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Sunday, March 13th, 2022

Attack on Kyiv remains stalled, but other cities are suffering under Russian occupation

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.

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