Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 05MAR22–1; 1420 Eastern/2120 Kyiv
1.) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has left Moscow and is now traveling to Berlin after having met with President Putin earlier today. The meeting, which was initially secret, with Bennett traveling on the Sabbath, reportedly lasted more than two and a half hours. Bennett had recently spoken with both Presidents Zelenskyy and Putin via phone. There’s no news on whether or not the meeting resulted in anything of substance. There was an unsupported claim on Twitter that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged all Israeli citizens to depart Russia immediately, but I am not able to find anything to verify this at this time. It seems likely that the source conflated the US State Department’s statement telling US citizens to leave Russia immediately. Someone probably didn’t fully read the article. Israel did, however, advise its citizens in Ukraine to depart on 12 February. Bennett is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
1.a.) Putin’s meeting with Bennett (the two countries have maintained somewhat normal relations) may signal a willingness to come to the table. Zelenskyy indicated to Turkish President Erdogon that he’d be willing to meet Putin in Ankara. I think, however, that such an assessment is premature. I do not think at this time that Putin would be willing to concede on any of the points Ukraine would see as non-negotiable. Despite the severe issues the Russian military has thus far encountered, there are several hypotheses I’m thinking about regarding this. 1.) Putin is isolated from news of the actual situation and thus believes he is operating from a position of strength. 2.) Putin believes that despite the issues, his military has not yet unleashed its full power and that they will overcome their current obstacles. 3.) Putin is simply allowing the world to think that he’s open to a diplomatic solution but is merely deflecting and has no intention to do so at all. Or any combination of these.
2.) President Putin, for his part, said today of Western sanctions, “Those sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war but thank God it has not come to that.” In addition, the imposition of a no-fly zone above Ukraine would result in catastrophic consequences for the world. He also stated that the “special military action” is going to plan, which seems rather ridiculous. See above. It should be reiterated that NATO has rejected calls from Zelenskyy to impose a no-fly zone.
3.) It appears, in some respects, that Ukraine has been instituting its own type of no-fly zone. There’s been a lot of speculation among military enthusiasts and experts and pundits as to why the Russian Air Force has been seemingly absent, conducting very few sorties given their available combat power. Over roughly the last day, RU has lost 1 x Su-30SM, 1 x Su-34, 2 x Su-25, 2 x Mi-24/35 attack helicopters, 1 x Mi-8 transport helicopter, and 1 x Orlan-10 UAV. Some of the pilots have been captured, and historical open source reporting shows that at least one of them has relatively recent combat experience in Syria, as he’s seen pictured next to President Assad, though there’s been some AI facial recognition software that states they’re not the same person (NFI). British Defence Intelligence update suggests that “Russia’s failure to fully suppress Ukrainian air and air defence forces is hindering their ability to provide effective support to Russian troops,” which is the reason Russia’s advance has not gone according to plan. Russian air assets are struggling, being forced to fly lower and thus into Ukrainian man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) teams in order to drop dumb munitions. This could be that Russia has drastically depleted stocks of air-dropped precision guided munitions (PGMs) in a fight that’s lasted longer than planned, or that Russian pilots are inadequately trained on the targeting systems needed to employ these munitions. In either case, sanctions are going to begin to severely impact Russia’s ability to reconstitute lost aircraft and restore stocks of many types of munitions across the board. The losses suffered thus far are not sustainable, meaning Russian forces are going to have to switch tactics at some point.
4.) There’s new discussion regarding the status of the Stalled Convoy (TM) northwest of Kyiv, put forth by Trent Telenko, who appears to know what he’s talking about. I am not sure I agree with the entirety of his assessment, but suffice it to say that the situation is looking increasingly bleak for this convoy. He suggests that a large chunk of the vehicles in the first section (closest to Kyiv) have likely run out of fuel and may have dead batteries. This issue is compounded by the fact that those vehicles will be unable to get resupply due to the traffic jam behind them; other Russian vehicles aren’t able to depart the road to reach them, at least not until the ground dries, which will be a while. He further believes that those troops at the front of the convoy may run out of food before they can be resupplied, and one of the reasons Hostomel was so contested was to deny Russian use of the airfield so that they could bring fuel or other supplies to the convoy. You can read this thread HERE. I do expect that, at some point, Ukrainian forces will work to degrade the convoy, which is a polite way of saying that they’ll begin attacking chunks of it. This will in turn make it harder for the other sections to either advance or withdraw. In other logistical news, a bunch of civilian vehicles were observed on train cars near Rostov-on-Don, perhaps in an effort to replace non-operational military vehicles.
5.) Russian forces have begun, to their credit, to at least attempt to address the repeated attacks on their convoys. There doesn’t appear to be an increase in security forces or escorts, but Russian trucks have been seen with logs attached to their front. This won’t address their tire issues, but it may make them slightly more resistant to having their engines destroyed by small arms fire. These tactics aren’t new. Pretty much every army in the history of mechanized warfare has affixed various things to their vehicles in the field to increase survivability. Some of these things look pretty comical, but if they work, then they work.
6.) Recent video shows a good sized protest in recently occupied Kherson and another in Melitopol. Citizens are carrying Ukrainian flags and confronting Russian troops, though not violently. Yet again it appears that Ukrainians are not welcoming RU troops as liberators. At some point you can expect some level of hostile action taking place, especially if citizens are equipped with weapons smuggled into these cities.
7.) RU and UA forces in Mariupol and Volnovakha agreed to a temporary cease fire in order to allow civilian evacuation. Mariupol mayor reported that civilian evacuations would begin at 0900 GMT (0400 Eastern). The cease fire reportedly did not last long, with Russia allegedly continuing artillery and potentially small arms fire. CBS News “on the hour” reported about claims that Russian forces were firing at the evacuees. The evacuation effort was halted, with hopes that it will resume at some point. From what I’ve been able to make out, and some of which I’ve reported on in this space, the situation in Mariupol is very bad. It is assessed that the supposed cease fire was merely a convenient opportunity for Russian forces to have a brief operational pause before renewing its efforts to cut off Mariupol or, perhaps, to bypass the city while maintaining a blocking force.
8.) There’s a video showing Ukrainian civilians leaving Irpin, a town to the northwest of Kyiv, via a bridged that has been downed. It appears that a makeshift path has been constructed. This is reportedly the only route through which civilians can leave the town.
9.) A Turkish An-124 was observed on flight tracking data transiting to Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland. It seems likely that the bird is transporting additional TB2 unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs).
10.) According to a Reuters poll, 74% of Americans support closing the skies over Ukraine. This still seems unlikely, despite that support, but early in my reporting I suggested that the images of war coming from Ukraine would have a dramatic effect on public opinion and could put pressure on politicians in a way that might lead to a more direct confrontation in eastern Europe. It seems that said images have had an impact. But it seems unlikely that many of those who support the implementation of a no-fly zone understand what that would mean.
11.) There are no available trains traveling from Moscow to Helsinki for at least the next two weeks.
12.) Perhaps anticipating the musings I posed the other day, Forbes estimates that three billion USD worth of equipment has been destroyed by Ukrainian forces.
More to follow. Thanks for reading.