and claimed that Russian air defenses intercepted two additional rockets or missiles on the morning of May 20. The milbloggers claimed that Ukraine targeted Mariupol in order to commemorate the anniversary of the Russian capture of Mariupol on May 20, 2022.

Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin declared victory in Bakhmut City on May 20 and announced his intent to withdraw from the city on May 25. Prigozhin claimed that Wagner Group forces completely captured Bakhmut City on May 20, seizing the last multi-story apartment building in southwestern Bakhmut near the MiG-17 monument. Prigozhin announced that Wagner forces will establish defensive positions before transferring responsibility for the city to Russian conventional forces on May 25. Prigozhin effectively stated that Wagner forces will conduct an operational pause by resting and restoring combat power at field training camps in unspecified areas, presumably far from the frontline. ISW has not observed geolocated footage confirming Prigozhin’s claims as of this publication. Ukrainian officials reported that Ukrainian forces are still fighting in a small section of southwest Bakhmut as of May 20. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar stated that Ukrainian forces continue to hold positions near the MiG-17 monument as of May 20. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) has not commented on Prigozhin’s claims as of this publication.

Prigozhin’s claimed victory over the remaining areas in Bakhmut is purely symbolic even if true. The last few urban blocks of eastern Bakhmut that Prigozhin claimed that Wagner Group forces captured are not tactically or operationally significant. Their capture does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations or any particularly strong position from which to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.

Ukrainian forces continue pressuring Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks. Ukrainian and Russian sources reported that fighting is ongoing on Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks in the directions of Ivanivske (6km west of Bakhmut), Stupochky (13km southwest of Bakhmut), and Bila Hora (12km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian forces reported on May 19 that they have recaptured approximately four square kilometers of additional territory near Bakhmut, and Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian forces continue conducting localized attacks near Klishchiivka (6km southwest of Bakhmut). Prigozhin’s claimed capture of the remaining blocks in Bakhmut is not strategically significant as it will not allow exhausted Wagner or conventional Russian forces to establish a meaningful springboard for further offensive operations. Ukrainian ongoing counterattacks north, west, and southwest of Bakhmut will complicate any further Russian advances beyond Bakhmut in the near term. Prigozhin’s withdrawal announcement, whether Wagner withdraws from the city or not, indicates that Prigozhin does not intend to continue an offensive effort to push directly west of Bakhmut.

Wagner forces are unlikely to successfully conduct a controlled withdrawal from Bakhmut while in contact with Ukrainian forces within five days without disrupting the Russian MoD’s efforts to prepare for planned Ukrainian counteroffensives. Wagner forces are unlikely to establish adequate defenses or consolidate recent gains in Bakhmut sufficient to forestall Ukrainian counterattacks by May 25 even if Prigozhin’s announcement of Wagner’s withdrawal is true. Ukrainian forces are still in Khromove and Ivanivske and are engaging Russian forces in and near Bakhmut. Ukrainian artillery can still target Russian forces in and around Bakhmut. Withdrawal in contact with the enemy is an exceedingly difficult task that the Wagner Group’s forces are unlikely to perform well within Prigozhin’s five-day time frame. Conducting a relief-in-place while in contact is also an extremely challenging maneuver that Russian forces would likely struggle to conduct even if the Russian MoD agrees to undertake it. Wagner units have shown poor coordination with Russian conventional forces, other irregular formations subordinated to the Russian MoD, and the Russian military command—factors that would hinder a smooth relief-in-place operation. The Russian military command is unlikely to generate sufficient forces to relieve Wagner in Bakhmut and hold its flanks within the window Prigozhin has announced without redeploying Russian forces from other areas. Prigozhin’s statement of his intent to withdraw could be a crude attempt to mislead Ukrainian forces into conducting a counterattack through Bakhmut City.

Russian conventional forces likely will still need to transfer additional forces to the Bakhmut direction even if Wagner mercenaries remain in Bakhmut. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that Russian forces continue to transfer airborne, motorized rifle, and special forces elements to reinforce the Bakhmut flanks even as Wagner forces remain in Bakhmut City. The UK MoD also reported that the Russian military command likely redeployed several battalions in the last few days to reinforce Bakhmut despite only having few uncommitted combat units and that this redeployment suggests a substantial commitment to the Bakhmut effort by the Russian leadership. These additional forces could in principle be meant to participate in the relief-in-place of Wagner forces that Prigozhin has just announced, reducing but not eliminating some of the challenges considered above, but it is more likely that they are intended to secure Bakhmut’s threatened flanks.

Russian forces targeted Kyiv Oblast with Iranian-made Shahed drones on the night of May 19 to 20. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 18 Shahed-136/131 drones at Kyiv Oblast, and that Ukrainian air defenses shot down all 18 of the drones. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces destroyed two Russian Shahed drones in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have targeted Kyiv heavily in the past month, likely to produce informational affects with both Russian and Ukrainian audiences. This hyperfocus on targeting Kyiv is at odds with the new limited Russian air campaign’s other target: alleged Ukrainian rear logistics. These conflicting target sets likely further limit the campaign’s ability to degrade Ukrainian counteroffensive capabilities in the near term.[…]

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Russian sources are falsely alleging that high-ranking Ukrainian military commanders have recently died, likely to demoralize the Ukrainian forces and to portray Russian forces as constraining Ukrainian counteroffensive capabilities. Maliar stated that these information operations allege that Russian strikes have recently killed Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces Commander General Ihor Tantsyura, Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, and Ukrainian Commander in Chief General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. Prigozhin also amplified the information operation alleging that Zaluzhnyi might be dead on May 20. These information operations are particularly absurd given that Zaluzhnyi spoke with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley on May 19 and that Syrskyi appeared on Ukrainian television on May 16. Ukrainian officials have denied previous Russian claims that a May 10 strike on a Ukrainian command post in the Bakhmut area killed several high-ranking Ukrainian military officials and that Wagner forces killed Tantsyura while he was en route to Bakhmut on May 2. ISW has previously assessed that Russian ultranationalists are increasingly seeking to frame any Russian operations as delaying potential Ukrainian counteroffensive actions.

Key Takeaways

  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin declared victory in Bakhmut City on May 20 and announced his intent to withdraw from the city on May 25.
  • Prigozhin’s claimed victory over the remaining areas in Bakhmut is purely symbolic even if true.
  • Ukrainian forces continue pressuring Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks.
  • Wagner forces are unlikely to successfully conduct a controlled withdrawal from Bakhmut while in contact with Ukrainian forces within five days without disrupting the Russian MoD’s efforts to prepare for planned Ukrainian counteroffensives.
  • Russian conventional forces likely will still need to transfer additional forces to the Bakhmut direction even if Wagner mercenaries remain in Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces targeted Kyiv Oblast with Iranian-made Shahed drones on the night of May 19 to 20.
  • US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated on May 20 that the United States may agree to transfer modern combat aircraft to Ukraine, including the F-16, on the condition that Ukraine does not use them to strike Russian territory.
  • Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported that Russian sources are falsely alleging that high-ranking Ukrainian military commanders have recently died, likely to demoralize Ukrainian forces and to portray Russian forces as constraining Ukrainian counteroffensive capabilities.
  • Russian forces continued limited ground attacks in the Kreminna area.
  • Russian forces continued to conduct ground attacks on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • The Washington Post reported on May 19 that a Ukrainian commander stated that Ukrainian Special Operations forces conduct raids in east (left) bank Kherson Oblast but that Ukrainian forces do not hold stable positions there.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is incorporating mobilized and conscripted personnel into its own “Veterany” private military company (PMC), leading to discrimination and conflict.

A Lithuanian official publicly accused Russia of attempting to hold international children hostage in occupied Crimea as “human shields” against a future Ukrainian counteroffensive.

When we have F-16 planes, we will win this war, – Ihnat, Censor.net reports, citing Espreso. “Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, noted that the F-16 is a multi-purpose aircraft that can operate on ground, air and surface targets, and will also cover our territory where there are no air defense systems.

I will tell you more, when there are F-16s, we will win this war. If these planes come to Ukraine, they will be on combat duty in various regions at our operational airfields. We emphasized to our partners the need for F-16s for Ukraine because we cannot cover the entire territory of Ukraine with the air defence means that have existed since Soviet times. We receive supplies of Western air defence systems: NASAMS, IRIS-T, Patriot and already SAMP/T, as well as air defense of the ground forces, the main ones being Crotale, Gepard, Avenger. The territory of the country and the length of the state border are large, and the front line, including Belarus, Transnistria and the Black Sea coast, is more than 2.5 thousand km. Accordingly, it will not be possible to cover with air defence complexes, unfortunately. That is why we need F -16, which has an anti-aircraft missile cover from below and a fighter from above, that is, it is also part of air defence. […] Where there is no air defence, the F-16 will work, he explained spokesman of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Yuriy Ignat added that the Soviet MiG and Su are unable to effectively and efficiently train against kamikaze drones, such as Shahed, as well as against cruise missiles. And the F-16 of today’s modification is designed to become part of air defense and effectively intercept such types of air targets.

The second point is that with this fighter, the efficiency of using HARM missiles, JDAM guided air bombs, and so on will increase many times. The F-16 will help our ground troops quickly de-occupy Ukrainian territories, because it will strike at enemy command posts, military groups, and logistics supply chains. In the same way, these fighters are able to restore order at sea, having anti-ship missiles. The F-16 is a multi-purpose aircraft that can work against ground, air and surface targets, as it is armed with Harpoon missiles, too, Ignat noted.”

Russians had no plan other than landing in Hostomel – Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence chief, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence, has said that the Russian invaders had no plan for capturing Kyiv other than “successfully” landing in Hostomel. […] The Russians’ entire plan was to land swiftly [at the Hostomel airfield – ed.] and go from there. It was actually their only plan… Firstly, they did not believe there would be any resistance at all, and secondly, they believed that they would land quickly and plane after plane would unload units that would immediately enter Kyiv.

Budanov added that on 24 February 2022, the Russians kept trying to land troops there the whole day and they firmly believed that they would succeed. According to Budanov, information distributed by Ukrainian intelligence played a significant role in this. The information they wanted to believe in won out. [That is] why people said the Russians were stupid, they didn’t believe there would be a war: they didn’t take fuel tankers with them, their tanks stopped, there were no supplies or food, this is all true.

But the truth is nevertheless different: they had to create a picture of a massive offensive and no alternative but to surrender. And to create a picture of these columns entering. That was it. No one expected fighting like there was in Mariupol. That wasn’t an option. They believed that no one would be able to create serious resistance to them and they would go into the government quarter and change the leadership, since, the way they saw it, the leadership of the state would then have to flee, and if it didn’t, they would destroy it.

Budanov added that Russia kept changing the date of the invasion over a two-week period. Ukraine received final information about the attack at 04:00 on 24 February at about 15:00 on 23 February.”

  1. Consequences and what to do?

BiZness as usual: 25 European companies still supplying the Russian army, The Insider reports. “Sanctions against Russian defense companies have not interfered with Western supplies – equipment is still being imported by military contractors who have escaped sanctions lists. European businessmen have continued to sell goods to Russian firms that supply the country’s army with microchips for missiles, shells, fuses, tactical boots, body armor, engines for warships, and many other goods. The Insider confirmed supplies coming in from Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, and Poland.

Ukraine to face multi-year reintegration of territories after victory, Ukrinform reports, citing the Head of Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov. “For me, victory is not the end of all these events. I will surprise you a little, but everything will not stop with a victory. We will face a rather difficult stage, it will be, I may say, a multi-year stage of the actual reintegration of our territories. Because we will get additional three million people who have been living under Russian propaganda for nine years, they already have a different perception of the world. It will not be as easy as it seems, Budanov said. He added that the victory day will be clearly defined and then there will be hard work and a rather long period ahead.

Second, we will have to seriously change the economy, rethink the vision of new alliances and unions that will be created. There will be a new security architecture in the world. It will concern not only us. This is a global issue. Therefore, there will be a lot of work” he added.

As reported, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the resolution On preparation for actions to stabilize the situation in de-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and their reintegration.”

Hans Petter Midttun: Ukraine is actively preparing to liberate occupied territories. It has been building (most of) the capabilities needed to conduct a series of counteroffensives.

It has been building new formations on top of the existing force structure holding the frontline. While Russia has made slow and incremental gains throughout the winter at tremendous costs, Ukraine has focused on holding the line while building new capabilities. Instead of throwing reserves into Soledar and Bakhmut to save the cities, it has sent troops abroad to train on the new equipment and receive NATO-level training.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have prioritised training abroad to enable it to conduct joint and combined arms operations: a capability Russian forces have demonstrated it lacks.

General Valery Zaluzhny, Chief of Defence of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has used the winter to build three new army corps, each with four brigades, and each comprising more than 20,000 men. Of the 12 mechanized (or motorized) infantry brigades, nine will mainly be armed with Western-provided equipment.

Additionally, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has built eight assault brigades that form Ukraine’s new “Offensive Guard” force. As of 2 May, all eight have been established but are at various stages of training and preparations. MoI is considering forming additional brigades. The brigades will be to carry out offensive or assault operations in support of the Armed Forces.

The 20 fresh brigades are made up of both experienced soldiers and fresh volunteers. That means it is uneven in quality and training on a compressed schedule. It will be lacking experienced personnel as many junior officers, non-commissioned officers, veterans, and troops previously trained by NATO have been lost during the last 15 months. The fresh forces have had a short time to master new equipment and conduct combined-arms training as a unit. Its main advantage, however, is that they are by far more adaptable, much better motivated, and more intention based than the Russian military.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine have undergone a remarkable transformation.

Almost a third of Ukraine’s army will soon have NATO-standard equipment. Its network of air defence systems is in the process of being formed around (mostly) new Western systems like IRIS-T batteries from Germany, the American and Norwegian-built NASAMS, the European-built SAMP/T systems, and the American-built HAWK and Patriot batteries. Its Navy is also – little by little – being rebuilt. Its ability to damage and sink the Russian Black Sea Fleet is already greatly improved since the start of the full-scale invasion.

After 15 months of slow and incremental weapon supplies, Ukraine has also received several capabilities enabling it to target key Russian capabilities way behind the frontline. That includes both HIMARS, the GLSDB (ground-launched small diameter bomb) produced by Boeing and Saab (Sweden), the JDAM-ER (joint direct attack munition-extended range), manufactured by Boeing, and lately, the UK-produced  “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles.

Additionally, the UK is about to send hundreds of Long-Range kamikaze drones to Ukraine. They have a range of more than 125 miles – more than twice as far as HIMARs – and a similar range as the Storm Shadow missiles.

Additionally, Ukraine has been busy developing its own capabilities to strike Russian targets in the deep. In January, Ukraine’s defence industry completed several stages of testing a long-range drone with an alleged range of more than 1,000 kilometres and a payload of up to 75 kilograms. Russian airfields, naval bases and ammunition depots have been attacked.

Commercial UAVs are being transformed into weapon carriers in great numbers. Ukraine is expanding its drone programme for both reconnaissance and attacking enemy targets to reduce the gap in military capabilities on the battlefield.

It has developed unique maritime drones, that have taken the war to the Russian Navy. Additionally, Ukrainian volunteers have started to develop a “people’s” missile called Trembita with a range of 140 km. The work is conducted by the engineers from the PARS volunteer design bureau and with the participation of volunteers from the сivic movement Vidsich.

Drones and long-range fire will play an increasingly more important role in the weeks and months to come. Ukraine will try to break the will of the Russian soldiers, prepare the battlefield and destroy critical Russian capabilities, command and control nodes, logistical hubs and key infrastructure objects. It will aim to reduce Russia’s ability to manoeuvre once the first new major Ukrainian counteroffensive is launched.

The recent Western shift in policy regarding the delivery of modern combat aircraft will greatly help transform the Ukrainian Armed Forces into the most capable military power on the European continent. Once delivered, it will help defeat the Russian Armed Forces. Depending on the number of F-16S and type of weapons provided, they will help fill gaps in the Air Defence Network, provide air cover for the land forces, provide air support, provide suppression of enemy air defence and not least, improve Ukraine’s ability to destroy the Russian Black Sea Fleet and break the maritime embargo.

While doing all the above – transforming its armed forces and preparing to liberate occupied territories – Ukraine has also been busy shaping the battlefield.

Lacking the strategic patience to reconstitute and rebuild its land forces, Russia has been trying to regain the military initiative on the battlefield. It has committed most of its reserves to take cities like Soledar and Bakhmut for symbolic reasons rather than their strategic importance. Consequently, already reduced forces have become further eroded.

The White House assessed on May 1 that Russian forces have suffered 100,000 causalities—80,000 WIA and 20,000 KIA— so far in 2023. Based on previous Western assessments at the end of 2022, it has experienced at least 260,000-280,000 casualties since 24 February 2022. These estimates are conservative. Ukrainian reports indicate that the Russian Federation might have lost its initial invasion force three times so far.

According to UK Defence Intelligence, the Russian forces consist of mostly poorly trained mobilised reservists and are increasingly reliant on antiquated equipment, with many of its units severely under-strength. Russia has not been able to generate a large, capable, mobile reserve to respond to emerging operational challenges. In general, the Russian military demonstrated that it was no longer capable of large-scale combat operations. Instead, it conducted localized attacks with smaller formations and assault detachments.

Ukraine is actively hunting down Russian artillery.

Ukrainian forces have destroyed far more pieces of Russian artillery in May than in any month since the start of the full-scale invasion. If the present trends persist, about 500 will have been destroyed by the end of the month. In total, 3258 have been eliminated since 24 February 2022. 38,4% of these (1251) have been destroyed since 1 January. Additionally, Russia is experiencing an increasing number of technical problems upholding the operational status of old artillery pieces.

That said, the forthcoming series of Ukrainian offensives will not be easy. Despite all the abovementioned improvements, Ukraine is about to do something Russia has failed to achieve for 15 months at tremendous costs: Attack well-prepared, fortified positions protected by tank traps, minefields, artillery, anti-armour weapons and not least, Russian Air Power and Air Defence.

The F-16 combat aircraft and additional Air Defence Systems cannot arrive fast enough.

 

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