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.
Although Russia claims to have started withdrawing forces from the Ukrainian border in the past 24 hours, no proof of this has yet been presented. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said this morning “We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. And of course, that contradicts the message of diplomatic efforts. What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So, so far, no de-escalation.” Russia’s Ministry of Defense has published video of tanks, self-propelled artillery and other armored vehicles leaving Crimea. However, it was not made clear if the equipment was permanently departing the peninsula or simply being repositioned elsewhere. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported the NATO claim, saying the United States has yet to see concrete evidence of a Russian withdrawal in progress.
In Kiev and around the rest of the country, Ukrainians are celebrating Unity Day. The holiday was created by Ukraine’s leader Volodymir Zelenskiy to mark the day US intelligence believes a Russian invasion will begin. Ukrainian flags are flying from nearly all government buildings today, the national anthem was performed in cities and towns at 10 AM and the day is being marked by a number of speeches and rallies. Even though the true intent of the holiday remains unclear to many citizens, Ukrainians appear enthusiastic to take part. The threat of war did not appear to deter them from partaking in holiday events.
Ukraine will enjoy at least one more day of peace it seems.
Comments made separately by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Friday make it appear likely the United States and the alliance will reject Russia’s demands that NATO expansion be halted. The two men stated that Russia will hold no influence on what nations NATO may consider for membership, effectively slamming the door on one of Vladimir Putin’s strongest for easing tensions with Ukraine. They each also warned of a “forceful” response to future Soviet military intervention in Ukraine. Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke following a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers. This was the first in what will be a series of meetings over the next week intended to bring an end to the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border, as well as Moscow’s increasingly forceful rhetoric.
The risk of a new armed conflict breaking out could grow exponentially if Putin’s demands for security guarantees are officially rejected by the US and NATO next week. Of course, many analysts, diplomats and military officers in the West are of the opinion that Putin is aware his demands will be rejected, and he will have a justification for military action down the line. This has likely been the Russian play since a number of details on its demands were made public. On the surface, it might seem to some parties that Russia is willing to negotiate in good faith. Yet the heart of its security concerns and subsequent demands to NATO is made up of points Moscow is aware that neither Brussels nor Washington can accept.
On Monday, US and Russian diplomats will open discussions in Geneva that are expected to center on Ukraine. Discussions between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels will follow, as will more in-depth talks in Geneva. NATO and the US have stated they’re open to discussing arms-control and other related topics.
As for what’s currently happening in Kazakhstan, we’ll discuss that tomorrow, along with the connection between events there, including the intervention by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Ukraine.
Predictably, Russia’s draft security proposal has not elicited a positive response from NATO governments. The terms embedded in the document include denying NATO membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states, as well as reducing the amount of NATO troops and weapons presently deployed in Eastern Europe. The security proposal was crafted as a counterweight to NATO’s eastern expansion and the problems it has created for Russia’s own security dilemma. While NATO member-states discuss the proposal and consider the response, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said his country’s relations with the US and NATO have approached a “dangerous point,” and that the deployment of large numbers of NATO forces so near to the border raises “unacceptable risks” to Russian security. There has also been no formal response to Russia’s call for discussions with the United States and other NATO nations on its proposal. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that any talks “would also need to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on core principles and documents of European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, such as Ukraine.”
Sources in the Biden administration are now speaking of a ‘four-week window’ to prevent Russia from launching large scale military action against Ukraine. Admittedly, some of these sources are privately admitting that efforts by the White House to deter Russia’s designs have not been successful. The flurry of diplomatic activity and threats of large-scale economic sanctions placed on Moscow were it to invade Ukraine, have been undermined by public admissions by the White House that no US troops will be deployed to Ukraine. Earlier this weekend, a similar public statement about British forces was made by British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace. If anything, Vladimir Putin now has solid assurances that without the possibility of US and British forces being deployed to Ukraine, no other NATO member will dare intervene militarily should Russian forces cross the border in the coming days or weeks.
Operation Peace Spring, Turkey’s long-anticipated military operation to establish a buffer zone free of Kurdish militias in northeast Syria is now underway. The offensive commenced with airstrikes against suspected Kurdish militia, and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has officially claimed the purpose of the operation is to establish a safe zone that will house Syrian refugees. Erdogan has also promised to respect Syrian sovereignty.
So far Syrian ground forces do not appear to have crossed the border but that will happen eventually. For now, the first phase of the operation is underway and focused on preparing the battlefield with air and artillery. When the enemy positions (real and suspected) have been sufficiently weakened, only then will Turkish ground forces cross over. That moment could come in a matter of hours or days, depending on a number of factors both political and military.
Reaction from around the world has been swift, and guarded for the most part. The UN Security Council will hold a private meeting on Thursday to discuss the Turkish action. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Turkey to ‘act with restraint.’ In Washington, President Trump stated the US does not endorse the operation, and has made clear to Turkey that he believes it is a ‘bad idea.’ The president’s full statement, released by the White House is as follows:
“The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea. Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place—and we will hold them to this commitment.”
There will be additional updates posted on this blog later in the evening, or as events unfold.