Russo-Ukraine War - 31 May 2022 - Day 97
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]
The ninety-seventh day of the heroic opposition of the Ukrainian people to the Russian military invasion continues. Russian climbers Svetlana Velikanova and Dmitry Pavlenko hoisted the Ukrainian flag on Putin's Peak in Kyrgyzstan to support friends, Ukrainian climbers, who are now defending their country. "The mountaineering world is very close. We have a lot of friends in Ukraine who are now defending their country instead of walking in the mountains during the warm season. It was all conceived as their support. Climbers usually walk with their flags, take pictures with them on all the peaks or leave them. But since they (Ukrainians, ed.) Can't do it now, we decided to do it, "Velikanova shared. The appearance of the video with the Ukrainian flag on Putin's Peak caused a great resonance. This was facilitated by the fact that the Global Eurasian Economic Forum was held in Bishkek on the same days. Authorities decided it was a deliberate political sabotage.
The UK Ministry of Defence reported Russia’s capture of Lyman supported its operational main effort, which likely remains the encirclement of Sieverodonetsk and the closure of the pocket around Ukrainian forces in Luhansk Oblast. Elements of Russia’s Southern Grouping of Forces are likely leading the most successful axis in the sector, supported by the Central Grouping of Forces attacking from the North. Progress has been slow but gains are being held. Routes into the pocket likely remain under Ukrainian control. Russia has achieved greater local successes than earlier in the campaign by massing forces and fires in a relatively small area. This forces Russia to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory. Russia’s political goal is likely to occupy the full territory of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. To achieve this, Russia will need to secure further challenging operational objectives beyond Sieverodonetsk, including the key city of Kramatorsk and the M04 Dnipro-Donetsk main road.
The official representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Major General Igor Konashenkov, during a briefing spoke about the progress of the special operation of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. According to him, over the past night, high-precision missiles hit four command posts, as well as 13 areas of concentration of manpower and Ukrainian military equipment.
Russian aviation hit three command posts and 69 areas of concentration of manpower and military equipment and two ammunition depots. Also, Russian pilots shot down a Su-25 aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force. Artillerymen and missilemen hit 38 command posts, 417 areas of concentration of manpower and military equipment, 46 firing positions of artillery and mortar batteries, the battery of the Uragan multiple launch rocket system, the battery of the Grad multiple launch rocket system, two ammunition depots, as well as fuel storage. Russian air defense systems managed to shoot down six Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles.
Konashenkov also said that the Russian military found a van with the bodies of dead Ukrainian soldiers on the territory of the Azovstal plant. "During an inspection of the underground structures of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in Mariupol, where the Nazis of the Ukrainian Azov formation who had surrendered were hiding, Russian servicemen discovered an isothermal van. 152 bodies of dead militants and servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were stored in the van with a broken cooling system," Konashenkov said. Under the bodies of the dead Ukrainian military, four mines were found, the power of which would be enough to destroy all the bodies in the van.
The fighters of the Chechen units and the People's Militia of the Lugansk People's Republic have completely completed the cleansing of the city of Severodonetsk from Ukrainian nationalists, the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel. "Warriors from the Chechen Republic, together with the People's Militia of the LPR and other Russian security forces, completed the total cleansing of Severodonetsk. The soldiers moved on to the next stage - a more thorough random check of individual city facilities," Kadyrov wrote.
Russian forces now control "most" of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk after days of fierce fighting, the regional governor of Luhansk said. Governor Sergiy Gaiday said "90 percent" of the city was destroyed and there was now no possibility of leaving Severodonetsk. He said that Kyiv's army still "holds the defences in their current positions" and that the Ukrainian military was not in danger of being surrounded. The Ukrainian army is determined to slow down Russia's steady advance in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow concentrates its efforts on encircling the area.
Russia struck a nitric acid tank at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk, a city in Ukraine's Luhansk region, said local governor. Sergiy Gaiday, the governor urged people to stay inside shelters. Nitric acid is dangerous if inhaled, swallowed or even if it comes in contact with the skin. The governor has urged people in the city to "prepare protective face masks impregnated with soda solution". Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia's air strike at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk was "just crazy". But it is "no longer surprising that for the Russian military, for Russian commanders, for Russian soldiers, any madness is absolutely acceptable", Zelensky said.
Russian forces reportedly control the northeast and southeast outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk and are continuing to gain ground within the city, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said. “Ukrainian and Russian sources reported ongoing fighting to the south of Severodonetsk in Toshkivka, Ustynivka, Voronove, Borivske, and Metolkine, as Russian forces continue efforts to complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk from the south,” the ISW said. It added that there had been reports Russian forces were transferring large quantities of personnel and equipment to the area to strengthen operations against Severodonetsk. “A Russian Telegram channel claimed that Russian forces control the entire southern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, except for the part of the river that runs through Severodonetsk. ISW cannot independently confirm this claim, though it is consistent with previous reporting on persistent, incremental Russian advances in and around the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area,” the institute said.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, the situation in the Volyn and Polissya areas has not changed. No signs of Russian offensive formations were found. The main efforts of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus are focused on strengthening the protection of the state border. The removal of infantry tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from the storage bases of the Republic of Belarus was noted. Their further transfer to the armed forces of the Russian Federation in order to make up for current losses is not ruled out. In the northern direction, the Russian did not take active action, no signs of the formation of strike groups were found. In order to demonstrate the presence and prevent the transfer of units of the Ukrainian Defense Forces to other areas, it kept certain units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the border areas of the Bryansk and Kursk regions. The Russians fired a missile at units of Ukrainian troops in the Sumy region from Su-30SM aircraft. Artillery and mortar shelling of border settlements continued.
In the Slobozhansk direction, Russian groups from the units and units of the Western Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are trying to hold their positions and prevent the advance of units of the Defense Forces into the temporarily occupied territory. The Russians were preparing to resume the offensive in the areas of Izyum and Slovyansk. In the Donetsk direction, the Russian, supported by artillery and mortar fire, conducted active assault operations in the Severodonetsk and Bakhmut areas, the fighting continues.
The Russian were trying to establish full control over the settlement of Severodonetsk and surround the units of the Defense Forces operating in this direction, and prepared for the offensive in the areas of Siversk and Raigorodok. In the Kurakhiv direction, the Russian did not conduct active hostilities, and carried out fire damage to Ukrainian troops with the use of artillery. In other areas, they continued to fire in order to restrain the actions of Ukrainian troops and prevent them from being transferred to other, threatening areas.
In the South Bug direction, the Russian were defending and mining the coast of the Ingulets River in areas of possible action by units of Ukrainian troops, and led a counter-battery fight. The Russians inflicted air strikes with the involvement of army aircraft in the area of the settlement of Davidov Brid, Kherson region. In the waters of the Black and Azov Seas, Russian naval groups continue to perform tasks to isolate combat areas. One carrier of high-precision weapons, the Admiral Makarov frigate, which has up to 8 Caliber cruise missiles on board, remained ready for use.
Relatives of Ukrainian fighters who remained for weeks under the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have said that they had received no news of the whereabouts of their loved ones since they were evacuated to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine. The relatives, all women, said they had formed a Council of Wives and Mothers, to ensure the fighters were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war. Natalia Zarytska, wife of an Azov regiment soldier, said she had been contacted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which helped oversee the mass evacuations. “I was informed that it has been registered that he left the Azovstal plant but none of my questions – whether he is still alive, what condition he is in, where they have been taken – have been answered,” Zarytska said.
Le Figaro published an article that assesses the prospects of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the special military operation. According to the author of the publication, the RF Armed Forces are now slowly but surely advancing in the Donbass, where the Ukrainian army is currently in a critical situation. However, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg carefully put it , wars are unpredictable, and no one can say exactly when and how this war will end.
The article noted the numerical superiority of the RF Armed Forces in the Donbass. "The ratio of forces is 1:2: two Russian combined forces of 20 to 30 thousand soldiers each are opposed by five to seven Ukrainian brigades, the number of which is approximately 25 thousand people."
According to the authors of the article, the Ukrainian army, which consists of 140,000 active soldiers and a reserve of about 250,000 people, has enough manpower to withstand Russia: "Moreover, with the territorial forces and volunteers, the Ukrainian army can number up to 700,000 people." However, this number of fighters may not be enough if Vladimir Putin announces mobilization. “This is enough to stand before Russia, unless it announces mobilization. But Vladimir Putin has ruled it out for now, and our sources confirm that they really won’t take conscripts,” the publication notes.
The author of the material believes that operations to "return the territories" from the Ukrainian side are unrealistic. "When Moscow decides to end intense hostilities, the borders will be frozen in the same configuration as the front line," Mathieu Boulega, a defense specialist at the Chatham House Institute, was quoted as saying. According to Bulega, the pause will not mean the end of hostilities and will not be the final point of the conflict.
German political scientist and military analyst Carlo Masala from the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich said that at this stage of the special military operation, Russia does not plan to enter into negotiations with Ukraine. The reason lies in the fact that the RF Armed Forces are gaining the upper hand in battles. Masala believes that negotiations will become possible for the Russian Federation only if the Ukrainian army inflicts serious defeats on it and there is a threat of failure of the special operation. If this does not happen, then the Russian Federation will achieve its goals without negotiations. Masala said that the situation was "stalemate", because Ukraine is not going to give up its territories, and Russia does not intend to leave without a victory.
Retired German general Roland Kater believes that Ukraine will lose control over the entire territory of Donbass within "the coming days or weeks." He expressed this opinion in an interview published with the Die Welt newspaper. "I have the impression that Russia has changed its strategy over the past few days and weeks. It has formed a clear center of gravity in the Donbass and massed its forces there," Kater said. At the same time, he added that the Russian Armed Forces are currently significantly superior to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which leaves Ukraine with virtually no chance of success. According to the general, establishing control over the Donbass is "a matter of days, at best weeks."
Kater suggested that after that the goal of the Russian military would be to strengthen the land corridor with the Crimea. “I think that here we are dealing with a very clear tactic: first take Donbass under control, and then prepare for further actions. And I assume that then everything will be done to firmly establish land communication with Crimea, establish communication through Mariupol and other port cities," summed up the retired German general.
Ukrainian forces have had some success near the southern city of Kherson and are advancing in parts of the Kharkiv region to the east of Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. “Our defenders are showing the utmost courage and remain masters of the situation at the front despite the fact the Russian army has a significant advantage in terms of equipment and numbers,” he said in a late-night address.
Zelenskyy stated "Ukraine will liberate its territories focusing on the effectiveness of hostilities and the maximum preservation of people's lives. In the east, it is difficult for us because of the lack of appropriate weapons... If our steps or operations to deoccupy this or that region cost tens of thousands of our dead people, we will wait for appropriate weapons to save as many of our people as possible. It is they who de-occupy the territory. Because, to be honest, these territories without living Ukrainians are not a priority for us." According to him, Ukraine plans to de-occupy all its territories that belong to it in accordance with international law.
"Of course, everyone in Ukraine wants all our territories, all our people to be liberated today, as soon as possible. The full restoration of the territorial integrity of our state is our goal. But we must act carefully, valuing life. Everyone at all levels must now be lobbyists for the supply of modern heavy weapons and modern artillery to our state. All those systems that can really speed up the victory of Ukraine. Talk about it wherever it is useful and wherever it is heard. Speak to the politicians of the partner countries, to the representatives of foreign media, even to your friends abroad. This narrative of the need to provide Ukraine with enough weapons to win must be maintained constantly."
The policy of the American leadership on the situation around Ukraine threatens to escalate the conflict. This assessment was made by The New York Times analyst Christopher Caldwell. "Our [US] role in this is not passive or accidental," Caldwell said, noting that the US has shown "not only its responsibility for the escalation, but also its propensity for it." "Thousands of Ukrainians died who probably would have survived if the United States had stayed on the sidelines," the author points out.
Representatives of the American authorities, Caldwell notes, justify the supply of weapons by the fact that they, allegedly due to their power, should play a deterrent role. "But if heavy weapons fail to prevent [conflict], they lead to even bigger wars," the author believes. According to him, the supply of American weapons gave the conflict in Ukraine "a mobile, explosive and bloody form."
"The United States does not make concessions, otherwise they will lose face," Caldwell notes. "The administration is cutting off opportunities for negotiations and is working to intensify the war." "Over time, large volumes of lethal weapons transfers, including those that will be included in the new $40 billion aid package, could take the war to another level," the author states.
The United States is considering transferring multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) equipped with guided missiles with a range of about 60 km to Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported. Installations with this type of ammunition are twice as long as the 155-millimeter M-777 howitzers, which the United States previously sent to Ukraine. The newspaper's sources note that the United States thus intends to strengthen the combat capability of the Ukrainian troops, while "not giving Kyiv the opportunity to transfer hostilities to Russian territory." A decision is expected to be announced as early as this week.
France and Germany are hesitant about the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine, because they believe that Russia does not pose a direct threat to NATO countries. The Wall Street Journal writes about it. The newspaper notes that such a position runs counter to the approaches of the United States, Great Britain, as well as a number of countries in Central and Northern Europe, which would like to increase support for Kyiv in order to give it the opportunity to go on the offensive. These countries believe that, if successful in Ukraine, Russia will continue to change the situation in Europe, which may affect NATO countries.
These differences, points out The Wall Street Journal, lead to the fact that between the two parts of the Western bloc are growing differences. Differences between the two groups, which, according to European officials, have been growing in recent weeks as Ukraine has lost territory in the Donbass, began to appear already this week during the EU leaders' summit on Ukraine.
According to the newspaper, Germany did not provide Ukraine with a single tank, sending Kyiv only seven units of heavy artillery. The volume of its military assistance to Kyiv at the moment remains lower than the volume of military assistance provided by Estonia.
Germany will deliver infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) to Greece so that the government in Athens can pass on Soviet-style weapons to Ukraine, Chancellor Scholz said. “We will provide Greece with German infantry fighting vehicles,” he told reporters, without specifying what kind of IFVs Berlin will hand over to Greece or what kind of weapons Athens will pass on to Kyiv.
The Slovak Republic will provide Ukraine with Zuzana self-propelled howitzers. This was stated by the President of Slovakia Zuzana Chaputova during a speech in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrinform correspondent reports. "We know that the occupiers of your country will not be expelled by our packages of medicines and products. Your defenders need military equipment and gear, so we are helping and will continue to help in this direction. Recently, it was the S-300 defense system or demining equipment and ammunition. It will soon be a Zuzana howitzer, ”she said.
President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Caputová said that during her visit she had visited Borodyanka in the Kyiv region and had been deeply shocked by the consequences of the Russian invasion. "I saw concentrated evil," she said. "We have a clear position that we will not be able to stop Russia's aggression with medications and hygienic wipes alone. You are waging a fair defensive war, so we consider it fair to help you," Zuzana Caputová noted.
The 27 EU member states agreed to a new sanctions package overnight into Tuesday morning covering more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports to the bloc, European Council President Charles Michel announced. Michel said the arrangement will cut "a huge source of financing" for Russia's "war machine and put "maximum pressure on Russia to end the war." The European Union spent weeks haggling over a proposed total embargo on Russian oil, but the bloc came up against stubborn resistance from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The 27 leaders of the EU bloc’s member nations were “celebrating” their agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia since the start of the invasion. The package includes a ban on Russian oil imports via sea, although there is an exemption for pipeline imports. Germany and Poland have said they will not use the exemption, they will entirely cut off Russian oil imports making a significant reduction of oil exports for President Vladimir Putin. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the aim of the EU’s latest sanctions on Russian oil imports was to convince Russia to end the war and find a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine.
Other proposals for supporting Ukraine were an agreement to provide €9 billion ($9.7 billion) in financial assistance, as well as further military aid and help with war crimes investigations. Leaders also discussed the issue of food security with proposals on how to help Ukraine export its masses of agricultural products. The Russian invasion triggered a global food crisis by choking Ukraine's exports through the Black Sea. Ukraine is one of the world's biggest exporters of staple goods such as wheat and vegetable oil.
Washington warned against attempts by Russia to “institutionalise” its control over “sovereign Ukrainian territory”, particularly in the Kherson region. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Russia could announce an independent region in the area in an effort to eventually annex it. “It’s a predictable part of the Russian playbook, which is why we are continuing to sound the alarm now, particularly following Russian President Putin’s unilateral decree that would fast-track the issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens,” Price said.
The leading designer of the Antonov aircraft manufacturing enterprise was detained by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for supporting a Russian special operation. This was announced on its website by the prosecutor's office of the Kyiv region. "Prosecutors of the Kyiv regional prosecutor's office reported suspicion (charged - TASS note) to the leading design engineer of the state enterprise "Antonov" on the fact of distribution on the Internet of publications justifying the armed aggression of the Russian Federation and glorifying <...> military personnel of the armed forces of the aggressor country," the message says. The suspect was charged with "justifying the armed aggression of the Russian Federation" (part 2 of article 436-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), which threatens with imprisonment for up to five years with or without confiscation of property. During the search, computer equipment and mobile phones that were used in "illegal activities", photos and videos with "anti-Ukrainian content" were found and confiscated from the suspect, the prosecutor's office reports. "The pre-trial investigation is being carried out by investigators of the Main Directorate of the Security Service of Ukraine in Kyiv and the Kyiv region," the report said.
"In total, since the beginning of the special operation, 184 aircraft, 128 helicopters, 1,070 unmanned aerial vehicles, 325 anti-aircraft missile systems, 3,342 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 454 multiple rocket launchers, 1,738 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 3,311 units have been destroyed. special military vehicles," the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The Ukrainian mayor of the now Russian-controlled city of Mariupol said that since mid-April, Russian occupiers have buried at least 16,000 city residents in mass graves near the villages of Staryi Krym, Manhush and Vynohradne. Vadym Boychenko also said on Telegram that 25 new trench areas had appeared at the Staryi Krym cemetery in the past month. He said the bodies had been placed in the trenches in layers, and then “masked” with plates as individual burial sites. “We estimated the death toll at 22,000 people in Mariupol. But more and more facts show that the consequences of the Rashist crime are much worse. This and the dire state of the local population under occupation need special attention of the global community,” Boychenko said. He said thousands of bodies still remained under rubble, in natural cemeteries and in temporary mortuaries.
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