The Ukrainian military launched a counteroffensive in the northeast region of the country has made significant progress and taken the Russians by surprise. The number of Russian military units in the Kharkov region had dropped considerably once Russia shifted the focus of its military campaign in Ukraine from the north to the east and south. In the lead-up to the much anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kherson area in the south looked to be the focal point for the coming attack. Naturally, Russia shifted a large number of troops and equipment from the northeast to Kherson. This played right into Ukrainian hands. They took the bait and now Kiev’s forces are reaping the benefits. Ukraine is making claims of boisterous victories and significant progress. While it is clear significant progress is begin made, independent verification on some of the claims coming out of Kiev has not yet come. Western media is heralding the results of the counteroffensive as bringing about a new phase of the war and a shift from the war of attrition to a more maneuver-based campaign. As is generally the case with journalists, they might be jumping the gun. Ukraine must defend the ground it has recaptured in the northeast and there are indications of Russian forces stepping up attacks in the area.
Germany is under pressure to move more expediently on the promised delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. After the Russian invasion began in February, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a plan to rearm Germany and provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. Now over six-months into the conflict, many of the promised weapons have yet to arrive. The German government has not explained the delays. Fears that Russia will suspend all gas deliveries to Germany are undoubtedly playing a role in Berlin’s long-term thinking. Given Nord Stream 1’s indefinite shut down and the worsening energy situation in Europe, I would not expect to see an increase in the number of German weapons arriving in Ukraine anytime soon.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.
Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.
In the past 24 hours, the city of Kharkov has been hit with over fifty Russian artillery and multiple-launch rocket fire strikes. The intensity of these attacks has increased dramatically as large convoys of Russian troops, equipment and vehicles continue their transit towards the Donbas region. The purpose of the artillery and rocket attacks is militarily sound; keep the Ukrainian forces in and around Kharkov from interfering with the movement of Russian forces into the east. Unfortunately, while these strikes are logical in the military sense, they are causing considerable amounts of collateral damage.
According to a report from the Svenska Dagbladet, a daily Swedish newspaper, Sweden intends to submit its application for NATO membership in late June according to sources. Part of the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a shift in security priorities by Stockholm and Helsinki. If either, or both, countries decide to join NATO it will bring about a dramatic change in the security and foreign policy pictures for Northeastern Europe.
The Russian Defense Ministry claims the last units of Ukrainian Marines still fighting in Mariupol have surrendered. There has yet been no confirmation that this news is accurate. If it turns out to be true though, Mariupol will become the first major Ukrainian city to fall since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February.
The national leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are on their way to Kiev to tour the city and meet with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy later today. Estonian President Alar Karis said in a Twitter post that the purpose of the visit is to show “strong support” to the people of Ukraine and meet with their Ukrainian counterpart.
-Media outlets in the West have begrudgingly come around to the reality that Russian forces are making deep advances into Ukrainian territory. For days now, the focus of outside media attention has been on the fighting around Kiev and other major Ukrainian cities. As I’ve talked about before though, there has been less attention to the maneuvering and battles going on outside of cities like Kherson and Nikolayev until very recently. It is becoming more of a task for Ukrainian government officials to mask the advances Russian forces are making now. And they are advancing deeper into Ukraine in spite of the significant problems dogging many of the Russian ground units.
In the east, the taking of Zaporizhzhya raised concerns about Ukrainian forces in the east being cut off if Russian forces now arrayed around Kharkov could kickstart their advance southwest. As of now, this does not appear likely, meaning a large number of Ukrainian units will hopefully manage to withdraw before they are pocketed.
-This afternoon and evening, a number of retired US military officers have come out in opposition to NATO’s reluctance to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Former SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) General Philip Breedlove, USAF led the charge. Breedlove suggested a humanitarian no-fly zone be established to help make certain food and other necessary supplies can be delivered to Ukrainian citizens fleeing to western areas of the country. In comments made to Fox News, he explained, “It would be something where we would transmit to our opponent what we are doing in order to stay out of a more bellicose posture. But it would be really up to the opponent how it would proceed if we went in there and tried to have a no-fly zone over the western half of Ukraine.” With the number of Ukrainian refugees rapidly topping 1.2 million, there are calls to provide more assistance even in the face of growing Russian aggression.