The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine commenced late Monday following missile strikes against military targets in western Ukraine and preparatory artillery fire strikes against Ukrainian forces in the east. Russia has spent the past two weeks reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the Donbas region in preparation for this moment. Ukraine had also resupplied and reinforced its ground forces in the east to the best of Kiev’s ability. These efforts have attracted Russian attention, as was made apparent by the missile attacks on military targets deep in the Ukrainian rear areas like Lviv. Disrupting the flow of war supplies from outside Ukraine has become a high priority for Russia, a lesson learned the hard way earlier in the conflict. The supply routes coming from Poland and other NATO nations into Ukraine are going to be targeted more as the offensive in Donbas is now getting underway.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that a new phase of the war has begun. During an interview with India Today, the diplomat said, “This operation in the east of Ukraine is aimed as it was announced from the very beginning to fully liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.” When he was questioned about the growing rhetoric over nuclear weapons, Lavrov blamed the Ukrainian government, and specifically Volodymyr Zelenskiy for fueling false allegations.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is modifying its forecast for global economic growth over the next 24 months as the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine continue to expand. When the war started in February, 2022, economies around the world hadn’t yet fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now these recoveries will be hampered by the war, jeopardizing growth in nations mainly across Europe and Asia. Naturally, Russia and Ukraine are feeling the most direct and immediate effects of the war.
In Mariupol, organized Ukrainian resistance in much of the city had ended. Practically speaking, Russian forces now control most of the port city, but with the notable exception of the Azovstal Steelworks, one of Europe’s largest. Ukrainian troops and civilians are now holing up there. The vast complex is now the center of Ukrainian resistance inside of Mariupol. How long it will hold out remains to be seen. However, it could be a prolonged period of time before resistance comes to an end. The Ukrainian troops there are now fighting to protect the lives of civilians who have gathered at the plant. Their presence gives the Ukrainian soldiers there added incentive to continue fighting fiercely for as long as possible.
Lviv was again targeted by Russian missile strikes on Monday. Five ballistic missiles landed within the city limits. City officials claim seven civilians were killed in the attacks. Russia has increased the pressure on Lviv and other military targets in western Ukraine as its forces continue to prepare for a major offensive in the Donbas region.
In the east, Russia seems to be applying the lessons learned in its failed offensive in northern Ukraine as it undertakes preparations for an attack in the east. Russia is moving in heavy artillery, command and control headquarters, and attack helicopters to support the coming operation. Also in the last five days, 11 full-strength battalion tactical groups have arrived in Luhansk and Donetsk.
The United Nations does not foresee a ceasefire on the horizon in Ukraine. Though Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief has indicated he believes one could be possible in the coming weeks. The UN has been working to play a greater role in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and to bring about humanitarian ceasefires honored by both sides.
Defense Department officials have confirmed Russia’s claim of using hypersonic missiles in Friday’s attack on an aircraft repair facility in Lviv. This marks the first use of the weapon-type in combat. Officials also said the US was able to track the missiles in real time, although they did not confirm that the missiles were launched by MiG-31K Foxhound fighters, as Russia’s Ministry of Defense has claimed.
Prisoner of War camps are now operating in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have said there are officially 562 Russian POWs in Ukrainian custody. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova stated that international humanitarian law on prisoners of war will be observed by her country. We assume this is a reference to the Geneva Convention.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insists Russia and China will continue to forge closer ties and cooperation in the face of Western efforts to negatively affect relations between Moscow and Beijing. Lavrov’s comments come one day after a video call between US and Chinese leaders, in which President Joe Biden urged China to cooperate with Western efforts to force Russia to end its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
Ten humanitarian corridors were scheduled to be open today in Ukraine. These will include civilian evacuation routes from Mariupol, Kherson, areas in Luhansk and a number of towns northwest of Kiev. There have been no reports on how well the corridors are operating, but concern is growing about the situation in Mariupol where fighting has reached the center of the city. Street fighting there is disrupting rescue efforts at Mariupol theater according to the city’s mayor.
Great Britain’s Chief of Military Intelligence Lt. Gen. Jim Hockenhull believes Russia is overhauling its battlefield strategy to one where attrition is the centerpiece. After a little over three weeks of hostilities, Russia has not achieved any of its major political or military objectives in the campaign. The lightning-fast war of maneuver that was prematurely envisioned by Russian general officers has fallen flat for a wide variety of reasons. Moscow is finally realizing the time has come to shift gears. A war of attrition will take advantage of Russia’s overwhelming superiority in artillery. Indirect artillery fire specifically. This will increase collateral damage to Ukrainian infrastructure and likely raise civilian casualties.
US President Joe Biden held a two-hour video call this morning with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Before the call, the White House described the call as a component of “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication” between the United States and China. After the meeting concluded, China’s foreign ministry said Xi emphasized “severe challenges” around the globe. China’s alignment with Russia is a major worry in light of the war in Ukraine and Biden probably broached the matter of Russia’s request for military aid from China during the call.
In spite of Russian claims, US Central Command has said there is little evidence of foreign fighters traveling from Syria to Ukraine. The comments from CENTCOM commander Gen. Frank McKenzie on the topic came from a question on Russian efforts to recruit foreign fighters for the war. Earlier in March Syrian media reported Moscow was offering six-month contracts with pay ranging between $200 and $300 a month in a push to increase its force posture in Ukraine.
Lviv was struck by Russian cruise missiles again on Friday. The target was a military aircraft repair facility. According to the Ukrainian military, six Russian cruise missiles were fired from warships in the Black Sea and four impacted buildings at the repair facility.
Russia’s air and missile attacks against Ukrainian airbases and other military targets in the western part of the country have come under increasing scrutiny today as Western governments attempt to decipher the purpose behind those attacks. To be fair, the target set was made up of legitimate military targets. Civilian areas were not deliberately placed in the crosshairs. The timing and location of one attack are the factors causing worry in Western circles.
One attack came against a military installation near the western city of Lviv, a short distance from the Ukraine-Polish border, and a major crossing point for Ukrainian refugees over the past three weeks. The area is also a transit point for convoys carrying Western arms. Earlier last week, Russia issued a stern warning to the United States and its allies that the Russian military will regard the convoys as legitimate targets of war. The warning was largely ignored or minimized by the US and NATO, at least on the surface. Last night’s attacks on targets in western Ukraine can’t be disregarded so easily, seeing how they too contained a more overt message for the West to cease the overt resupply and rearming efforts in Ukraine. Call it a shot across NATO’s bow or a warning. I prefer to view it as a message job where the meaning was anything but hidden or minimized.
It remains to be seen whether the United States and its allies get the message. If Russia believes its efforts have failed, expect to see a convoy carrying arms and supplies east from Poland to Ukraine attacked in the coming days.
Author’s Note: I’ve been out of the loop for much of the weekend catching up on work and enjoying some college basketball since this is Selection Sunday. 😊 Some additional news is coming out concerning the Lviv strike and Russia’s reasoning for it. I’ll talk about that either tonight, or tomorrow morning in a Ukraine Update. –Mike