International law’s accountability is contradicted by the war’s brutality. 5000 people have been killed in Mariupol and the horror will continue. Disinformation continues as the eastern offensive escalates. The sanction regime increases for Russia.
- Russian forces with heavy air and artillery support continued assaults on Ukrainian positions in Mariupol in the past 24 hours.
- Russian and proxy forces in eastern Ukraine are likely attempting to consolidate forces and materiel for an offensive in the coming days.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations from Izyum towards Slovyansk but did not make any major territorial gains.
- Ukrainian forces conducted successful counterattacks towards Kherson from both the north and west.
- Russian forces completely vacated Sumy Oblast.
- Russian General Officers are reportedly instructing commanders to severely restrict internet access among Russian personnel in an attempt to combat low morale.
- The US and NATO should take a strong stance on any Russian threat to use its military forces in Transnistria, the illegally Russian-occupied strip of Moldova bordering Ukraine.
Russian forces continued to redeploy forces to the Izyum-Slovyansk axis and eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours and did not secure any major advances. Russian forces completed their withdrawal from Sumy Oblast, and Russian forces previously withdrawn from northeastern Ukraine continued to redeploy to Belgorod, Russia, for further deployment to Izyum or Donbas. The Ukrainian military reported that Russia plans to deploy elements from the Kyiv axis to Izyum, but these units will not likely regain combat effectiveness for some time.
Russian forces may be preparing for a larger offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in the coming days, but are unlikely to generate the combat power necessary to break through Ukrainian defenses in continuing frontal assaults. Ukrainian officials and pro-Russian Telegram channels both reported additional Russian equipment arriving in Donbas from an unspecified location in preparation for a renewed offensive. Russian forces continued assaults in Mariupol, and we cannot confirm concrete control of terrain changes in the city. Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Izyum-Slovyansk axis but did not make any major territorial gains.
ISW has updated its assessment of the four primary efforts Russian forces are engaged in at this time:
- Main effort—Eastern Ukraine (comprised of two subordinate supporting efforts);
- Supporting effort 1—Kharkiv and Izyum;
- Supporting effort 2—Southern axis;
- Supporting effort 3—Sumy and northeastern Ukraine.
As the war in Ukraine enters a new phase, Nato countries have been gradually stepping up their supply of weapons to Kyiv. In doing so, western nations are quietly crossing the defensive-only threshold set by leaders at the start of the crisis.
But the question remains whether the gradual escalation in arms deliveries can avoid a Russian retaliation and turn the tide on the battlefield, where Moscow is seeking to wage a more conventional military-on-military war in the eastern Donbas.
“The issue will be how much the west shifts to offensive weaponry,” said Phil Osborn, a former UK chief of defence intelligence, “and the absolute criticality of ensuring that the supply of critical military kit is maintained and increased.”
Yet interviews with Azov fighters and one of its founders, as well as experts who have tracked the battalion from its beginnings, provide a more nuanced picture of its current state, which is more complex than what is conventionally known.
The battalion’s own leaders and fighters concede that some extremists remain in their ranks, but it has evolved since its emergence in 2014 during the conflict in eastern Ukraine against Russian forces and Moscow-backed separatists.
Under pressure from U.S. and Ukrainian authorities, the Azov battalion has toned down its extremist elements. And the Ukrainian military has also become stronger in the past eight years and therefore less reliant on paramilitary groups. Moreover, today’s war against Russia is far different than in 2014, fueled less by political ideology than a sense of patriotism and moral outrage at Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, especially its civilian population. Extremists do not appear to make up a large part of the foreigners who have arrived here to take up arms against Russia, analysts said.
Transnational support for Azov has been wide, and Ukraine has emerged as a new hub for the far right across the world. Both the Ukrainian and Russian sides have attracted neo-Nazis and far-right extremists, although Moscow’s use of them has attracted far less attention in the Western media. Men from across three continents, including members of American and European extremist groups, have been documented to join the Azov units to seek combat experience, engage in similar ideology and as a training ground for operations in their home countries.
Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director at the Counter Extremism Project, an independent group following extremist organizations, said the war’s allure for far-right volunteer fighters is not surprising.
Despite their military successes, the Azov continued to be criticized as adherents to neo-Nazi ideology. Even as they have consistently denied any Nazi affiliations, their uniforms and tattoos on many of their fighters display a number of fascist and Nazi symbols, including swastikas and SS symbols. In 2015, Andriy Diachenko, the spokesperson for the regiment at the time, told USA Today that 10 to 20 percent of Azov’s recruits were Nazis.
Unlike them, the broader Azov political movement, which has a stronger extremist bent, is far less popular, judging by their performance in Ukraine’s last elections. Despite slickly produced videos that gave the impression of a massive movement, National Corps, the Azov political arm, won only about 2 percent of the vote, even though they ran on a united slate with other far-right parties. Most experts put the figures of their core adherents in the hundreds.
Europe’s worst conflict in decades, sparked by Russia’s invasion on 24 February, has already killed 20,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates. The UN refugee agency said on Monday more than 4.2 million refugees had fled the country.
Earlier, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said evidence of civilian killings in Bucha were just the “tip of the iceberg”. Speaking at a joint press conference with the UK foreign minister, Liz Truss, he said the “horrors of Bucha, Mariupol, and other places” demand “serious G7 and EU sanctions”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday that Vladimir Putin and his supporters would “feel the consequences” of events in Bucha and that western allies would agree further sanctions against Moscow in the coming days.
Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said new US sanctions against Moscow would be announced this week. The US State Department said it was supporting an international team of prosecutors and experts to collect and analyse evidence of atrocities.
Biden has called for the Russian president to be tried for war crimes, saying: “We have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue to fight, and we have to get all the detail [to] have a war crimes trial. This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous.”
The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was ready to send investigations teams to Ukraine to document alleged Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity.
More than 11 million Ukrainians — roughly one in four — have fled their homes since the Feb. 24 invasion, according to the United Nations, including more than four million who have fled the country. It is the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
The Russian military announced last week that it would focus its campaign on eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years. The redeployment came as the Russians, hampered by botched planning and fierce Ukrainian military resistance, retreated from the Kyiv area and apparently abandoned — at least for now — any effort to capture the capital in their war to subjugate the former Soviet republic.
Western military analysts have said the Russians vastly underestimated the challenges in Ukraine and that their initial invasion force of more than 150,000 has been weakened by losses, exhaustion and low morale. But that does not mean Russia’s military cannot undertake a powerful new assault in eastern Ukraine.
The shift has accelerated civilian displacement in the east. Thousands of people have been leaving, according to Ukrainian officials, and photos and videos posted online. Ukrainian officials say Russian troops have been massing in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.
A Wisconsin mother with Russian heritage charged in the strangulation death of her 8-year-old son was growing increasingly paranoid and erratic about the war in Ukraine, authorities said.
Natalia Aleksandrovna Hitchcock, 41, of Sheboygan Falls, allegedly choked her youngest son unconscious on March 30, causing him fatal injuries.
Hitchcock is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.