Russia is blaming Ukraine for the shelling of its territory in the Belgorod oblast area close to the border. The Russian government also claims a number of attempted cross-border raids in the area by Ukrainian soldiers were defeated. There were also reports of an explosion inside the city of Belgorod, likely caused by a drone. There were casualties in that incident, but none were fatal. The violence near the border is being affected by the fog of war, as well as the blanket of disinformation. Despite Russia blaming Ukraine for the shelling and raids, pro-Ukraine paramilitary groups are claiming responsibility for the latest attacks. It remains unclear if Russia truly knows which party is responsible for the attacks and is simply attempting to save face, or if Moscow is still uncertain.
Kiev suffered yet another volley of Russian missiles launched in the pre-dawn hours today. These were SS-26 Stone short range ballistic missiles (often identified by their Russian name Iskander by amateurs in social media). Three people were killed and according to the Ukrainian government, Apartment buildings, hospitals and schools were damaged by missile fragments according to the Ukrainian government. Probably a line of propaganda, but there is no sense talking publicly about military and government targets that might’ve been struck.
In Moldova at a meeting of the European Political Community, British PM Rishi Sunak said Ukraine’s “rightful place” is within NATO. There is increasing pressure, on the surface at least, for NATO to admit Ukraine as a full member despite the realities of the moment. Quite honestly, Sunak and Great Britain are bending over backwards to supply Ukraine with as many average-quality British weapons as possible. In the meantime they continue to strip British military supplies from armor to artillery ammunition. God forbid the Brits find themselves faced with sudden crisis, they could find themselves in need of weapons and ammunition. The same holds true for many other NATO members.
This has not deterred Ukraine from pleading for more weapons, ammunition and money. Volodymyr ‘Oliver Twist’ Zelenskiy was also in Moldova begging for more and chastising the EU and NATO for not doing more. The set of balls on that man is astounding.
I still despise Putin and Russia more than Zelenskiy, but not by as comfortable of a margin as I’d like. Ukraine’s leader is a huckster. NATO should buy him a suit instead of sending him more war supplies and money.
Unrest and tension remain evident in Kosovo following Monday’s riots in north Kosovo towns with Serbian majorities. Violent clashes broke out in several municipalities, resulting in 30 NATO soldiers and over 50 protesters being injured. The violence broke out after Serbian protesters attempted to take over the offices of ethnic Albanian mayors. Last week the ethnic Albanians assumed their posts following elections last month that were boycotted by the Serbs who represent a majority, touching off major protests. Kosovar police and NATO peacekeepers moved in to stabilize the situation, however, violence continued. Serbia even went as far as increasing the alert status of its own military and moving additional forces to the border with Kosovo. As tensions continue to rise there are new calls by the EU, United States, Germany and other nations for Kosovo and Serbia to resolve the latest dispute through dialogue.
Tensions are also hearting up in the South China Sea. A Chinese research ship and five escort vessels operated in Vietnam’s EEZ late last week near gas blocks operated by Russian firms. Vietnam publicly demanded the ships leave and dispatched a pair of fisheries ships to the area. Under international rules and regulations, ships are allowed to cross the EEZs of other nations, but China’s operations have long been regarded as hostile by Vietnam and other countries with claims in the South China Sea, including the Philippines and Malaysia. Chinese incursions to Vietnamese waters have escalated over the past decade and this does not look to change at any point in the near future.
On another SCS front, the US, Japan and Philippines will be conducting a joint coast guard exercise from June 1-7 in waters off of Bataan. The exercise will be centered on improving interoperability between the coast guards of participating nations. China will likely view the purpose behind the week long exercise as something entirely different, of course.
Anticipation for the long-expected Ukrainian counteroffensive is increasing with each passing day. To be fair, the coming counteroffensive must be one of the worst-kept secrets in military history. The Ukrainian government has made no sincere effort to conceal their plans to retake areas of the homeland currently held by Russian forces. Statements are made in broad terms though, and very few details emerge. The ones that do, however, are analyzed to death by journalists, military experts and of course, by the legions of OSINT amateurs on social media. There is growing speculation that behind the scenes some Western leaders are not entirely convinced Ukraine’s counteroffensive will live up to the growing expectations. In fact, there is increasing concern in some Western capital cities about how negatively a failed counteroffensive could affect the constant stream of money and material from Europe and the United States east to Kiev.
On the flip side, the Russians know what is coming and should be preparing. The critical variable now is timing. Will a counteroffensive start in late April or early May? Or will it not kick off until late May or early June? Every passing day gives the Russian military and government more time to prepare. After Ukrainian forces successfully secured positions on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River on Sunday, there was widespread speculation that this signaled the start of the counteroffensive. Now, some two days later, it appears this was not the case.
Where Ukraine enjoys a seemingly limitless stream of Western weapons and ammunition, Russia is not so fortunate. Manpower and material shortages have caused problems for Russian units now in Ukraine. How problematic these shortages are remains to be seen. There does not appear to be an issue in Bakhmut where Russian forces are said to be concentrating for a new assault on Ukrainian positions.
Counteroffensive or not, the fighting around Bakhmut does not look to be diminishing any time soon. Both sides appear determined to maintain the stalemate or bring about a victory at any cost.
NATO’s verbal response to Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was predictable. Alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu labeled it ‘dangerous and provocative.’ She then stated that there has been no change in Russian nuclear posture, meaning there is no need for NATO to adjust its own. The US government’s reply was along similar lines.
On Saturday during a TV interview, Vladimir Putin announced his plan to store tactical nuclear weapons on Belarussian soil. The Russian president pointed out this move will violate no nuclear nonproliferation agreements since Russia will retain control of the warheads. He also compared the decision to how the United States deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe and there are some similarities between the methods. However, the primary difference rests with delivery systems. The US and Russia have aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons in close proximity to the weapon storage sites. But along with this, Russia already has a number of SS-26 Stone (Iskander M to the amateurs) short range ballistic missiles based in Belarus. These missiles can also easily be used as delivery vehicles for tactical nuclear weapons.
It comes as no surprise that Ukraine has been quite vocal on the move, accusing Moscow of making Belarus a ‘nuclear hostage.’ As far as the nuclear threat to Ukraine is concerned though, a limited Russian deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus does not raise the threat posed to Ukraine. Moscow’s decision is aimed more at NATO and the West, intended to serve as message, perhaps, that the continued arming and supplying of Ukraine could hold significant consequences.
China’s foreign minister conducted a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart and expressed the Chinese government’s growing concern with the continuing war between Russia and China. Beijing is anxious over the prospect of the war escalating and is urging Kiev to discuss a political resolution with Moscow. Coming from the Chinese, a request for negotiations at this point appears self-serving. The discussion between foreign ministers comes amid reports that a Chinese-made drone was shot down last weekend. The United States has led the charge in accusing China of moving closer to supplying Russia with weapons. It would make sense for China to urge a negotiated settlement to try and divert attention away from the discovery of a Chinese-made drone on the battlefield. Pushing this tact is even more sensible considering that Xi Jinping is expected to visit Moscow in the near future and there is widespread speculation concerning what Xi’s arrival in Russia might bring about.
Unfortunately for the West, the warnings put forward about China potentially supplying Russia with weapons and war material is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Led by the United States, NATO has provided Ukraine with a continuous stream of weapons since the start of the war. Most recently, a limited number of main battle tanks have entered the pipeline. In the next few days four Polish MiG-29s will arrive in Ukraine. These will be the first combat aircraft provided by a NATO member-state, representing a sizeable escalation in military support. Other alliance members could follow suit, opening the prospect of combat aircraft being made available to Ukraine’s air arm.
This could produce two significant actions. First, Russia might commit a sizeable portion of its air force to the war. So far, the Russian Air Force has played a limited role with the majority of its available combat aircraft kept out of the fighting. Second, an increase in NATO military support could prompt China to begin providing copious amounts of war material to keep Russia afloat. Time will tell which of these two prospects takes shape.