Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that a peace agreement with Russia will be contingent upon all Russian forces leaving Ukrainian territory. The remarks were made while speaking to Chatham House, a British think tank. Zelenskiy also said, “I was elected by the people of Ukraine as president of Ukraine, not as president of a mini-Ukraine of some kind. This is a very important point.” Indeed, it is. However, Russia shows no signs of letting up, as the situation in Mariupol has revealed. It’s not very realistic to think Moscow would be willing to return to pre-23 February boundaries willingly.
Evacuation efforts in Mariupol have concluded. The last women, children and elderly civilians left Azovstal steelworks earlier today, leaving only Ukrainian soldiers in the sprawling steel plant. With the civilians having left, Russian forces are expected to redouble their efforts to capture the plant and break the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
The fate of the Russian frigate Admiral Makarov remains unknown at the present time. The Ukrainian government and military claim the ship was struck by an antiship missile near Snake Island yesterday. Russia has denied the claim, of course, and today released pictures of the frigate supposedly back at its homeport of Sevastopol.
Russian forces launched a missile attack against the Ukrainian port city of Odesa earlier Saturday. Ballistic missiles targeted a furniture factory and damaged nearby buildings. There has been no word on casualties. As fighting in Mariupol draws to a close, expect Russia to pay more attention to Odesa and other targets along the Black Sea coastline west of Crimea.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.
Over the past week, the Moldovan region of Transnistria has become a focal point of attention. As the war in eastern Ukraine continues on, concern is growing that the breakaway Russian-backed region of Moldova could be the next flashpoint. Transnistria is a prototypical “oppressed Russian-speaking populations” region. A de-facto independent, but unrecognized breakaway state on Moldova’s eastern border, it has co-existed with the remainder of Moldova since the end of the Cold War. Russia has over 1,000 troops stationed there ostensibly as peacekeepers.
A number of attacks in Transnistria over the past week has put the region on edge. On Monday, it was the state’s security headquarters in Tiraspol, the region’s main city. The next day, a military barracks in Parcani and a radio transmitter in Maiac were hit. On Wednesday, the interior ministry reported that a number of drones were launched from Ukrainian territory and flew over the town of Cobasna, home to a large ammunition depot. Also, according to the ministry, ‘shots were fired’ from the Ukrainian side of the border in the direction of Cobasna. Following the attacks, Transnistria’s government announced a number of new measures intended to raise security across the region. New checkpoints at strategic points on roadways and in towns, increased power for militia and security forces, and Transnistria’s Defense Ministry has ordered the mobilization of all men between the ages of 18 to 55 to “replenish the peacekeeping contingent.”
The attacks have sparked concern in Moldova and around Europe that Russia is setting the stage for military action there, based on the pretense of defending the Moscow-backed breakaway republic of Transnistria. Moldovan citizens and politicians alike are increasingly worried about the direction events might take their small, pro-western nation in. Many people there are also quite aware that the future of Moldova is inextricably tied to the war in Ukraine. Right now, the war there appears to be perilously close to spilling over into Moldova. After two months of heavy fighting, and high casualties, Russia has little to show for its Ukrainian adventure. Unrest in, or a foreign attempt to destabilize Transnistria offers a variety of enticing opportunities for Russia. The Moldovan government and its citizens understand this as well, and are quite worried. Russia is clearly prepared to use the Transnistria for more attacks into Ukraine, or possibly for aggression against Moldova.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the world against underestimating the chances of a nuclear conflict emerging from Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The risks now are considerable,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s state television. “I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.” Lavrov’s warning comes as the West increases its material support for Ukraine as the war shifts to the Donbas region. Heavy weapons are now being shipped from NATO nations into Ukraine, including self-propelled artillery and self-propelled anti-aircraft gun systems. Russia’s previous warnings that NATO equipment could be considered a legitimate target of war once it enters Ukrainian territory. In Washington, Moscow’s ambassador to Russia has told the United States to stop weapons shipments to Ukraine, warning that Western weapons are inflaming the conflict. Lavrov extended the argument in his comments. “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”
While Lavrov’s warnings could be nothing except for bluster, his words should not be dismissed entirely. The risks of a potential nuclear escalation are at least present at this stage. We’re at a point now where the United States and her allies need to consider the viewpoint of Russian leadership. It would help to view the situation from the perspective of Russia and not make decisions largely based on interpretations stemming from a prism of Western views and opinion. The stakes for Russia in this conflict are enormous, to say the least. If Vladimir Putin concludes there is no chance of a victory on the battlefield through only conventional means, all bets are off.
The West should not be intimidated from supporting Ukraine. However, at the same time, some government officials in Europe and the US might want to consider how their recent remarks are being interpreted by the Kremlin. For example, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted a US goal now is to see Russian military capabilities significantly weakened to the point where it cannot conduct military operations abroad in the aftermath of this conflict. Austin’s words run the risk of being interpreted as the US posing an existential threat to Russia and provoking Moscow into expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Escalation is not in the best interests of anyone.
Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.