Russian advances continue to be marginal; however, Western and Ukrainian intelligence are anticipating a large Russian offensive in the east once Russian troops have regrouped. When this will occur is unknown. The Russian city of Belgorod has witnessed explosions in the past 24 hours, it is unknown if this is a result of Ukrainian attacks. Belgorod has been the main area for Russian forces to regroup.
It is believed that all Russian forces have withdrawn from the north. Ukrainian forces continue to uncover the aftermath of the Russian occupation – mass graves and signs of torture are being discovered in towns outside Kyiv. There has been no reported shelling in Kyiv or Chernihiv.
In the east, however, shelling has continued in Kharkiv and the situation remains at large unchanged. It is unclear how long it will take until the withdrawn Russian troops in the north will be combat effective again; however, according to a Ukrainian intelligence report, Russia might send the 64th motorised rifle brigade – who are believed to have committed war crimes in Bucha – into the war again, in a bid to have them killed in combat. Currently, none of the withdrawn troops have been sent out into combat in the east. Russia has made limited progress in its bid to create a defence line from Izyum to Mariupol. Further east, Russian troops have managed to seize the towns of Popasna and Rubizhne, and continue to make advances in the Donbas.
There have been no significant changes in the south. It is believed that Ukrainian forces have liberated the villages of Dobryanka, Trudolyubivka, and Novonoznesenske, north of Kherson. West of Kherson; however, reports suggest that Russia has reoccupied the town of Oleksandrivka.
A few explosions have been heard in the west, however, nothing fatal has been reported. Russia has not made any ground advances in the west, yet.
Reaction of the West
European countries continue to show their reactions after the atrocities in Bucha, Irpin and several regions in Ukraine that Ukrainian forces have retrieved. Russian authorities have rejected the accusations on the atrocities in Kyiv’s outskirt villages and added that the images are fabricated. In total, EU nations expelled more than 200 Russian diplomats and staff in coordinated moves amid increasing outrage over the Ukraine conflict. The mass expulsion of diplomats was interpreted as ‘a short-sighted move’ by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The EU also declared a group of Russian officials working with its institutions as ‘persona non grata’. Germany and France have started the expulsions on Monday followed by Italy, Spain, Slovenia and many more.
As expected on 05 April, Sweden expelled three Russian diplomats from the country in a punitive action. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde also stated that the three diplomats had been chosen because they were involved in illegal espionage activities in Sweden. She further said that the activities of these diplomats were against the Vienna convention on Diplomatic Relations. As well as expelling Russian diplomats, Sweden has also summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Moscow.
On 01 April, Gazprom announced that it no longer owns its German subsidiary Gazprom Germania which operates Germany’s biggest gas storage facilities. After the announcement, on 04 April German Economy Minister announced that Gazprom Germania is being put under state control with immediate effect until 30 September due to legal uncertainty. It is likely that other Gazprom subsidiaries across Europe, including the UK and Switzerland, will be nationalised or put under state control in the coming months as legal uncertainties threated energy disruptions.
Additionally, Western countries are working on a fifth package of sanctions against Russia. It is expected that the new package includes gas and oil exports. The EU’s Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell said that the EU should urgently discuss new set of sanctions against Russia over the atrocities in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns. Regarding the new package of sanctions, Germany warns that cutting off Russian gas supplies to Europe is not a possibility despite the growing pressure on the EU to do so.
Two key elections have been held in Hungary and Serbia over the past weekend, and pro-Russian leaders consolidated their rule. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured its ‘supermajority’ during the elections on 02 April, while Serbian President Alekasndar Vucic won another five-year term during the first round of presidential elections. Both Orban and Vucic are seen as the European allies of President Putin and have retained cordial relations with Moscow in recent years. PM Orban was congratulated by President Putin. In his victory speech, Orban stated his support for further sanctions against Russia while he was calling President Zelenskyy an ‘opponent’.
Two days after the election, Orban’s government faced sanctions over the rollback of democratic values and allegations of fraud. The president of the EU commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, announced their decision to send a letter of formal notification to Hungarian government and start the conditionality mechanism. The mechanism was designed to prevent misuse of EU funds by countries backsliding and was agreed by the EU leaders in late 2020.
Cloudflare, a US-based Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) mitigation company, reported on 04 April that DDoS attacks originating from Russia and targeting sites outside the country were relatively low throughout February, increased sharply in mid-March, and have declined again in early April.
Despite the withdrawal of Russian troops from northern Ukraine, there is a risk that disruptive or destructive cyberattacks – such as DDoS or data wipes – will accompany any resumption of hostilities in the coming weeks, likely due to revelations of apparent war crimes in Bucha, which are raising tensions and making negotiations more difficult. Most likely, these cyberattacks will target organisations that directly support the Ukrainian government and its military operations. However, there is a greater risk of cyberattacks affecting Western companies. For example, US federal agencies continue to urge Western organisations to strengthen their cybersecurity measures.