Ukrainian government and military officials claim the possibility of Belarussian involvement in the ground war is increasing by the day. On the heels of this, Western intelligence sources I’ve spoken with claim Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has been deferring deployment by 3-4 days every time Moscow has asked about it. The Belarussian military is made up largely of conscripts and there’s fear in Minsk that joining the war in Ukraine could lead to mass desertions or worse.
Russian warships in the Sea of Azov have started firing into Mariupol, a first in the city’s siege. The firing has been largely limited to naval gunfire support, but its not yet known if this is directed fire or indiscriminate rounds.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons if Russia perceives a threat to its very existence as a nation. “If there’s a threat to the very existence of our country, it can be used in accordance with this concept,” the spokesman said in response to a question of whether Russia’s use of nuclear weapons could be completely ruled out. Russian military doctrine, like that of its Soviet predecessor, considers the first-use of nuclear weapons if a conventional conflict is being lost. Originally, this doctrine was developed for a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in Europe during the Cold War. However, now it would apply to a conflict such as the one in Ukraine right now.
NATO has invited Volodymyr Zelenskiy to address the summit of NATO leaders on Thursday. It would be done via video format. Zelenskiy’s press secretary, Serhiy Nykyforov has stated he will take an ‘active role’ in the summit, but did not explain precisely what this means.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to address the legislatures and parliaments of Western nations. Today it was Israel’s turn. Zelenskiy called Russia’s attack on his country an ‘all out war’ aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people. He then explained this is why the current war resembles what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust. I think Zelenskiy skirted the edge with this comparison. In his drive to keep international support strong, Ukraine’s leader has made a few borderline outrageous statements. Luckily, Western governments and media have wisely covered up his occasional verbal faux pas.
The White House has confirmed President Biden will not visit Ukraine during his upcoming trip to Europe this week. When former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commented yesterday that Biden should visit as a ‘symbol of our solidarity,’ it touched off a firestorm of speculation. Realistically though, the prospect of a US president visiting a nation while engaged in an active conflict was never even a possibility.
Ukraine’s military claims it has intelligence pointing to Belarussian forces joining the war in the coming week. This comes on the heels of another claim centered around a scheme being planned by Russian elites to remove Vladimir Putin from power, end the war and restore economic ties with the West. Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of FSB security agency, is allegedly being considered as Putin’s successor. Claims like these by Ukraine are not uncommon. Most of them have turned out to be little more than wishful thinking or fairy tales. If there is a coup being planned against Putin right now though, I’m sure the coup planners are not very thrilled with seeing their plans prematurely announced to the world.
Russia and Ukraine will hold a third round of talks on 7 March. Earlier this evening Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia made the announcement. In the second round held earlier this past week, both sides agreed to establish humanitarian corridors for civilians to flee from battle zones. However, in Mariupol, there are reports that the Russians closed the corridors for the city and resumed shelling, which made evacuation impossible.
The Ukrainian Air Force has claimed to have inflicted a heavy number of air losses on Russian aircraft in the last few days. According to Euromaidan Press reports, Air Force Command reported air defenses shooting down two Su-30 Flankers, a UAV and several cruise missiles. Ukrainian government officials also claim having shot down 8 Russian aircraft alone on 5 March. Right now there’s no way to independently verify these claims.
Belarussian opposition figures claim that the Belarus military was supposed to enter Ukraine over a week ago, according to the plan of operations. It didn’t, however. According to the Senior Advisor for opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the reasons were officers resigning and some fleeing the country. Conscripts are reported to be massively fleeing their units and returning to their civilian homes. Again, independent verification of any of this has been difficult to obtain.
The situation on the ground at Zaporizhzhia Power Plant in Ukraine seems to have improved considerably in the past ten hours. The fire caused during the Russian attack has been extinguished, there has been no radiation leakage and the reactor units have been shut down. The bad news is that the plant is now under Russian control. World leaders have condemned Russia for the attack and admittedly, it was not a prudent move. The International Atomic Energy Agency is attempting to set up a meeting with the aim of laying down a plan to prohibit attacks against nuclear power plants in the future.
NATO will not move to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, in spite of considerable pressure from Ukrainian politicians and others. Secretary Jens Stoltenberg called it a “painful decision,” but reiterated that NATO cannot risk escalating the conflict by engaging Russian aircraft flying over Ukraine. “We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did that, would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering,” he said. The United States has also ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine for similar reasons.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko repeated today that his nation’s armed forces are not taking part in the Ukrainian invasion and this will not change in the future. There’ve been conflicting reports about the status of Belarussian forces since the conflict erupted, but for now at least, Belarus will not be committing troops to the fighting.
Fighting in the town of Irpin (or Irbin) has intensified over the last twenty four hours. Ukrainian forces pushed back an assault by Russian paratroopers and supporting BMD light infantry vehicles yesterday. Today, Russian shelling has been heavy, falling in residential areas. These artillery and rocket attacks do not appear indiscriminate though. Instead it seems to be a Russian effort to soften up built up areas Ukrainian defenders can dig in and slow down the Russian advance when it begins…which will likely be soon.
-The second round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials is underway in Belarus. One of the main goals for the Ukrainian delegation will be to open humanitarian corridors for civilians to depart from areas where heavy fighting is underway. Russia’s demands were announced by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and differ little from Moscow’s main objectives for its Ukrainian operation. Ukraine must “demilitarize and denationalize”, recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and formally recognize the two Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states. I would not expect to see much progress on that front today, however, the latest reports out of the negotiation site tend to suggest an agreement on humanitarian corridors seems to have been reached.
-A Russian amphibious landing is still expected near the Ukrainian port city of Odesa along the Black Sea. Reports of a Russian amphibious task force approaching the coast have continued, but there has been no confirmation of a landing having taken place in the last couple of hours.
-French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the ‘worst is yet to come’ in Ukraine. Following a 90 minute telephone call with Vladimir Putin, Macron believes Russia intends to occupy all of Ukraine and prosecute this war until all of its objectives are attained.