Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was not happy during the week leading up to the latest NATO meeting. Zelenskyy even shocked both NATO leaders and his fellow Ukrainians by suggesting that he would skip out on this round of talks in Vilnius, Lithuania, because there was no point in attending if it wouldn’t benefit Ukraine. Republicans, of course, immediately used this as an excuse to hustle over to Fox News and declare Zelenskyy uppity.
For some time on Tuesday, it even looked as if some kind of schism might form between Ukraine and NATO over insistence that Ukraine undergo a “multi-year process” after the war ends before the country would be invited into NATO.
But then Zelenskyy and President Joe Biden sat down for some one-on-one time, and following the meeting, all seems to be well. More than well, actually, as NATO announced still more support for Ukraine and Zelenskyy celebrated the “great success” of the meeting.
And, fortunately, Vilnius is not the only place where Ukraine is experiencing success.
Zelenskyy’s evident anger was connected to concerns about how Ukraine would advance to full NATO membership when the war is complete. Just about every nation that has entered the alliance has done so under different rules, as different member nations impose or remove restrictions and raise or lower concerns.
Zelenskyy has made it repeatedly clear that he knows NATO isn’t about to hand Ukraine a membership certificate while it means an instant war with Russia. Getting the Ukrainian flag raised in Brussels means Ukraine has to first deal with Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unprovoked invasion without the benefit of troops from NATO member states.
But what really kept getting caught in the Ukrainian president’s throat was the “multi-year” part of the proposed plan for Ukraine. Zelenskyy saw that plan as not just leaving the door open for prolonged vulnerability to a renewed Russian attack, but as the kind of vague, ever-receding goal line that could keep Ukraine out of NATO indefinitely. What he wants instead is a checklist of items without a timeline, so that Ukraine knows all the targets it needs to meet and can work toward them as quickly as possible. He also wants to have NATO go ahead and issue an invite now, even if Ukraine doesn’t complete the process until much later.
How all the issues have been resolved isn’t really understood at this hour, but Zelenskyy was notably happier after talking with Biden. Whatever his concerns, it appears they’ve been addressed. Polish President Andrzej Duda seems to think NATO has still fallen short, but we’ll likely have to wait a day or two before all the talks are successfully converted into signed text.
Zelenskyy: “I think by the end of the summit, we have great unity from our leaders and the security guarantees—that is a success for this summit, I think so. It’s my opinion.”
This renewed happiness may include promises to deliver Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) rockets to Ukraine.
It’s safe to say that Ukraine needs more ammunition at all levels, but one of the reasons they really need ATACMS is the simple cost of reaching out to hit a target at a distance. A storm shadow cruise missile is priced at around $3 million. Ukraine has already burned through an estimated 50 to 60 of these missiles, which may represent the bulk of those available.
ATACMS are not cheap, with the latest versions still clocking in around $1 million each. But the U.S. has built thousands, they have the kind of range Ukraine needs, and they should be rapidly available. There were already reports in the last two weeks that the U.S. has been preparing to send ATACMS to Ukraine, so it’s a good bet that Biden’s thinking it over will translate pretty quickly into missiles on the way.
For the past two weeks, Ukrainian forces have been working their way toward the key town of Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut. The town itself is important, but not nearly as important as the hills to the west. Control of those hills provides a good artillery position overlooking much of the area south of Bakhmut.
Ukraine had moved into those hills over the weekend and now they’ve moved beyond, capturing the northern end of Klishchiivka and sending more forces down a valley between the two hills. Russia tried to make a counteroffensive into the town on Tuesday but it appears to have been ineffective, with several pieces of Russian hardware lost.
At last reports, Russian forces were clinging to the eastern edge of Klishchiivka after failing to hold back Ukrainian forces moving through most of the town. The Ukrainians are setting up firing positions on the top of those western hills, but it’s unclear at this point if their forces are moving north toward Bakhmut or east to Opytne.
Additional Ukrainian assaults have been noted south of Klishchiivka at Kurdyumivka and Ozarianivka. Fighting in this area has included the destruction of at least two Russian T-90 tanks.
Northwest of Bakhmut, Ukraine continues to expand its area of control in Berkhivka and has pressed further into Yahidne. There was at least one report that Ukraine has captured “all” the high ground west of Bakhmut, which would mean they’ve wrested away the hills around Dubovo-Vasylivka. If true, this section of Russian control could collapse quickly.
When Ukraine moved back into Berkhivka at the end of last week and began edging this way, it was a good sign that Russia was having trouble supplying its guns in this area, because those guns had a commanding position and had previously forced Ukraine to pull back from the Berkhivka area.
To the west, there are reports of an assault near Zaliznyanske. Ukraine was pushed out of this area by Wagner forces on March 28. Now they’re back. Fighting along this axis is said to be heavy, with Ukraine having the frustratingly vague “partial success.”
Further north, the village of Sakko i Vantsetti is living up to its anarchic name. It’s reportedly “under siege.” Both that village and Mykolaivka are said to be surrounded by Ukrainian forces while Russians continue to hold their positions inside. This appears to be part of a greater push from the north that has Ukrainian forces moving toward Soledar along three different lines. Russian forces in the area have reportedly moved to Krasnopolivka.
An unconfirmed report has Ukraine’s 10th Mountain Assault Brigade just 2.5 kilometers north of that salt mine in Soledar. Wagner forces took Soledar in the first days of the year. For Ukrainian forces to get back into that town would be a huge reversal of Russia’s assault in the Bakhmut region, and would position Ukraine to either attack Bakhmut from three directions or to surround the city and wait.
East of Bakhmut, Russia has prepared defensive positions similar to those in the south, so it’s unclear where the fight might go from here. But liberating the area in front of those defenses would be a tremendous boost.
Even while it’s losing ground around Bakhmut and in the south, Russia continues to deploy more forces into the northern end of the line, from Kreminna up to Kupyansk. One report claims Russia now has over 120,000 men in this area. There is reportedly fighting northeast of Kupyansk, with Russian forces attempting to take the town of Lyman Pershyi. Russia has also successfully moved past Dibrova west of Kreminna and come within a few kilometers of Torske. Reports that Russia reached Torske, or even took the town, are simply wrong.
That puts Russian troops within about 15 km of that other, larger Lyman. However, Russia’s advance looks to be a narrow salient along a single highway rather than any kind of broad movement, and it appears that, for now at least, they were thrown back in front of Torske.
Russia has already reportedly attempted an unsuccessful attack west of Svatove. Russian Telegram sources indicate that Russia’s goal is to “reach the river,” presumably the Oskil River, in three locations: Kupyansk, Borove, and west of Lyman. For now, none of that seems likely.
Russian sources, including Rybar, continue to claim that Ukraine left P’yatykhatky. Ukrainian sources say they don’t know what the hell the Russians are talking about. Russia has shown some videos, but since all of them seem to show fighting that took place between P’yatykhatky and Zherebyanky, none of it is very convincing. In fact, Ukraine appears to have made a slight advance toward Zherebyanky.
Like the “Ukraine is stalled at Bakhmut” message that Russian sources were repeating yesterday, this seems to be just a piece of Russian copium.
There are also reports that Ukraine is close to flanking the Russian locations at Robotyne, though it hasn’t happened without an additional cost, including a reported five to six Bradley fighting vehicles. Reports of those lost Bradleys have almost invariably ended with “but the crew got out safely,” which is great, but Robotyne has probably been the most costly point on the map.
Speaking of which, expect a new map if there is confirmed liberation of either of these areas tomorrow.
Many video games are considered “pay to win.” Russian commanders have now put their soldiers in a position of “pay to live.”
Zelenskyy draws a simple line.