Joe Biden’s ‘major speech’ was anything but. The address given by Biden in Warsaw today was a rehashing of the US and Western positions on Russia and Russian leadership. The highlight came when Biden called for Putin’s removal from power. He labeled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘strategic failure’ reaffirmed US and Western support for Ukraine and that the world must prepare for a ‘long fight ahead’. Biden also attempted to adopt a firm stance when he warned Russia about taking action against any NATO member-state.
On Saturday afternoon, Lviv was struck by three Russian missiles. Two of the missiles landed in the city’s eastern outskirts, reportedly at an oil or fuel storage facility. A short while later a third missile impacted somewhere inside the city limits. Lviv’s mayor also said the city has been targeted by airstrikes.
With Kiev and most other Ukrainian cities proving to be nearly impossible objectives to capture, the Russian military is shifting its focus to the Donbas region. In an operational briefing on Friday, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoy stated his nation’s is now the liberation of Donbas. “The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Rudskoy announced to gathered reporter. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which…makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of the Donbas.”
The situation in eastern Ukraine is becoming clear at the moment, even as the situation in the remainder of the region remains fluid. Around 4 PM local time (Eastern Standard) Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military forces to enter the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and conduct ‘peacekeeping operations.’ According to multiple sources, Russian forces have already begun entering both the LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic). The start of this peacekeeping mission turns Minsk II to ash.
The Ukrainian government has been very slow in responding to what’s developing in the east, but it is imperative that Kiev release a statement soon. Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies are preparing sanctions packages. Latvia is calling for sanctions to be placed on Russia as punishment for the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus. Russia’s moves today are being correctly labeled as an annexation and attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine. Only in a much more overt manner when compared to the Crimea annexation in 2014.
There is some news coming out of Donbas from independent sources, however, this will likely not last. I expect the region to be locked down electronically very soon, limiting the amount of information coming out of there.
As I said before, things are very fluid in the east now so I will probably put up a new update by 8 PM.
Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to formally recognize the independence of Donetsk & Luhansk, the breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. In an address this afternoon, Putin did not discuss the Luhansk People’s Republic/Donetsk People’s Republic at length. Instead, he took the opportunity to lay the groundwork to justify a Russian invasion of Ukraine, most likely in the coming days. The speech was peppered with historical grievances and explanations of why Ukraine is not a sovereign nation-state.
Putin’s speech is still being digested at this hour, but the statement released by the Kremlin on recognizing independence of the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine elicited a swift response from European leaders. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed such a move will “plainly be in breach of international law.” Germany and France have also condemned Putin’s apparent intentions.
There is much happening across Europe, Ukraine and Russia right now and I was caught in transit when all of these events started to happen. I’ll post a more thorough update between 5 and 6 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Separatist officials in eastern Ukraine have warned of a ‘large-scale Ukrainian attack’ coming soon and have called for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly to start immediately. The Ukrainian government countered with a statement calling the attack rumor false and nothing more than a lie designed to give Russia a pretext to invade. As this back and forth was taking place, Russian media has been releasing reports that claim Ukraine is stepping up attacks on the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Shelling has increased around these regions for a second consecutive day.
In a video posted online but apparently recorded on Wednesday, Denis Pushilin, the pro-Moscow leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, gave a stark warning. “Very soon, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will order the military to go on an offensive, to implement a plan to invade the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. From today, Feb. 18 a mass organized transfer of the population to Russia is being organized. Women, children, and the elderly will need to be evacuated first. We urge you to listen and make the right decision.” The evacuees will go to the Rostov region of Russia, where camps and accommodations are being set up by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.
A car bomb exploded outside of a government building earlier today in the center of Donetsk. The explosion occurred around 6:00 PM Donetsk time (11 AM Eastern Standard Time). Video and photos allegedly from the scene show a car engulfed in flames. The blast was reportedly heard around the city. The vehicle reportedly belonged to Denis Sinenkov, chief of the People’s Militia.
US officials now estimate the number of Russian troops near Ukraine to be somewhere between 160,000-190,000. This is a marked increase from the estimated 100,000 troops present in late January, 2022. According to Michael Carpenter, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe this represents the largest military mobilization to take place in Europe since the end of World War II. Adding to the tense situation, on Saturday Russia will conduct an exercise of its strategic nuclear forces, in which ballistic and cruise missiles will be test-fired.
Author’s Note: Next Update Will Be Posted Around 8 PM EST
In past twelve hours we’ve seen a consistent stream of reports from Russian media outlets about alleged Ukrainian military actions going on around Donetsk. Twelve hours ago, Russian claimed Ukrainian armed forces had commenced a ‘massive artillery bombardment of separatist Donetsk.’ This was followed up later in the day (Moscow time) by TASS reporting the death of a Donetsk People’s Republic soldier from Ukrainian sniper fire at the line of contact in Donbass. In the past few hours, similar reports of contact in the Donbass region have been appearing on social media platforms. Unfortunately, the news tweets and posts have not been followed up with any official confirmation from either the Ukrainian or Russian governments. In other words, it cannot be determined if these alleged skirmishes and artillery ‘barrages’ actually occurred. If they have, however, it could mark the start of Russian efforts to carve out a pretext for broader military action in Ukraine at some point in the near future.
The White House has warned that a Russian invasion can take place at any time. In a tour of the Sunday Morning news show circuit, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “We believe that the Russians have put in place the capabilities to mount a significant military operation into Ukraine, and we have been working hard to prepare a response.” On Friday, US officials stated that Russian has 70 percent of the troops, weapons and materials needed to launch a full-scale attack. It was also revealed that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill that Kiev (Kyiv) will likely fall within seventy-two hours of the start of a Russian attack. It is refreshing to see Milley present a realistic assessment which accurately displays the danger facing Ukraine if war breaks out.
Author’s Note: There will be a second update published later today. Likely in the early evening.