The death toll from Friday morning’s attack on a train station in eastern Ukraine has risen to over fifty, with five of the victims confirmed to be children. Right before 10:30 AM (Local Time) Russian SS-21 ballistic missiles struck the area surrounding the main railway station in Kramatorsk. Nearby witnesses reported multiple explosions within a short amount of time, leading to some reports that the missiles were equipped with cluster-munition warheads. This was later found not to be the case. The Ukrainian government immediately condemned the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy even went as far as to accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians with this attack.
The arrival of US Army Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries in Slovakia has enabled the Bratislava government to donate its own SA-10 Grumble SAM systems to Ukraine. Slovakia’s prime minister, Eduard Heger is in Ukraine today discussing future aid shipments with the Ukrainian government and EU officials.
The latest wave of European Union sanctions against Russia were announced earlier today. Bans on imports of coal, wood, chemicals and other goods will reduce the total imports from Russia by 10%. Russian ships and trucks will also be prevented from accessing EU ports and nations. This package of sanctions is decidedly larger than what was expected. The increase probably has to do with alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in a number of Ukrainian towns since the start of the war.
With the Russian withdrawal from north of Kiev now complete, more or less, the new focus of the war will be in the Donbas region. If Russia can seize control of the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway republics in their entirety, it may open the door to a renewed push towards Kiev at some point in the future. Certainly not in the short term, however.
The possibility of the Russia-Ukraine War escalating into a larger conflict involving NATO member-states has been on the minds of politicians, diplomats, and general officers around the world since hostilities started in late February. For some nations, imposing economic sanctions on Russia and providing overt military support to Ukraine has forced them to walk a line that at times strays perilously close to promoting escalation. The prospect of provoking a wider conflict has forced the West to throttle back when it comes to undertaking some of the more perilous courses of action in response to Russia’s invasion.
This was clear in the first few days of fighting when the European Union moved to establish the groundwork for a plan allowing willing Eastern European nations to transfer their Soviet-era aircraft to Ukraine. Initially, there was a significant amount of enthusiasm for the proposal. As the days went on and the consequences this action could release was realized in capital cities across Eastern Europe, many governments quietly backed away from their pledges to send surplus MiGs and Sukhoi combat aircraft to Ukraine. Their concerns are justified. Sending warplanes is an overt act of support, quite different from the shipment of small arms, handheld SAMs and anti-tank guided missiles. Poland is the only nation has stayed the course with Warsaw still actively searching for a way to ship its MiG-29s to Ukraine without being labeled as a co-combatant by Russia. The latest move, dependent upon US involvement was immediately turned down by Washington.
The prospect of a no-fly zone has also been surreptitiously sent to the grave. A number of retired general officers and politicians in NATO nations have been vociferously calling for the introduction of a no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent Russian airstrikes and missile attacks. The Ukrainian government has been the biggest proponent of a no-fly zone and its position is contrary to the Ukrainian Air Force’s claims of having shot down over fifty Russian combat aircraft and eighty helicopters. Air forces that inflict these types of losses do not need outside help. Therefore, it is increasingly certain that Ukraine has lost air superiority over the bulk of its territory. A no-fly zone involving air units from the United States and other NATO nations runs the risks of clashes with Russian aircraft. The consequences of this are apparent. NATO and Russia would find themselves engaging each other in combat and escalation would be imminent.
-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 Russian defense ministry has released a statement warning that it will be carrying out strikes against specific targets in Kiev and is advising residents nearby to leave the area at once. The targets in the crosshairs are the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the 72nd Main Center for Information and Psychological Operations (PSO). “In order to suppress information attacks against Russia, the technological facilities of the SBU and the 72nd main PSO center in Kyiv will be hit with high-precision weapons,” the statement said, according to TASS. “We call on Ukrainian citizens attracted by Ukrainian nationalists to carry out provocations against Russia, as well as residents of Kyiv living near relay nodes leave their homes.” Relay nodes include television towers and earlier this morning, videos of Kiev’s largest tower being attacked were visible across numerous media and social media platforms. The fact that this attack was made in broad daylight came as a surprise to some observers. More attacks are expected in the coming hours as darkness has arrived in Ukraine.
-The Polish government has confirmed it will not be transferring some of its air force’s combat aircraft to the Ukrainian air force. Slovakia’s defense ministry also stated officially that its aircraft are not going to Ukraine. So, the EU push to get member-states to send MiG and Sukhoi warplanes, similar to what the Ukrainians fly, to replace losses suffered by the Ukrainian air force, is officially dead. The Polish government grew anxious yesterday as reports that Polish airbases would be used by the Ukrainian pilots surfaced in the media. It is unclear whether or not this played a role in the program, or if the deal even truly existed in the first place. Disinformation and rumors are simply rampant at this point in the conflict.
-Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s impassioned speech to an emergency session of the EU Parliament was very well received. The Ukrainian president is pressing for a fast track to EU membership for his country, and at least in the short term, the Union looks determined to push the membership request through if at all possible.
-The situation in Odessa remains unknown at this hour as the fog of war continues to hang over the city and surrounding area. News of an aborted Russian amphibious assault this morning has been followed up by reports of Russian sailors staging a mutiny aboard the amphibious group’s ships or in their home port of Sevastopol. Photo and video coming out of the city show scenes of civilians hunkering down and preparing defenses around the city. An amphibious landing is certainly possible, as is an attack from the west out of Transnistria, where a sizeable force of Russian troops is positioned.
It’s getting late in the evening here in the Eastern United States and I wanted to address a couple hot topics before calling it a night.
-Attention is focused on the large convoy of Russian troops and equipment now converging on Kiev. Satellite images show the convoy is 40 miles long and stretching from Hostomel Airport outside Kiev north to Prybirsk. It is safe to say this convoy will bring a large amount of military power into the Kiev area. Perhaps enough to lay siege to the city. I’m not entirely convinced the Russians want to charge in with guns blazing if they’re not forced to. Therefore, another round of negotiations is possible before Vladimir Putin makes the final decision. So far, most of the battles we’ve seen around the Ukrainian capital have been small unit actions. Russian probes and Ukrainian ambushes.
– The Ukrainian government has formally requested a fast track to membership in the European Union. A number of EU member-states in Eastern Europe are supporting the request including Poland and Estonia. The question is, what can EU membership do for Ukraine at this late stage in the game. The Union is not a security alliance along the lines of NATO. It possesses no real military assets or command structure of its own save the EuroCorps. So, for the short-term direct military assistance is out of the question. The request could be purely symbolic and intended to raise morale inside of the Ukraine. A fast track EU membership for Ukraine would not be appreciated by Moscow since one of the main objectives of this war has been to distance Ukraine from Europe.
Alright, I’m tired and for once want to try and get a decent night’s sleep. 😊 Back tomorrow with more news from Ukraine.