March 4th war map in Ukraine by Nathan Ruser
Map by Nathan Ruser. Disclaimer: This map and the information below is informed by reliable and verified open sources, it is meant to convey the general disposition of Russian troops in Ukraine and should not be considered confirmed nor comprehensive. Importantly, do not use this map to plan evacuation routes through Ukraine.

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.

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