Mon. Nov 28th, 2022
Ukrainian flag in blue and yellow, wrapped over sky and grain

A shorter update today.

Mariupol

Reuters reports that Ukraine defied a Russian demand that its forces lay down arms before dawn on Monday in Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been trapped in a city under siege and already laid to waste by Russian bombardment. Russia’s military had ordered Ukrainians inside the besieged south-eastern city to surrender by 5 a.m., saying that those who do so would be permitted to leave through safe corridors.

“There can be no question of any surrender, laying down of arms” in the city, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk responded. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”

Russia’s assault on Ukraine, now in its fourth week, has stalled along most fronts. Russia has failed to seize a single major Ukrainian city much less capture the capital Kyiv or swiftly topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

But Russia has pounded residential areas, causing massive destruction. Nowhere has suffered worse than Mariupol, a port on the Azov Sea, home to 400,000 people before the war. It has been under siege and constant bombardment, with no food, medicine, power or fresh water, since the invasion’s early days. Some people have been allowed out in private cars, but Russian forces have not permitted aid convoys or buses to evacuate civilians to reach the city. Now the Russians are calling for surrender.

“Lay down your arms,” Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev, director of the Russian National Center for Defence Management, said in a briefing distributed by the defence ministry, announcing the ultimatum. “All who lay down their arms are guaranteed safe passage out of Mariupol.”  Mizintsev accused “Nazis” in Mariupol of causing a “terrible humanitarian catastrophe” there, including shooting people trying to leave. He presented no evidence for this. Mizintsev said humanitarian corridors for civilians would be opened eastwards and westwards out of Mariupol at 10 a.m. Moscow time (0700 GMT) on Monday.

Vereshchuk said Russia’s actions are “a deliberate manipulation.” “Instead of spending time on eight pages on letters, just open the corridor,” she said.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the failure to open such corridors in recent weeks. Mizintsev, without providing evidence, said that Ukrainian “bandits”, “neo-Nazis” and nationalists had engaged in “mass terror” and gone on a killing spree in the city, adding that Russia was not using heavy weapons in Mariupol. He said Russia had evacuated 59,304 people out of the city but that 130,000 civilians remained as effective hostages there. He said 330,686 people had been evacuated from Ukraine by Russia since the start of the “operation”.

The Mariupol city council said on its Telegram channel late on Saturday that several thousand residents had been “deported” to Russia over the past week.”

“What I saw, I hope no one will ever see,” said Greece’s consul general in Mariupol, Manolis Androulakis, who arrived home on Sunday after a four-day journey since escaping the siege, the last European diplomat to leave the city. “Mariupol will become part of a list of cities that were completely destroyed by war; I don’t need to name them: they are Guernica, Coventry, Aleppo, Grozny, Leningrad.”

(The probability is that the people taken to Russia  may have been “deported” to re-education camps, whence they will later be produced, broken by torture and “reprogramming” to support the story Putin wants the world to hear: it is interesting that the first city which Russia has been able truly to take over has had people removed from it. Presumably had Kyiv fallen as soon as Putin expected it to, the same would have happened. Putin is claiming that the strikes and destruction are the actions of the “neo-Nazis” whom he claims have taken over Ukraine.)

Kyiv and elsewhere.

In an intelligence update on Monday, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Russia’s assault on Kyiv was stalled. Heavy fighting was continuing near Hostomel, a suburb in an area to the northwest where Russia’s advance has largely been halted since the war’s first hours on Feb. 24.

“Forces advancing from the direction of Hostomel to the northwest have been repulsed by fierce Ukrainian resistance.”

Russia calls the war, the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two, a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from “Nazis”. The West describes this as a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression to subdue a country President Vladimir Putin describes as illegitimate.

While suburbs of Kyiv in the path of Russia’s advance have been reduced to rubble, defenders have managed to prevent the capital from coming under a full-scale assault. However, it has been subjected to deadly shelling and missile strikes nightly. In the latest, authorities said at least eight people were killed by shelling that destroyed a shopping centre.

Apart from Mariupol, the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv have been hardest hit by Russia’s tactic of flattening urban areas with artillery. Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov said in televised comments that hundreds of buildings, many of them residential, have been destroyed in the country’s second largest city.

“The city is united… Kharkiv will survive,” Terekhov said, describing hundreds of buildings destroyed. “It is impossible to say that the worst days are behind us, we are constantly being bombed, there was shelling again overnight.”

On the diplomatic front, European Union foreign and defence ministers meet on Monday to discuss imposing further sanctions on Moscow, especially whether to introduce an oil embargo. The Kremlin has so far not been moved to change course in Ukraine by four rounds of EU sanctions imposed over the past three weeks, including on 685 Russians and Belarusians and on Russian finance and trade.

Odesa

Authorities in Odesa have accused Russian forces of carrying out a strike on residential buildings in the outskirts of the Ukrainian city early on Monday, the first such attack on the Black Sea port, however they reported no casualties.

Lukashenko reports that Putin is sane . . .

Russian President Vladimir Putin is healthy, sane and “in better shape than ever”, his close ally Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has said in an interview with the Japanese television channel TBS.

“He and I haven’t only met as heads of state, we’re on friendly terms,” Lukashenko said in a recording of the interview shared by state news agency BelTA. “I’m absolutely privy to all his details, as far as possible, both state and personal.”

Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Western leaders have suggested Putin made a costly miscalculation by launching the military assault on Ukraine, where Russian forces have taken heavy losses and their advance has largely stalled despite their apparent superiority. read more

Various PMs have described Putin as “irrational” and “totally paranoid”. But Lukashenko dismissed the notion that Putin, who is 69, was not at the height of his powers.

“The West, and you, should get this stupidity, this fiction out of your heads,” he told the interviewer. “Putin is absolutely fit, he’s in better shape than ever … This is a completely sane, healthy person, physically healthy – he’s an athlete. As they say here – he’ll catch a cold at all our funerals.”

Lukashenko also bemoaned the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. The theme is one Putin has frequently discussed, not least when he suggested in speeches before the invasion that Ukraine was an artificial construct and an “inalienable part” of Russian history and culture.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union is a tragedy,” Lukashenko said. “If the Soviet Union had survived to this day, we could have avoided all sorts of conflicts in the world. While the USSR existed, the world was multipolar and one pole balanced the other,” he said. “Now the reason for what’s happening in the world is unipolarity – the monopolisation of our planet by the United States of America.”

Where’s it going next?

An interesting analysis from a BBC link:

“Dr Jack Watling, research fellow for land warfare at the London-based defence think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, gives us an overview of what military analysts say is happening in the Ukraine campaign and the meaning of the phrase being used about the Russian military reaching “culmination point”.

“As military forces advance, they obviously burn through fuel, ammunitions, supplies. And while they have lots of supplies with them, they can keep advancing, but you hit a point where you’re having to wait for the supplies to arrive. And then each shipment of supplies that gets to you is only a limited amount, so you can only get a certain bit further,” he explains on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The tempo of operations slows down. So what we’re seeing now is a transition from where the Russians were resourcing multiple axis of advance into Ukraine and now they’re having to concentrate that resource on to one axis at a time. They’re starting to dig positions around Kyiv; they’re going firm around Kharkiv; and Mariupol is the main effort at the moment. Now if Mariupol falls, then they can shift that main effort somewhere else. So I think what we’re going to see is a much more sequential campaign from the Russians.”

He adds the Russians will try to isolate each objective in turn, starve out a city and then move on to the next one. He says the war is moving into a much slower period.”

Don’t forget . . .

There has been no news over the weekend of the four amphibious troop ships spotted last week in the Sea of Japan. These will take time to get to the theatre of operations, but once they do, they may well prove to be game-changers, allowing the Russian forces to attack more effectively all along the coast, and to overwhelm Odesa. If that happens Russia will effectively control access to the Black Sea for any goods exiting Ukraine, and leave only the western corridor via Europe for any entry for the country to be resupplied. This would represent a significant uptick in Russia’s power to advance.

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