Russia’s intention to withdraw forces from the Kiev region indicates a strategic shift in priorities away from efforts to encircle the Ukrainian capital and towards the continued fighting in the Donbas. By all indications, Russia has begrudgingly accepted that operations around Kiev have reached a dead end. Now, in order to salvage something from this conflict, Vladimir Putin is looking to eastern Ukraine.
With the first in-person meeting between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators having taken place today in Turkey, talks between Moscow and Kiev are entering a new phase. Russia is becoming more pragmatic about the war in Ukraine but has shown no desire for a swift conclusion. The decision by Moscow to ‘sharply reduce’ military operations around Kiev and Chernihiv has been presented as a gesture “to increase mutual trust for future negotiations.” In reality, it is more likely the creation of an opportunity to reconsolidate and resupply.
According to the New York Post, Ukraine has struck a Russian military base inside of Russia for the first time since the early days of the war. The strike reportedly was made against a base near Belgorod, a Russian city roughly 25 miles northeast of the Russian-Ukrainian border.
US President Joe Biden did some damage control on his own behalf over comments he made over the weekend suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin should be removed from power. Biden said today that he stood by the statement, yet it was a personal expression of his outrage and not an official change in US policy. “I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward this man,” Biden told reporters today, effectively rejecting suggestions he misspoke. Right, Joe. 😊 Administration officials have been trying to put out fires created by the comments. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the United States does not “have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter.”
The Group of Seven (G7) member nations have rejected Russia’s demand to pay for natural gas exports in rubles. G7 energy ministers and secretaries met via videoconference and affirmed that doing so would be a breach of existing contracts. Last week, Vladimir Putin announced that ‘unfriendly’ nations will now be required to pay for natural gas in Russian currency. Putin’s announcement raised gas prices even higher amid worries this could be a precursor to a shutdown of pipelines providing natural gas supplies to many European nations.
The next round of Ukraine-Russia peace talks will take place in Istanbul on 29 March, 2022. The Turkish government will be the host.
There have been conflicting reports on which side controlled Irpin, a town located north of Kiev. Initial reports of Ukrainian forces liberating the town made the rounds through much of Monday. In his nightly address President Volodymyr Zelenskiy clarified the situation. “The occupiers are pushed away from Irpin, However, it is too early to talk about security in this part of our region.” Translation: Russian forces have retreated from Irpin, but a counterattack is expected within the next 12 hours or so.
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.”
Good afternoon. At this moment, events and actions taking place in Ukraine continue to be at least partially blanketed by the fog of war. This has been the case since the first shots were fired early Thursday morning and will likely continue for some time. However, the fog is gradually starting to lift, and at this point the amount of hard information available will allow some conclusions to be reached and questions answered….
-Russia’s offensive is behind schedule and continues to face significant delays. Whether this is because of Ukrainian resistance or the fact that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, is unclear. It could be a combination of the two factors that have slowed the Russians down. On social media there have been a number of videos posted purportedly showing Russian supply convoys destroyed on roadways, victims of Ukrainian ambushes or air attack. Russia’s overall progress on the battlefield over the first two days of the war has been marked by success in some sectors and a lack thereof in others. It’s overall success, though, will be measured by how quickly it can capture Kiev.
-US DoD officials are estimating half of the Russian forces that had been massed alongside the Ukrainian border have entered the country. This leaves a considerable number of troops, vehicles and equipment uncommitted and available as reinforcements or replacements if required.
-Turkey does not intend to close the Bosphorus off to Russian warships, despite the flurry of claims that followed a tweet by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this morning. Ankara is bound by the Montreaux Treaty to allow Russian warships access to their Black Sea homeports.
-Ground based Ukrainian air defenses appear to be active still, if reports about the destruction of two Russian Il-78 cargo planes south of Kiev are accurate. The air picture remains convoluted, to say the least. Many reports and claims are going around, with little substantial information to back them up.
Next update will come in the early evening and with luck, I’ll focus it on preparations in Kiev for another upcoming night of heavy fighting.
The British evacuation operations at Kabul Airport have come to a close today with the final departure of a flight carrying Afghan civilians. On the ground at the airport, the US is entering the final phase of its own operations before the 31 August withdrawal date. US commanders continue to stress that the probability of another attack on the airport remains considerable following a limited number of US drone strikes that have killed a handful of high-profile ISIS-K members. As of 1430 hours, Eastern time today, over 117,000 people have been evacuated from the country. Of this number, 5,400 are American citizens. The number of US troops currently deployed to the airport is declining as well. There are now 4,000 troops on the ground there, down from a highwater mark of 5,800 reached earlier in the week.
Recent reports from Kabul seem to suggest the Taliban and Turkey are close to reaching an agreement on Kabul airport. Under the proposed agreement, Turkey and Qatar will operate Kabul Airport, with Turkey expected to provide security through a private firm employing mostly ex-Turkish troops. This move is similar to one Turkey executed during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war last year. In exchange for permission to assume responsibility for airport operations, Turkey is expected to formally recognize the Taliban government. This will make Turkey the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan State Bank has ordered all banks to open under an emergency framework intended to solve the liquidity crisis. The long term fate of Afghani banks remains up in the air, however. The Taliban is unlikely to allow interest-based banks to operate as they have been doing for some time. A Sharia-compliant banking system will have to be designed to replace the traditional banking system now in place. The Taliban government has made it clear it wants monetary affairs to be governed by the Sharia laws.