The situation at the front
With their desire to capture Bakhmut, the Russians drove themselves into a trap. They have made this city their priority target and have already spent so much effort and money on it that they still cannot afford to abandon their assaults. Moreover, Russians continue their assaults although the capture of Bakhmut will not create any operational advantages for them and with the understanding that are other important areas of attack for them.
Putin believed Prigozhin and gave him carte blanche for the operation to capture Bakhmut. For a certain period, Prigozhin’s Wagner Group had no problems either with weapons, or ammunition or with replenishment of human resources. However, despite the colossal losses, Wagner Group never achieved its main goal, and its owner did not keep his promise to Putin. Moreover, several months of assaults on Bakhmut led to the fact that the Wagner Group lost its combat capability.
After the failure of Wagner, the Russian command, which, as already mentioned, cannot abandon Bakhmut, was forced to send reinforcements to it from other sectors of the front. This, in turn, led to a decrease in Russian pressure in such important areas as near Kreminna and Vuhledar. As a result, the Russians have fettered their initiative and lack the strength to achieve a breakthrough against them.
The decrease in the offensive potential of the Russians is noted both in Western analytical structures and in the Ukrainian army. Thus, ISW analysts write that the overall pace of Russian operations in Ukraine has decreased compared to previous weeks. According to them, in the Luhansk region, the efforts of the Russians are either approaching a culmination or have already reached it. They note a similar trend concerning Bakhmut.
In one of its latest reports, British intelligence points to a slowdown over the past week in the pace of the Russian assault on Vuhledar, which is the result of repeated and extremely costly failed Russian attacks over the previous three months.
The press service of the Tavria operational-strategic group of the Defense Forces of Ukraine reported that in the area of Marinka and Avdiivka, the Russian offensive is fizzling out. Compared to last week, the number of assaults has decreased three times, and shelling has also significantly decreased.
Along with this, the Ukrainian Defense Forces continue measures to build up capabilities to resume the initiative at the front. The formation of units and subunits, the accumulation of weapons, equipment, and ammunition, and the training of personnel for future strikes are being carried out. Now we can assume the following directions of such strikes. The first – through Kreminna or Svatovo – with access to the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk agglomeration. The second one is from Vuhledar to Volnovakha and Mariupol, which will jeopardize the entire so-called southern corridor of the Russians. The third direction is to Melitopol, with the prospect of an attack on Crimea.
Therefore, it can be said that by tying themselves to Bakhmut, the Russians could not reduce the threat from Ukrainian forces in the abovementioned areas. If they had concentrated their forces in the Luhansk direction or the area of Vuhledar, then the number of potential directions for a Ukrainian counteroffensive strike could have decreased, and, accordingly, it would have been easier for the Russians to prepare defenses. However, this was not done, and therefore they now face the difficult task of significantly strengthening the defense in every possible direction of the Ukrainian strike. Obviously, the Russians will try to solve this problem by conducting an additional wave of mobilization (see below).
Hybrid mobilization launched in Russia
The news: During the last week in Russia, there has been a sharp increase in the delivery of summons in the regions. The military explains this by the need to “clarify the data”, and the Kremlin assures that a new wave of mobilization in Russia is not being discussed, and the dispatch of summons is a common practice. This is happening against the background of the news that from April 1 (on the same day, by the way, the spring conscription campaign will begin), the second wave of recruitment of contract soldiers into the army will begin in Russia. In particular, it is planned to recruit another 400 thousand people. The Ministry of Defense has already sent orders to the regions indicating the number of people with whom the relevant documents should be signed.
In addition, on March 13, a bill was submitted to the Russian State Duma to raise the draft age of citizens to 30 years. According to the bill introduced, from January 1, 2024, young people from the age of 19 will begin to be called up, from January 1, 2025 – from 20 years old, and from January 1, 2026 – from 21 years old. The age limit for conscription will be raised to 30 years in 2024. At the same time, the bill provides the possibility for citizens who have reached the age of 18 to apply for military service before the military age – that is, until they reach 21 years of age.
Why it’s important: Obviously, given the stability of the losses of the Russian army, the Russian military command is forced to intensify mobilization measures.
“Clarifying the data” is just a pretext to bring conscripts to the military registration and enlistment offices. Further, they will be forced to serve under a contract, allegedly outside the combat zone. As Russian practice shows, the promises of the military recruiters have no legal force, and de facto “contract” soldiers will join the Russian military group in Ukraine.
The increase in the draft age of conscripts testifies to the same large shortage of personnel in the regular units of the Russian army. In the first stage, it is planned to replace as many contract soldiers as possible with conscripts in the rear, and send the freed contract soldiers directly to the front line. In the second stage, after passing the training, conscripts will be “voluntarily-compulsorily” transferred to a contract for relocating to the combat zone. The Kremlin considers such a “hybrid” approach less socially explosive than the announcement of the next wave of “direct” mobilization.
Officially: Putin is a war criminal
The news: On March 17, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of President Maria Lvova-Belova. The Court explained that Putin and Lvova-Belova are suspected of the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children.
After international judges issue a warrant for Putin’s arrest, he can be arrested in each of the 123 member states of the Rome Charter.
Why it’s important: The arrest warrant for Putin is a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire system of international law. This is also a serious precedent, because now all members of Putin’s regime – Shoigu, Lavrov, Medvedev, Kadyrov, etc. – must understand that tomorrow the same actions can be applied against them.
The decisions of the ICC are a crushing blow to the reputation of Putin and his agents of influence abroad. What makes this decision “piquant” is that it was announced on the eve of the announced visit to Russia by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Putin no longer has the immunity from prosecution that all other presidents have, and therefore will not be able to travel to most countries in the world. The member states of the Rome Statute will have to arrest him if he appears on their territory. And these are not only Western states but also many states that are traditionally loyal to Russia or have taken a neutral position – for example, the BRICS countries.
The ICC broke the Russian propaganda narrative about the voluntary relocation of Ukrainians to Russia. No matter how much Russian propaganda talks about Ukrainian children who found new Russian families, an independent UN commission, and now the ICC prosecutor, have indicated that Russia is forcibly transferring Ukrainian children to its territory, which is a war crime.
The civilized world will not agree to a “peace agreement” with Putin. Russia does not stop trying to destroy the international coalition of support for Ukraine and force its partners to put pressure on Ukraine so it accepts the loss of territory. However, the decision of the ICC makes this option impossible, because there can be no agreements with a war criminal.
The return of Russia to the civilized world is possible only after punishment for the war crimes committed. Options for quickly lifting sanctions and returning to business as usual – no matter how much some people in the West would like this to happen – are now impossible.
Russian provocation over the Black Sea
The news: On Tuesday, March 14, the press service of the US European Command reported that a Russian Su-27 fighter shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper UAV over the Black Sea when it was performing reconnaissance in international airspace. The Command said that before the collision, two Russian Su-27s repeatedly dropped fuel and flew in front of the MQ-9 in “a reckless, environmentally unsound, and unprofessional manner.”
Why it’s important: First, even though the United States calls the actions of Russian fighters “reckless and unprofessional,” the downing of the American UAV was a planned action, and the actions of the Su-27 pilots were quite professional. It is obvious that the Su-27 dangerously approached the American MQ-9 UAV more than 10 times, created turbulence, poured fuel along the course with the clear intention of either interfering with its activities or damaging it in a way that would avoid further accusations of its deliberate destruction.
It should also be noted that the Russian military has a wealth of experience in provocations without the use of weapons of destruction, inherited from the USSR. Even in Soviet times, provocative and dangerous actions of aviation and ships were practiced against opponents, such as a dangerous approach to aviation or pushing another ship out of territorial or neutral waters.
Secondly, this incident once again confirmed that Russia not only does not intend to de-escalate the situation and continues to rely on its solution with coercive methods, but is also ready to raise the stakes.
Thirdly, a rather restrained reaction and the absence of a US military response to the incident is predictable, because Russia disguised its actions as an emergency. However, this does not mean that the US will not respond differently. For example, by including in the package of military assistance to Ukraine those weapons that they have so far refrained from providing.
The news: On March 15, the tenth meeting of the Contact Group on the Defense of Ukraine in the Ramstein format was held. According to its results, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Oleksiy Reznikov announced the strengthening of Ukrainian air defense, the supply of ammunition, the training of the military, and the formation of an “armored fist”.
In particular, Canada announced the transfer of 8,000 155-mm shells and the start of delivery of tanks (four out of eight Leopards are already in Poland). Germany announced the transfer of 5,000 155 mm artillery shells and 155 mm precision-guided munitions, the number of which is not specified, as well as ammunition for MARS II multiple launch rocket systems (the quantity is not specified). France is donating AMX-10 RC combat vehicles (a quantity is not reported). Denmark announced the creation of a $1 billion aid fund for Ukraine and immediately announced the military component – a $141 million package with ammunition for small arms, heavy machine guns, anti-tank mines, and air defense missiles.
Of particular note are the statements by Slovakia and Poland about their readiness to transfer MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. Slovakia plans to transfer 10 aircraft, while Poland has not yet named the exact number. However, as Polish President Andrzej Duda noted, the first four aircraft will arrive in Ukraine in the coming days. The rest are being served and prepared. In addition, the Polish government reported that several more countries could join the coalition for the supply of MiG-29s.
Why it’s important:
‘Rammstein-10” and the steps taken by Ukraine’s partners apart from it show that they are betting on comprehensive support for the future Ukrainian offensive operation. That’s why we see the range of ammunition and the “armored fist” (armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, guns), and aircraft for air support. The latter is very important because the Polish MiG-29s have been upgraded to use AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, which are capable of destroying air targets at a distance of up to 150 km. That is, without entering the Russian air defense zone, Ukrainian pilots will be able to destroy enemy aircraft operating in the forward zone. Thus, it will be possible to protect the advancing Ukrainian units from Russian air strikes. In addition, the MiG-29 can carry a bomb load. This does not exclude the possibility of integrating JDAM “smart bombs” into Polish MiGs for launches at a range of 70 km. The power of these “smart bombs” is much bigger than the HIMARS missiles currently used by the Ukrainian army. Consequently, their use would significantly increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian army during the upcoming offensive operation.