Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 04MAR22–1; 0930 Eastern/1630 Kyiv
1.) After intense fighting against UA territorial defense units, Russian forces have reportedly seized the Zaporishzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Energodar. During the action, significant firepower was brought to bear by RU units, resulting in a portion of the plant’s facilities being struck. A fire broke out in what is reportedly a training building that is not inside the plant’s perimeter. Power plant fire fighters were initially unable to get to the fire due to RU forces shooting at them. The IAEA seems to confirm that it was Russian ordnance that struck the facility. Early reports from last night, during the fighting, suggested that radiation levels had increased slightly, but that does not seem to be the case at the moment. Personnel at the facility are reportedly still working and “ensuring the stable operation of nuclear facilities.” Recent reporting shows that Russian forces used vehicles to push through the civilian-erected barricades leading into Energodar. The United Kingdom has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in the aftermath of this attack. Updated information on the event can be found in the announcement made by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (hat tip: Paul Sabot).
1.a.) The US Embassy Kyiv (no longer actually in Kyiv) issued a statement: “It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant. Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further.” I am not a lawyer, but this may be a legitimate claim. “Article 56: Protection of Works and Installations Containing Dangerous Forces, of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1959, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict, 08 June 1977,” addresses this. It says:
“Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, shall not be made the object of attack, even where these objects are military objectives, if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces and consequent severe losses among the civilian population. Other military objectives located at or in the vicinity of these works or installations shall not be made the object of attack if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population.”
1.b.) However, making things less clear, it also says:
“The special protection against attack provided by paragraph 1 shall cease:
…(b) for a nuclear electrical generating station only if it provides electric power in regular, significant and direct support of military operations and if such attack is the only feasible way to terminate such support…”
1.c.) It is categorically impossible for me to tell if the ZNPP was being used “in regular, significant and direct support” to Ukrainian military operations. The plant does, however, provide something like 25% of the electricity in Ukraine. The reasons RU might want to seize this plant are obvious; being able to control access to electricity — whether to throttle it or to cut it off entirely — is likely viewed as advantageous, though that in and of itself might constitute a war crime. Still, the attack on this facility was reckless and posed a major danger of a catastrophic event. Some experts have stated that while an errant strike wouldn’t have resulted in a Chernobyl-like explosion, it would have been a catastrophe of a different sort. Thankfully, that did not happen, but this shows that Russia continues to have little regard for collateral damage.
2.) The US is now officially providing Ukraine with intelligence, including information about Russian troop movements and intercepted communications. We discussed this some time ago and I had assessed that this support has been ongoing since well before the invasion. A portal has been set up, allowing Ukraine to access this intelligence in near-real time (~30 minutes), delayed only long enough for the sources and methods to be sanitized. If I had to guess, which I do, I would imagine that this includes National Technical Means (NTM), which consists in part of information derived from satellites. I suspect this because yesterday there was lamentation about weather impacting satellite collection over Ukraine. This is significant. While US officials have somewhat downplayed this, saying that US intelligence collection is limited because the US has no assets in Ukraine, the fact remains that US collection capabilities are still substantial. We’ve discussed numerous examples of US ISR flights IVO the Ukrainian border, flying over Poland, Romania, and the Black Sea. While the overall picture may not be quite as clear as some might like, it undoubtedly gives a better idea of the situation than the Ukrainians would otherwise have. Adding to this, the US must conduct a balancing act in regards to this intelligence sharing, seeking to avoid the perception that the information provided is being actively used to conduct lethal operations against Russian forces.
[Analyst’s Comment: Ukraine also has access to a wealth of commercial imagery satellites, of which there are much more than US “spy satellites.” I did not have access to such commercial imagery when I was doing this sort of thing. It just didn’t exist to this level. And the ones that did weren’t very good. However, the capabilities of those satellites have increased dramatically. I’d not be surprised if some of these companies are providing their services free of charge.]
3.) Several days ago, pictures were taken of armored vehicles loaded onto trains in Kokshetau city in Kazahkstan. In Khabarovsk, near the Pacific and a few miles from the Russian border with China, numerous vehicles, including BMP-2s, and ZSU-23–4s, were observed on a train. It is unclear if these forces, or the 2S7s reported on yesterday, are intended to go west to assist efforts in Ukraine. The armored vehicles in Kazakhstan would represent a significant shift in the geopolitical situation, and so the purpose of those vehicles is murkier. However, an unconfirmed report citing the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army stated that RU forces are requesting additional reserves from across Russia. Again, this is unconfirmed and anecdotal. It may also represent a selection bias on my part. It is important to track over time; these forces would take at least a week to get from, for example, the Pacific region to western Russia. If true it would seem to indicate other reporting that Russian forces were unable to achieve anything close to the objectives set out in the time allotted.
4.) UA forces continue to ambush and engage RU convoys and seemingly isolated units, often forcing RU troops to abandon equipment. Everything from T-72B3s to Msta self-propelled artillery guns have been destroyed. The Ukrainians have captured 1 x T-90, 1 x T-72B3 and 2 x T-80, all main battle tanks, near Sumy. A Pantsir-S1 SAM system was also observed under Ukrainian control in the south. A fully loaded BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launcher was captured, location unknown. An RU Mi-8 Hip helicopter was observed as having been shot down near an already downed Su-25. It may have been attempting to retrieve the pilot of the latter. Keep in mind that this in no way reflects the full picture, and should not be considered as suggesting that UA forces are not also taking losses of men and material.
5.) Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, is the scene of another RU offensive, with multiple vehicles moving. Evidence of significant RU casualties, both men and material, in fighting IVO Hostomel. Images coming out of Kharkiv show increasingly extensive damage throughout. It appears as though the RU intent is that if they cannot simply capture the city, they will slowly grind it into rubble. Recent video shows what looks to be a large rocket barrage impacting a residential building in Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. In Zhitomir, west of Kyiv, a school was struck and largely destroyed. Drone footage of Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv, shows widespread destruction of buildings. Mariupol has reportedly been without electricity, water, and sanitary systems for three days and has suffered through nearly two days of continuous bombing and artillery strikes. Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov states that the city is still held by UA forces, but that it is almost entirely surrounded and cut off. The city faces a humanitarian crisis. There are continued reports of the use of cluster munitions, the issues with which we previously discussed. One image shows a cassette that failed to adequately deploy the submunitions. The use of these munitions will pose a continued risk to civilians.
6.) The UA site “Observer” reported that RU troops fired on a university dormitory in Kharkiv, resulting in 13 students being killed, including two Chinese students, who were identified by name. However, the Chinese Embassy in Ukraine released a statement denying this report, further saying that the two Chinese students named do not exist. It isn’t clear to me if the Chinese mean that students by those names never existed or if they now no longer exist.
7.) A video reportedly showing Russian troops advancing along a street in Volnovakh, a city in the Donetsk region, is of interest to me. It indicates the tactical use of drones, by individual soldiers, to conduct surveillance ahead of the advance. One Russian can be clearly observed operating a drone as his unit moves up behind some armored vehicles. As an aside, Volnovakh is essentially destroyed.
8.) Senator Lindsey Graham has openly advocated for the assassination of President Vladimir Putin. In a tweet last night, Graham said, “Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military? The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country — and the world — a great service.” I am sure that Graham, a former JAG officer with the US Air Force, thinks he’s being helpful.
9.) The Russian Duma enacted a law that makes it a crime to disseminate “fake news” about the military and operations in Ukraine. Conviction will result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Anti-war protesters may face up to five years in prison, as well.
10.) The US and Russia have reportedly established back channel communications to avoid accidental escalation. This is a good thing.
11.) Interestingly, there are currently two B-52Hs flying over Romania. It’s possible that they are in some way connected to the NATO exercise Saber Strike 22. Then again, perhaps not. NFI.
More later. Thanks for reading.