Russo-Ukraine War - 15 May 2022 - Day 81
On 24 February 2022, Ukraine was suddenly and deliberately attacked by land, naval and air forces of Russia, igniting the largest European war since the Great Patriotic War. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special military operation" in Ukraine in response to the appeal of the leaders of the "Donbass republics" for help. That attack is a blatant violation of the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Putin stressed that Moscow's goal is the demilitarization and denazification of the country. The military buildup in preceeding months makes it obvious that the unprovoked and dastardly Russian attack was deliberately planned long in advance. During the intervening time, the Russian government had deliberately sought to deceive the world by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
"To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." [Judgment of the International Military Tribunal]
"We assess that there is very little effective combat power left that the Russians have that they can bring to bear. Mobilization [of Russian society and a potential draft] are likely not going to generate any meaningful combat power and their conscription practices are likely not going to do it, either" George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, stated
Finland announced its intention to seek NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance. Putin told his Finnish counterpart that joining NATO would be “a mistake”, as Moscow cut off its electricity supply to the Nordic country earlier. “Putin stressed that the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland’s security,” the Kremlin said.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said she will go to Parliament to seek broad support for an application to join NATO. “Tomorrow I will assure that there is a broad parliamentary support in the Riksdag for a Swedish membership application and after that we will be set to take a government decision,” Andersson told a news conference. “The party board has at its meeting on May 15, 2022 decided that the party will work toward Sweden applying for membership in NATO,” the Social Democrats said in a statement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he does not expect the anticipated accession of Finland and Sweden to the defence alliance to be delayed by Turkey’s objections. Turkey had made it clear that it did not want to block accession, Stoltenberg said at the end of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin. “I’m confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership or the accession process,” Stoltenberg said.
Germany has taken all preparations for a quick ratification process should Finland and Sweden decide to apply for NATO membership, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, while underlining both countries’ need for security guarantees. “If they decide to join they can join quickly…We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear,” she told reporters in Berlin. She was referring to the ratification period that can take as long as a year, during which the two countries will not yet be protected by NATO’s article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.
Russia’s behaviour amounts to the unilateral repudiation of a 1997 cooperation agreement with NATO, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said. “The Russian government has made it clear that the NATO-Russia Founding Act is no longer worth anything to it. So we now have to acknowledge that this basic act was also unilaterally terminated by Russia, not by NATO,” Baerbock told reporters at the end of a NATO foreign ministers meeting.
Stoltenberg said he believes Ukraine can win its war against Russia, pointing out just how far from Moscow’s original plan its invasion had strayed. “Ukraine can win this war,” Stoltenberg said after attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. The war in Ukraine was not going according to plan for Moscow, Stoltenberg said, noting that the offensive in the Donbas region had stalled and Russian troops were withdrawing from the area around Kharkiv. “Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives,” Stoltenberg said, adding “Ukraine stands. NATO is stronger than ever.”
“The brutal invasion [by] Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters. “We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help Ukraine can win this war.”
Getting a full picture of the unfolding battle in Ukraine’s east has been difficult because air strikes and artillery barrages have made it extremely dangerous for reporters to move around. Both Ukraine and the Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east also have introduced tight restrictions on reporting from the combat zone.
Kharkiv, near the Russian border and only 80km (50 miles) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has undergone weeks of intense shelling. The largely Russian-speaking city with a prewar population of 1.4 million was a key military objective earlier in the war, when Moscow hoped to capture and hold major cities.
Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv after weeks of heavy bombardment in another battlefield setback for Moscow. Ukraine’s military said the Russians were pulling back from the major northeastern city and focusing on guarding supply routes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the development in his daily video address. “The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy,” he said.
The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War agreed with the assessment. “Russian units have generally not attempted to hold ground against counterattacking Ukrainian forces over the past several days, with a few exceptions,” it said. “Ukraine thus appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv. Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did to Russian forces attempting to seize Kyiv.”
The UK Ministry of Defence reported that Russia’s Donbas offensive had lost momentum and fallen significantly behind schedule. Despite small-scale initial advances, Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the past month whilst sustaining consistently high levels of attrition. Russia has likely suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed in February. These delays will almost certainly be exacerbated by the loss of critical enablers such as bridging equipment and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones. Russian bridging equipment has been in short supply throughout the conflict, slowing and restricting offensive manoeuvre. Russian UAVs are vital for tactical awareness and directing artillery, but have been vulnerable to Ukrainian anti-air capabilities. Russian forces are increasingly constrained by degraded enabling capabilities, continued low morale and reduced combat effectiveness. Many of these capabilities cannot be quickly replaced or reconstituted, and are likely to continue to hinder Russian operations in Ukraine. Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.
Intense battles are raging in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region where Russia had been concentrating its forces without making significant progress. After Russian forces failed to capture the capital Kyiv following the February 24 invasion, President Vladimir Putin shifted his focus to the Donbas, an industrial region where Ukrainian troops have battled Moscow-backed separatists since 2014. Fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russia’s advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. “The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers [there],” he said.
The Russians did not stop conducting offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone in order to establish full control over the territory of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson regions and maintain the land corridor with the temporarily occupied Crimea. There were no active actions of Russians units in the Volyn and Polissya areas. No signs of formation of offensive groups were found. Units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus continued to carry out tasks to cover the section of the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. In the northern direction, the Russians were intensifying the protection of the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kursk and Belgorod regions. They fired on Ukrainian territories and fired missiles at civilian infrastructure in the settlements of Shipylivka and Shevchenkove, Sumy region.
In the Kharkiv direction, the Russians focused its main efforts on maintaining the occupied positions and preventing the advance of Ukrainian troops to the State Border of Ukraine. In this direction, the Russians uses units that were formed during the mobilization in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In addition, the Russians systematically shelled the settlements of Ruski Tyshky, Ternova and Petrovka. They are trying unsuccessfully to conduct offensive and assault operations in the areas of Dovhenke and Bogorodichne settlements.
In the Donetsk direction, the Russians continued to carry out intense shelling along the line of contact and tries to gain a foothold in the occupied positions, replenishing stocks of ammunition and fuel and lubricants. The main efforts of the Russians continued to focus on the Lyman, Severodonetsk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv areas. The Russians suffered significant losses in manpower and equipment. In some areas, the staffing of units, according to the results of hostilities, is less than 20 percent.
In the Popasna direction, due to heavy losses and inability to act independently, units of the airborne troops of the armed forces of the Russian Federation were teaming up with representatives of Russian private military companies for further action as part of the combined units. Other sources said Oleksandropillia, north of Popasna had fallen.
In the Severodonetsk direction, the Russians, supported by artillery, conducted hostilities in the area of the settlement of Toshkivka. Russia now advancing towards Lysychansik with a strong force poised to attack Severodonetsk. Ukraine prepared for the massive Russian attack in Luhansk Oblast to encircle Severodonetsk. Russian troops were preparing new attempts to cross the Siverskyi Donets river. They have brought 2,500 different vehicles & tanks of reinforcements, according to the Oblast Head.
In the area of Borivskyi, the Russians suffered losses and retreated. Fighting continues in the Bakhmut direction in the Komyshuvakha area. The Russians fought in the Avdiivka direction and suffered losses in the area of the settlements of Pisky and Novokalynove. They used heavy flamethrower systems in some areas. They conducted assault and offensive operations in the Kurakhiv direction, using artillery support. They was not successful.
In Mariupol, the Russians continue to focus its efforts on blocking and defeating Ukrainian units in the area of the Azovstal plant, inflicting massive artillery and air strikes. Relatives of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant have called on China’s President Xi Jinping to “save” the encircled troops, saying he was the last world leader that Moscow would listen to. Five wives of the Ukrainian soldiers and one father gave a press conference in Kyiv, in another desperate appeal to help the soldiers, holed up in underground tunnels in the huge factory that has been besieged by Russian forces for weeks. “There is only one man left in the world that we can address, it is the Chinese leader,” said Stavr Vychniak, the father of one of the trapped soldiers. “China has a big influence on Russia and on Putin personally. We ask for him to intervene,” he said.
A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara has proposed carrying out a sea evacuation of wounded fighters holed up in the steel plant in Mariupol. Ibrahim Kalin told the Reuters news agency he had personally discussed the proposal with Zelenskyy in Kyiv two weeks ago and that it remained “on the table” although Moscow had not agreed to it.
The pro-Kremlin leader of Russia's Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, called on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reconsider his offer and not to facilitate the evacuation of Ukrainian fighters stuck in the Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s besieged port city of Mariupol. “With all due respect to the leader of the Muslim state, I would like to remind you that the Azov regiment is a fascist-Nazi criminal armed formation that is involved in numerous atrocities and murders of the civilian population of Donbass,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
“I appeal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: the people of Azov are murderers and atheists, whom they now want to present to you as innocent victims of Russian aggression. Do not let yourself be deceived by criminals who want to avoid trial and well-deserved punishment with your help,” he added.
Ukrainian officials said Russia dropped phosphorus bombs on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol in response to Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). “Hell has come to earth. To Azovstal,” Mariupol city council deputy Petro Andriushchenko wrote on Telegram. He posted a video said to be of the attack, also showing artillery fire. Phosphorus bombs are incendiary bombs which ignite on contact with oxygen and cause devastating damage. Their use is banned under international law in populated areas. But t he Azovstal plant is primarily a military location, which is not a prohibited target.
But the incendiary weapons were not White Phosphorus, as was apparent from the absence of signature white smoke. Some weeks earlier, commenting on another attack, Samir, an open-source intelligence analyst who is mainly known for extracting useful data from satellite imagery in the Middle East (and has 73,000 Twitter followers as a result), noted: “This isn't White Phosphorus, these are thermite incendiary submunitions … we've seen similar footage of these unguided 9M22S incendiary Grad rockets in use by the Russians in Syria countless times.”
In the Novopavlovsk and Zaporizhzhya directions, the Russians tried to fire at Ukrainian troops with multiple rocket launchers, artillery and mortars. There were attempts to fight counter-battery. In the South Bug direction, Russians units did not conduct active hostilities. In the Kryvyi Rih and Mykolayiv directions, the Russians fired at Ukrainian units with artillery and mortars, and continued the engineering equipment of the occupied positions.
The command of the armed forces of the Russian Federation is trying to recruit and replenish the losses of its troops at the expense of reservists. Two and a half thousand reservists are being trained at ranges in Voronezh, Belgorod and Rostov oblasts. It is planned to send them to the territory of Ukraine to take part in the war.
The war in Ukraine could reach a “breaking point” by August and end in defeat for Russia before the end of the year, Kyiv’s head of military intelligence told the UK’s Sky News. Major-General Kyrylo Budanov, 36, said he was “optimistic” about the current trajectory of the conflict. “The breaking point will be in the second part of August,” he said. “Most of the active combat actions will have finished by the end of this year. As a result, we will renew Ukrainian power in all our territories that we have lost including Donbas and the Crimea.” Budanov said Ukraine knows “everything about our enemy. We know about their plans almost as they’re being made.”
Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who is now a security consultant, said Moscow’s losses have forced it to downsize its objectives in Ukraine. He said the Russians have had to use hastily patched together units that have not trained together. “This is not going to be quick. So we’re settled in for a summer of fighting at least. I think the Russian side is very clear that this is going to take a long time,” he said. “Obviously they have suffered degradation, though they still have a lot of battalion and tactical groups in the area. They have taken attrition, they’re reduced in numbers … They’re increasingly less efficient and effective.”
The Russian Federation asserted to the US that it wouldn’t capitulate in Ukraine, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told the Soloviev Live TV channel. "We say firmly and clearly and are unequivocally confident, at least, Russian diplomats who work here, there won’t ever be any capitulation," the diplomat said. "We are confident that all the goals set by the supreme commander-in-chief before our armed forces will be completely attained. We will never give up, won’t back up," he added.
The ambassador noted that the goals and tasks of Russia’s special military operation are clearly defined. "All that we want is the absence of any threat for the Russian Federation from Ukrainian soil," he noted. The envoy pointed out that the US is being drawn deeper into the conflict with unpredictable consequences. "Nevertheless, nowadays the situation is highly dangerous. The US is being drawn deeper into the conflict with the most unpredictable consequences for relations between two nuclear powers," he added.
Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as prime minister under Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s, told DW he believed that the Russian president had "already started to realize that he's losing this war." Kasyanov served as Putin's first prime minister from 2000 to 2004 before being sacked, and going on to form an opposition party and run for president in 2008. He became a vocal opponent, and now lives in exile. Kasyanov supported the theory many analysts hold about how Putin's inner circle has withheld information or not provided him a full picture of the state of the war, for fear of delivering bad news. "I'm sure he was misled," Kasyanov said, adding that Putin "believed that his army [was] in a great shape" and that the invasion would take very little time.
US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he expected the Senate to vote on $40bn in proposed aid to Ukraine on Wednesday 18 May 2022 after holding a related procedural vote on Monday 16 May 2022. “We expect to invoke cloture – hopefully by a significant margin – on the motion to proceed on Monday, which would set us up to approve the supplemental on Wednesday,” McConnell told reporters on a conference call from Stockholm after visiting the Ukrainian capital. He was referring to a procedural “cloture” vote that caps further debate on a matter to 30 hours.
The Kalush Orchestra frontman said he and his band members are “ready to fight” Russia once more when they return to their country. Oleh Psiuk spoke during a news conference in Turin after Ukraine’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest was confirmed. “We have a temporary authorisation to be here and it ends in two days and exactly in two days we are going to be back in Ukraine,” Psiuk said. “It’s hard to say what exactly I am going to do, because this is the first time I win the Eurovision Song Contest, but like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go on until the end.” Currently, an order from Ukraine’s government prohibits men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country, but the six members of the all-male band received special permission to go and represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music contest. One of the original members stayed to continue with the war effort.
The number of people entering Ukraine from neighboring Poland has exceeded the number of people crossing the border in the other direction, as the changing war situation prompts more people who evacuated to return. The United Nations has said that as of May 13, 3.31 million people, or more than half of those who fled Ukraine, crossed into neighboring Poland since Russia's invasion began in February. Poland's border security authorities said about 135,000 people crossed into Ukraine from Poland between 10 May through 14 May, while about 105,000 people entered Poland from Ukraine.
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