The war continues but not a lot is happening. There have been some limited advances around Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but not a whole lot else. It has been over three weeks since anyone made any significant advances. This is clearly a stalemated war until the weather clears in early May. And then we will see who has the advantage and who is able to advance.
There is still a gap of only around four kilometers between the north and south wings of the Russian advances around Bakhmut. One or both sides have taken heavy losses in this battle. I do think this is good article to read, as all the reporting seems to be overly focused on Russian losses: Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut: ‘Our troops are not being protected’ (msn.com)).
The last major airstrike was on 9 March. The previous one was on 10 February. Not sure when the next one will occur, but it is no longer related to any military objectives.
I will put any changes/updates since my last post in italics. A link to a blow up of the map is here: Wikipedia map. It is dated 31 March. The last dated update on the map is Soledar on 16 January.
Map from 6 March 2023 of Bakhmut from @War_Mapper:
Russia currently occupies five cities: Lysychansk (pop. 95,031), Severodonetsk (pop. 101,135), Mariupol (pop. 431,859), Berdyansk (pop. 107,928) and Melitopol (pop. 150,768). Kherson (pop. 283,649) was retaken by Ukraine on 11 November.
We have been looking at six major areas of operations. Only the Donbas appears to be active right now.
1. Kyiv (pop: 2,962,180): It appears that Kyiv is secure.
2. Odesa (pop: 1,015,826): Appears to be secure. Russia has renewed the grain deal for at least another 60 days. Since the start of these deals, the shipments have resulted in over twenty-six million tons of grain shipped by sea. As of 29 March, the amount of grain shipped from Ukrainian ports and across the Black Sea was 26,008,744 metric tonnes carried in 852 ships according to posts on twitter by @exit266. There are 50 or 110 days left to the agreement.
3. Kharkiv (pop: 1,433,886): Kharkiv looks to be secure. Still, it is near the Russian border, so this can change suddenly.
4. The Donetsk and Luhansk provinces (the Donbas): Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org). The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) is reporting as of 16 December that they had 4,133 soldiers killed and 17,379 wounded (4.20-to-1 wounded-to-killed ratio). This includes the 13 killed and 50 wounded reported from 01.01.22 to 02.25.22. For the period of 16 – 22 December (overlapping dates on 16 December) they report 43 killed, but do not report the wounded. Through the 16th, this is 108% casualties out of an estimated initial force of 20,000. Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) is reported as of 5 April to have had 500-600 killed out of an estimated force of 14,000. This is 21% casualties, assuming a 4-to-1 killed ratio.
5. Mariupol (pop: 431,859): Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
Prisoner Exchanges: Russia has claimed that they captured 2,439 prisoners from the siege of Mariupol. Russian claimed on 30 June that they held 6,000 prisoners. Ukraine stated in early July that they had more than 7,000 missing. Now Ukraine is stating as of 30 December that Russian holds 3,400 prisoners and 15,000 Ukrainians are missing.
In 2022 there were 1,447 prisoners of war exchanged, 112 civilians and five foreigners. Of those, at least 427 were from Mariupol/Azovstal and up to 53 others were killed in captivity. Latest prisoner exchange on 8 January was for 50 prisoners. Another prisoner exchange on 4 February of 116. Some of these Ukrainian prisoners had been in captivity for almost a year. Latest prisoner exchange, on 16 February, was for 100 soldiers and one civilian for 101 Russian soldiers. 94 of them were defenders of Mariupol, including 63 soldiers from Azovstal. There was another prisoner exchange on 7 March with 130 Ukrainians exchanged for 90 Russians. This included 87 Mariupol defenders (71 from Azovstal). 35 of them were soldiers captured in Bakhmut and Soledar. Most of the Ukrainian and Russian prisoners were seriously injured.
The Ukrainian Omsbudsman has stated in late January that 800 severely wounded Ukrainians are held as POWs. He also stated that they hold 200 severely wounded Russians.
6. Crimea & Kherson (pop: 283,649): Kherson is now back under Ukrainian control as of 11 November. Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
The early morning on 22 March (at 04:43:58 according to videos), there was another attack on Russian ships in Sevastopol harbor using seaborne naval drones. The last time they tried this (29 October 2022), they (lightly?) damaged the 4,035-ton frigate Admiral Makarov. It appears that one got close to one rather large ship and exploded near its rear. Not sure if a Russian ship was damaged. At least three drones were used in the attack. One was stopped by the booms at the entrance to the harbor, and two were destroyed in the harbor.
There was also a car blown up on 23 March in Melitipol that injured a Ukrainian accused of collaborating with the Russians.
Weather: Kharkiv at 7 PM: It is 44 degrees (7 Celsius) and mostly cloudy. It is expected to rain for nine out of the next ten days. Sunrise is now at 6:14 and sunset is at 7:06, giving them almost thirteen hours of daytime to operate it.
Kherson is 46 degrees (8 Celsius) and mostly cloudy. Rain on five out of the next ten days.
I suspect serious offensives will not start until Spring. Spring in 1943 meant around 1 May.
Ukrainian Army Build-up: Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
Do not know the current strength of the deployed Ukrainian Army but am guessing that it is between 200,000 to 300,000 troops. They clearly are going to have to build it up to 400,000 or more in response to Russia’s partial mobilization. There is a Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force of 100,000 to 200,000. Wikipedia was reporting 209,000 in their armed forces and 102,000 paramilitary. They were reporting their ground forces at 198,000 in July 2022.
Do not have a good estimate of the total number of foreign volunteers now in Ukraine, although it is clearly thousands.
The U.S. and many countries in and around Europe are now providing tanks to Ukraine. This includes 31 Abrams (M1A2) from the U.S. that were not expected to arrive until 2024, the previously announced 40 AMX-10 light tanks from France, the previously announced 14 Challengers from the UK and 14 new Challengers from the UK, 14 Leopards (2A6) from Germany announced on Jan. 25 plus they are going to provide 14 more later, 14 or so Leopards (2A4?) from Poland, maybe 20 Leopards (2A4) from Spain, but so far only 6 have been confirmed (they are planning to train 55 Ukrainian crew members), no Leopards from Netherlands (previous rumors said 18), Portugal is sending 4 (2A6) out of their 37, 8 (2A4) from Norway out of their 36, and 4 2A4 Leopards from Canada out of their 80. Non-NATO members Finland is providing 3 Leopards and Sweden is providing 10 2A6s along with 8 Archer 155mm SP Artillery. Also, Morocco is providing Ukraine with 173 T-74s EA, 70 are already in Ukraine. It does appear in a number of cases the announcements are lagging behind the actual shipments of tanks. Poland is providing Ukraine with another 60 upgraded T-72s. It has already sent Ukraine some 260 or more tanks.
Twelve countries in NATO have Leopards. Germany is saying that a total of around 80 will be sent between them all. My count currently shows at least 73 Leopards from eight different countries (two not yet in NATO). It now looks like many of the older 40-45 ton German Leopard Is are being refurbished and will be sent. Germany has 88 of them it could send and Belgium has 50. Between Denmark, Netherlands and Germany, they are putting together a package of 100 1A5s, although the details of the deal keep changing. It will be a while before most of them arrive. An initial package of 29 is being refurbished and are supposed to arrive in the summer (enough for one more brigade). There are a lot of them out there, with Greece supposedly having 520 (and 392 U.S. M-48s and 100 U.S. M-60s) and Turkey having 355 or 397 (and 750 M-48s and 785 M-60s). Opportunity to replace old stocks. Switzerland has 230 Leopard 2 tanks of which 96 are not in operation (in storage). Germany has asked for them but on 7 March the Swiss Parliament voted not to export tanks. Meanwhile reports are saying some of the 100+ Leopard Is will still arriving in Ukraine starting May. Meanwhile, the U.S. is now planning on providing older M1A1s instead of M1A2s are it can be arranged to get there this fall. Not sure if the count of tanks provided will remain at only 31 (one battalion’s worth).
Meanwhile, Russia has been seen transporting T-54Bs from Siberia to somewhere (probably Ukraine). That particular model dates from 1955, so a little older than a Leopard I or M1A1.
From a practical point of view, it means that around four or so Ukrainian tank battalions will be armed up with Abrams/Leopard 2/Challengers. Ukraine has over 30 tank battalions. Some should probably be in place for the spring offensives. Some of the Canadian Leopard 2s have already arrived in Poland. At least 18 of the Leopard 2A6s have arrived in Ukraine. Challengers will be arriving in Ukraine during March.
Slovakia announced on 23 March that they have transferred 4 MiG-29s to Ukraine.
Russian Army Build-up:
In the fall of last year, Ukraine was reporting that around 280,000 Russians were deployed in Ukraine. This seems a reasonable estimate. On 4 November Putin stated at 318,000 reservists and “new volunteers” have been mobilized and 49,000 are in combat zones. I assume the Russian army in Ukraine was at about 200,000 at the start of this mobilization.
The U.S. and UK estimate that the Wagner Group had 50,000 people in December 2022. Have no idea if this estimate is accurate. John Kirby (U.S. DOD spokesman) said that Wagner has lost 30,000 people, at a wounded-to-killed ratio of maybe 2-to-1, implying 10,000 deaths. Have no way to confirm or contradict such claims, but I remain guardedly suspicious as always. How did the DOD come to the count of 30,000?
Ukraine stated on 22 Feb. that Russia has deployed more than 350,000 troops to Ukraine. This sounds about right.
Russia is now starting its spring conscript draft of 147,000. It does this twice a year. Conscripts are for one year and are not allowed to serve outside of Russia.
The Russian defense budget for 2023 is $159 billion, up from $111 billion in 2022. This appears to now be around 9% of GDP.
According to one article, which I suspect is a little biased, Russian tank production at Uralvagonzavod is currently over 900 armored vehicles a year, including 35-40 T-90s a month. In contrast, the U.S. is producing two M-1A2 a month in Lima, Ohio. The German Leopard 2 is also still in production.
Russia is getting some support from China, possibly spare parts and more important, microchips. They are reportedly not currently providing Russia with weapons. This is a source of discussion between the U.S./EU and China.
As of 26 February, Russia has announced that the DPR has raised a new battalion entirely composed of Ukrainian prisoners of war, called the Bohdan Khmelniksky Battalion. It was claimed that the unit consists of 70 Ukrainians.
Opposing forces: Ukraine had before the war an army (ground forces) of 169,000 in 2016. The Russian army (not armed forces) was 280,000. The current Ukrainian army is now probably over 200,000. The Russian army (ground forces) in and around Ukraine is probably around 150,000 (up to 190,000). Donetsk PR is estimated at 20,000 and Lugansk at 14,000. Russia has added at least 41,000 troops to the front line from their new partial mobilization effort and will be adding more. Potentially up to 300,000. Most likely by the spring, both armies will be sporting 400,000 or more troops. It does appear that by spring, the level of intensity and casualties from this war will be a count twice as high as it currently has been.
Economics and the Home Fronts: The complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 380 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org). Price of oil (Brent Crude) is at 79.78 as of 12:43 PM. This is low. Ruble has dropped to 77.6 to the dollar.
Casualties: The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian miliary, Valerii Zaluzhny, on 21 August stated that almost 9,000 Ukrainian military have died in the war. This is a lower estimate than most people have given (although we have leaned towards the lower estimates). Not sure if these figures included militia losses (like Azov Regiment). If Ukraine lost almost 9,000, then hard to believe the Russian losses are that much higher. On 1 December a presidential advisor stated that Ukraine has lost between 10,000 and 13,000 troops killed. On 17 March, the Ukranian Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council argued that total Ukrainian losses are less than 100,000 killed and wounded. As of 24 March 1,509 bodies have been returned to Ukraine.
The U.S. estimate is that Russian casualties are now at 220,000 (killed and wounded). The U.S. estimate provided on 9 November was “over 100,000.” Did they really loose another 100,000 troops in the last five months? For 18 November BBC/Mediazona reported that 9,001 Russians had been killed based upon media accounts, obituaries, funeral notices, and so forth. Now their count is 18,023 as of 24 March. This is a doubling of their recorded count of people who have died. This is still considerably lower than the Ukrainian claims of 173,360 Russians killed as of 31 March (which would imply 693,440 to 866,800 total casualties, which does not mesh well with the reports of forces deployed).
The previous, more detailed older casualty write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 394 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
The UN is reporting as of 26 March at least 8,401 civilians confirmed dead in the war. This is a large leap of almost a thousand killed since the report of 13 February (7,199) and I assume is due to upgrading of the records, as they only reporting 138 civilians killed from 1-28 February. See: Ukraine: civilian casualty update 27 February 2023 | OHCHR vice Ukraine: civilian casualty update 13 February 2023 | OHCHR. Not sure why the reporting has suddenly gotten “squirrelly.”
Of those 3,869 of the deaths are in Ukrainian controlled territory in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk with 639 killed in territory controlled by Russian separatists. One wonders how many of the claimed Mariupol casualties are included in these figures.
On 5 December, the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Yevhen Yenin, said that according to National Police over 9,400 civilians have been killed in Russian shelling.
The UN provided the following chart showing civilian losses by month:
More than 44,000 people have died in this conflict: 18,023 or more (Russian Army) + 13,000 or more (Ukrainian Army) + 8,401 (Civilians) + 4,176 (DPR in 2022) + 600 (LPR) = 44,200. It is probably in excess of 60,000 total deaths depending on Ukrainian and Russian military deaths and the real count of civilian losses. Suspect the BBC/Mediazona count is off (undercounted) by at least 50% and the 13,000 figure from Ukraine is dated 1 December, so is also probably off by at least 50%.
Ammo: The second and third to last paragraphs in The Times (UK) article referenced in the Day 394 blog post says:
However, Barrons argues that Ukraine needs ammunition even more than it needs soldiers. It fires 90,000 155mm shells a month and sometimes 6,000 shells a day but combined US and European production is less than 30,000 a month. “There is a mathematical mismatch,” he says. The US is tripling its output but “Europe has been too slow”.
Russia, which has been firing 20,000 shells a day and is thought to have used up ten years’ worth of production in 12 months, has the same problem. In recent weeks they have reduced the numbers by 75 per cent.
So 6,000 shells a day vice 20,000 shells a day, have no idea if that is true or what percent of the rounds fire are “smart” versus old style. One would expect the side firing the most rounds would be causing more causalities. On the other hand, if U.S. production is less than 30,000 a month Ukraine will be forced to eventually reduce their expenditures to 1,000 or 2,000 shells a day. If Russia has to reduce their numbers by 75%, then they are firing 5,000 shells a day. Don’t know if any single number in this discussion is close to reality but suspect that both sides will have to reduce their artillery expenditure at least until May. This war could be very quiet for a couple of months.
Anyhow, Ukraine is requesting 250,000 shells a month from the EU.
Air Power: The Pentagon on 12 March is reporting that Russia is flying about 200 sorties a day. The Ukrainian air force has 56 operational jets flying 5 to 10 hours a day. March 22 it was reported by the U.S. that Russia flew more than 300 sorties into Ukraine. March 24 it was reported that more than 250 Russian sorties were flown, mostly around Kiev and Kharkov. On 12 May, the U.S. was claiming that the Russians flew 300 sorties over Ukraine in the last 24 hours. On 14 May they were claiming 250 Russian sorties. It has been pretty consistent reporting of 250-300 sorties a day for quite some time now. For 24 August Ukraine reported 200 Russian sorties over Ukraine.
On 3 September is it stated that Ukraine did 40 sorties, which is a record. On 18 September they claimed to have launched 20 air strikes, on 22 September launched 25 and on 11 October launched 15 air strikes. This is a fairly low level of air activity.
@Oryx, which is a twitter account worth following, is reporting as of 14 September that since the start of the war 53 Russian aircraft have been destroyed as have 42 Ukrainian aircraft. This is all counted by photo confirmation. On 19 September, U.S. General James Hecker stated that Ukraine has shot down 55 Russian aircraft in the war. He stated that he was pretty sure that all of those losses were due to surface-to-air missiles, SA-10s and SA-11s. This count does not include non-battle losses and accidents (of which there are some). It appears no Russian planes have been shot down in air-to-air combat and maybe only a handful of Ukrainian planes.
The Russians are now reported to be using loitering munitions. Ukraine has been using them since the start of the war. There are also reports of drone-on-drone engagements and have been 9 such cases reported. So drone vs drone combat is now a thing.
A Ukrainian deputy prime minister is saying on 12 February that Ukraine has already “contracted” 1,765 drones. It has spent more than 85.5 million Euros on the drones and more than 3,500 servicemen have been trained to operate them.
Poland will be providing Ukraine with 4 MiG-29s. F-16s are still up in the air, so to say.
Missile Defense: In his 5 July video, Denys Davydov states almost 80% of Russian missiles are being intercepted by anti-missile defenses. I have seen this claim repeated elsewhere but have no idea as to its validity. On 10 October, Ukraine intercepted only 43 out of the 84 missiles (51%) fired at it. On 11 October, they intercepted 20 out of 28 (71%). On 16 October there was another wave of missiles targeting Ukraine’s energy structure. The Mayor of Kiev (heavy weight world champion Vitali Klitschko) said that 23 of the 28 drones fired at Kiev were intercepted. Overall, 42 drones were fired at Ukraine and they claimed to have shot down 36 of them.
The bombardment on 31 October consisted of over 50 Russian missiles/drones, of which 44 were claimed to have been shot down. Ukraine claims to have shot down 73 of the over 100 missiles fired in the bombardment of 15 November. Fragments of one Ukrainian air defense missile landed in Poland killing two. The missile that landed in Poland on 15 November was probably a Soviet-era S-300 surface-to-air missile, of which most versions have a range of less than 100 miles. Pretty hard for this to be anything other than Ukrainian. On 23 November, there was a large missile attack where Ukraine claimed 51 out of 70 missiles shot down. This attack shut down all the power in Kiev and killed four civilians there. The large attack on 5 December claimed around 60 missiles shot down out of around 70 fired, which is 86% intercepted. This is particularly good. On 16 December, they claimed to have intercepted 60 out of 74, or 81%.
For the attack on 29 December, Ukraine does report shooting down 54 out of 69 cruise missiles and 11 Iranian drones. This comes out to 81% intercepted except other reports are saying over 120 missiles were fired. So, is the interception rate more like 54%? Anyhow, it does look like the Russians overloaded the Ukrainian missile defense this time. As this is supposedly their tenth such strike (I have not verified the count), then it is about time Russia figured this out. The question is: does Russia have the resources to keep doing this?
This was followed up with an attack on New Year’s Eve of about 20 cruise missiles and further attacks on 1 and 2 January. For the attack on New Year’ Eve it looks like they shot down 12 out of 20 cruise missiles (60%). In the attack of 1 and 2 January by 39 or 45 Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukraine claims it shot them all down. They have power outages in Kyiv as a result of the attack on 2 January. This strongly indicates that not all the drones were shot down.
There was another missile attack on 14 January of only 38 missiles that was effective. Ukraine only shot down 25 of them (only 65%), so power infrastructure was hit, as was several apartment buildings. On 25 January they shot down 47 out of 55 or 85%, which is better than they have been doing recently. The effectiveness of this missile strike against infrastructure was limited. Russia’s last big aerial bombardment attack was on 10 February using 71 missiles. Ukraine claimed 61 downed (86%).
On 9 March the Russians finally delivered their first major air strike since February 10. Clearly doing a major air strike once a month is not going to permanently shut down the Ukrainian power grid. This attack was in response to the several attacks that occurred in Russian territory the previous week. The Russia Defense Ministry specifically stated that it was a retaliatory strike for the attack on Bryansk region on 2 March. This strike was 81 missiles targeted in 10 regions. Ukraine claimed to have shot down 34 cruise missiles and 8 Shahed drones on Thursday. Russia also used 6 ballistic missiles, which Ukraine does not have the capability to shoot down. At least six people were killed.
The U.S., Germany and Holland have agreed to provide Ukraine with Patriot air defense missile systems. Should be interesting to see how well they do. The U.S. Patriot battery is expected to be in Ukraine in the coming weeks, as the training of 65 Ukrainian troops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma is now wrapping up. The training for the German Patriot battery has been occurring in Poland. The Dutch are providing additional missiles and launch systems that will be incorporated into the German Patriot battery. The final deployment over the next couple of months appears to be two batteries of Patriot missiles. I gather a Patriot missile battery consists of six launchers. Each launcher contains four missiles.
End of the War: Looks like this war will be continuing onto until at least fall of 2023. Completer write-up of this section is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 380 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
Atrocities: Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).
Russia continues their display of Orc-like behavior with a video coming out of the execution of the POW tentatively identified as Oleksandr Ihorevich Matsievskiy of the Territorial Defense Forces. His last words were “Slava Ukraini.” This execution probably occurred sometime in early February. You would think at some point the Russian senior command would understand that this is working against them politically and is resulting in wide-spread international support for Ukraine, which is resulting in increased shipment of arms and ammunition. It also continues to show a real lack of discipline among the rank and file. In addition to being an inhumane war crime, it is just plain stupid.
Ukrainian reforms: Complete write-up is available in this post: The Russo-Ukrainian War – Day 355 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org). The Ukranian defense minister appears to be staying.
U.S. Support for Ukraine: I sort of hate to get into discussing this as it invariably gets divisively political, but it is a significant issue. Half of the aid to Ukraine comes from the U.S. If the U.S. wavers, then this poses real challenges for Ukraine’s defensive efforts. The latest Gallup poll (3-22 January) says that 65% of Americans support the war in Ukraine. 31% clearly do not. This is pretty much the same figures as in August 2022 (66% vs 31%). Among self-identified Democrats the split was 81% to 16%, among independents it was 59% to 38% and among Republicans it was 53% to 41%. So, according to the Gallup poll, the majority of Republicans support Ukraine. On the other hand, 47% of the Republicans polled said that the U.S. is doing too much to help Ukraine. Previous polling from Washington Post shows that 52% of Republicans want to reduce aid to Ukraine or “…want their member of congress to opposed additional funding.”
The leading two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are both opposed to extensive aid for Ukraine. Rick Desantis said this week that it was a not a “vital” U.S. interest. He got immediate pushback from six U.S. Republican senators, but it is clear that there is a very definite split in the Republican Party on this issue. It is a long way until November 2024, but right now it looks like the main leaders for the nomination are in place (Trump and Desantis) and I don’t see a third person that is going to displace them at the top of the ticket. We will have to see how this develops.
The United States passed the fiscal year 2023 budget before the new congress was seated. The Democrats/Independents control the Senate 51-49 and the Republicans now control the House 222-213. The U.S. budget is in place through September 2023 and cannot be overturned or cut by the new Republican majority House, if they so desire. I am pretty certain that come October 2023, the United States will be struggling to approve a budget for fiscal year 2024. This is going to complicate things. Eleven Republican members of the House just proposed a resolution (“Ukraine Fatigue Resolution”) to cut aid to Ukraine. There is a clearly a vocal minority that is opposed to supporting Ukraine, along with both leading Republican presidential candidates.
The “Ukraine Fatigue Resolution” is worth a read. It is here: Text – H.Res.113 – 118th Congress (2023-2024): Ukraine Fatigue Resolution | Congress.gov | Library of Congress.
The defense budget for 2024 proposed by President Biden is $842 Billion. This is a 3.2% increase over the $816 Billion budget for last year. It includes a 5.2% pay raise for the troops, vice 4.6% in 2023. It does not include aid for Ukraine.
Belarus: I still doubt that they will join the war. Belarus has 60,000 troops and now they are trying to recruit another 20,000. This is from a country that the government was almost overthrown two years ago by popular acclaim. Ukraine has an 891-kilometer border (554 miles) with Belarus, so Ukraine must maintain some forces there. Belarus has stated on 16 October that a little less than 9,000 Russian troops will be stationed in Belarus to protect it borders. Reports are now saying that only about 4,000 Russian troops are in Belarus, and no nuclear forces are there.
EU: Ukraine has been made a candidate member of the European Union as of 23 June. It still means that it will be years before Ukraine becomes part of the EU, but this is a big first step. The Ukraine government applied for EU membership less than week after Russia first invaded them. Moldova was also granted candidate membership. Georgia has not (and it is not on good terms with Russia).
This was the issue that started all the turmoil in 2013. This is the issue that fueled all the conflict over the last nine years, for the Euromaidan revolt occurred when Ukrainian President Yanukovich decided to join Putin’s Eurasian Union vice the EU. The subsequent conflicts included the whole three-month Euromaidan revolt in the dead of winter of 2013-2014 that led to over 100 Ukrainians being killed, many protesters shot in the street by President Yanokovich’s security forces; the seizure of Crimea; the creation of LPR and DPR; the subsequent war; and now this war. Ukraine certainly has paid a much higher cost to join the EU than anyone else ever has. Current polling (Reuters April 5) shows that 91% of the Ukrainians support joining the EU.
NATO: Finland and Sweden signed the accession protocol to join NATO on 5 July, along with all 30 members of NATO. They officially applied to join NATO on May 18. There was an objection from Turkey, but Sweden and Finland have resolved their issues just before the summit in Madrid in early July. As of 1 October, 28 NATO members have ratified the accession protocol. It does require unanimous consent of all 30 members for them to join NATO. It does add an 810-mile (1300 km) border with Russia, but NATO already abuts Russian and Belarussian territory in the Baltic states and Norway abuts Russia above the arctic circle. Also, Denmark has joined the common EU defense cooperation, something which it has stayed out of for three decades. The United States voted on 4 August to the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO by 95-1. The remaining two states that need to vote for this are Hungary and Turkey, with both Hungary and Turkey having approved Finland on 31 March 2023 but not Sweden. It is expected that Finland will formally join NATO next week.
The other 28 members approved their accession by October 2002. Turkey has said it was going to approve Finland but still has issues with Sweden and their Kurdish refugees. It appears that Sweden has made all the “reforms” that it is going to make. Specifically, it has rejected the request to extradite four people. The U.S. in the past has made similar refusals. It is now up to Turkey to decide if this is enough. The U.S. is apparently negotiating selling F-16s to Turkey. This may be the quid-pro-quo that makes this happen. In October 2021 Turkey requested to purchase 40 F-16s. Congress has resisted approving the sale, but it appears it will go through if Turkey approves Sweden and Finland to join NATO. Turkish elections are scheduled for 14 May, so this issue may not get resolved until after that. Right now, U.S. Turkish relations have been a little contentious. Turkey was also just hit with a massive earthquake on 6 February near Syria. Around 57,000 dead in Turkey and Syria, around 50,000 of them in Turkey.
Meanwhile, on 30 September 2022, the president of Ukraine formally applied to join NATO.
Also, the United States will be establishing a permanent troop presence in Poland, maintain a rotational brigade in Romania, and enhance its rotational deployment in the Baltic States, among other expansions. As of December, the United States has a total of 100,000 troops across all of Europe (including Germany and Italy). Canada is leading a NATO battlegroup of Latvia of around 2,000 soldiers, including troops from Canada, Albania, Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Germany is to lead a combat brigade in Lithuania of 3,000 – 5,000 soldiers. The command unit of around 100 soldiers arrived on 4 September. A NATO battalion of about 1,500-1,600 has been stationed there since 2017 and is under command of a German officer. There are also NATO battle groups in Estonia and Poland. Germany is also now talking about an armored division for protection of NATO’s eastern border.
Poland has completed on 30 June a steel wall on its border with Belarus to curb the flow of asylum seekers from Belarus. The wall is 115 miles long (186 km), 18 feet tall (5.5 meters) and cost $407 million to build (353M Euros). Poland is also building a fence along its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which has irked Russia. Work began in late February. The Polish border with Belarus is 258 miles long (416 km). Poland also announced around 15 July that it will be increasing its defense budget to be 5% of the GDP and building up its army to 300,000 troops. Poland is currently spending 2.4% of its GDP on defense. It is going to increase it next year to 3%. The U.S. currently spends 3.5% of our GDP on defense.
Lithuania has also completed a barrier between itself and Belarus. It is mostly a 4 meter (13 foot) tall steel wire fence topped by concertina barbed wire. It covers approximately 550 kilometers (342 miles) and costs 152M euros. See twitter @LinasKojala post for 29 August for a picture of the fence.
Finland is now also talking about starting to build a barbed-wire fence along its long border with Russian starting early next year. They are looking at it covering 124 miles of the 832-mile border. Estimated cost is $393 million with a completion date of 2026.
Georgia: Georgia is back in the news with three days of large demonstrations (looks like tens of thousands) in Tbilisi and attempts to suppress them using water cannons. The current government has now withdrawn the Russian-like “foreign agents” bill that they were protesting against. The current government of Georgia has been Russian-leaning since the brief war there in 2008. I gather a significant portion (maybe the majority) of the population do not share their sentiments. We shall see how this develops. In 2003 Georgia dumped out their leadership (Gorbachev’s foreign minister Shevardnadze) with massive protests in what was called the Rose Revolution (and then the Orange Revolution occurred in Ukraine in 2004). If it happened once, it can happen again.
Nagorno-Karabakh: Artillery fire was exchanged on 5 October between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as a result of their continuing conflict that Russia is supposed to be policing. There are also now credible reports and videos of Azerbaijanis executing Armenian prisoners. Significant fighting has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia on 13 September. There has been a cease-fire as of 15 September. Armenia has said that at least 49 of its soldiers have been killed since fighting erupted early Tuesday. They are now saying 105. Azerbaijan has said it has lost 50 troops. Russia is serving as the peacekeeper force with about 2,000 troops. I gather most of the fighting is artillery shelling. There have been large protests the last few days in the capital of Yerevan, Armenia against the prime minister. Meanwhile, U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is in Yerevan as of 18 September. This visit was then followed by protests in Yerevan against the Russian dominated military alliance CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), which Armenia, Russia, Belarus and three other post-Soviet states are members of.
Previous recent fights have resulted in at least 2 Armenians killed and more than a dozen wounded and 1 Azeri killed and 3 wounded. Azerbaijan took the border position. Russia is the Armenian-leaning peacekeepers in this area. One wonders if many of the outlying areas of the Soviet empire are going to turn into disorder over the next few months. The Azerbaijan embassy in London was also seized a few months ago by Muslim fundamentalists. Azerbaijan is a secular state. The Muslim fundamentalists may be supported by Iran. On 14 November, there was another round of shelling reported by Armenia at the border. On 26 November, there was another clash along the border, but no losses and then more firing on 27 November, with two Armenians reported wounded. There was another shelling by Azerbaijan reported on 23 December by Armenia. No casualties reported. It appears that Azerbaijan is trying to cut off the Lachin corridor, which connects Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan has called for parliamentary elections on March 19. We shall see how that goes. Khazakstan was having blackouts, not caused by bombing. The last time they had political demonstrations (January 2022), estimates were that 217 to over 230 people were killed and they called in over 3,000 Russian paratroopers to help them. There were also major protests in 2011 (14 killed), 2016, 2018, several times in 2019, and 2020. So kind of waiting for next big eruption. Meanwhile, Khazastan has set up two “Yurts of Invincibility” in Bucha and Kyiv. These yurts provide food, medical care and shelter to Ukrainians.
European Support: The government of Hungary is the one NATO nation that is not clearly behind Ukraine. Hungary is dealing with economic problems and the EU is withholding recovery funding due to a “rule-of-law dispute.” Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 11 October called for a ceasefire in the war and accused the U.S. of fueling the war. He did state that he was on the side of Ukraine. He also has not yet approved Sweden and Finland’s membership into NATO but he has finally acquiesced to the latest EU aid effort to Ukraine.
The country that produced the largest peace demonstrations, some 70,000 protesters in Prague on 3 September 2022, has just elected a retired three-star general as its president. He has made it clear that he supports Ukraine. Recent elections in Estonia have reinforced the support for governments that favor supporting Ukraine. It does appear that Putin’s policy of trying to undermine support this winter in Europe for the war in Ukraine is failing. It does appear that European support is solid and broad, with Czechia elections, Germans providing Leopards, Hungary signing off on EU aid packages to Ukraine, Bulgarian parliament overruling their president and providing aid, etc. The political situation is getting simpler, the war is going to continue until at least next fall. It may get resolved on the battlefield this summer. It could continue into 2024.
In 2022 there have been some protests against the pro-western government of Moldova (pop. 2.6 million). The President of Moldova is now claiming that Russia was planning to stage a coup d’état through opposition protests. Zelenskyy made the same claims a week ago. Last June Moldova was granted EU candidate status. Moldovan intelligence intercepted some attempts between October and December of last year. Russia still has 1,500 peacekeeping troops in Transnistria and of course, there is still the breakaway Russian statelet of Transnistria (pop. @360,938) carved out of Moldovan territory. A Russian presence in Moldova is a threat to Odesa.
There was an anti-war protest in Berlin on Saturday, 25 February. It was attended by around 10,000, mostly from the left wing of the political spectrum. Germany has a long history of a pacifistic vocal left-wing since the 1980s (remember the late Petra Kelly and the Green Party). If this is the best that this political wing can produce now, that is very limited. It does appear that most of Europe is solidly behind Ukraine (as is Japan, South Korea, Australia and even New Zealand). Putin has done a good job of politically uniting the west.
Iran: It appears that the large protests in Iran are fizzling out. There are some serious demonstrations going on in Iran since 16 September, supported by labor strikes. It is said that at least nine protesters died in the first five days and Iran is now stating as of 24 September that 41 protesters have been killed. The count is certainly higher than that. An Oslo-based organization called Iran Human Rights is claiming as of 29 November that at least 448 people killed. They previously reported that also 40 security forces were killed. An Iranian general did acknowledge on 27 November that over 300 were dead. There are also an armed group (separatists?) that conducted an attack on 30 September in southeastern Iran (city of Zahedan) that killed 19 people. Iran has arrested over 20,000 protesters.
Meanwhile, the night of Jan. 28 someone attacked manufacturing facilities in Iran. It was done with at least three drones and a strike was clearly made in Isfahan, a city of 2-4 million right in the middle of Iran. There were four reported large explosions. The mostly likely story is that it was done by Israel operating from Azerbaijan.
There was a renewed round of protests in Iran from 13-15 March, but it sort of fissiled. It looks like current regime will survive yet another round of protests.
Miscellaneous: Also, corrupt Navy-contractor “Fat Leonard” Francis, 57, was detained last Tuesday by Interpol in Venezuela trying to flee to Russia. He had escaped house arrest in San Diego, fled to Mexico then Cuba and was intercepted at the Venezuelan airport. He was not using an alias and should be extradited back to the U.S. He is currently still in Venezuela.
There were two pipelines that were bombed in international waters. Apparently 165 feet of the pipe is destroyed. Sweden is currently investigating but has not found any clear evidence linking Russia to the bombing. The latest rumor is that a group of six pro-Ukrainian activists, including two divers, using a boat operating from Poland shut down the pipeline. This is actually believable. Whether they were completely independent of the Ukrainian government or not has not been established.
On 17 March the ICC (International Criminal Court) has issued out indictments for Vladimir Putin and one other person related to the movement to Russia and adoption of thousands of Ukrainian children. There may be more indictments coming for other war crimes. While Putin will probably never be arrested, his future travel is severely restricted, and he will need to avoid the 123 countries that are members of ICC. There are a number of countries that are not ICC members. This includes China and India. It also includes the United States, which signed the treaty but did not get it ratified by the senate during the Clinton administration, but it was rejected by the next Bush administration.