Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 30MAR22–1; 1600 Eastern/2200 Kyiv
1.) Russian artillery has continued to shell Kyiv and Chernihiv, despite Russian claims that operations around those cities would be scaled back. The shelling was reportedly significant, with civilian infrastructure and homes damaged or destroyed. Sources in the city report an almost constant, endless rumble of artillery. Remember, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky stated yesterday, “A de-escalation does not mean a cease fire.” Medinsky’s point seems obvious now and, besides, this is not at all surprising. This is how Russia operates. It also indicates the likelihood that Russia hasn’t abandoned its goal of taking Kyiv and, if not take it, then make the city suffer.
2.) Some weeks ago, around 02 March 2022, we discussed in this space the allegations that four Russian aircraft violated Swedish airspace near the Island of Gotland upon which Sweden and Finland were conducting a joint military exercise. On the day of the incident, the Swedish Minister of Defense was visiting to observe. TV4, a Swedish free-to-air television network, reports that two of the Russian aircraft carried nuclear weapons. According to this outlet, the aircraft consisted of two Su-24 Fencers escorted by two Su-27 Flankers, the former of which were allegedly carrying a nuclear payload. The airspace violation lasted for approximately one minute, and the aircraft were intercepted by two Swedish JAS 39 Gripen fighters, one of which photographed the Russian planes, which seemed to confirm the armament of the Su-24s. The Gripen pilots are evidently certain. The Swedish Air Force declined comment regarding a nuclear payload but stated through Air Force Chief Carl-Johan Edstrom that the airspace violation was a conscious action on the part of Russia.
2.a.) Relations between Russia and Sweden have historically been tenuous. In late 2014, Russia reportedly simulated a nuclear strike on Sweden, and in early 2013 simulated a “large-scale aerial night attack” on the country using Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers escorted by fur Su-27s. In the second simulation, which given the platforms used was also likely nuclear-centric, the Tu-22M3s conducted several mock attacks, targeting Stockholm and other areas, according to Swedish sources.
Analyst’s Comment: While mock attacks aren’t exactly uncommon, staging mock nuclear attacks are less so and generally frowned upon. Nations simply don’t like the idea of a potential adversary running exercises focusing on the delivery of nuclear warheads on their cities. Further, it is highly inflammatory for aircraft to include actual nuclear arms and such activity poses a serious risk of escalation or accident. The incident, if verified, suggest Russian efforts to intimidate Sweden and other Baltic states. Perhaps designed to dissuade them from joining NATO. [End Comment]
3.) Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has reportedly inquired with the NATO General Secretary on the “principles and procedures involved” in joining NATO. On 24 March, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated that he believed Finland would soon apply for membership. Between February 2022 and March 2022, the support of Finns to join NATO shot up nearly ten percent, from 53% to 62%. Watching an aggressive neighbor invade another country and then attempting to reduce its cities to rubble has a way of galvanizing even neutral populations into seeking some form of security guarantees. Significantly, in 2017, a mere 19% of Finns were in favor of joining NATO. Denmark has signaled strong support for Finland joining the alliance. I imagine that Norway will signal support too, in the near future. Concerning Sweden, some moderate political figures have made joining NATO their prime election pledge, though I’ve seen nothing from the Swedish government signaling a willingness to entertain this. In fact, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on 08 March dismissed calls to join NATO from opposition leadership. That said, two days ago German Chancellor Olaf Sholz said that the EU would assist Sweden if Russia were to attack. What, specifically, that would entail is not at all clear, as the EU does not have an equivalent to NATO’s Article 5.
4.) Speaking of Norway, they’re sending 2,000 M79 light anti-tank weapons (LAW) to Ukraine. With this, Norway will have sent about 4,000 M79s to Ukraine, having delivered 2,000 in February. The M79 is fairly antiquated and not very capable against modern tanks unless it hits them in very specific locations. But it’s cheap, light, and disposable. It’s perfect for attacking light armored vehicles and supply trucks, and perfect for the sort of light infantry tactics Ukraine appears to be using to good effect.
5.) Illia Ponomarenko, defense reporter for the Kyiv Independent, shared photos via Twitter of what he says are Russian volunteers, formerly of the Russian military, being trained by Ukrainians on the use of NLAWS. He stated these men were called “Russia’s Freedom” legion. I think that this is a double-edged sword and, though I’m not on the ground to assess Ukraine’s combat force availability, not worth the risk. Yes, if this is true, these troops could provide valuable intelligence on Russian forces and/or capabilities (not that those things are a mystery at this point). On the other hand, training people on the very systems used to destroy their previous comrades’ vehicles and lives risks exposure of Ukrainian tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). I’d very much like to know what methods Ukraine used to vet these people. They must have. I’d also like to know if these people were captured in combat or entered Ukraine from Russia as non-combatants. Perhaps they are zealously anti-Putin or just pro-Ukraine. Perhaps they were mistreated by their Russian commanders and lost faith in leadership and thus deserted. There are a lot of questions about this.
6.) On the Nouveau Warsaw Pact front, Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia is reportedly “taking legal steps” to official join Russia. Just in time for Russia to move 1,200 troops from that region (and 800 from Abkhazia) to Ukraine, as claimed by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense.
6.a.) The Ukrainian General Staff has claimed that Russia was unable to field a single battalion from forces located in the Pacific Fleet due to refusals to fight, while the UK Ministry of Defense stated that the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, will be deploying additional forces to eastern Ukraine due to heavy Russian losses. These forces are evidently going to come from Syria and Africa. Russia seems to continually suffer from manpower shortages and an inability to adequately replace combat losses.
7.) The Institute for the Study of War assesses that Mariupol will “likely fall within days.” I think that pockets of Ukrainian resistance will persist for some time after that. Russian forces will likely have to root out those defenders, which can be a lengthy, painful process.
8.) A video shot by Yuri Gruzinov shows the much-discussed city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. It is graphic, and not for the faint of heart. Indeed, the video’s purpose is to elicit an emotional response. It succeeds. Irpin has been much reduced.
9.) A Ukrainian UAV shows an interesting scene. Russian trucks can be seen speeding away from a wooded area while Russian troops try in vain to catch up, desperate to jump on. One troop nearly does but slips and falls. The trucks continue to drive away, with two Russians left behind. There’s no indication as to the location of this event, but there does appear to be snow on the ground.
10.) A Marine Corps unit including 10 x FA-18 Hornets, 200 Marines (NFI) and C-130s is reportedly redeploying to Lithuania after it finishes exercises in Norway. The US and NATO continue to bolster the eastern flank of Europe. Given EUCOM Commander General Tod D Wolters’ comments yesterday, that is likely to continue in the near term.
11.) Yesterday, Ukrainian forces reportedly struck an ammunition storage facility in Belgorod, Russia, using either a drone or a short-range ballistic missile. Russia, however, claims that the massive explosion and subsequent secondary explosions were the result of “mishandling.” Either seems likely.
More to follow. Thanks for reading.