Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy is addressing the United Nations Security Council this morning for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The appearance, via video link, comes after Zelenskiy visited Bucha on Monday. Bucha is a town where the bodies of many Ukrainian citizens were discovered. Zelenskiy accuses Russia of committing war crimes. Zelenskiy was also critical of UN failures to defend the peace and security.
Latvia has ordered the closure of two Russian consulates and told the staffs to leave the country. This action comes on the heels of Lithuania having downgraded diplomatic ties with Russia and expelling Moscow’s ambassador. These actions were made following revelation of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops.
Conflicting reports on the status of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol continue to filter out of the region. Reports that the Ukrainian Marine units inside the besieged city have surrendered were contradicted this morning by the Ukrainian military, which claims the 503rd Marine Battalion has not surrendered en masse and continues to fight.
With the horrors of Bucha now coming to light there are many other reported atrocities being reported in other Ukrainian towns that have been occupied by Russian troops for some time. How accurate these reports are remain to be seen. Yet given what has been discovered in Bucha, there is likely some truth to these latest reports. France has even reportedly launched an investigation into war crimes committed against French citizens in Ukraine.
The White House was forced to walk back potentially explosive remarks made by President Biden during yesterday’s speech in Warsaw. In the speech, Biden called Vladimir Putin a ‘butcher’ who ‘cannot remain in power.’ The remarks were largely viewed as escalatory among America’s NATO allies with French President Emmanuel Macron remarking, “We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective.” Granted, Macron has his own more self-serving reasons for not wanting to escalate the situation with a presidential election on the horizon. Then there is Macron’s continued hope that the war provides the opportunity for France situate itself in a position to Europe in the post-Ukraine War era.
The head of Ukrainian military intelligence noted today that Russia’s new strategy appears to be dividing Ukraine into two separate states with one being controlled by Moscow. Since Russia’s failure to occupy the entire country so far appears to be permanent, the Kremlin is turning to an alternate plan containing more attainable political goals.
In the past twenty-four hours I have spoken to a handful of chemical and biological weapons experts who claim a consensus is growing in Western defense circles that Russia will use chemical weapons in the coming days. The subject has been lurking in the background for the past week as Russia’s advances in Ukraine have come to a halt, with little prospect of resuming anytime soon.
Finland has suspended rail services with Russia, terminating the rail link between the European Union and Russia. All passenger, commercial and cargo services have ended for the moment. Finland’s national railway operator announced the halt will start on Monday.
US President Joe Biden will give an address on Saturday, marking the end of his latest trip to Europe. The White House is calling the upcoming speech ‘significant.’ “He will give a major address tomorrow that will speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. During his trip, Biden made it clear he is looking ahead to the post-Ukraine conflict time period and the US role.
On the topic of the geopolitical order post-Ukraine, a number of NATO allies are making moves designed to improve their spot in the pecking order. France, Greece and Turkey are planning a joint humanitarian operation to evacuate civilians from Mariupol in the near future. French media claims Emmanuel Macron will be speaking to Vladimir Putin on the matter later this evening.
Western officials claim a Russian brigade commander was deliberately run over by an armored vehicle driven by his own men. The officer was a colonel and commander of the 37th Motor Rifle Brigade. “The brigade commander was killed by his own troops, we believe, as a consequence of the scale of losses that have been taken by his brigade,” a British official said. “We believe that he was killed by his own troops deliberately. We believe that he was run over by his own troops.”
-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.
Whatever hope there was attached to last night’s emergency meeting of the UN Security Council rapidly evaporated as the meeting went on. It was a typical security council meeting punctuated by uniform condemnation of Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government had requested the meeting yesterday after Russia announced its recognition of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists. It was a purely symbolic gesture though. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and holds veto power, guaranteeing no resolution aimed at condemnation of Russia’s actions has even a remote chance of seeing the light of day.
Europe is taking the lead on applying sanctions to Russia for its actions yesterday. Germany has cast aside its reluctance of past weeks and suspended the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline while Great Britain has targeted five Russian banks for its first round of sanctions. France has not yet taken action, however, the threat of “targeted sanctions” was introduced by Paris minus specifics. The French government has a good amount of egg on its face after working relentlessly to set up a summit between US and Russian leaders this past weekend, only to see it turn to dust following Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics yesterday. Perhaps this slap to the face will teach French leadership a lesson about trusting Vladimir Putin.
Despite the recognition of the LPR and DPR’s independence, the fact remains that two-thirds of the territory in both breakaway republics is controlled by the Ukrainian military…albeit tacitly in some instances. Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’ are reportedly advancing towards Mariupol, a vital port that sits in Ukrainian controlled territory. There has been contact between government forces and separatists and/or Russian peacekeepers at the Novoazovsk border crossing east of Mariupol. The port city is important to both Ukraine and Russia for a variety of reasons. It’s certainly worth discussing a bit at length later on in the day.