The war in Ukraine has entered its 55th and there have been many frontline movements over the past week. Russian troops continued to increase across the east and the south of Ukraine. Whilst the disablement and eventual sinking of the flagship of Russian fleet Moskva in the north of Black Sea was undoubtedly a morale blow for Russia, it is unlikely to have a significant outcome on the war.
On 15 April, explosions were heard in Kyiv, northern Ukraine, which appeared to be the most significant in Kyiv since Russian troops pulled back from the capital. These explosions were reported to have been heard after the Moskva flagship had sunk.
In the east, shelling continues in Kharkiv and Luhansk operational areas. On 15 April, a Russian missile was shot down in Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast. Five local residents injured with two in critical condition. In Kherson, Russian military seized the towers and offices of the Kyivstar mobile operator. On 18 April, Lysychansk was shelled in Luhansk region and several Russian sells hit the administrative building of the regional patrol police department. Furthermore, Russian forces hit the Olympia sports complex in Kreminna and more than 2,000 m2 caught fire. In Dnipro, Russia hit several infrastructure facilities as well as damaged railway infrastructure in Pavlograd district.
Five Battalion Tactical Groups have already been withdrawn from Mariupol and redeployed north. Russian force maneuvering in the east of Ukraine is occurring in close proximity to Ukrainian forces and will mean the costs to Russian forces are higher, whilst enabling faster movement of Russian forces as Russia attempts to take over more parts of Donbas. Ukrainian forces are likely to continue raids against Russian supply lines, negating some of the advantages Russia is gaining from the wind-down of operations around Mariupol. Whilst Russia has more advantages in the east of Ukraine than they did when attacking Kyiv, this current battle in the east of Ukraine will take at least two to three weeks before conclusions can be drawn.
In the south, Russian forces continued shelling in Mykolaiv with multiple launch rocket system, with both military and civilian casualties. Fighting continues in Mariupol, where Russian army deployed additional units. In Donetsk operational area, Russian forces intensified hostilities and launched missile strikes. Crew members of the three cargo ships captured by the Russian forces on the territory of Mariupol Commercial Port are held in the temporarily occupied Donetsk. In the Sea of Azov, the operational situation remined the same and Russian blockage of the Ukrainian southern Black Sea cost continues. Currently, landline supplies to Odesa and other Ukrainian ports are open and secured. Russian Armed forces fired artillery on the town of Huliaipole in Zaporizhzhya region. According to Ukrainian defense forces, 12 Russian attacks were repulsed alongside they destroyed five enemy artillery system, 10 tanks and 20 armored and civil vehicles in total. The three to four Ukrainian Brigades in Odesa, combined with Ukraine’s proven ability to target Russian naval assets, have reduced, slightly, the risk of Russian invasion of Odesa in the near term. Long-range attacks against warehouses and infrastructure remain likely targets in Odesa.
In the west, Lviv suffered several guided missiles at the western part of the city and at least 14 casualties were reported. Missiles hit three military infrastructure and one car service station. This was the largest attack in Lviv since the beginning of the war. Nowhere in Ukraine is safe. Railways, food, fuel storage, water supplies, and critical infrastructure all remain targets for Russia, and Russia retains capability to conduct long-range strikes across Ukraine. This will likely increase the number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Europe. Waiting times at Ukraine’s western boarders have increased over the weekend.
On 18 April, for the second day in a row, Ukrainian authorities could not open humanitarian corridors due to the continuing shelling by Russian forces. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Vereshchuk reported that despite the long and difficult negotiations with their counterparts, Russian troops did not stop shelling and blocking the humanitarian corridors. Due to the security reasons of civilians, Ukrainian authorities decided not to open evacuation corridors from Mariupol, Berdyansk, Tokmak, Energodar, and towns of Kherson and Luhansk regions.
According to the reports, in temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, civilians in most towns have no access to drinking and tap water. Furthermore, in these areas medical care is not fully provided due to the lack of water supply. Ukrainian officials claimed that, Russian forces seized water supplies for their military needs. Water is provided to some temporarily occupied parts every 30 days and residents are forced to give part of their stocks to the Russian troops.
UNHCR reports showed that 4,980,589 people have fled from Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion. As of 18 April, 4,890 civilian casualties have recorded since the beginning of the invasion. As the data is not conclusive since the data is not available from temporarily occupied areas and data collection continues in the liberated territories and in the areas of active hostilities; figures are expected to be higher in the future.
Developments in Russia
The destruction of Moskva missile cruiser is likely to have an impact on Russia’s military operations. Russian authorities claimed that the flagship was sunk by fire exposed rather than the Ukrainian missiles. Russia currently has strength of 98 BTGs and it has lost around 30 since the invasion began, including reinforcements already deployed. This lets the estimation of 20-30 % reduction in Russia’s combat effectiveness.
On 08 April, after new package of sanctions were announced, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said they will reorient coal supplies to alternative markets. He also emphasized that even if the EU stops importing coal, the commodity is still very popular to sell other buyers. New EU sanctions further targeting Russian banks is being discussed.
On 14 April, President Putin stated that energy sector is disrupted due to the sanctions and unfriendly countries have been delaying the transfer of funds that come from energy trade. He also added that the attempts of Western countries to phase out Russian gas will have devastating effects for the West in return. He stated that there is no reasonable replacement for Russian energy to supply European countries’ needs and with any other replacement the West will end up paying much more than they pay to Russia.
Russian Gazprom’s exports fell by a quarter from 01 January to 15 April. Gazprom stated that their export to foreign countries amounted to 44.6 billion cubic meters, which is 26.4 percent less than in the same period in 2021. Russian Energy Minister announced that they are prepared to sell oil and energy products at any price to the countries that are in Russia’s friendly countries list.
Finally, there is a growing fear among Russian citizens about a shortage of imported pharmaceutical goods and medical equipment. As an addition to that, Russian citizens carry a fear of left without imported electronics, car components, construction and repair goods.
On 13 April, Sweden and Finland held a joint press conference in Stockholm to discuss how evolving security problems in Europe have led them to consider NATO membership. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin declared that Finland will make a separate decision in the coming weeks on whether to seek membership of the NATO alliance. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated Sweden is re-evaluating its security position and considering applying for NATO membership. A timeframe for such a decision has not been specified. The Swedish Government is working on a report on the security environment, which is due by the end of May, to assess whether Sweden should apply for NATO membership. After these joint press conference Finland and Sweden adhesion to NATO remains likely this summer, however, Finland is most likely to be the first to join NATO. In addition, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urged this week both Sweden and Finland to join NATO to increase the security situation in the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, Dmitry Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, threatened to increase its presence near and in the Baltic Sea if Finland and Sweden join NATO, including nuclear weapons. However, Russia already have significant nuclear capabilities in Kaliningrad, so the threat is likely to be mainly rhetorical at this point. Russian cyber attacks and increase air-incursions into Finnish and Swedish airspace has already been recorded, but unlikely to lead to significant deliberate escalation. Continued Russian threats towards Finland and Sweden add further justification to Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
On 15 April, a Russian-flagged oil tanker with 19 Russian crew members on board was seized near Karystos on the Greek island of Evia as part of the latest EU sanctions. Earlier this month, the EU banned Russian-flagged vessels from the 27-member bloc’s ports.
EU and US diplomats stated that the European Union is planning a gradual ban on Russian oil imports, probably before the end of the year. On 19 April, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire stated that France support extending sanctions to ban imports of Russian oil, In addition, the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol Group, also stated that it will stop trading Russian oil by the end of the year. On the other hand, the EU is unlikely to ban imports of Russian gas in the near future, on which many European countries depend for heating and electricity. However, several European countries are working on a gradual transition: on 11 April, Italy signed a declaration of intent with Algeria to increase Algerian natural gas supplies to Italy and divest from Russian energy. On 12 April, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that Greece has accelerated natural gas exploration plans to wean itself off Russian energy. On 19 April, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen stated that Denmark will increase its natural gas production in the North Sea “for a limited time period,” to reduce its dependency on Russian energy.
The European Commission has warned EU members that Putin’s demand that ’unfriendly nations’ must pay for Russian gas in roubles would violate EU sanctions. This announcement is aimed to warm all European companies and probably also Hungary, which has already expressed its readiness to switch to rouble payments.
Visits by European politicians to Kyiv continue. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will travel to Kyiv in the coming days to meet with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. However, on 18 April, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that US President Joe Biden was not expected to travel to Ukraine, following Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comments encouraging him to do so.
China trade with Russia has increased a 30 percent during the first quarter of 2022 according to Le Yucheng, Chinese vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. Le Yucheng stated on 19 April ”no matter how the international landscape may change, China will continue to strengthen strategic coordination with Russia to achieve win-win cooperation, jointly safeguard our common interests and promote the building of a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind”.
French Presidential Candidate Marie Le Pen has said a reproachment between NATO and Russia is required and she would pursue closer ties with Russia to prevent Moscow from becoming too close to China if she wins the French election. Le Pen is polling at 45 percent of the vote to Emmanuel Macron’s 55 percent for the presidential run-off on 24 April. Five years ago, Le Pen also faced Macron in the second round of the 2017 French elections, which she lost heavily. At that time, she declared her admiration for Putin and stated that she shared the same values as the Russian president. However, her rhetoric has changed slightly since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, condemning the invasion.
Ukraine and Russia are unlikely to make progress in ceasefire negotiations until the current Russian campaign in eastern Ukraine develops further. Russia is likely to attempt to capture the entire Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, at least. Russian forces are likely to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbas with an approach similar to the one adopted in Mariupol. Russian forces are likely to completely overrun the city of Mariupol in the short-term. Meanwhile, Ukraine is likely to carry out major counteroffensives whenever opportunities emerge.
Outside of Donbas region, Russian shelling is expected to continue targeting transport hubs, warehouses suspected of storing supplies, military training locations, and government sites. The threat of air strike will continue across Ukraine and poses risks to remaining businesses, civilians, and NGOs engaged in humanitarian work as well as foreign professionals and journalists working in Ukraine.
Although refugee flows are beginning to slow, continued air attacks on Kyiv stressed the Mayor’s call for people to not yet return to Ukraine. With food, water and fuel shortages in parts of Ukraine, a mass return of people is unlikely to occur in the short or medium term.