Russian occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April. Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya stated during a press conference on March 21 that Russia plans to hold an informal UNSC meeting in early April to discuss the “real situation” of “Ukrainian children taken to Russia.” Nebenzya claimed that Russia planned to hold the meeting before the announcement of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrants for Putin and Russian Commissioner on Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Nebenzya’s announcement, as well as vitriolic denials of the ICC’s accusations by Russian officials, come as Kremlin-appointed occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia under a variety of schemes and guises. Putin additionally made a number of notable comments proclaiming Russia’s commitment to the UN, UNSC, and the UN charter during his press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 21. Taken in tandem, Nebenzya’s and Putin’s comments suggest that Russia continues to use its position on the UNSC as a base of power projection as the UNSC prepares for Russia to take the UNSC presidency in April. By setting information conditions to posture about Russia’s supposed commitment to the UNSC, Putin is positioning himself to continue to weaponize and exploit Russia’s UNSC veto power in the coming months.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be setting conditions to weaponize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a method of Russian power projection in advance of Russia’s accession to the rotating UNSC presidency in April.
- The readouts of the second day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to suggest that Putin has not been able to secure the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he likely hoped for.
- Putin falsely portrayed the Western provision of depleted uranium ammunition (not suitable for use in nuclear or radiological weapons) to Ukraine as a significant escalation in order to bolster information operations aiming to deter Western security assistance to Ukraine and to place the onus for negotiations on the West.
- Wagner Group may lose most of its convict force in the upcoming weeks as convicts finish their six-month military contracts.
- The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a criminal investigation into the Deputy Commander of the Rosgvardia’s Central District, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky.
- The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that it authorized a presidential drawdown to provide around $350 million of security assistance to Ukraine.
- Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
- Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City.
- The Kremlin continues crypto mobilization campaigns to recruit men across Russia for contract service to avoid declaring second mobilization wave.
- Russian occupation officials continue to facilitate the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The US has changed course and is now providing Ukraine with 31 M1-A1 Abrams tanks instead of the newer M1-A2 variants previously planned, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday.
“[A]fter further study and analysis on how best to do this, DoD in close coordination with Ukraine has made the decision to provide the M1-A1 variant of the Abrams tank, which will enable us to submit significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year,” Ryder said at a press conference.
He added that the US would also be providing Ukraine with “advanced armor and weapons systems” that are “very similar capability” to the M1-A2, including a .50-caliber heavy machine gun and 120 mm cannon.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #1— Luhansk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the remainder of Luhansk Oblast and continue offensive operations into eastern Kharkiv Oblast and northern Donetsk Oblast)
Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Masyukivka (15km northeast of Kupyansk), Novoselivske (15km northwest of Svatove), Bilohorivka (10km south of Kreminna), and Verkhnokamyanske (20km south of Kreminna).  Geolocated footage published on March 20 indicates that Russian forces have advanced towards Terny, about 15km northwest of Kreminna. Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty stated that the Kupyansk-Lyman direction is under the heaviest Russian artillery fire and that Russian forces use Soviet-era armored vehicles and older tanks more actively on this line. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed on March 21 that unspecified motorized rifle units disrupted two Ukrainian troop rotations near Dvorichna (17km northeast of Kupyansk) and Synkivka (8km northeast of Kupyansk) and discovered two Ukrainian sabotage groups near Berestove (24km northwest of Svatove) and Novoselivske. A Russian milblogger claimed that positional battles continue west of Ploshchanka and near the Zhuravka gully, within 18km northwest of Kreminna. A milblogger claimed that Russian forces attempted to break through Ukrainian positions in Novoselivske and conducted offensive operations towards Yampolivka, Terny, Nevske, and Makiivka. Another milblogger published footage on March 21 reportedly of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Army Corps operating in the forests near Kreminna.
Russian Subordinate Main Effort #2—Donetsk Oblast (Russian objective: Capture the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, the claimed territory of Russia’s proxies in Donbas)
Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults near Bakhmut; within 11km northwest of Bakhmut near Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Hryhorivka, and Bohdanivka; and within 22km southwest of Bakhmut near Ivanivske, Predtechyne, and Pivnichne. Ukrainian Eastern Grouping of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty reported that there were 13 combat clashes in Bakhmut, a notable decrease from the 24 combat clashes in the city that he reported on March 16. The Ukrainian General Staff specified that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian assaults in northern Bakhmut, likely suggesting that Russian forces are concentrating offensive operations on the northern part of the city. Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters continued assaults in the AZOM industrial complex in northern Bakhmut and that they control most of the complex, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation of these claims. Russian milbloggers claimed that Russian forces advanced from southwestern areas of Bakhmut towards the city center on March 19 and 20, although ISW has not observed visual confirmation that Russian forces have done so. The Lystyan volunteer battalion of the Cossack Don Brigade published footage on March 18 claiming to show the formation fighting in Bakhmut itself, possibly indicating that the Cossack Don Brigade has ties with the Wagner Group in the area. A Russian milblogger claimed that Wagner fighters conducted an assault towards Khromove (2km west of Bakhmut) and broke through Ukrainian defenses in the direction of Hryhorivka (6km northwest of Bakhmut). Another Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces conducted assaults west of Kurdyumivka (13km southwest of Bakhmut) and that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful counterattacks southwest of Bakhmut.
Russian forces continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City on March 21. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces conducted unsuccessful offensive operations near Avdiivka; within 14km north of Avdiivka near Novobakhmutivka, Berdychi, and Krasnohorivka; and within 36km southwest of Avdiivka near Sieverne, Pervomaiske, Marinka, Pobieda, and Novomykhailivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are attempting to advance towards Orlivka (8km northwest of Avdiivka) following the likely Russian capture of Stepove (9km northwest of Avdiivka). A prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces still hold positions in Stepove. ISW assesses that Russian forces likely captured Stepove based on a Ukrainian General Staff report of Russian assaults near Berdychi (10km northwest of Avdiivka, and 1km west of Stepove) on March 19. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces advanced near Stepove and Kamianka as well as towards the southern outskirts of Avdiivka, where fierce fighting has reportedly been ongoing for the past five days. Russian milbloggers also claimed that Russian forces are trying to advance north of Vodyane (8km southwest of Bakhmut). A Russian milblogger purportedly in contact with personnel from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) 1st Slavic Brigade claimed that the formation has suffered heavy losses and conducts assaults without artillery support in the Avdiivka area. ISW previously reported that the increased tempo of Russian operations in the Avdiivka area has led to major losses and is likely a misguided effort to pull Ukrainian forces away from other areas of the front.
Russian sources offered diverging views on the Russian military’s ability to encircle Avdiivka and the significance of the settlement. Some Russian sources claimed that Russian forces are threatening to encircle Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka from the north, east, and south and that the capture of Stepove cut the railway line that Ukrainian forces used to supply its grouping in Avdiivka. A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces are attempting to advance towards Orlivka to cut Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) that lead from Orlivka, Lastochkyne (4km northwest of Avdiivka), and Tonenke (7km west of Avdiivka) into Avdiivka and will soon encircle Avdiivka. Other prominent milbloggers argued that Russian forces are not close to encircling Avdiivka and called on other Russian sources to stop premature conversations about the topic. One milblogger stated that the current difficulties of the Russian advance in the Avdiivka area confirms that Russian forces are not closer to victory. Russian sources offered diverging views on the importance of capturing Avdiivka, with one Russian milblogger arguing that the settlement is a significant industrial area while another questioned how capturing Avdiivka would significantly change the operational situation along the outskirts of Donetsk City when Ukrainian positions in Karlivka (16km northwest of Avdiivka) and Kurakhove (25km west of Donetsk City) are just as fortified as those in Avdiivka. ISW continues to assess that Russian advances could prompt Ukrainian command to decide to withdraw from Avdiivka although that does not appear likely at this time.
Russian forces did not conduct any confirmed ground attacks in western Donetsk Oblast on March 21.
First, despite the overwhelming focus on the Battle of #Bakhmut
at the moment by many, #Ukraine
is continuing as well with its ‘deep fight’ against Russian operational and strategic targets.
This is important because it forces the Russians to rethink their force posture and defensive deployments in Crimea and beyond.
4/ And it allows the Ukrainians to collect intelligence on Russian responses in Crimea as the Ukrainian Armed Forces plan future military operations there.
A second implication is that it places further pressure on Russia’s limited stocks of missiles. Several sources confirm Russia is now only able to fire what it produces monthly - its war stocks have been used extensively in the past year.
6/ Third, it is an indication of how Ukraine will be able to conduct such strikes across Crimea, with greater frequently, once it takes back more of its southern territory. Ultimately, if Ukraine can make Crimea untenable for Russian military forces, it helps Ukrainian strategy.
Finally, it reinforces that Ukraine will target Russian forces wherever they are in Ukrainian territory and keeps the ‘Crimea issue’ live. Despite the misgivings of some about taking back #Crimea
, strikes like this make it clear Ukraine intends to take it back.
A final interesting issue is the timing. Coming as Xi visits Putin for their Moscow authoritarian lovefest, it could permit Putin to reinforce the case for Chinese assistance. But, it is more likely to cause Putin embarrassment in front of his ‘friend’ more than anything else.
9/ Strikes like this are not war winning silver bullets. But, their impact is cumulative on the degradation of Russian morale and war fighting capability. End.
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China’s President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over Ukraine in a joint statement with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin — but also criticized sanctions, blamed NATO expansion for the conflict and made no offer to withdraw invading forces.
Released on the second day of Xi’s state visit to Moscow, which has so far underscored his close friendship with Putin, Xi’s joint statement with the Russian leader shows Beijing’s wholesale adoption of Russia’s narratives.
“Russia reiterates efforts to resume peace talks as soon as possible, which is praised by the Chinese side,” said the statement, carried by China’s Xinhua news agency. “Russia welcomes China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis through political and diplomatic means.”
Reverting to the Kremlin line that NATO expansion sparked the conflict — rather than Russian aggression against a democratic neighbor, whose independence it resents — Xi and Putin proclaimed: “Both sides oppose any countries or national blocs jeopardizing the reasonable security interests of other nations in the quest for military, political or other forms of superiorities.”
The resolution of the Ukraine “crisis,” according to the two countries, which wouldn’t call it a war, “shall respect all countries’ reasonable security concerns and prevent the formation of bloc confrontation.