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 have been unsuccessful in a direct attack toward Kyiv from the northwest and have been attempting to position themselves to the southwest of the city for a direct assault while assembling forces to the northeast and maintaining pressure from both the northwest and the western suburbs.
One consequence of this may be an attempt to steal a march on Ukrainian forces and take the Kaniv Hydroelectric Dam. Constant bombardment of Kyiv’s suburbs to force out defending Ukrainian military units and create large numbers of refugees by artillery, missiles and now aircraft is the norm, though much of the city proper is still relatively quiet in comparison.
In the northeast, the cities of Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv are either surrounded or are under severe attack by artillery and/or missiles.
The Russian military is apparently moving whatever forces they can spare from these sieges to advance toward the Dnipro River and eventually an attack toward the eastern suburbs of Kyiv, but there are also reports of assemblies of Russian forces from multiple directions with the goal of finally taking Chernihv.
In the south, the coastal city of Mariupol and the town of Volnovakha to its immediate north have been surrounded and are undergoing severe bombardment by Russian forces. Electricity, heat and potable water are no longer available.
Two ceasefires were brokered to allow civilians to leave both locations, but Russian forces were accused of maintaining their fire within the prescribed corridors for evacuation and the effort was suspended.
What was originally declared a third attempt appears to have been actually a request for civilians to surrender to Russian military forces.
Further west along the southern portion of Ukraine, the Zaporhizhia Nuclear Power Plant, near the the embattled town of Enerhodar, was taken on Friday, March 4th by Russian forces. A portion of the nuclear facility was damaged by shelling but as of this moment it’s believed that the power plant itself was undamaged. Russian forces in this area and from within the occupied city of Melitopol may be organizing for an attack on Zaporizhzhia.
The city of Kherson has been taken by Russian forces, but there have been demonstrations within the town by Ukrainian civilians against their occupation, in response to which a curfew has been declared by Russian military forces and mines laid within a perimeter around where military units are bivouacked near the city center. There was an attempt to advance further north and assault the port city of Mykolaiv from Kherson, but that has so far failed. There are also rumors that a portion of the force fighting around Mykolaiv may bypass it in order to advance directly on the Yuzhnoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant to the northwest.
Odesa has been relatively quiet in recent days, with Russian naval forces nearby, but there is a general consensus between military observers and the news media that once the Russian military believes it has a cleared and secured route between Mykolaiv and either through the Crimean Bridge or Mariupol to the nearby Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, there will a combined amphibious/land assault on Odesa.
West of Odesa, the nation of Transnistria, which broke away from Moldova in 1991 with Russian support, has demanded recognition of their independence from Moldova, publicly disagrees with Moldova’s attempt to join the European Union and their Russian peacekeeping force has been placed on high alert.
However, President Vadim Krasnoselsky has also declared his nation’s intent to not be involved in the invasion of Ukraine.
As stated earlier, Transnistria can only be accessed by air through Chișinău International Airport in Moldova, but the Russians could make a rough landing with an airborne unit or two on flat ground immediately west of the Transnistrian capital, Tiraspol, then head southeast toward Odesa.
Beyond providing adequate logistics to such an effort, the key problem is that Moldova and perhaps even Romania, which has a close relationship with Moldova and is a member of NATO, are both very likely to contest an attempt to land at either location. Only Abkhazia, the Republic of Artsakh and South Ossetia, all breakaway republics brought into being and supported with Russian arms, recognize the independence of Transnistria.
Another possibility is invading Moldova after successfully occupying Odesa, since it was once considered part of the Russian Empire, but that would run the risk of conflict with a NATO country, as Romania would seek to protect Moldova.
This option was allegedly shown in a presentation by President Lukashenko of Belarus. When the Belarusian ambassador to Moldova was asked for clarification, he stated that the presentation had been prepared incorrectly by representatives of the Belarusian Defense Ministry. This might not be taken at its word, given that two B‑52s and a KC-135 tanker were noticed circling near the Romanian-Moldovan border very early Monday morning, Bucharest time. It would not be unreasonable to expect a small portion of the NATO munitions and weapons going to Ukraine through Romania remaining in Moldova or Romania, just in case.
Keep in mind that the “front lines” in most locations across Ukraine are quite fluid, especially as Ukrainian professional military and territorial defense forces have attacked Russian supply concentrations and related logistical groups wherever vulnerable to attack, and as the Russian Air Force has been unable to achieve air superiority over the battlefield.
Add to this poor maintenance of battlefield vehicles, an apparent byproduct of siphoning intended military spending into other pockets, and the summary result has lead to speculation that the the effectiveness of the Russian military, even with their success in the south, may be significantly overrated.
High ranking Russian officers have sometimes responded to this situation by “leading from the front” in order to minimize confusion and unit paralysis.
It may have led to the death of a Russian regimental commander, Colonel Konstantin Zizevsky, a deputy brigade commander, Lieutenant Colonel Denis Glebov, and the deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army, Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky, according to the Russian military.
There have been rumors and assumptions that the Belarus military would soon join the Russians presently on the ground in the attack on Ukraine, since the attack on Kyiv has come in part from staging areas in Belarus.
Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Viktor Gulevich has apparently resigned in protest against Belarus’ current support of the invasion of Ukraine. This may be a sign that Belarusian forces may soon enter Ukraine itself.
There have been three reported attempts to assassinate Ukrainian President Zelenskyy since the start of the war.
The Ukrainian government has stated that anti-war elements within the FSB, Russia’s equivalent to the FBI, have provided warnings beforehand regarding at least two of these attempts. Russian President Vladimir Putin led the FSB between mid-1998 and his ascension to Prime Minister of Russia in mid-1999.
Over one and three quarters of a million Ukrainian refugees have left the country, with most entering Poland. Whether or not the Russian and Ukrainian governments can reach a mutual agreement to provide safe corridors within Ukraine for civilians to leave the country without fear of being attacked, many more are expected to leave Ukraine over the next few weeks.
(By comparison, over sixty-six thousand Ukrainians living abroad, almost all of them men, have returned to Ukraine to fight in the war,though at present the Ukrainian military has only confirmed over twenty thousand have entered the country and are being prepared for combat.)
Of course, this invasion is happening in the middle of a pandemic, where Ukraine suffered 25,000 new cases on its last day of recording them, February 24th, and where Russia suffered over 88,000 new cases on March 4th. Recent warfare in central Africa, Syria and the Caucasus region highlights how refugee camps adjacent to Ukraine and sanctions regarding medical supplies and pharmaceuticals against Russia have the potential to cause as much damage as from combat itself.
On Tuesday, March 1st, American satellite internet provider Viasat announced that it had been the victim of multiple cyberattacks, potentially by a group favorable to or the Russian government itself. The company has been a preferred choice for communications within the Ukrainian military throughout the invasion.
On Wednesday, March 2nd, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a United Nations resolution demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its military forces from Ukraine.
Only five nations — Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea — voted against the motion, while thirty-five nations, including China, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, India and Iran, either were not present for the vote or abstained from voting.
A former producer for FNC, Jack Hanick, was charged on Thursday, March 3rd, with violations of sanctions put in place by the government of the United States in 2014 in response to the Russian occupation of the Crimea, which at the time had been considered Ukrainian territory.
There has been some frustration between the governments of Israel and the United States regarding Israel’s reluctance to join in the sanctions regime currently in place against Russia, which may soon include the ending of Russia’s most-favored-nation status within the World Trade Organization.
One line of thought is that Israel is making use of its most recent diplomatic channels with Russia, established to ensure that Russian and Israeli forces don’t fire on each other by mistake as Israel targets Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian military units, to serve as an intermediary toward an eventual ceasefire and end to the war. (This interpretation was reinforced by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s quiet trip to Moscow with President Putin this past weekend.)
Others have complained of Israel’s mostly public relationship with Russian oligarch Roman Abramovitch in particular and more quietly with other Russian oligarchs, and that the line of communication with Russia regarding the conflict in Syria may in fact be hampering any desire to follow through with joining the existing sanction regime. This in turn has led to discussions regarding how autocratic nations in general, and Russia in particular, have been using funding of civic organizations to their advantage.
NATO and the United States in particular have refused to entertain declaring a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, which was done in Yugoslavia when the United States intervened in the Balkan conflicts back in the 1990s.
This is partially because it would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Russia. But even if Russia held back from escalating the scope of the war in response, given the relative absence of the Russian Air Force, it would quickly be found to have limited effect and demands would quickly expand to neutralizing artillery and missile forces used to attack civilian centers, guaranteeing an escalation of the war. This is in part why NATO is doing everything within its power to supply the Ukrainian military with airborne early warning and signals intelligence, as well as man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems.
President Putin may be either signaling that none of this may matter to him, or is attempting to ratchet up the conflict to have a viable reason to point at NATO as aggressors, by declaring Saturday evening, Moscow Time, that the present sanctions regime in place alone is akin to a declaration of war.
An attempt to further increase tensions was made later that same evening by a nationally broadcast late night news and opinion television program in Russia discussing the possibility of Russia declaring its own “no-fly zone” over Ukraine.