The Russian-Ukrainian War: A “Message” To Prigozhin And The Finnish “Defeat” Of The Kremlin

The situation at the front

The situation near the two hottest sectors of the front – Bakhmut and Avdiivka – remains difficult, but under the control of Ukrainian forces.

In Bakhmut, the Russians are trying to reach the central part of the city. The dynamics of hostilities do not change for several days in a row. The fighting continues in urban areas. The logistical support of the Ukrainian units is working quite efficiently, which does not allow the Russians to move further and realize their plan, namely: to take Bakhmut in so-called pincers. As long as Bakhmut’s logistics remain functioning, the fighting for the city will continue. At the same time, as President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said, if there is a significant threat to the Ukrainian military stationed in Bakhmut, a decision based on the real situation will be made. “We are in Bakhmut and the enemy does not control it. For me, the most important is not to lose our soldiers and of course, if there is a moment of even hotter events and the danger we could lose our personnel because of encirclement – of course the corresponding correct decisions will be taken by generals there,” the Ukrainian president said.

The situation in the Avdiivka area is similar to that in Bakhmut. The Russians are trying to implement a similar model of city outflanking there. But, as a result of successful Ukrainian counterattacks, the advance of the Russians was suspended.

In general, it can be said that the Russians face a difficult task: how to continue the offensive while using the last reserves, and at the same time prepare serious defensive lines to deter a future Ukrainian offensive. Probably, in some areas of the front, they are reformatting their actions with a stake in defense, as already evidenced by their activation to create engineering fortifications there. The Russians expect a Ukrainian counteroffensive there and are trying to get prepared for it. At the same time, the Russian military command must constantly show successes at the front to its political leadership and Russian society. These successes, of course, are the capture of new territories. And it doesn’t matter at what cost. The Russian president and supporters of war among Russian citizens, for whom the increase in the territory of their state is a kind of national fetish, are not at all interested in this. Consequently, very likely, the Russian military command will continue to drive its troops forward near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, despite the losses and the obvious lack of any prospects of such actions in operational terms.

A “message” to Prigozhin and his military bloggers

The news: On April 2, Vladlen Tatarsky (real name Maxim Fomin), a well-known Russian pro-Kremlin military blogger, was killed in an explosion at a cafe in St. Petersburg. The incident took place at a cafe owned by the owner of Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin. The cause of the explosion was an explosive placed in a statue, which was brought to a meeting of the “Cyber Z Front” discussion club in a cafe by a certain Daria Trepova. A few minutes after she handed it to Tatarsky, there was an explosion. The police estimate the power of the explosive device at more than 200 grams of TNT. At least 25 people were injured.

What they said: The Russian interdepartmental National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) has seen an allegedly Ukrainian trace in killing Tatarsky. “The terrorist act committed on April 2 in St. Petersburg against the well-known journalist Vladlen Tatarsky was planned by the special services of Ukraine with the involvement of agents from among persons collaborating with the so-called Navalny Anti-Corruption Fund, of which the detained (Daria) Trepova is an active supporter,” a statement by the NAC claimed.

The press secretary of the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, also called the incident a terrorist attack and said that Vladimir Putin was promptly informed about the explosion. He also stated that it was allegedly planned by the Ukrainian special services. “That is why a “special military operation” is being carried out,” Peskov added.

At the same time, Prigozhin himself did not agree with these conclusions. In his opinion, one should not rush to accuse Ukraine, because “a group of radicals that is unlikely to be related to the government” could be behind the explosion.

Why it’s important: Tatarsky was one of Prigozhin’s and his Wagner’s media platforms, which actively highlighted the mercenaries’ military “exploits” in Ukraine, and sharply criticized Russian military leadership. Given the latter, the elimination of Tatarsky, which was carried out quite spectacularly – amid the day and very noisy – may be a signal both to Prigozhin himself and to other military bloggers who continue criticizing the Shoigu-Gerasimov tandem and their generals. This, in turn, suggests that the confrontation between the Russian Ministry of Defense and Prigozhin is not slowing down. Therefore, if the criticism from the military bloggers and Prigozhin against the Russian top military leaders does not decrease, then other similar demonstrative executions should not be ruled out.

Versions of the Kremlin and Russian police about the Ukrainian trace are not only meaningless but also bear reputational damage to the vaunted Russian system of internal security.

It makes no sense for the Ukrainian intelligence services to risk their forces to eliminate one of the many second-rate Russian propagandists, which will not have any significant consequences for the course of the war. At the same time, blaming them for the elimination of Tatarsky, the Russian special services admit their inability to protect both military bloggers and other Russian citizens. Moreover, the RBC published the news, citing a source in the police that the FSB knew about the preparation of the assassination attempt on Tatarsky. Therefore, an even more interesting picture emerges from this news: the FSB either “missed” the murder of a military blogger, or deliberately allowed to eliminate him. In any case, this does not in any way add a sense of security to either the rest of the military bloggers or ordinary Russian citizens.

Ukraine and Poland deepen their cooperation

The news: On April 5, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife made the first official visit to Poland since the full-scale Russian invasion.

The program of the visit of the Ukrainian president included meetings with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, representatives of Polish business, marshals of the Sejm and the Senate, signing of bilateral agreements.

During an address to the peoples of Ukraine and Poland, Zelensky and Duda said that the Kremlin would not be able to embroil and divide Ukrainians and Poles. “Russia cannot win in Europe when a Ukrainian and a Pole stand side by side,” Zelensky said. “Today they are also trying; they are scaring the Poles with the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians with the Poles. But they will not succeed. That is why today we are sending a clear message to the Kremlin together from here: you will not be able to make us quarrel, you will not be able to divide us, never again,” the President of Poland said.

Why it’s important: Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Poland has both political and military significance.

As for the political one, besides the demonstration of a close friendship between the two presidents, this visit also shows that Poland remains one of Ukraine’s most reliable allies and that it can fully count on it.

The military significance lies in the fact that Poland is a long-standing military-technical partner of Ukraine and the visit of the Ukrainian president was the impetus for the activation of several defense industry projects that the Ukrainian army urgently needs today. It was announced the prospects of new projects between Ukraine and Poland in addition to those contracts that have already been concluded and implemented earlier. In particular, the signing of a contract for the supply of Rosomak armored personnel carriers to the Ukrainian army, with a total of 100 vehicles, was mentioned. Among them will be Rak self-propelled mortars, created on the Rosomak chassis, as well as Piorun MANPADS. In addition, Poland and Ukraine signed memorandums of cooperation for the reconstruction of Ukraine and an agreement on cooperation in the joint production of 125-mm tank ammunition.

The abovementioned military-technical partnership is mutually beneficial for both sides. For Ukraine, this is a strengthening of defense capabilities, and for Poland, it means orders for the defense industry and the opportunity to test their weapons in real combat conditions.

Belarus finally loses its sovereignty

The news: On April 5-6, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko paid a working visit to Russia. On April 5, Putin and Lukashenko met face to face, and on April 6 they took part in a meeting of the Union State’s Supreme Council. According to official information, during the meeting, the main issue was the progress in the implementation of the main directions for the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State for 2021-2023 and the previously approved 28 union programs. The development of the Security Concept of the Union State was also discussed. The security councils of the two countries were entrusted with this task. The document is expected to be submitted for approval by the meeting of the Supreme State Council in 2024. During the work, the Supreme State Council also considered several other issues, including those of a humanitarian nature, regarding the current activities of the integration association.

Why it’s important: Lukashenko’s visit to Moscow is important for both dictators. For Putin, this is one of the elements of forcing Lukashenko to even deeper integration of Russia and Belarus within the framework of the Union State, which in practice means the absorption of the latter by the first. Particularly important for the Kremlin, in the context of the war against Ukraine, is the subordination of the Belarus military industry to the needs of the Russian army. In addition, Putin seeks to show that the Union State is a serious organization and that he has complete control over it. And this means that the sovereignty of Belarus is now only nominal.

For Lukashenko, this visit is important because, demonstrating loyalty and transferring the sovereignty of his country to the Kremlin, he in return receives important financial assistance, which will be used to support the Belarusian economy and demonstrate the stability of his regime. In other words, for Lukashenko, this is a kind of deal with the devil: he sells the sovereignty of Belarus to the Kremlin for money to extend his stay in power.

The “Finnish” defeat of the Kremlin

The news: On April 4, 2023, the day NATO was created, Finland officially became the 31st member of the Alliance. For the first time in 19 years, the North Atlantic Alliance has expanded eastward. The ratification of the Finnish accession lasted less than a year and, against the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian war, became the fastest in the history of the military-political union.

What they said: In the Kremlin, Finland’s accession to NATO was called “an encroachment on the security of Russia” and “another aggravation of the situation.” “We will carefully observe what happens in Finland, how the North Atlantic bloc will exploit the territories in Finland in terms of placing weapons, systems, and infrastructure that will be close to our borders and potentially threaten us. Depending on this, measures will be taken,” Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the Russian President said. 

Why it’s important: NATO’s eastward expansion is fundamentally changing the situation in Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region, as well as affecting the situation in the world as a whole.

Finland’s accession to NATO further changes the balance of power in Europe in favor of the Alliance. Finland is joining the joint anti-missile and anti-aircraft defense, and the number of NATO troops will increase by 257 thousand military personnel and a significant amount of modern weapons and military equipment.

For Finland, membership in the Alliance means the end of the era of “Finlandization” (neutral status and special friendly relations with Moscow). Finnish neutrality was both a legacy of the Cold War and an attempt to maintain a new balance with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, in the interests of its security, Finland relies not on “friendly” relations with Moscow, but on the guarantees provided by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

For Russia, this is a serious geopolitical defeat. Despite loud threats, blackmail, propaganda, and other actions aimed at preventing NATO expansion to the East, it has not been able to prevent this. Moreover, the Russian military aggression against Ukraine not only convinced Sweden and Finland to abandon their neutrality and non-alignment but also to take practical steps in this direction.

As a result of Finland’s accession to NATO, Russia received an additional 1,340 km of border with the Alliance, and the entire land border of NATO countries with it after April 4 is 2,600 km. Now NATO will target the strategic bases of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles on the Kola Peninsula, St. Petersburg, and the bases of the Northern and Baltic fleets. Despite the aforementioned criticism of the Kremlin and threats of retaliatory measures, due to the losses suffered in Ukraine, Russia cannot respond to NATO expansion with a significant buildup of conventional weapons on the border with Finland.

Igor Fedyk

Head of the South Eastern Europe Section

Igor coordinates the South Eastern Europe Section of the New Geopolitics Research Network. He previously worked as the Head of the Balkan section of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, as well as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of the English-language magazine The Ukrainian Defense Review.

His current research interests are focused on the political, economic and social aspects of the development of the South Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, their interstate and inter-ethnic relations, as well as the relations with third parties (countries not from the region, international organizations), which have an important impact on the situation in the region and in Europe.

He is the author of a number of articles and analyses in various Ukrainian and foreign Media.

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April 2023
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