Russia continued focusing its main efforts in Donbas while conducting air attacks across Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. Ukrainian forces conducted several local counterattacks around Kyiv, on the outskirts of Kharkiv, and towards Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south. Talks between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations will resume in Turkey today, 01 April. Despite the negotiations and the announcement of the withdrawal of Russian ground troops from northern Ukraine, it is highly likely that Russia is taking advantage to regroup its military forces ahead of a new offensive. In fact, Russian air missile strikes are expected to increase in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Izyum, and Donbas. In addition, the Kremlin is likely to intensify efforts to establish governments on the occupied Ukrainian territory, like Kherson.
In the north, Ukrainian forces took advantage of limited Russian withdrawals to retake territory in Kyiv and Chernihiv Oblasts. Ukrainian forces claimed to have carried out successful counterattacks in Sumy Oblast as well. Shelling continued in Kyiv, where explosions can be heard frequently. Ukrainian forces northwest of Kyiv claimed to have pushed Russian forces north of the E-40 and will probably attack Russian-controlled Bucha and Hostomel in the following days. In addition, Russian troops have begun their withdrawal from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
In the eastern Ukraine, Russia continues to launch air strikes on strategic and civilians buildings in Kharkiv and outside the frontline, hitting a fuel depot and an industrial plant in Dnipro. Russia continue to focus its main efforts in Donbas and, according to the Luhansk regional military governor, several towns in the region have been hit by ”heavy shelling” by Russian forces. On the other hand, Ukrainian forces continued to repel Russian assaults throughout Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and made limited gains around Kharkiv as well.
In the south, Ukrainian forces launched limited counter-offensives in northern Kherson Oblast. On 31 March, Ukrainian Air Assault Forces additionally claimed to recapture Zatyshshya, Malynivka, Vesele, Zelenyi Hai, and Chervone in Zaporizhia Oblast. Russian made limited advances in Mariupol and it is likely that Russia will control the main part of the city in the coming days. Ukrainian Minister Iryna Vereshchuk claimed that some evacuation buses on their way to Mariupol were blocked at a Russian checkpoint. Russian forces stated that they will reopen the evacuation corridor from besieged Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia on 1 April, at the request of the French and German leaders. More than 100,000 civilians are trapped in Mariupol, according to Ukrainian officials.
In the west of Ukraine, air raid alarms were recorded multiple times across Lviv Oblast on 31 March. Ukrainian authorities clarified that false explosions were reported in Lviv because a controlled release of gases from a gas production tower caused a similar sound to an explosion.
NATO Developments in the Nordics
After NATO’s Brussels Summit on 24 March, the alliance’s presence in the eastern Europe has increased significantly. The alliance also has activated its chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense elements and Stoltenberg stated that NATO will help Ukraine defend itself CBRN threats.
Earlier in March, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto said the country would review its security policy to decide whether join or not to NATO and later added that Finland will decide ‘without hesitation but carefully’ on NATO membership. In Finland, according to President Niinisto, opinion polls about the matter have already conducted so there is no need for a referendum. Now it is up to Finnish Parliament to whether or not to submit a request for membership.
In Sweden, opinion polls are 51 percent in favor of NATO membership and percentage is even higher in case of Finland becomes a NATO member. Swedes in opposition to joining NATO fell 10 percent in the last month. Yesterday Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated that she does not rule out NATO membership in any way; however, a well-founded analysis on possibilities, threats and risks will be needed to be able to take the decision that is best for Sweden.
Both countries are seeking options and calculating the possibilities that may occur as they were already warned by Russia on ‘serious military and political consequences’ if they join the alliance. While positive attitudes towards NATO membership is growing, the concerns on a Russian interference have risen. Additionally, it is safe to expect that if Finland and Sweden continue their process on the way to NATO membership, not only government organisations but also private businesses could be affected by possible backfire from Russia. Considering Russia’s backfiring strategy, Moscow may attack with counter measures and even cyber-attacks.
The petrodollar system is, has been a fundamental factor in the rise of America as a superpower. It has made the rest of the world dependent on US dollars which has enabled the dollar to become the world’s reserve currency. It works in such a way that all importers of oil need to pay in dollars. Thus, an oil importing country first needs to buy dollars to then buy the actual oil, only for the exporting country to then sell back the dollars. This system has created a constant demand for US dollars.
However, Russia, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, recently announced that it will demand payments in roubles instead. If they do not, Putin has threatened to turn of the taps, causing a potential energy crisis in Europe. This in a bid to increase the value of the rouble. Likewise, Saudi Arabia is now considering selling oil to China in yuan instead of dollars. All of this could mark the end to the petrodollar system, as we know it. What this will entail for business across the West is hard to predict, but it is likely to contribute to the becoming financial crisis.
Wars have been fought in order to keep the system in place, time will tell if America has the will and might to defend it again. Finally, it is uncertain if European countries will in fact pay in roubles instead of dollars, so far, they have dismissed Russia’s demands and have called it blackmail; but this could mark the beginning of a new era for how commodities such as oil are paid for.
On the morning of 01 April, Ukrainian forces attacked a fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia, about 30 km from the border opposite Kharkiv. This comes a day after an ammunition explosion in the same area, raising suspicions of a similar action, although it is still being blamed as ‘human error’. The action might negative impact the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. It remains possible that this is a Russian fake operation with the intention of asking military support from other countries, although this seems unlikely given the targets selected for the operations.
Developments in Breakaway Regions
South Ossetia sent troops to support Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine last week. This caused that part of the Georgian opposition called on the Georgian government to use this opportunity to reclaim the breakaway territories. Afterwards, on March 30, South Ossetia’s Press Secretary announced that the regional de facto authorities will complete legal procedures to join Russia after the presidential elections on 10 April.
Regional de facto leader Anatoly Bibilov also stated that the republic will host public consultations on joining Russia. Bibilov’s intentions to hold a referendum are just the latest example of a growing trend in other pro-Russian separatist regions that make formal Russian annexation of various statelets more likely following the Ukraine invasion. The same plan has been suggested by the government of People’s republic of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region on joining Russia as well. Similar dynamics are at play in Transnistra at this stage even if the expansion of Russian military operations in Western Ukraine join up with region would make annexation possible, though still less likely than in South Ossetia, Donetsk and Luhansk.