Ukraine Update 27 September 2022: Referendums And Pipelines

The referendums held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine have drawn to a close and the votes tallied. Russian-installed election officials in all four regions report overwhelming majorities in favor of becoming part of Russia. The referendums took place in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Combined, these four areas represent fifteen percent of Ukrainian territory. Now, their days of belonging to Ukraine are numbered.

As expected, the referendum results have prompted Russia to move rapidly to annex these regions. Annexation is expected by the end of the week. From that point forward, in the view of the Kremlin, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will become sovereign Russian soil. Putin will address Russia’s parliament on the subject on Friday and Russian lawmakers could consider annexation legislation as early as next Monday.

Today, Russia has swung back to playing the nuclear threat card, intending to deter Ukraine from moving to retake the territories after the annexation becomes official. As sovereign Russian soil, the territories will be placed under the protection of the entire Russian military arsenal including nuclear weapons. Moscow is also hoping to influence the tenor of the war and warn off the United States and Europe from continuing to contribute significant military and other material support to Ukraine as the war drags on. It is apparent the referendum and coming annexation, coupled with the latest nuclear threats from Moscow appear primed to move the war into a new, potentially more dangerous phase.

Then there is the matter of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipeline ruptures beneath the Baltic Sea on Monday. It is becoming apparent the leaks were deliberate, which leads to the question of who would be responsible for an act of sabotage on the pipelines. That subject will be discussed in tomorrow’s post.

Ukraine Update 4 March, 2022 (Evening)

 -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.

Ukraine Update 4 March, 2022 (AM)

  • The situation on the ground at Zaporizhzhia Power Plant in Ukraine seems to have improved considerably in the past ten hours. The fire caused during the Russian attack has been extinguished, there has been no radiation leakage and the reactor units have been shut down. The bad news is that the plant is now under Russian control. World leaders have condemned Russia for the attack and admittedly, it was not a prudent move. The International Atomic Energy Agency is attempting to set up a meeting with the aim of laying down a plan to prohibit attacks against nuclear power plants in the future.
  • NATO will not move to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, in spite of considerable pressure from Ukrainian politicians and others.  Secretary Jens Stoltenberg called it a “painful decision,” but reiterated that NATO cannot risk escalating the conflict by engaging Russian aircraft flying over Ukraine. “We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did that, would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering,” he said.  The United States has also ruled out a no-fly zone over Ukraine for similar reasons.
  • Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko repeated today that his nation’s armed forces are not taking part in the Ukrainian invasion and this will not change in the future. There’ve been conflicting reports about the status of Belarussian forces since the conflict erupted, but for now at least, Belarus will not be committing troops to the fighting.
  • Fighting in the town of Irpin (or Irbin) has intensified over the last twenty four hours. Ukrainian forces pushed back an assault by Russian paratroopers and supporting BMD light infantry vehicles yesterday. Today, Russian shelling has been heavy, falling in residential areas. These artillery and rocket attacks do not appear indiscriminate though. Instead it seems to be a Russian effort to soften up built up areas Ukrainian defenders can dig in and slow down the Russian advance when it begins…which will likely be soon.

Ukraine Update 3 March, 2022 Late Evening

As if the conflict in Ukraine could not possibly get worse, tonight Russian forces have shelled and assaulted one of the largest nuclear power plants in Europe. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station has been struck by a number of Russian projectiles, though it is unsure of the type; mortars, artillery shells or tank rounds. The fighting has stopped, and radiation levels are normal, but earlier tonight media outlets around the world took the story and ran with it. Fears of a new Chernobyl style meltdown were rampant on news channels and social media platforms. With these came calls for Western military intervention from a number of politicians in Europe, Ukraine and the United States.

I’m not sure who decided a ground assault on a nuclear power plant would be a good idea, but something tells me that whichever Russian officer ordered it will be counting trees in Siberia by the weekend.

By tomorrow morning there should be more solid information on the Zaporizhzhia situation. For now, as I said, there does not seem to be any risk of radiation leakage. It is fair to say that disaster appears to have been narrowly averted tonight.