The present status of Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is very fluid, violent, and frequently startling. NPI will try to err on the side of caution when evidence behind claims or statements are lacking.
Russian military forces in the north and northeast, with some exceptions, have largely been attempting to resupply and reorganize units where possible, especially around Kyiv. Russian forces have been using artillery, aircraft and missiles in a war of attrition — to destroy as much urban infrastructure as possible and either force local civilian populations living there to surrender or evacuate.
This is in line with Russia’s previous wartime practices in Chechnya and Syria of terrorizing civilian urban populations in order to minimize current support for Ukrainian military units and future support for potential Ukrainian insurgents.
By mutual consent of Russia and Ukraine, civilian evacuation corridors were supposed to be in effect between 9 AM and 9 PM Kyiv time, on Wednesday, March 9th. Ongoing combat and indiscriminate shelling by Russian military forces prevented use of most of the corridors, though between 3,500 and 8,000 civilians were able to safely evacuate from Sumy toward Poltava.
As of Saturday, March 12th, fourteen humanitarian corridors to bring in desperately needed humanitarian aid and/or withdraw evacuees were either almost conclusively negotiated into being or in effect, of which nine were thought to be accomplishing their task, per Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. However, only 13,000 evacuees were confirmed as having have left embattled urban areas on Saturday, March 12th.
Putin’s invaders have also been making use of the Russian military’s relatively larger numbers and the existing road network in Ukraine to secure supply lines and make inroads where opposition isn’t as fierce.
In the northeast, the Hlukhiv to Kozelets road corridor is thought to be largely under at least nominal Russian control, which could threaten the besieged city of Chernihiv and the area to its immediate south and east.
However, Nizhyn, to the immediate south of the route, is still held by Ukrainian Territorial units, and Konotop, also along the route, is a “no-go zone” under a locally mutually agreed-to cease-fire after a significant amount of Russian armor was destroyed near there. Ukrainian military forces also staged a successful counterattack from Chernihiv toward the northeast on March 12th, apparently to silence Russian artillery attacking the city.
Russian forces have attempted to bypass besieged Sumy and reach Nova Basan, east of Kyiv, but had to bypass in turn the town of Romny and has faced determined resistance near Pryluky. The fragility of such advances was made clear on Friday, March 11th, when around a dozen Russian soldiers were taken captive outside of Romny by Ukrainian territorial units.
In the south, Russian forces have tried to combine attrition warfare with direct combat wherever weaknesses among Ukrainian defenses appear to develop.
Toward the southeast and the Donbas, Russian forces have attempted to connect between the occupied towns of Svatove and Kuplansk, without success.
They have also attempted to bypass forces around Izium and reach the besieged city of Kharhiv from the southeast, but have been held back at Chuhuly. Further to the southeast, the besieged coastal city of Mariupol, which may be critical for supplies and munitions to reach Russian forces further west for a future assault on Odesa, is still held by Ukrainian forces, with over 300,000 civilians trapped.
Forces from Vasylivka, north of the Crimea, and Donetsk in the Dobas region, are both trying to use existing road networks to eventually conquer the key city of Dnipro, which suffered multiple but largely ineffective airstrikes on March 11th.
Loss of this city to the Russians could result in the pocketing of any Ukrainian military forces east of the Dnipro River and bounded by Donetsk, Poltava and Kharkhiv. Fighting is intense between Vaslivka and Zaporizhzhia, while Russian forces from Donetsk and Volnovakha were repulsed at Avdiivka, resulting in new concentrations of Russian forces near Velyka Novosilka, Vuhledar and Marinka.
In the southwest, Mykolaiv is undergoing heavy shelling, but no new attacks by Russian ground forces have taken place since earlier attempts this weekend were repulsed. Ukrainian forces are halting the Russians at Voznesensk, likely to prevent the Russians from taking the Yuzhnoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant.
More high ranking Russian officers are thought to have died in combat in Ukraine.
In addition to those mentioned previously, we now may be able to also include:
- Vladimir Zhoga, commander of the pro-Russian Neo-Nazi Sparta Battalion;
- Armored regimental commander Colonel Andrei Zakharov;
- Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Safronov the commander of the 61st Separate Marine Brigade;
- General Magomed Tushaev the right-hand man of Ramzan Kadyrov and his pro-Russian Chechen forces;
- Major General Andrei Kolesnikov the commander of the 29th Combined Arms Army;
- and the chief of staff and first deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army, Major General Vitaly Gerasimov.
In addition, Colonel Konstantin Zizevsky, the commander of the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment who has been mentioned previously, may have died alongside Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Agarkov, a member of his staff.
These deaths may be due to the practices and behaviors of the Russian military as much as effective resistance by Ukraine.
In 2017, Lieutenant General Valery Asapov was killed by shelling by Islamic State units within Deir ez-Zur province in northeastern Syria, while in 2020 Major General Vyacheslav Gladkikh was killed by an improvised explosive device within the same province while on a patrol with Syrian forces.
To provide some perspective, the United States last lost a wartime flag officer or General of equivalent rank was in 2014, when a member of the Afghan National Army opened fire on a delegation of general officers and other dignitaries who were conducting an inspection tour, killing Major General Harold Greene.
Before that, Lieutenant General Timothy Maude was killed in the September 11th, 2001 attack on the Pentagon. Before that, Rear Admiral Rembrandt Robinson died in a helicopter crash during the Vietnam War in 1972, and was the only American flag officer or general to die while in a combat environment during that war.
In addition, it is believed that between eight and nine Russian generals have replaced due to their units’ poor performance in the invasion of Ukraine.
Additionally, Sergey Beseda and his deputy, Anatoly Bolyukh, in charge of the Operational Information and International Relations Service of the FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the American FBI (also known as “the 5th Service”), are allegedly under house arrest for having incorrectly assessed Ukraine’s military strength
On March 11th, Russian soldiers abducted Melitopol’s elected mayor, Ivan Fyodorov, and dragged him from his office with a bag over his head to an undisclosed location. The Russian media reports that Fyodorov will face charges for allegedly “funding and assisting the terrorist organization Pravyi Sektor.” This was repeated on March 13th, when the mayor of Dniprorudne, Yevheniy Matvieyev, was also abducted by Russian soldiers.
The Russian military installed Galina Danilchenko as the new Mayor of Melitopol, a former city council member and member of the pro-Russian and Eurosceptic political party Opposition Platform. In a video address to the public, she said her main task is to help the city adjust to “the new reality.”
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has opened a treason investigation against Ms. Danilcheko in response.
Local Ukrainian authorities in the occupied city of Kherson say Russian troops plan to transform the region into another “people’s republic,” like those already created in the Donbas. Moscow is allegedly organizing a referendum to formalize the status and contacting additional city officials to find out if they will collaborate.
These events have prompted questions about whether NATO is prepared for a lengthy proxy war in Eastern Europe.
Over two and a half million people have now fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations, while another two million have left their homes and are now displaced internally. A spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency said that while the agency’s original prediction for the total number of refugees that would result from the war was four million, they may have to raise that number.
Meanwhile, Russia requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to accuse Ukraine and the United States of having as many as thirty bioweapon labs within the Ukraine, and that they were attempting to spread disease in Russia through wild boar, pigs and ticks.
There is a joint biohazard program in Ukraine with the United States, but it’s in place to combat such diseases as African swine fever, which in the last decade has killed hundreds of thousands of pigs in both Ukraine and Russia.
At the meeting on March 11th, no evidence to back up the Russian claims was provided, and the United States responded that they fear that this disinformation campaign may be used as a cover for a chemical attack on Ukrainian cities, as took place in Syria during the height of its ongoing civil war.
This hasn’t stopped people like Tucker Carlson and various online factions from feeding the disinformation campaign.
Meanwhile, other Security Council members are accusing Russia of deliberately targeting civilians through cluster bombing, artillery and missile attacks.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating whether Russia’s attacks on hospitals and civilians could constitute war crimes.
The Russian government has certainly noticed the effectiveness of NATO shipments of portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems to the Ukrainian military. On March 11th, the airports at Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, both in western Ukraine and within seventy miles of the Polish border, were bombed.
On March 12th, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that such shipments could be declared “legitimate targets.”
On March 13th, airstrikes killed at least thirty-five people at a military base in Yavoriv, with ten miles of the Polish border, used to train foreign recruits.
Around twenty thousand foreign fighters have joined the newly created International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine.
They will be fighting alongside three known anti-Russian Chechen battalions, a group called the Georgian National Legion, and the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian neo-Nazi group known for its fierce fighting in the Donbas in 2014 and immediately thereafter. Between three hundred and four hundred and fifty fighters of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which was originally known as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, and who have a special grudge against the Russians for assisting the Syrian army in their civil war within the Idlib region in the northwest of that country, also arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday, March 8th.
Hundreds more mercenaries for the Russian Wagner Group will allegedly be joining existing forces already in Ukraine within the next few weeks.
Alongside them may be up to sixteen thousand volunteers (though what’s specifically happening is open to question), mostly from Syria, some of whom have supported the Wagner group in past operations, most notably during the recent conflict in the Central African Republic.
And Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited his forces near Kyiv this weekend, is likely already demanding replacements for his pro-Russian Chechen forces in Ukraine.
There are serious concerns regarding the potential blowback from having so many foreign fighters in Ukraine. The greatest is fear is a variation of something similar to when the United States supported the entry of non-Afghani volunteers for the Afghan mujahideen, which in turn eventually led to training some of the very forces involved, later on, in the September 11th attacks in the United States.
Also as of March 10th, nearly three hundred and thirty companies have withdrawn from or suspended their activities within Russia. Notable American holdouts presently are global food giant Cargill, which is responsible for a quarter of all American grain exports; Cummins, a major provider of engines, power generation systems and filtration systems; and Halliburton, an energy services company and the second largest global provider of oil field services.
Over five hundred commercial aircraft worth $12 billion and leased to Russian airlines are currently stranded within Russia. Under the Cape Town Convention, contracts for such leases that can no longer be upheld are supposed to be returned to the related firm with minimal interference.
However, the Russian Duma is considering two bills in response. The first would allow Russian airlines to continue to pay their aircraft leases in Russian rubles though all of 2022, which have declined in value thirty percent against the US Dollar since the start of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. (International commercial aircraft leasing contracts are typically denominated in USD.)
The second would allow, if a foreign leasing firm ended a contract with a Russian airline, for a Russian special governmental commission to decide whether the leased aircraft would be returned or allowed to stay in Russia.
Most international leasing firms operate out of Ireland, and current European Union sanctions require airplane leasing firms to end their contracts with Russian airlines and re-acquire their aircraft by March 28th.
Russia’s Central Bank extended the shutdown of the Moscow Stock Exchange equity market to at least March 18th, hoping to shield domestic investors from the impact of international sanctions. Just more than two weeks into the war, more than $30 billion has been erased from Russia’s annual gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg. This rivals all the setbacks of two years of pandemic restrictions and economic contraction.
The attempt to limit Iran’s potential nuclear weapons capability, agreed to in 2015 with the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump in 2018, may be at risk again as the Biden administration attempts to reinitialize the agreement.
The formal name for the agreeement is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and it includes as negotiators not only Iran but also what’s known as the “P5+1.” Russia is presently demanding guarantees that future trade with Iran not be affected by existing sanctions in return for concurrence with reinitializing the JCPOA. Both Iran and the United States want a reactivated JCPOA, and at the moment for the same reason — to have Iranian oil on the world market — but aren’t sure how to do so over Vladimir Putin’s objections.
China, which may not have been informed of when the invasion of Ukraine by Russia would take place, was put in an uncomfortable spot on March 13th with the declaration by the United States that Russia has asked China for replacement military hardware and munitions to continue the invasion of Ukraine.
Finally, there are concerns regarding the two commercial nuclear power facilities occupied by Russian military forces in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, March 9th, an essential electrical cable was cut to the Chernobyl facility, forcing it to rely on diesel power to maintain systems that keep in check the defunct facility from having new radiation leaks.
After a lack of communication on the status of the facility and any repairs that might be in progress with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there appears to be one point of access to the cable to provide external power repaired by Ukraine’s Energoatom, and Belarusian nuclear specialists may have effected similar repairs within the facility.
And on March 12th, Russian military units may have detonated mines adjacent to Unit 1 at the occupied Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant without informing the IAEA in advance. It is still unknown whether the radiation level at the plant changed after the explosions.