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Russo-Ukrainian War. Day 456: US approves NASAMS system sale to Ukraine

Article by: Hans Petter Midttun

Russia attacks Ukraine with 36 Iranian-made Shahed attack drones; Ukrainian air defense destroys all 36. US approves NASAMS system sale to Ukraine. White House studies reports of alleged use of US weapons in Russia.

Daily overview — Summary report, May 25

Latest developments. Source: War Mapper.

The General Staff’s operational update regarding the Russian invasion as of 18.00 pm, May 25, 2023 is in the dropdown menu below:

Situation in Ukraine. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.

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The Russian Federation continues to wage its war of aggression at the cost of heavy losses.

During the day of May 25, the adversary launched 30 air strikes, and 39 MLRS attacks at the positions of Ukrainian troops and various settlements.

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

The adversary continues to focus its main efforts on Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Marinka axes. 28 combat engagements took place in the above areas of the frontline.

  • Volyn and Polissya axes: [the operational situation has not changed significantly, there are no signs of the formation of offensive groupings. Certain units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus continue to serve near the areas bordering with Ukraine.]
Luhansk Battle Map. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Sivershchyna and Slobozhanshchyna axes: the adversary launched an airstrike on Yunakivka (Sumy oblast), fired mortars and artillery at the settlements of Khrinivka, Khotiivka, Yanzhulivka (Chernihiv oblast), Bunyakyne, Volfyne, Shpyl’, Pavlivka, Kindrativka, Oleksiivka, Yunakivka (Sumy oblast), Udy, Veterynarne, Lyptsi, Zelene, Ohirtseve, Hatyshche, Vovchans’k, Budarky, and Zemlyanky (Kharkiv oblast).
  • Kupiansk axis: the adversary keeps trying to improve its tactical situation. Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations in the vicinity of Masyutivka. Russian aircraft launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Kyslivka. Stroivka, Kam’yanka, Krasne Pershe, Ridkodub, Dvorichna, Zapadne, Tabaivka, Berestove (Kharkiv oblast), and Stel’makhivka (Luhansk oblast) were shelled with artillery and mortars.
Donetsk Battle Map. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Lyman axis: the adversary did not conduct any offensive operations on May 24. The invaders launched an airstrike in the vicinity of settlement of Dibrova. Nevs’ke, Bilohorivka (Luhansk oblast), Tors’ke, and Spirne (Donetsk oblast) were shelled with artillery.
Bakhmut Battle Map. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Bakhmut axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives towards Ivanivske on May 24. Russian aircraft launched an airstrike in the vicinity of Bila Hora. Vasyukivka, Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Markove, Hryhorivka, Bakhmut, Ivanivske, Stupochky, Kostyantynivka, Bila Hora, Toretsk, Pivnichne, Pivdenne, and New York (Donetsk oblast) were shelled by Russian forces.
  • Avdiivka axis: the adversary conducted unsuccessful offensives towards Novokalynove and Avdiivka. The invaders launched airstrikes near Novokalynove, Stepove, and Avdiivka. Artillery shelling was reported in the vicinities of settlements of Novokalynove, Avdiivka, Karlivka, Pervomais’ke, and Netaylove (Donetsk oblast).
  • Marinka axis: Ukrainian defenders repelled numerous enemy attacks in the vicinity of the city of Marinka. At the same time, Russian forces launched airstrikes on the vicinities of Heorhiivka and Kurakhove. Krasnohorivka, Marinka, Novomykhailivka, and Pobjeda (Donetsk oblast) were shelled by Russian forces artillery.
  • Shakhtarske axis: the occupant forces shelled Vodyane, Vuhledar, and Velyka Novosilka.
Zaporizhzhia Battle Map. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.
  • Zaporizhzhia and Kherson axes: the adversary stays on the defensive. The invaders shelled the settlements of Vremivka and Novosilka (Donetsk oblast), Ol’hivs’ke, Malynivka, Hulyaipole, Huliaipilske, Novoselivka, Omel’nyk, Bilohir’ya, Mala Tokmachka, Kam’yans’ke (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Mykhailivka, Novotyahynka, and Veletens’ke (Kherson oblast), and the city of Kherson.
Kherson-Mykolaiv Battle Map. May 24, 2023. Source: ISW.

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

On May 24, Ukrainian troops also intercepted 3 Shahed combat UAVs and 1 Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone of Russian forces.

The Ukrainian missile and artillery troops hit 2 concentrations of troops, 4 ammunition depots, 1 electronic warfare station, 4 artillery units at their firing positions, and 4 more important targets of the adversary.

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Military Updates

Shelling by Russian Troops. Icelandic Data Analyst.

On the night of May 25, 2023, the enemy attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed attack drones, the General Staff reports. “In total, 36 barrage munitions were launched from the northern and southern directions. Presumably, the enemy aimed to attack critical infrastructure and military facilities in the western regions of the state. […] By joint efforts, all 36 “shaheeds” were destroyed!”

NYT on Belgorod Oblast: Units suffered minor losses, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing The New York Times (NYT), citing a senior Ukrainian official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “According to the NYT source, not a single Ukrainian fighter entered Russian territory. The Ukrainian military plays a mostly auxiliary role, protecting the Ukrainian border in the area in case of a Russian counterattack.

The source said the units that participated in the operation suffered losses, but not so significant as to affect their combat capability. He did not provide any other details.

On 22 May, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion announced that they had crossed the border and were “liberating” the settlements of Belgorod Oblast from the current Russian authorities, starting with the villages of Kozinka and Gora-Podol. These military formations also stated that they were seeking the “liberation” of all of Russia.

Andrii Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence, described the events that took place in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast on 22 May as the creation of a “security zone” to protect Ukrainian citizens. Yusov stressed that the operation was conducted exclusively by Russian citizens.”

Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence claims it provides information to Russian Volunteer Corps but not military equipment, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Financial Times, referring to Andrii Cherniak, representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. “According to the news outlet, on Tuesday 23 May, Cherniak acknowledged some cooperation with the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion.

Of course, we communicate with them. Of course, we share some information… And, one might say, we even co-operate. At the same time, Cherniak stated that Ukraine’s military was not directly involved in the attack, suggesting that it was the Russians’ own initiative. He also denied that Ukraine supplied the resistance forces with any equipment. According to him, all western weaponry obtained by the Ukrainian armed forces remains under...the toughest control.

Denis Nikitin, leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, told the Financial Times that his fighters assaulting Belgorod Oblast were in possession of American-made military vehicles. These included at least two M1224 MaxxPro armoured vehicles and several Humvees, he said, while declining to disclose how they were obtained.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry claims its reconnaissance vessel attacked by naval drones, Ukrainska Pravda reports. “The Ministry of Defence of Russia claimed that on 24 May in the morning, Ivan Khurs, a reconnaissance ship of the Black Sea Fleet was attacked with high-speed unmanned ships of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Today at 5:30, the Armed Forces of Ukraine attempted to attack the Ivan Khurs ship with three unmanned high-speed speedboats but to no avail. […] Russia’s Defence Ministry stated that all speedboats were allegedly destroyed with conventional armament 140 km northeast of the Bosporus Strait.

The information about the attack was spread in the morning by Russian military correspondents, but it has not been confirmed. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are yet to comment on this situation.”

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

  • Analysis by Geollect indicates that since 14 May 2023, commercial vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) data has been remotely spoofed to create the impression of a 65km long Russian pro-war Z symbol on the Black Sea, visible on open-source tracking software.
  • AIS is used to track vessels, including to ensure their safety. Tracks making up the image suggested vessel speeds of up to 102 knots (188 km/h), further suggesting they were fake.
  • Pro-Russian actors likely conducted the spoofing as an information operation, potentially in an attempt to bolster Russian morale ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counter offensive.
  • The spoofing of AIS increases the risk of maritime accidents. Despite Russian virtual information operations in the Black Sea, its physical navy remains vulnerable: the Ivan Khurs intelligence gathering vessel was likely attacked on 24 May 2023.
  • Credible research by independent Russian journalists suggests that between January and May 2023, Russian military courts dealt with 1,053 cases of personnel going absent without leave (AWOL) – more than during the whole of 2022.
  • Russia’s military has struggled to enforce discipline in its ranks throughout its operations in Ukraine, but its issues have highly likely worsened following the forced mobilisation of reservists since October 2022.
  • Court data suggests that most of those found guilty of going AWOL are now punished with suspended sentences, meaning they can be redeployed to the ‘special military operation’. Russia’s efforts to improve discipline have focused on making examples of defaulters, and promoting patriotic zeal, rather than addressing the root causes of soldiers’ disillusionment.

Losses of the Russian army 

Losses of the Russian Army. Source: Euromaidan Press.

As of Thursday 25 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 205260 (+500)
  • Tanks – 3795 (+3)
  • Armoured combat vehicles – 7432 (+8)
  • Artillery systems – 3359 (+20)
  • Multiple rocket launchers –MLRS – 570 (+0)
  • Air defence means – 327 (+0)
  • Aircraft – 309 (+0)
  • Helicopters – 296 (+0)
  • Automotive technology and fuel tanks – 6148 (+2)
  • Vessels/boats – 18 (+0)
  • UAV operational and tactical level – 2907 (+36)
  • Special equipment – 444 (+4)
  • Mobile SRBM system – 4 (+0)
  • Cruise missiles – 1015 (+0)

Russians transport their military documentation from Crimea, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the National Resistance Centre. “The Russians are transporting secret documentation from the peninsula. In early May, the Russians took military documentation from the temporarily occupied Crimea to the territory of the Russian Federation. They also moved the encryption equipment from the military command and control bodies of the Russian Armed Forces.”

Humanitarian 

World Health Organization passes motion condemning Russian aggression, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing Reuters. “On Wednesday, 24 May, the World Health Organization passed a motion condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including attacks on healthcare facilities. The motion passed by 80 votes to 9, with 52 abstentions and 36 countries absent.

The motion, led by a number of Western countries, was proposed at the WHO annual meeting and called for an assessment of the impact of Russia’s aggression on the health sector. Russia had submitted a counter-proposal recognising the health emergency in Ukraine, but making no mention of its own role in the war. That motion was rejected.

The Russian representative told the assembly after the vote that Russia stood not against WHO’s work in Ukraine, but against the organisation’s politicisation.”

Only Hungary still maintains unilateral restrictions on agri-imports from Ukraine, Ukrinform reports, citing spokesperson for the European Commission (EC) on Trade and Agriculture, Miriam Garcia Ferrer. “Hungary remains the only neighboring country of Ukraine that still maintains unilateral restrictions against Ukrainian agricultural imports. The EC spokesperson noted that Hungary is still the only country that has not lifted its unilateral measures against agricultural exports from Ukraine. A package of assistance has been offered to EU countries on the condition that the unilateral measures are withdrawn, she added.

She recalled that on April 28, the EC agreed with four of Ukraine’s neighboring countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) on a package of measures to be implemented after the countries lifted their unilateral actions against agricultural imports from Ukraine. The package included direct assistance to affected farmers in five countries, including Romania. […]

Ferrer also confirmed that the EC had received an appeal from several member states protesting the allocation of aid from the agricultural reserve to countries that resort to blackmail around the transit of grain from Ukraine.”

Environmental

Occupiers continue to bring military equipment to ZNPP power units – Defence Intelligence, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. “Despite numerous calls of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the world leaders, the occupiers do not reduce their presence at the ZNPP. At the moment power units 1,2,4 are in fact being used as a logistics and military base. Manpower of the occupiers, armoured vehicles and trucks are constantly located there.

The number of transport and Russian troops at the ZNPP is constantly changing. The Defence Intelligence reports that from 5 to 20 items of military equipment may be located by each power unit during the day.”

Ukraine reports stunning UAH 8 trillion in environmental damage due to Russian war, Ukrinform reports. “The amount of damage inflicted by Russian forces on Ukraine’s subsoil, atmospheric air, water, and land resources is estimated at UAH 8 trillion. That’s according to Oleksandr Stavniychuk, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources […]

Today, the damages caused to atmospheric air, water, and land amount to almost 2 trillion. Subsoil losses are already estimated at about 6 trillion. However, our work continues as we all understand that the main goal is to receive reparations for these damages. But, of course, we seek to unify all approaches at the international level, said Stavniychuk. […]

As reported, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources has launched a screening of legislation on environmental protection for compliance with EU law.”

Over 1,300 houses destroyed, demolished by Russian invaders in Mariupol, Ukrinform reports, citing Mariupol City Council. “Russian invaders have already destroyed over 1,300 houses in the Donetsk region’s Mariupol, and continue demolishing those buildings that were damaged in Russia’s shelling of the city.

Russians killed tens of thousands of civilians, destroyed over 1,300 houses, and continue to ruin those that had been damaged by their attacks. They turned Mariupol from the city of development and opportunities, as it was under the Ukrainian flag, into the city of shot hopes, ruins and survival, the report states.

Mariupol City Council posted a few videos, showing the houses ruined and smashed by Russian bombs and artillery shells on different streets of the city. Different districts of occupied Mariupol. They have one thing in common: houses and neighborhoods destroyed by the Russians, the note to the videos reads. […]

A reminder that Russian armed aggression caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the Donetsk region’s Mariupol. About 90% of the city is lying in ruins. Russian invaders continue demolishing the buildings damaged by them to hide the traces of their crimes.”

Russians launch attack on kindergarten in Sumy Oblast, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Sumy Oblast Military Administration. “The Russians launched a KAB-500 precision guided bomb (1 explosion) on a kindergarten in the Yunakivka hromada (an administrative unit designating a town, village or several villages and their adjacent territories – ed.).

Ukraine investigates the role of Belarus in the deportation of children, Ukrinform reports. “Ukraine is investigating the alleged role of Belarus in the forced displacement of Ukrainian children from the territories temporarily occupied by Russia. The relevant statement was made by the Office of the Prosecutor General to Reuters. The fact and circumstances of taking Ukrainian children from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to the so-called ‘recreational camps’ in Belarus are currently under investigation in the mentioned criminal proceedings,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

They also noted that criminal proceedings had been initiated over the forced transportation/deportation of more than 19,000 children from the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Kharkiv regions, including to Belarus.

This statement was made following a report by the Belarusian opposition in exile that 2,150 Ukrainian children, including orphans aged 6 to 15, had been taken to so-called health camps and sanatoriums in Belarus. The Belarusian opposition claims that Ukrainian children were taken to the Belarusian sanatorium “Zoloti Pisky” in the Homel region and the sanatorium-resort camp “Ostroshytskyi Horodok” in the Minsk region.”

US Congress asks Biden to transfer frozen assets of the Russian Central Bank to Ukraine, Ukrinform reports, citing Voice of America. “A group of US congressmen led by Adam Schiff and Brian Fitzpatrick called on President Joe Biden to hand over to Kyiv the assets of the Russian Central Bank frozen under sanctions. The US representatives urge Biden to use his authority to transfer billions of dollars worth of Russian Central Bank assets frozen under US sanctions to meet urgent military and humanitarian needs in Ukraine. At this critical moment, every dollar can help, the congressmen say.

They noted that it is clear to the international community who is the aggressor and who should bear the costs of this war. It is Russia. In their letter, the US representatives refer to the possibilities provided for in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and past precedents, such as President George W. Bush’s transfer of USD 1.7 billion from the Iraqi government to compensate victims of terrorism.

According to a recent estimate, Ukraine’s current budgetary needs are estimated at USD 5 billion a month. The reconstruction will also be a massive undertaking, expected to cost USD 411 billion over 10 years.

As Ukrinform reported, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said that the United States is working on the possibility of using the blocked Russian assets to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure in Ukraine and, together with its allies, is discussing how to use the frozen USD 300 billion of the Russian Central Bank.”

Support

NATO Secretary General addresses support to Ukraine with EU Defence Ministers, NATO reports. “On Tuesday (23/05/2023), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg participated in a meeting of the European Union defence ministers in Brussels. The Secretary General stated NATO Allies and partners are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine. He welcomed the announcement by the US, the UK and other European NATO Allies that they are going to start training Ukrainian pilots in fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s.  He stressed that this is part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. 

Mr. Stoltenberg called for even closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union to ramp up production of ammunition and defensive equipment, both to support Ukraine and to replenish our own stocks. He outlined NATO’s unique role in setting standards for all NATO Allies, providing a clear demand signal through the NATO defence capability targets, and engaging regularly with industry to identify bottlenecks. The Secretary General said that NATO is revising capability targets, especially for battle-decisive ammunition, giving industry the long-term demand signal it needs to invest. He also stressed the need to ensure that ammunition is interoperable and interchangeable, and that there are no new barriers between European and North American NATO Allies.

The Secretary General announced that NATO will hold an informal event with transatlantic industry leaders on the margins of the next meeting of defence ministers in Brussels on June 15-16, to which he has also invited EU High Representative Borrelll, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, and Ukrainian representatives. The Secretary General also stressed the importance of  NATO-EU cooperation on resilience and critical infrastructure, including through the joint taskforce.”

Ukraine at OSCE: Air shield can’t be complete without modern warplanes, Ukrinform reports. “Providing Ukraine with reliable air defense capabilities has helped protect civilian and strategic infrastructure from Russian missile attacks but modern fighter jets are needed to complete a full-fledged air shield. That’s according to Deputy Permanent Representative of Ukraine to International Organizations in Vienna Natalia Kostenko. […] Kostenko emphasized the importance of the Russian Federation being deprived of its tools to commit the crime of aggression against Ukraine and that the aggressor state can never again use force against any other country.

In this context, the principle of preventive security, in our opinion, is extremely relevant for deterring and preventing possible acts of aggression in the future. […] She emphasized the fact that the war is raging on Ukrainian soil, and it is Ukrainians who are choosing their right to independence, territorial integrity, a safe and successful future. Any peace initiatives and negotiations should be based exclusively on the Peace Formula proposed by Ukraine. We expect that the details of its implementation will be discussed at the Global Peace Summit, added Kostenko.”

Training of Ukrainian pilots paves way for delivering F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine – Stoltenberg, Ukrinform reports, citing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “In the last days, we had the announcement that several Allies are going to start the training of Ukrainian pilots. Of course, that is only meaningful because at some stage then we have the option to also deliver planes. But when that will happen and how and so on, that remains to be decided. The wise thing to do is to do this step-wise, and to start the training. And then, depending on how the war evolves, and how the situation on the ground evolves, then the final decisions will be made on the issue of delivering planes, he said.

Stoltenberg noted that this new initiative also demonstrates important steps in support of Ukraine that the Allies have taken during the past few months. In particular, this concerns the deliveries of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including Leopard, Abrams and Challenger battle tanks and other equipment. Over the past weeks, the United Kingdom has delivered to Ukraine advanced long-range cruise missiles which are already making an important difference on the battlefield.

According to Stoltenberg, this is relevant and it demonstrates the long-term commitment. Because the Allies believe that it is important to ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities, the military strength, to deter against further Russian aggression.

We need to prevent history from repeating itself, we need to prevent President Putin from being able to continue to chip away at European security. To strengthen the Ukrainian Armed Forces – including their air forces – will be an important part of that. And then fourth-generation, NATO-standard aircraft can be a part of that. When this will happen, it’s too early to say. If it happens in the war, it will help them in their war efforts. If it happens later, depending, of course, on when the war ends, it will be useful regardless, he said.”

Norway to help train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, Ukrinform reports, citing Reuters. “Norway will support programs to train Ukrainian war pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said on Wednesday. The Norwegian government has not decided whether to give any of its F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, the minister told public broadcaster NRK.

As reported by Ukrinform, Portugal can train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets but cannot send its planes at the moment, Foreign Minister João Gomesch Cravinho said on Tuesday. Denmark also expressed readiness to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighters. Italy is currently considering, together with its allies, the possibility of training Ukrainian pilots on Western-made warplanes.

US State Department approves NASAMS system sale to Ukraine, Censor.net reports, citing RBK-Ukraine with reference to the Defence Security Cooperation Agency of the US Defence Ministry. “The estimated cost is about $285 million. The Agency for Security and Defence Cooperation provided the necessary certification by notifying the US Congress.

The Ukrainian government has requested the procurement of a national advanced air defence system NASAMS, which includes: one AN/MPQ-64F1 Sentinel radar; Fire Distribution Centre (FDC); launchers; GPS receivers; tool kits; primary engines; technical support from the US government and contractors. […]

It is noted that Ukraine is in dire need of improving its capabilities to defend itself against Russian missile and air strikes. Acquiring and effectively deploying this capability will increase Ukraine’s ability to protect its people and critical national infrastructure.”

US instructors to start training Ukrainian crews on Abrams tanks within days, Ukrinform reports, citing Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder speaking with VOA on Tuesday. “US forces are expected to start training Ukrainian recruits on M1A1 Abrams tanks in the next week or so. About 250 Ukrainians are arriving in Germany this week for the training, a senior military official familiar with the training told VOA.

Training in Germany is expected to last about 10 weeks and will focus on how to operate the tanks, how to manoeuvre the tanks in a combined arms fight and tank maintenance, the official said. The course structure will be similar to previous US-led training on armoured Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker vehicles, which were provided to Ukraine earlier this year, according to the official. […]

The Ukrainians will train on 31 Abrams tanks that arrived in Germany earlier this month. US officials have said that a different set of 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks are being refurbished in the United States and will be delivered to Ukraine by the fall.”

Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany announces handover of 110 Leopard tanks, Ukrinform reports. “Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany Oleksii Makeiev has announced the receiving of 110 Leopard 1A5 tanks. […]

As reported, in February, during a visit to Kyiv, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius promised that Ukraine would receive more than 100 battle tanks of the older version of Leopard 1A5 from a group of European countries.”

The Netherlands to invest 260 million euros in providing Ukraine with artillery shells, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing the press service of the Dutch Defence Ministry. “As part of the European Union’s initiative to provide Ukraine with a million artillery shells within 12 months, the Netherlands will allocate 260 million euros for joint purchases.

In March, the Council of the European Union approved a plan to provide Ukraine with a million rounds of ammunition within 12 months. It consists of three parts: the transfer of artillery shells from the stocks of EU states, joint purchases from defence companies and investments in industrial capacities.

According to the top EU diplomat Josep Borrelll, as of now, the EU states have provided Ukraine with 220,000 artillery ammunition of various calibres and 1,300 missiles.”

Japan transfers 100 military vehicles to Ukraine, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing AP. “On Wednesday, 24 May, Japan handed over 100 military vehicles to Ukraine, including trucks and off-road vehicles. The vehicles were handed over to Ukraine during an official ceremony on Wednesday, 24 May. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Japan has provided Ukraine with bulletproof vests, helmets, gas masks, hazmat suits, small drones and food rations.”

New Developments

  1. White House studying reports of alleged use of US weapons in Russia, Ukrinform reports, citing the White House National Security Coordinator, John Kirby. “The US is studying incoming reports and images that suggest the possible involvement of American weapons and equipment in operations on Russian territory. We’re looking into those reports that the US equipment and vehicles could have been involved (in Belgorod region – ed.), White House official noted. At the same time, according to him, the United States has been clear it does not support the use of US-made equipment for attacks inside Russia.“
  2. Russia and China seal economic pacts amid Western criticism, ReutersRussia’s prime minister signed a set of agreements with China on Wednesday during a trip to Beijing, describing bilateral ties at an unprecedented high, despite criticism of their relationship in the West as the war in Ukraine drags on. […] With the war in Ukraine in its second year and Russia increasingly feeling the weight of Western sanctions, Moscow is leaning on Beijing for support, far more than China on Russia, feeding on Chinese demand for oil and gas. […] The memorandums of understanding signed included an agreement to deepen investment cooperation in trade services, a pact on export of agricultural products to China, and another on sports cooperation. Russia’s energy shipments to China are projected to rise 40% this year, and the two countries are discussing technological equipment supplies to Russia, Interfax news agency reported.”
  3. Russia: US equipment used in border raid shows growing Western role in Ukraine, ReutersThe Kremlin said on Wednesday the use of US-made military hardware by pro-Ukrainian fighters who conducted a raid on a Russian border region this week was testament to the West’s growing involvement in the Ukraine conflict. The Russian military said on Tuesdayit had routed militants who attacked the Russian border region of Belgorod with armoured vehicles the previous day, killing more than 70 “Ukrainian nationalists” and pushing the remainder back into Ukraine. It said it had destroyed four armoured vehicles and five pick-up trucks to repel what was one of the largest incursions onto Russian soil from Ukraine since Moscow launched what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine 15 months ago. Footage of some of the destroyed vehicles released by the Russian defence ministry showed US-made military hardware such as Humvee military trucks.”
  4. Stoltenberg: Ukraine Joining NATO during War ‘Not on the Agenda’, European PravdaJens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has once again said that granting NATO membership to Ukraine during full-scale war with Russia is not realistic. […] Stoltenberg acknowledges that “on that issue (Ukraine’s membership – ed.) there are different views in the alliance and of course the only way to make decisions in NATO is by consensus. There are consultations underway on the way forward and how to satisfy Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO membership. No one is able to tell you exactly what will be the final decision at the Vilnius summit on this issue, he added.”
  5. Discussions of future security model for Ukraine in progress – White House, UkrinformThe United States, together with its allies and partners, continues discussions with the Ukrainian side on the issue of a security model to be chosen for the nation in the future. That’s according to White House National Security Coordinator John Kirby […] He said that at the moment he cannot officially confirm specific comments that have appeared recently. At the same time, Ukraine will have long-term security, and this is one of the reasons why President Joe Biden agreed to the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, as well as to the potential supply of these warplanes to Ukraine in the future, Kirby added. So we’re in active discussions with them about what their long-term security needs are going to be, Kirby said.
  6. Polish general calls to prepare for uprising in Belarus, Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing General Waldemar Skrzypczak, former Commander of the Polish Land Forces, in an interview with the Polsattelevision channel. “According to the Polish general, if the Ukrainian counterattack is to be successful, armed Belarusians who are now fighting on the side of Ukrainian forces might initiate an overthrow of the regime of the self-proclaimed President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Let’s prepare for the uprising in Belarus, because it will happen. The thing is, we cannot miss this moment. We must be ready to support those troops that will conduct an operation against Lukashenko. We have reasons to help them, just as we help Ukrainians, Skrzypczak said. The Polish general believes that the Belarusian people will support the volunteers who are now fighting in Ukraine and will go against Lukashenko with enthusiasm.”

Assessment 

  1. On the war. 

The Institute for the Study of War has made the following assessment as of  May 24, 2022:

Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line on May 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive actions near Masyutivka (16km northeast of Kupiansk) and Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna). Russian Western Group of Forces Spokesperson Sergei Zybinsky claimed that assault detachments of the 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District) conducted a ground attack near Masyutivka. Geolocated footage published on May 24 indicates that Russian forces captured Yahidne (22km east of Kupiansk) prior to May 24 and that Russian forces additionally made marginal advances near Spirne (25km south of Kreminna). Video footage amplified on May 24 purportedly shows Chechen Akhmat-Vostok forces operating near Kreminna.

Russian forces continued limited ground attacks on the outskirts of Bakhmut on May 24. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian troops conducted unsuccessful offensive operations towards Ivanivske (3km southwest of Bakhmut) and Khromove (3km west of Bakhmut). Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi noted that Ukrainian troops are continuing defensive operations on the outskirts of Bakhmut. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner Group forces completely control Bakhmut and that forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) are slowly entering the city to take over clearing operations. Another Russian milblogger warned that Ukrainian troops may be intensifying the movement of military equipment and personnel through Kostyantynivka (17km southwest of Bakhmut).

Discussions regarding reported Russian losses in Bakhmut have saturated the pro-war information space and are drowning out any remaining positive informational effect resulting from the city’s capture. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed during an interview with Russian political strategist Konstantin Dolgov on May 23 that Wagner lost 10,000 convict recruits and 10,000 full-time professional Wagner fighters killed in action over the course of the Battle for Bakhmut. Prigozhin specifically noted that Wagner had recruited 50,000 prisoners, 20 percent of whom (10,000) died in fighting for Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers immediately seized on the reported losses, thereby shifting the overall Russian conversation away from discussions of the significance of the capture of Bakhmut and towards amplifying speculation surrounding the reported losses. The nationalist pro-war faction, exemplified by the views of former Russian officer Igor Girkin, commented on the massive scale of the reported losses and speculated that real losses may be much higher. Russian politician Viktor Alksnis simply remarked that the Soviet Army lost far fewer soldiers (15,051) in nine years in Afghanistan. Girkin stated that he believes that Wagner’s actual losses could be more than 1.5 times higher than Prigozhin’s claims and pointed out that of the 50,000 recruits Wagner received from prisons, 10,000 died in action and 26,000 reportedly received pardons and returned to Russia, leaving 14,000 prison recruits unaccounted for. Girkin suggested that a large portion of these 14,000 unaccounted-for prison recruits may have also been killed in action and claimed that Wagner has likely suffered more than 40,000 killed in action. Girkin suggested that Prigozhin “keep [his] mouth shut” and stop talking about “wild losses for a very insignificant result.” Another Russian milblogger, by contrast, praised Prigozhin for being open about the scale of losses and stated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) would have hidden such figures.

The overall Russian information space response to the capture of Bakhmut has fixated on attributing responsibility for its capture and speculating on the associated costs of the operation, thus depriving the Russian MoD of the oxygen necessary to positively frame the city’s capture. As ISW reported on May 22 factions within the pro-war information space immediately began arguing over whether Wagner or regular Russian units and commanders should receive medals and commendations for operations in Bakhmut. Prigozhin’s claims about Wagner’s losses in Bakhmut have similarly become a distinct point of tension in the information space and have come to define the predominant discourse about Russia’s entire campaign in Bakhmut. In shifting the conversation towards claimed Wagner losses, Prigozhin has largely succeeded in further depriving the Russian MoD of the opportunity to claim informational victory over Bakhmut and will likely continue to define and lead conversations on Bakhmut going forward but at the cost of highlighting the huge losses his own forces suffered for a negligible gain.

Prigozhin is likely using his heightened profile following the capture of Bakhmut to intensify his attacks against the Russian military establishment and elites. Prigozhin stated in his May 23 interview with Dolgov that the Russian military leadership has so far failed to achieve the main objectives of the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin blamed his usual targets, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Army General Valery Gerasimov, for being the main problem within the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and for blocking support and supplies to Wagner. Prigozhin also criticized Shoigu’s son-in-law and daughter for being the stereotypical children of Russian elite whose life experience is in dramatic opposition to those fighting in Ukraine. Prigozhin warned that the Russian elite is fostering a situation that could end up like the revolution of 1917, in which soldiers and their loved ones stood up against the Russian government. Prigozhin threatened that the Russian public may become violent towards the Russian elite, referencing mobs with pitchforks and alluding to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a string of politically motivated mob assassinations in France in 1572. Prigozhin’s somewhat subtle and purposefully obscure threats of violence represent an inflection in his longstanding feuds with the Russian military establishment and select elite figures.

Prigozhin is also using the perception that Wagner is responsible for the capture of Bakhmut to advocate for a preposterous level of influence over the Russian war effort in Ukraine. Prigozhin reiterated that the Wagner Group is the best army in the world and argued that the conventional Russian army is second to Wagner. Prigozhin claimed that 6,000 Wagner personnel can each manage his own company worth of personnel and that Wagner could therefore command a force of 600,000 personnel, roughly twice the estimated number of Russian personnel fighting in Ukraine. Prigozhin suggested that he has previously asked for 200,000 personnel to command in Ukraine and argued that if he had such a force then Wagner could advance from 50 to 150km in different directions. Prigozhin claimed that he did not receive this force because of fears that such a force would allow him to dictate terms and theoretically “come to Moscow in tanks.” Prigozhin also advocated for Russian Deputy-Minister-of-Defense-for-Logistics-turned-Wagner-Group-deputy-commander Colonel General Mikhail Mizinstev to replace Shoigu as Defense Minister and for former overall theater commander and alleged Wagner ally Army General Sergey Surovikin to replace Gerasimov as Chief of the General Staff.

Prigozhin is also likely doubling down on his attempts to establish himself as a Russian totalitarian figure who could achieve military victory in Ukraine. Prigozhin called for complete martial law, several subsequent waves of mobilization, and wide-scale economic mobilization of Russian industry to save Russia. Prigozhin also suggested that Russia should become a totalitarian regime akin to North Korea and close all borders for a certain number of years to achieve victory in Ukraine. Prigozhin has routinely crafted an image to resonate with a constituency interested in the ideology of Russia’s national superiority, Soviet brutalist strength, and Stalinist totalitarian control. Prigozhin is likely advocating for incredibly radical policy approaches to the war in Ukraine to contrast himself with Putin’s relatively risk-averse decision-making approach to the war. ISW has previously assessed that Prigozhin harbors serious political ambitions and intends to cement himself as the central figure of the Russian ultranationalist community. The capture of Bakhmut has likely emboldened Prigozhin to pursue those ambitions in a more explicit manner regardless of the internal upheaval that it may cause or the danger it may place him in with the Kremlin.

The Kremlin continues efforts to portray Russia as having significant diplomatic partnerships. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to attendees of the 11th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues in Moscow on May 24 to deliver boilerplate rhetoric accusing the West of generating global instability and calling on Asian, African, and Latin American states to form a multipolar world order. Putin later attended the Eurasian Economic Forum in Moscow alongside Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, and Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan. Putin also met with Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska (the Serbian political entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Dodik demonstratively supported the Russian narrative about the war in Ukraine by stating that Russia was forced to launch the “special military operation” and that the war is a clash against the West. The Kremlin has previously leveraged energy and military cooperation with Republika Srpska to attempt to spread Russian influence in the Balkans, although Russian influence with its other notable partner in the region, Serbia, appears to be waning. The Kremlin has used previous international forums and meetings with heads of state to portray Russia as having robust international partnerships and to advocate for the formation of a potential anti-Western coalition. Putin most notably tried and failed to secure a no-limits bilateral partnership with Chinese President Xi Jinping in late March and align China with Russia in Putin’s envisioned geopolitical conflict with the West. The nominal support of several post-Soviet states and the explicit support of a small constituent entity is likely far less than what the Kremlin is hoping to achieve with this wider diplomatic effort.

Russian sources continued to respond to the limited all-Russian pro-Ukrainian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and the Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) raid into Belgorod Oblast. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Collegium meeting that Western Military District Border Guards expelled all pro-Ukrainian forces from Belgorod Oblast, killing 70 personnel and destroying an unspecified number of vehicles and armored vehicles. Some milbloggers criticized the ineffectiveness of the Russian border guards and questioned why they would allow the RDK and LSR to break through to Russian territory and mine the border areas over the course of two days. Other milbloggers criticized Russian forces for not maintaining “normal communication and interactions” with border guards, which created difficulties in repelling RDK and LSR forces. One milblogger praised Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov and claimed that he rose to the occasion during the raid by solving problems that civilian officials usually do not have to solve. Gladkov, however, said that he has “more questions for the MoD” and that lessons needed to be learned from the mistakes in Belgorod Oblast. Another milblogger criticized Belgorod Oblast civilian authorities for allowing civilians to live one kilometer away from the “front line” and questioned why authorities chose not to relocate civilians until after the situation improved.

The New York Times reported on May 24 that unnamed US officials said that the US intelligence community assesses with low confidence that unknown Ukrainian elements with unknown connections to Ukraine’s leadership were responsible for the May 3 drone attacks on the Kremlin. ISW had previously assessed that the attack was a Russian false flag operation on May 3.  ISW has no additional information about this incident.

Key Takeaways

  • Discussions regarding reported Russian losses in Bakhmut have saturated the pro-war information space and are drowning out any remaining positive informational effect resulting from the city’s capture.
  • The overall Russian information space response to the capture of Bakhmut has fixated on attributing responsibility for its capture and speculating on the associated costs of the operation, thus depriving the Russian MoD of the oxygen necessary to positively frame the city’s capture.
  • Prigozhin is likely using his heightened profile following the capture of Bakhmut to intensify his attacks against the Russian military establishment and elites. Prigozhin is also using the perception that Wagner is responsible for the capture of Bakhmut to advocate for a preposterous level of influence over the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin continues efforts to portray Russia as having significant diplomatic partnerships.
  • Russian sources continued to respond to the limited all-Russian pro-Ukrainian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and the Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) raid into Belgorod Oblast.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks northeast of Kupiansk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued limited ground attacks on the outskirts of Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian forces continue to target Ukrainian positions in southern Ukraine with FAB-500 aerial bombs.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on May 24 that more than 120,000 Russian personnel have undergone training since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Federation Council approved a law on holding elections in territories under martial law on.

Intel chief Budanov: Counteroffensive to start soon, minimum arms stocks already in place, Ukrinform reports, citing the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU). “Ukraine’s Defense Forces have accumulated enough strength and weapons to start the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories that are temporarily seized by Russia.

The relevant statement was made by Chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov in an interview with Japan’s NHK […]  Many civilians are still under Russian occupation, and time cannot be wasted anymore. We already have minimum weapons and other equipment stocks in place. I can only say that it will start soon, Budanov told.

The head of the Ukrainian intelligence noted that the country would need significant stocks to continue the operation. According to Budanov, the G7 Summit in Japan’s Hiroshima, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took part in person, will allow for control over progress in the accelerated pace of arms supplies from international partners.”.

US general: We must ensure Ukraine defeats Russia to avoid China war, General (R) Ben Hodges argues in The Times.  “America must ensure that Ukraine defeats Russia if it is to avoid fighting a war with China, the former commander of the US army in Europe has said. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges said President Biden’s pledge to back Ukraine for “as long as it takes” was “meaningless” as he challenged western leaders to state clearly what they wanted to achieve and then equip President Zelensky’s forces accordingly.

Biden, Rishi Sunak and Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, needed to say, “we want Ukraine to win“, he said, adding: If they did that, this war would be over by the end of the year. Hodges, 65, who is retired, said: Look how fragile the Russians are. The only chance they have is if we lose the desire to support Ukraine.

The former top US officer in Europe, now a senior adviser to Human Rights First, said that President Putin had been emboldened to invade Ukraine by the West’s failure to respond to his 2008 invasion of Georgia, his backing the use of chemical weapons in Syria and his seizure of Crimea and Donbas in 2014. “This is what failed deterrence looks like. Yes, deterrence is expensive but as we’re seeing now failed deterrence is much more expensive,” he said. We need to spell out the desired strategic outcome. We need to say we want Ukraine to get all its territory back, to rebuild its economy, bring back thousands of Ukrainian children deported to Russia and get accountability for Russian war crimes.

If we don’t do that, I don’t think the Chinese will be too impressed with anything we say about Taiwan or the South China Sea. And that will be a much more difficult war, given the geography and the distance involved.

He stressed that any resolution to the war must include the return of Crimea to Ukraine, a move that France and Germany fear could never be made palatable for Putin. If Russia retains Crimea… it will be just a couple of years before they come back, Hodges said. If you look at a map of the Black Sea, you- can see Crimea is like a dagger into the belly of Ukraine – with aircraft, the Black Sea fleet, sitting there able to strike anywhere along Ukraine’s southern coastline or deep inside Ukraine.

As long as Crimea remained in Russian hands, the Ukrainian economy’s reliance on grain and metal exports could always by throttled by the Kremlin. Russia blocked access to the Azov Sea with the Kerch Bridge, so even if the ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol were liberated, they’re not going to be able to get back into business. Odesa and Mykolaiv are within easy striking distance of Crimea. That means people are not going to invest in them, they won’t be confident their grain will flow unhindered, and it doesn’t flow right now.

The former general expects Ukraine’s long- anticipated counteroffensive to focus on cutting the Kremlin’s land bridge to Crimea and bringing forward long-range precision weapons like the British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missile that can make the peninsula “untenable” for the Russians. Ukraine just needs the ability to reach out and hit them. That’s why Storm Shadow is so important, especially since the US, for whatever reason, continues to refuse to provide ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile Systems].

Grey Eagle drones, ground-launched small diameter bombs, maritime unmanned systems – all these things would give Ukraine the ability now to make Crimea untenable for Russian forces. Storm Shadow could help Ukraine to cut rail supplies over the Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea, he said, although destroying the structure altogether would be difficult.

Hodges led US forces in Europe between 2014 and 2017, setting up a training centre in Yavoriv, western Ukraine and overseeing the instruction of Ukrainian forces learning to fire Javelin anti-tank missiles. NATO allies had learnt more from the training than the Ukrainians had, he said, arguing the experiences of troops fighting a hybrid war with the Kremlin in the Donbas encouraged the US to alter its own training programme. This was part of the transition between counterterror operations in Afghanistan to high-end steel on steel conflict. We realised we had to change our training model to include an enemy with the extensive electronic warfare capabilities the Russians had, he said.

Ukraine’s generals would not be rushed into launching their counteroffensive too soon, Hodges added, despite it having been widely advertised as a spring offensive. The number one condition is whether they have enough combat power that’s trained, ready, logistically supported- tanks, mechanised infantry, armoured engineers, air defence and mobile artillery – to penetrate on a narrow front in two or three places all theses linear Russian defences, he said.

Russia’s daunting fortifications in southern Ukraine, including hundreds of miles of trenches, dragon’s teeth tank defences and mines, were just a nuisance if Putin’s troops were not prepared to defend it, he said. When I look at those trenches, almost all of them are uncovered. I would not want to sit in one of those things once this starts.

Hodges said that this week’s border incursions by partisans had highlighted deep-rooted problems in both Russian society and command structures. Every Russian in Russia is not happy with how this is going. You’ve got [Yevegenyl Prigozhin calling [Sergei] Shoigu and [Valery] Gerasimov the filthiest things possible and even mocking the president, he said, referring to the head of the Wagner mercenary group, the Russian minister of defence and head of the Russian forces. That gives you some sense of the incoherence of the Russian command structure. They have serious internal problems. And if there are problems for the Russians, I’m happy.”

Russian spy chief tells ‘meddling West’ to go to the devil, forecasts its demise, Reuters reports. “One of Russia’s top spy chiefs on Wednesday said the West had sown the seeds of its own destruction by turning away from what he called its core traditions and told it to “go to the devil” and stop interfering in global affairs. In remarks at a security forum outside Moscow attended by foreign security officials, Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, made some of his most anti-Western comments yet, underlining the depth of enmity Moscow harbours towards the West over its support for Ukraine.

The Anglo-Saxons might be advised to attend to their own internal civil conflicts. Better still, to clear off to their acquaintance, the devil, said Naryshkin, who like other Russian officials refers to Britain, the United States and other English-speaking countries in the West as “the Anglo-Saxons”. It is pertinent to remember the biblical truth: the end of them will be according to their deeds. And that means that their end will be a sad one, he said, saying the West was riven by serious internal and external problems.

Russia wants the West to stop arming Ukraine, something Washington, London and European countries continue to do apace ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive to help Kyiv defend itself against what they cast as an unprovoked Russian war of conquest. Naryshkin […] accused Washington and London of thwarting efforts to reach a settlement over the conflict and of turning a blind eye to what he said was increasing “terrorism and violence” visited on civilians by Ukraine. The West says Russia is the one fuelling the war and must withdraw its forces […].

Channelling the Kremlin’s preferred view of the geopolitical landscape, Naryshkin accused the West of trying to resist a historical shift towards a multipolar world. He also accused what he called the “Euro-Atlantic elite” of refusing to voluntarily surrender their leadership while doing everything they could to stop what he called alternative centres of power from rising.

He expressed satisfaction that most countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America had not imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, despite what he called colossal pressure to do so from Washington.

Forecasting turbulent times ahead in global affairs, he said that Russia and other non-Western countries were better placed to weather processes that could decide the fate of nations. Turbulent periods (in world history) are essentially a test of the extent to which nations and peoples have preserved their true foundations, said Naryshkin, who like other Russian officials has criticised social changes in the West, such as those around identity, as dangerous and wrong.

Our countries, unlike the West, have preserved a significant margin of strength and strategic depth in this respect, he said. I mean a connection with the spiritual dimension of existence, traditions which in the United States and Europe long ago gave way to positivism, the cult of material success and outright Satanism, said Naryshkin.”

Russia’s Central bank is also at war with Ukraine – Bloomberg, Ukrinform reports, citing Bloomberg. “Since the invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has increasingly put the Russian economy on a war footing. The Central Bank of the Russian Federation is taking an active part in this. As noted, the bank is headed by Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, military officer Sergey Belov. In particular, he is responsible for the so-called field offices of the bank.

The Central Bank of the Russian Federation has nearly 90 such field offices operating near forward military units. They meet the banking needs of the military, from opening a current account or withdrawing cash to money transfers and even issuing their own payment cards.

Unlike the formal head of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, Elvira Nabiullina, and other senior officials, Belov is not under international sanctions. He graduated from the Economic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Defense and previously headed the Central Bank’s department in Sevastopol. Belov’s activities expanded after Russia occupied parts of four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. This year, a government decree authorized “field offices” to manage budget funds for residents of the occupied territories. In February, he also attended a meeting in occupied Mariupol on financial services.

 

  1. Consequences and what to do?

Don’t Promise Ukraine NATO Membership Now, John R. Deni, a research professor at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, argues in Foreign Policy. “In two months, NATO leaders will gather in Vilnius for their annual summit, and leading the agenda will be the West’s ongoing support for Ukraine today and in the years ahead. Prominent experts have called for the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies to formally lay out a path for Ukrainian membership in NATO, one that is clearer than the mere promise of eventually joining the club, or at least to provide Ukraine with some other kind of security guarantee short of NATO membership.

While these proposals are well-intentioned insofar as they seek to deter Russia from future attacks on Ukraine after the present war ends, neither of the alternatives suggested is likely to prove effective and may, in fact, worsen Ukraine’s security in the short run. Instead, a more prudent approach is to remain focused on helping Ukraine win the war by significantly expanding Western military assistance.

At a previous NATO summit—Bucharest in 2008—Ukraine and Georgia became the only two countries in the alliance’s 74-year history to be promised eventual membership, without conditions. The Kremlin reacted with concern over the threat NATO posed, even though the alliance was in the midst of a 25-year decline in defense spending and combat power. Given Moscow’s quiescence regarding several rounds of alliance enlargement— including Finland just last month, with which it shares an 830-mile border— Moscow appears more concerned with losing influence in the post-Soviet space than with an expanded NATO. Regardless, no other countries that have joined the original 12 alliance members have ever received such a no-strings-attached commitment from NATO.

Granting Ukraine membership as soon as possible or precisely defining how it will join NATO soon plays into Putin’s misinformation campaign on the war.

The Bucharest summit declaration fundamentally short-circuited the accession process, putting the cart of NATO membership ahead of the horse of military and political reforms. The promise let Georgia and Ukraine off the hook too easily while strongly incentivizing the Kremlin to create frozen conflicts in each before they joined NATO. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia—and has occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia ever since—and in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine, occupying Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Given NATO’s requirement that aspirants have no unresolved border disputes with neighboring countries, Moscow’s frozen conflicts effectively prevented Georgia or Ukraine from joining the alliance. Of course, today the frozen conflict in Ukraine has given way to a brutal, devastating war, notwithstanding NATO’s routine reiteration of the Bucharest language.

The Bucharest declaration wasn’t the first time in which rhetorical tools failed to prove sufficient for Ukraine. Several years prior, in a 1994 Budapest memorandum, Russia pledged it wouldn’t use force against Ukraine, and in exchange Kyiv gave up all nuclear weapons and related delivery systems on its territory in the wake of the Soviet Union’s demise. Clearly, that agreement hasn’t benefited Ukraine. The point is, rhetoric and political agreements are insufficient—ultimately, only accession to NATO will provide Ukraine the security it needs to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from trying to incorporate it into Russia or turn it into a puppet buffer state like Belarus.

So why not offer a more concrete path to NATO membership now? Three reasons stand out. First, because doing so frustrates an eventual political settlement to the war that is favorable to Ukraine. Kyiv’s willpower and its military forces have proved remarkably strong, but it’s highly unlikely Ukrainian troops will vanquish the entire Russian military, causing Moscow to completely capitulate. Instead, a political agreement is the most likely path to the war’s end, eventually. So clearly drawing Ukraine into or toward NATO now risks strengthening Russia’s will to persist, prolonging what is already Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II and resulting in potentially thousands more Ukrainian civilian casualties.

Second, granting Ukraine membership as soon as possible, as some in the alliance’s eastern flank have advocated privately, or precisely defining how it will join NATO someday soon plays into Putin’s misinformation campaign on the war. Putin has claimed the West started the war through its attempted domination of Ukraine, all in an effort to ultimately attack Russia itself. Placing Ukraine on a speedier, clearer road toward membership in NATO turns Putin’s propaganda into prophecy. In turn, this facilitates Putin’s grip on Russian public opinion and undermines dissent among elites and within the military.

And finally, inviting Ukraine into NATO now or formalizing the inevitability of its joining ignores the fact that the country is arguably not ready politically. Over the last three decades, Western values have become increasingly important for NATO, Hungary’s slippage in this regard notwithstanding. Following President Volodymyr Zelensky’s election in 2019 but before Russia’s invasion in 2022, Ukraine was at best a country struggling to solidify its democratic foundations.

Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization that surveys governance, cited a lack of government transparency, endemic official corruption, and the lack of judicial independence as key reasons why Ukraine was deemed only “partly free.” Since the invasion and a wartime crackdown on civil liberties, Ukraine has arguably become even less free. Can Kyiv turn this around? Yes, but probably not until after the war ends and then contingent upon a broader consensus across Ukrainian society.

For all these reasons, drawing Ukraine further into NATO’s orbit now is premature. Instead, both the West and Kyiv should remain laser-focused on the most important task at hand: ensuring Ukraine repels Russia’s invasion. For this reason, discussion around NATO’s table in Vilnius this summer should focus on how all allies—especially those in Europe—will significantly ramp up production of, delivery of, and training on advanced military platforms from the West and its allies elsewhere as the best way to overcome continuing Russian quantitative advantages in manpower and material.

Talk is cheap, especially relative to the costs that allies will incur to provide Kyiv what it needs to prevail in the war. But a dramatic expansion of advanced Western aid and assistance will do far more to help Ukraine overcome Russia’s numeric advantages than mere promises of what’s to come after the war.

EU recommends end to energy support in 2023 to help fiscal policy, Reuters reports. “The European Commission recommended on Wednesday that all EU governments end support measures for energy prices by the end of this year to keep public finances in check and stay in line with proposed new fiscal rules in 2024. […] Should renewed energy price increases require the implementation of support measures, these should be targeted at protecting vulnerable households and firms, fiscally affordable, and preserve incentives for energy savings,” it said.

Most of the EU’s 27 countries introduced various measures to mitigate the impact of soaring energy prices last year, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent gas and oil prices rocketing. The Commission estimates these energy support measures in 2023 range from 0.2% of GDP in Greece, to 0.6% in Spain, 1% in France and Italy and 2% of GDP in Germany.

But with energy prices lower again, such support is harder to justify and would leave many countries unable to meet their net primary expenditure limits recommended by the Commission under a reform of EU fiscal rules.”

Since the start of Russia’s war, 29 foreign vessels remain in Mykolaiv ports, Ukrinform reports, citing head of the regional military administration (RMA), Vitaliy Kim. “Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war, 29 foreign ships with cargo have been in Mykolaiv ports waiting to go to sea. There are currently 29 foreign vessels with cargo in Mykolaiv ports, including 6 Turkish ones. All of them are ready to go to sea as soon as a decision is made for Mykolaiv to join the grain corridor, Kim stated.

According to him, the situation on these vessels is very different. Most of them have crews, others have been evacuated, and some of the cargo is in danger of catching fire. Some vessels have been supplied with water and provisions, while others have been supplied by their owners.

In his words, there is currently no official information about Mykolaiv joining the grain deal. He believes it will become more realistic only after the de-occupation of the Kinburn Spit.”

Hans Petter Midttun: I don’t agree with the arguments John R. Deni are presenting in the articleDon’t Promise Ukraine NATO Membership Now” presented above. When I chose to present them its because they seem to reflect some of the prevailing perceptions of the war, NATO, Russia, and Ukraine. While I disagree, it gives me an opportunity to present both his arguments and my counterarguments, allowing the reader to make up her/his own mind.

The tittle of the article – Don’t Promise Ukraine NATO Membership Now – is also his conclusion.

«Prominent experts have called for the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies to formally lay out a path for Ukrainian membership in NATO, one that is clearer than the mere promise of eventually joining the club, or at least to provide Ukraine with some other kind of security guarantee short of NATO membership.

While these proposals are well-intentioned insofar as they seek to deter Russia from future attacks on Ukraine after the present war ends, neither of the alternatives suggested is likely to prove effective and may, in fact, worsen Ukraine’s security in the short run.

He argues that Russia appears more concerned with losing influence in the post-Soviet space than with an expanded NATO. The Bucharest summit declaration, promising both Georgia and Ukraine a future NATO membership (when they fulfill membership criteria’s) triggered Russia into action. Given the Alliance’s prerequisite that new membership applicants cannot have any unresolved border disputes with their neighbouring countries, the Kremlin quickly realised that a conflict would effectively stop Georgia or Ukraine from joining NATO.

In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia—and has occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia ever since—and in 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine, occupying Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk.

While all of that is correct, Professor Deni makes the same mistake as many others: What started off as an effort to stop NATO membership, has since turned to something else and something far more sinister.

Its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year is not meant to stop Ukraine’s EU and NATO integration process. That aim was already achieved on 20 February 2014. The low intensity war in parts of Donbas would have forever denied Ukraine membership in the Alliance.

The escalation eight years later was meant to occupy, control, destroy the Ukrainian nation, and integrate the Ukrainian territories into the Russian Federation.

This understanding is crucial when discussing Ukraine’s potential NATO membership. Russia is no longer trying to deny Ukraine’s chance to become a NATO member. It is trying to deny Ukraine the right to exist. Despite his conclusion, the professor argues that:

“Ultimately, only accession to NATO will provide Ukraine the security it needs to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from trying to incorporate it into Russia or turn it into a puppet buffer state like Belarus.

That is why NATO, in my humble opinion, should not only promise NATO membership but also accept Ukraine as a member.

The precondition that new membership applicants cannot have any unresolved border disputes with their neighbouring countries should be removed because it unintentionally triggers conflicts and war, thereby achieving the exact opposite of what NATO tries to achieve.

The prerequisite has been decided by NATO and can be removed by NATO.

I have previously argued that a Ukrainian NATO accession might help end the war. Most NATO members have long acknowledged that Ukraine is defending European security and stability as well as our shared values and principles. Russia’s warfare in Ukraine is only a part of a much broader confrontation between Russia and the West. The EU has already recognised that its member states – most of which are also NATO members – are exposed to Russian Hybrid War.

It is the West’s war, and it should both acknowledge and act accordingly. By making Ukraine a fully integrated member of the Alliance, NATO becomes an official party to the war. It would mean that if Russia continued its attacks on Ukraine, it would trigger collective defence according to Article 5.

Some would argue that this would trigger World War 3. In my opinion – given the sorrow state of the Russian armed forces and it being the aggressor – it would present Russia with a small dilemma: Do it really want to fight the US and Europe? Or would it prefer to withdraw its remaining military and security forces to secure its internationally recognised borders?

It is a small dilemma because the outcome is given.

There are no scenarios where WW3 is beneficial to Russia. And there are no scenarios where either China or India would sanction this kind of escalation. Russia is immoral beyond belief but not stupid.

Professor Deni gives three reasons for why Ukraine – contrary to my advice – should not be offered NATO membership.

Firstly, he argues that because doing so frustrates an eventual political settlement to the war that is favourable to Ukraine. He does not believe Ukraine will be able to liberate all of its territories and sees a political agreement as the most likely path to end the war.

“So clearly drawing Ukraine into or toward NATO now risks strengthening Russia’s will to persist, prolonging what is already Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II and resulting in potentially thousands more Ukrainian civilian casualties.”

I disagree. The NATO membership question has been in play for more than 15 years already and will remain so until the war is concluded: One defeats the other.

By arguing that occupied territories cannot be liberated and advocating a political settlement he is arguing in favour of Ukrainian concessions and rewarding the aggressor. That would set Ukraine up for a low intensity everlasting, exhausting conflict, and potentially, a defeat (as the West refocus on new challenges). Europe cannot afford Russia coming out of the war victorious or with a launchpad for its next war.

Secondly, he argues that “granting Ukraine membership as soon as possible […], or precisely defining how it will join NATO someday soon plays into Putin’s misinformation campaign on the war.”

I strongly disagree. Russia has proven itself extremely capable of spreading lies and disinformation without any roots in facts whatsoever. Its disinformation campaign includes after all everything from Ukraine isn’t really a nation and is governed by Nazis, to Kyiv is under external control and Russia is defending itself against the collective West in Ukraine.

What we do does not have any impact on Putin’s disinformation campaign since truth has no part in it.

More importantly, the West cannot possibly establish a strategy based on Russian disinformation. If we aim to win the war, Russia must loose. It’s not going to like it and it will be reflected in its strategic narratives.

Ironically, by granting Ukraine NATO membership the West will kill the argument. This would end the war, forcing Putin to develop a new information campaign to explain why Russia withdrew.

Lastly – and to my great dismay – the professor argues that by “inviting Ukraine into NATO now or formalizing the inevitability of its joining ignores the fact that the country is arguably not ready politically.

“ House, a nongovernmental organization that surveys governance, cited a lack of government transparency, endemic official corruption, and the lack of judicial independence as key reasons why Ukraine was deemed only “partly free.” Since the invasion and a wartime crackdown on civil liberties, Ukraine has arguably become even less free.

I vemhently disagree with the last part of the statement. I argued against a fast NATO membership track for Ukraine less than two years ago for some of the same reasons as the professor. I have, however, changed my mind because I have come to realise that NATO needs Ukraine more than Ukraine needs NATO. That’s an overstatement obviously, made to highlight past arguments that a military alliance needs military power more than strong institutions.

While the latter is crucially important, it becomes less so when that’s all one can bring to the battlefield. Most NATO members has maintained and strengthened their institutions while having downsized their armed forces, streamlined the force and support structures, removed critical military capabilities, reduced staffing, cut training and exercises, and downsized stockpiles of ammunition and spare parts.  Very few would be able to do what Ukraine is doing.

The bottom line is that – and it takes us straight back to the question about Ukrainian NATO membership – can we afford to let Ukraine remains outside the Alliance and thereby risking that it one day is defeated and integrated into an aggressive, brutal Russia.

The last part of his statement, however, is shocking by its absurdity. I have no problem accepting the assessment that Ukraine has flaws and further reforms are needed. That part is okay. But arguing that the introduction of martial law – that by default sets temporary restrictions on civil liberties – is an indication of a country moving in the wrong direction is downright – and I struggle to find the diplomatic wording – downright ….not very clever.

I do, however, agree that the West and Kyiv should remain laser-focused on the most important task at hand: ensuring Ukraine repels Russia’s invasion. But they also need to equally focused on breaking the maritime embargo, stopping Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s economy, closing the sky, and countering the broader hybrid war. Only NATO has the tools needed to achieve all of this and they will not become available for Ukraine until it’s a full member of the Alliance.

This should not be a discussion about defence support for Ukraine or a Ukrainian NATO membership. One does not exclude the other.

I have long argued that NATO could end the war – possibly without firing a shot – if it decided to acknowledge the broader confrontation; rise to the occasion and confront Russia; and not least, act according to its last strategic concept. What was seen as a strategically sound concept in 2010 – stopping a war that threatens the security and stability of its member states – is not less strategically sound today.

On the contrary, by not doing what is needed, the Alliance is running an enormous risk. Europe cannot afford to see Ukraine fail and Russia succeed.

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