Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky submitted bills on the continuation of martial law and mobilisation to the Verkhovna Rada. The extension will highly likely to be approved and as such existing restrictions will continue. On 19 May, in Kyiv, the first trial of war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine continued. A 21-year-old Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian in the Sumy region has pleaded guilty.
The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) is considering restoring the floating exchange rate of the hryvnia in order to increase stability in the foreign exchange market. NBU Chairman Kyrylo Shevchenko announced this in an interview with the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.
Russian military bloggers are increasingly concerned that the Russian military will not be successful in Ukraine and that the war will ultimately be a humiliating defeat. Although Russia is securing tactical gains, it is yet to make the strategic advances that are necessary to win the war. Meanwhile Ukraine is continuously receiving support from the West and is successfully mobilising its reserves and volunteers, while Russian mobilisation in the occupied areas in the Donbas is met by demonstration.
In northern Ukraine, the situation remains at large unchanged, people continue to return, and the area is considerably safer than in the beginning of the war. However, Russia is resuming its shelling in the area from positions in Russia, and air defence systems are again operating frequently in Kyiv. Furthermore, landmines continue to be an issue in the area.
In the east, Ukrainian forces have continued to counterattack and regain territory from the Russians around Kharkiv. However, unlike Russia’s withdrawal from Kyiv, Russian forces are holding positions around the area and are preventing further Ukrainian advances. It is believed that Russia will prioritise holding its positions around Kharkiv in order to fix Ukrainian troops, and prevent Ukraine from reinforcing its positions in the Donbas.
Although Russia are making small advances in the Donbas, they are struggling to launch a significant assault. In Izyum, Russian positions have remained unchanged. It is believed that Russian troops are in the outskirts of Dovhenke as they attempt to push south from Izyum towards Sloviansk, along the M-03. As expected, Russia has made territorial gains around Lyman and are now in the outskirts of the town. It is likely that Russia will seize the town in the coming days. This, together with advances around Dovhenke, will enable the Russians to launch an attack on Sloviansk from two fronts.
Russian troops remain in the outskirts of Severodonetsk and are preparing for an assault on the city. Russia are attempting to advance north of Popasna towards Severodonetsk, minor advances have been recorded, and heavy shelling of Zolote and Hirske has taken place. Russian troops have failed to advance west of Popasna towards Bakhmut. Heavy shelling of Bakhmut has been recorded in recent days. Bakhmut is likely to become a key target for Russia, as they attempt to seize the M-03. Russian forces continue to shell Avdiivka and it is likely that Russia are attempting to encircle the city and launch an assault.
In southern Ukraine, the last Ukrainian soldiers in Azovstal Steel Plant are surrendering. It is likely that Russia will incorporate Mariupol into Russia in the coming weeks. There have been no significant developments in Zaporizhzhia, it is likely that both Ukraine and Russia are digging in and creating defence lines. The Russia army continues to shell Mykolaiv and surrounding area; however, there have been no significant territorial changes. At this moment, it remains unlikely that Russia will be able to conduct any offensive west of Kherson. Explosions continue to reported around Odesa.
Additionally, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has claimed that pro-Russian forces intend to destroy the Azovstal and rebuild Mariupol into a resort city. If this happens to be the case, the move would deprive Mariupol of its strategic and economic importance as a major industrial centre, which arguably made it such a prize in the first place. With DNR officials acknowledging that the Russian attack has resulted in the destruction of 60 percent of the city’s structures to the extent that they cannot be rebuilt, the announcement is a clear indication of the level of destruction.
In the west of Ukraine, explosions have been recorded around Lviv as a result of demining work.
Developments in Russia
The Russian Ministry of Defence now claims that 1,730 Ukrainian fighters have surrendered from the Azovstal works since 16 May. However, Russian forces have continued shelling some areas of the plant overnight indicating that some remnant Ukrainian force remain and have not yet surrendered. According to the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the pockets of resistance includes high-ranking Ukrainian commanders.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, an American multinational, is completely withdrawing from Russia. On the Forbes Global 2000 for 2021 list, the company ranked 410th as one of the largest public pharmaceutical companies in the world.
The UK have frozen the assets of three Russian airlines: Aeroflot, Rossiya, and Ural Airlines. The airlines will also not be able to sell their lucrative unused seats at UK airports, which will prevent revenues from reaching Russia, amounting to about 50 million pounds.
There is a new lawsuit against Gazprom. Poland’s PGNiG has demanded Gazprom to return 1.5 billion US dollars in interest overpayments by PGNiG for natural gas supplied from November 2014 to February 2020. ”PGNiG is waiting for Gazprom’s response to the request for arbitration,” the Polish state-owned company was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.
According to the European Commission, the recovery plan for Ukraine will cost 500-600 billion euros. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal stated this in a speech and said ”the government has already begun to develop a large-scale plan for the restoration and modernization”.
On 18 May, Sweden and Finland handed in their official letters of application to join the alliance and become 31st and 32nd members of NATO. The letters were conveyed by Finnish and Swedish ambassadors, to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Alliance’s Brussels headquarters. Stoltenberg stated that ‘this is a good day, at a critical moment for our security’. Finland and Sweden have submitted their applications; however, in the meantime the countries need to resolve a dispute with Turkey, which have stated that there are grounds to block their applications. Turkey’s leadership believes that the Western allies have neglected the country’s basic security needs.
On 19 May, Swedish prime Minister and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö visited President Joe Biden in the White House to discuss NATO application. All three leaders called for swift acceptance of the applications amid resistance from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced that they will oppose Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Unlike Sweden and Finland, Switzerland will maintain a neutral status. However, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country will deepen cooperation with the Alliance. This decision is supported by 56 percent of Swiss citizens, which is almost 20 percent more than before 24 February. Switzerland have already decided to buy American F35s and plan to participate in joint exercises.
On 18 May, following the withdrawal from the city three months before the invasion, the US formally reopened their embassy in Kyiv. The relocation of the embassy reflects the reduced threat to the capital compared to the early stages of the war. However, long-range strikes will pose an enduring threat for the duration of the conflict.
Latest figures show that 6.3 million Ukrainian people have fled from the hostilities since 24 February and have entered the European Union. More than 3.4 million refugees have arrived to Poland. Passenger flows of Ukrainian citizens to EU member states is around 32,000 crossings a day.
As of 19 May, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 8,089 civilian casualties in Ukraine in total 3,811 killed and 4,278 injured. Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, shelling from heavy artillery, missile strikes and multiple launch rocket systems. OHCHR stated in their report that actual figures are considerably higher, as they cannot receive information from some locations where the intense hostilities are currently taking place.
CNN quoted unnamed NATO officials on 18 May as stating that the debate amongst NATO commanders and leaders has in recent weeks shifted to whether it is possible for Kyiv to retake Crimea and the Donbas. Unnamed NATO officials claimed that they believed this was possible, but despite Western weapons shipments and Russian operational setbacks, this would not be accomplished anytime soon. The war will be highly likely set to protract into the future as Kyiv’s war goals shift from the defence and national survival towards the offence and reclaiming all lost territories. Russia and Ukraine are therefore clearly determined to continue fighting for the near future, making progress in peace negotiations highly unlikely.
According to the intelligence sources, the EU is planning to announce a plan that is worth 210 billion euros to completely abandon Russian oil by 2027. There are new ideas to counter the excessive compensation requirements put forward by Hungary for its agreement on a pan-European oil embargo. For example, Edward Fishman and Chris Miller propose to create a kind of ”reverse Organization of the Petroleum of the Exporting Countries,” i.e., to set a ceiling on the price of Russian oil and direct EU sanctions and US secondary sanctions as methods of disciplining other countries. Under this scheme, any country will be able to buy Russian oil in any volume but at a price not higher than the established one. The marginal price should cover the cost and small profit in order to maintain economic viability. Such a scheme would significantly reduce the inflow of currency into Russia and, therefore, its use for war purposes. It would not harm the global market and protect it from an energy shock. The scheme is interesting in terms of attractiveness from the point of view of oil buyers, but it is quite difficult to implement.