There are growing indications that North Korea is moving forward with plans for its first nuclear weapons test in over four years. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise lately, though this has been underreported in light of the war in Ukraine. Last week, Kim Jong Un promised to continue development of its nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible speed.” This has prompted concerns that a test will be scheduled to disrupt the late May visit of US President Joe Biden to South Korea. Chinese and South Korea diplomats met in Seoul on Tuesday with China pledging to play a ‘constructive role’ in attempting to get North Korea to resume negotiations.
South Korea, with a new administration taking power on 10 May, is quite interested in deterring North Korea from escalating the situation. One element that appears to be coaxing the North along the slippery path it’s on at present is Russia. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have forged close ties over the years and the North is one of the few nations supporting Russia in its war without misgivings. In exchange for this loyalty, Russia could return the favor by blocking a UN effort to impose severe sanctions on North Korea if it does move forward with a nuclear test.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the global economic fallout from Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in China could hit the North Korean economy especially hard. Supply chain issues now coming into play will exacerbate food shortages. Inflation will also play a greater role. Food prices in North Korea often mirror global prices. With food prices rising around the world, the North’s prices are expected to do the same in the coming weeks, taking the country’s economic issues from bad to worse in the process.
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.
Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy is addressing the United Nations Security Council this morning for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The appearance, via video link, comes after Zelenskiy visited Bucha on Monday. Bucha is a town where the bodies of many Ukrainian citizens were discovered. Zelenskiy accuses Russia of committing war crimes. Zelenskiy was also critical of UN failures to defend the peace and security.
Latvia has ordered the closure of two Russian consulates and told the staffs to leave the country. This action comes on the heels of Lithuania having downgraded diplomatic ties with Russia and expelling Moscow’s ambassador. These actions were made following revelation of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops.
Conflicting reports on the status of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol continue to filter out of the region. Reports that the Ukrainian Marine units inside the besieged city have surrendered were contradicted this morning by the Ukrainian military, which claims the 503rd Marine Battalion has not surrendered en masse and continues to fight.
With the horrors of Bucha now coming to light there are many other reported atrocities being reported in other Ukrainian towns that have been occupied by Russian troops for some time. How accurate these reports are remain to be seen. Yet given what has been discovered in Bucha, there is likely some truth to these latest reports. France has even reportedly launched an investigation into war crimes committed against French citizens in Ukraine.
Good evening. It has been a busy Ash Wednesday for me, and I apologize for not putting together an update earlier in the day. I am trying to maintain at least two updates per 24 hours. For the most part I have. Today was an exception, unfortunately.
-After two Chinese banks restricted financing for Russian commodity purchases last week, there was a sense of optimism in the West that China might condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and apply sanctions. Today, China drew a line in the sand and made it clear it will not condemn Russia or apply severe sanctions. ‘Normal trade cooperation’ between the two countries will continue, according to the Chinese government. Clearly, there will be no condemnation of Russian actions in Ukraine either.
“China firmly opposes all illegal unilateral sanctions, and believes that sanctions are never fundamentally effective means to solve problems,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Webin said Wednesday. “They will only create serious difficulties to the economy and livelihood of relevant countries and further intensify division and confrontation.”
-Separate estimates of Russia’s battlefield casualties have been released by the governments in Kiev and Moscow today and they are as different as night and day. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed 500 KIAs and about 1500 casualties so far in the conflict. The Ukrainian government, on the other hand, puts the number of Russian casualties at around 7,000. Russia’s military has dismissed this number and declared it to be Ukrainian disinformation. As for its own estimate of Ukrainian casualties, Moscow claims 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed and some 3,700 more sustained injuries. 572 others have become prisoners of war. The dueling casualty claims will continue on for the length of the conflict and probably beyond. Common occurrence in times of war, especially in this age of digital rumors and disinformation.
-There have been violations of Swedish airspace made by Russian combat aircraft today, 48 hours after Sweden banned Russian aviation from its airspace. The incidents took place east of the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Swedish fighters intercepted two Russian Su-27 Flanker fighters and a pair of Su-24 Fencer fighter-bombers and escorted them out of the area. The Swedish Air Force General Carl-Johan Edström criticized the Russian move. “In light of the current situation, we take the incident very seriously. It is an unprofessional and irresponsible action on the part of Russia.”
-Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a telephone discussion with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this evening, said the next twenty-four hours will be critical for Ukraine. With more Russian columns moving towards Kiev, an assault on the city is edging closer to becoming reality. Great Britain and other European nations are doing all they can to move as much military equipment into Ukraine as possible. The EU is even pushing to start the delivery of combat aircraft from member-states to Ukraine within a matter of hours. These moves come as the tempo of Russian operations has increased over the last twenty-four hours. Ukraine’s general staff even admitted that Sunday was a difficult day for its forces, but failed to go into detail except to point out that friendly forces at Vasylkiv Airbase southeast of Kiev are enduring heavy artillery and rocket attacks.
-Negotiations between delegations of Russian and Ukrainian officials are set to take place at the Belarussian border Monday morning around 10 AM local time. Expectations are low for these talks and the overall perception is that Vladimir Putin will use their failure to increase the pressure on Kiev dramatically in the aftermath of the meeting.
-The UN Security Council voted today to convene an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on Monday to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Eleven of the fifteen UNSC members voted in favor and only Russia voted against. However, since this was a procedural motion, Russia could not exercise its veto power. China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained.