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.
The battlecruiser HMS Hood was known as ‘The Mighty Hood.’ This sobriquet was reflective not only of the immense firepower she carried, but also of her prestige. She was not only a symbol of the Royal Navy, but one of the entire British Empire and all its glory. A proud and powerful peacock, adored by Britons and feared by her enemies. Hood’s death while hunting the Bismarck in Denmark Strait on 24 May, 1941 was a devastating blow to the Royal Navy and caused deep trauma across Great Britain. In some ways the Royal Navy never fully recovered from the loss of fabled battlecruiser. Six months later, the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor. Over the next three and a half years, the mantle of preeminent global naval power shifted to the US Navy, which continues to enjoy unmatched naval dominance on the oceans of the world to this day.
The Russian warship Moskva didn’t come close to matching HMS Hood’s prestige. An almost forty-year old Slava class cruiser, he was commissioned towards the end of the Cold War era and carried considerable firepower for a surface combatant. As flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, Moskva was a symbol of Russian naval power, though not to the degree Hood was for the British. Hood was a ship many Britons felt a deep attachment to. It’s not likely that many people aside from current sailors, naval officers and veterans of the Russian Navy were familiar with Moskva, even though he was the pride of Russia’s navy. But now that she has been gone under, Moskva will be mourned and grieved by the entire country.
Moskva’s loss, whether due to a shipboard fire or enemy action, is a significant blow to Russia at an already difficult point in the war. Morale will be negatively affected at the very least. Realistically speaking though, now Russia’s naval operations need an immediate refurbishing if Moskva was in fact the victim of a Ukrainian attack. The nation’s pride will be more difficult to repair, though Russia has already taken the first steps towards seeking reciprocity. The military factory responsible for producing Neptune anti-ship missiles was attacked last night outside Kiev.
Militarily, the effect Moskva’s sinking will have on operations remains to be seen. Long term, it will be interesting to see if the cruiser’s loss marks the imminent demise of Russian sea power, or if the disaster brings on needed changes and reform to the Russian fleet. Hood’s loss brought on a moment of truth for the Royal Navy and now eighty-one years later the Russian Navy, as well as the nation it serves, faces a similar moment.
The origin of catastrophic damage to the Slava class guided missile cruiser Moskva has yet to be confirmed. The Russian Defense Ministry claims the ship suffered a shipboard fire that caused ammunition to explode. The ship was evacuated but remains afloat. Ukraine had a different version of events, unsurprisingly. Ukrainian government officials took to social media and boasted that Moskva had been struck by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles and this was the cause of the fire and damage. The Russian Defense Ministry claims the fire is now out and efforts are being made to tow the ship back to port. As of now, it’s unclear whether the Russian side of the story or Ukraine’s version contains the most facts. With luck more will be learned today, and the pieces of the puzzle will come together.
As Finland and Sweden move closer than ever to perhaps becoming members of NATO, the Russian government has wasted little time issuing a strong warning to the two nations. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council and former president of Russia said that Russia will bolster its Baltic Sea region defenses in the event Finland and Sweden join NATO. The move might include nuclear forces. “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” Medvedev said. His remarks underscore the unease which Russia has over the situation in the Baltic region. The Lithuanian government dismissed the veiled threat, however. Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas reminded the world that Russia already has nuclear weapons in place in the region. “The current Russian threats look quite strange when we know that, even without the present security situation, they keep the weapon 100 km from Lithuania’s border. Nuclear weapons have always been kept in Kaliningrad. The international community, the countries in the region, are perfectly aware of this. They use it as a threat.”
-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.
-The negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officials ended earlier today with no ceasefire or conflict resolution agreed upon. The prospects for a second round of talks seem to be gaining traction though. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released a short statement explaining. “Ukrainian and Russian delegations held the first round of negotiations in the area of the Ukraine-Belarus border in order to find common ground for the fastest ceasefire. The parties discussed in detail a number of key topics on which they have prospects for finding mutually acceptable decisions. A decision was made to immediately hold additional consultations in the capitals of the states. After that, the second round of negotiations of Ukrainian and Russian parties is to take place in the near future.”
Whether Zelenskiy is trying to sugarcoat the failure of today’s talks remains to be seen. But as the negotiations ended, explosions rocked Kiev. Earlier in the day, Russian forces launched heavy artillery and rocket strikes against the city of Kharkov. By all accounts, the fighting that took place there over the weekend did not involve elements of the main Russian effort from the east. The city appears to have been bypassed in the first days of the war and is just now receiving the attention of second-echelon forces.
-It would appear the city of Nikolayev (Mykolaiv) is preparing for a large force of Russian armor to arrive in the near future. This follows a weekend of probing attacks against Ukrainian cities arrayed on or near the Black Sea coastline. Put simply, the purpose of the weekend artillery attacks and probes was to force the defenders of these cities to keep their heads down as other Russian units maneuvered around them enroute to other objectives. Now it would appear that a concentrated assault is being prepared against Nikolayev as Russian forces seem ready to move decisively to capture Ukraine’s seacoast.
-Despite news reports to the contrary, US government officials claim there are no indications of a Belarussian mobilization currently underway. Their posture has remained unchanged and for the moment at least, it does not appear that Minsk is preparing to commit military forces to the war in Ukraine.