Russia continues to launch sporadic missile attacks against northern Ukraine, but the risk of ground assault is assessed as low at the moment. There has been an increase of Belarusian troops along the border and Russia has deployed Iskander missiles to the border region. This is likely a bid to discourage Ukrainian forces in northern Ukraine from deploying to the frontline in eastern Ukraine, rather than an indicator that Belarusian troops will invade Ukraine.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia is sending reinforcements to Kharkiv to prevent Ukrainian counterattacks. There have been no significant territorial changes in the area since Ukraine successfully pushed back Russian forces two weeks ago. Russia is still able to shell Kharkiv. However, more and more people are moving back and the metro system has reopened in Kharkiv.
Further east, in the Donbas, Russia is steadily advancing and Ukrainian troops are reportedly ceding territory under heavy fire. Russian troops are on the outskirts of Pasika, south-east of Izyum, and are attempting to seize the village. This will enable Russian troops to move on towards Sviatohirsk and eventually a two-fronted assault on Sloviansk – if Russian troops are successful in Lyman. The latest intelligence suggests that Russian troops will be successful in Lyman and Russian troops have reportedly seized the northern parts of the town.
Russian troops have intensified their assault on Severdonetsk, and, as anticipated, Russian troops have reached the town of Bilohorvirka, thus seizing the main road to Severdonetsk. This could be a significant loss for Ukraine, as it is believed that some of Ukraine’s best troops will be encircled and effectively trapped by the Russians. It is believed that Ukrainian troops are establishing new defence lines around Bakhmut instead. Russian troops east of Bakhmut have successfully taken several towns, and Russian troops south of Bakhmut have successfully taken Svitlodarsk and Myronivskyi. Heavy shelling has been reported west of Horlivka, it is believed that Russia is preparing for an assault on the area, enabeling them to push north towards Kramatorsk. Likewise, heavy shelling has occurred in and around Avdiivka, it is likely that Russia will conduct a ground assault on the town in the coming days.
In the south, Russia continue to shell areas north of its current defence line, this is most likely a bid to prevent Ukrainian counterattacks – roads and key infrastructure has been destroyed. This is in line with 2Secures previous assessment that Russian troops will not push north towards Zaporizhzhia, rather set up a robust defence line to enable Russian troops to move from the east towards Mykolaiv and Odesa without being subject to Ukrainian counterattacks. Missile attacks have been reported in both Zaporizhzhia and Kryvyi Rih during the night to 25 May.
Ukrainian partisan warfare is still occurring in Melitopol; however, as the occupation drags on, it is becoming harder for people to resist. Sporadic missile attacks against Mykolaiv and Odesa occur, however, a ground assault pushing west from Kherson remains unlikely at this moment; although, as Russia it is likely that this will occur once Russia has secured its primary objectives in eastern Ukraine.
There have been no significant developments in western Ukraine. Missile attacks still occur, but a Russian ground assault is assessed as low at this time.
Developments in Russia
According to Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Defence Intelligence Ukraine, President Putin survived an assassination attempt two months ago. Budanov stated that the attempt was not successful and the attempt occurred in Caucasus shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
International companies who have operations in Russia continue to leave Russia. The Finnish energy company Fennovoima has withdrawn an application for a license to build the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant, which was to be built by RAOS Project, a subsidiary of the Russian company Rusatom Energo International.
Starbucks Corp. stated the company is leaving the Russian market after 15 years. The world-famous American coffee chain has 130 stores in Russia, employing about 2,000 people. Starbucks closed its stores in early March and suspended all commercial activities in Russia, including delivering its products to Russia.
The Levi Strauss & Co denim chain, which suspended operations in Russia after the start of the war in Ukraine, has decided to leave the Russian market after 29 years of operation. Levi Strauss & Co is looking for buyers of its assets in Russia.
The Russian Council of Shopping Centers President has stated that he predicts that this fall, an area of 3 million square meters of the shopping malls, equal to 420 football fields, will be vacant throughout Russia. Traffic in Russia’s shopping malls fell by ten percent, and more than 100 shopping malls are now up for sale.
In an unexpected move, Kazakhstan froze US $21.5 million in branches of Russian banks, the freeze was explained as “sanction requirements”.
President Joe Biden stated that the United States has a commitment to help Taiwan if China decides to annex the island by force. Biden compared such an attempt to Russian aggression against Ukraine. The statement predictably outraged Beijing, which called for continued adherence to the ”United China” principle and stressed the fundamental difference in the situation, as Taiwan is considered an internal issue. Washington believes that Beijing will draw the right conclusions from the West’s consolidated position over Ukraine and will not take ill-considered steps, so the policy of restraint will be more successful.
The 27 EU member states continue to work towards an agreement on the terms of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia. The EU is likely to reach an agreement in the coming weeks, according to Ursula von der Leyen statement on 24 May. The European Commission has spent most of May seeking to win member states over to its sixth package of sanctions, which would include a phased-in embargo on Russian oil. However, several member states, such as Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, are raising concerns and requiring bespoke exceptions to have more time to adapt their energy industry facilities and to reduce the economic impact. The EU’s offer to invest up to 2 billion euros in Central and Eastern European member states dependent on Russian energy imports does not seem to be sufficient. As long as negotiations continue and energy prices continue to rise, companies should be aware that the risks to energy security are likely to remain high across the EU.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on 21 May to discuss the two countries’ strategic partnership. At the meeting the two leaders agreed that Serbia could store natural gas in Hungary in case its capacity is insufficient. They also discussed the possibility of Serbia buying a 10-15 percent stake in the nuclear power plant built by Russia in Hungary. Meanwhile, Hungary would invest in the Djerdap hydroelectric power plant in Serbia. This meeting highlights the close relationship between the two countries, which has improved significantly due to their increasingly pro-Russian and Eurosceptic foreign policy. It is important to monitor these countries’ relations in order to understand the instability in the EU, especially with regard to the energy risks.
On 19 May, the European Parliament approved a proposal for the temporary lifting of tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian agricultural products, certain industrial products, fruit and vegetables. The measure is expected to be published shortly in the Official Journal of the EU and will enter into force the following day. This new trade agreement is likely to improve food security in Europe while boosting the Ukrainian economy, as the EU is Ukraine’s largest trading partner (40 percent of its exports). At the same time, the suspension of import duties is seen as an important step towards Ukraine’s integration into the European market. In addition to trade liberalisation, the EU has also eased entry requirements for Ukrainian truck drivers, which will further boost trade with the bloc.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, more than 6.3 million Ukrainians have fled the war and more than 5 million Ukrainian refugees moved to the EU countries under the temporary protection law. Poland received more than 3 million Ukrainian people and at least the half of them is expected to remain there. More than 1 million Ukrainian citizens have already registered for temporary protection in the EU countries.
According to Swedish Migration Agency Migrationsverket, so far 37,920 Ukrainian citizens have made their first-time application to get a residence permit in Sweden in 2022 under European Union Temporary Protection Directive. The figures are expected to be higher in coming months.
As of 23 May, the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 8,462 civilian casualties in Ukraine in total 3,930 killed and 4,532 injured. 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.
Russian military forces will steadily advance in the Donbas. Russia will continue focusing efforts to encircle Severdonetsk and Lysychansk at least from the south, possibly by cutting off the highways connecting Severdonetsk-Lysychansk with the rest of Ukraine. In addition, Russian advances at multiple points along the frontline will apply significant pressure on Ukrainians to withdraw to the west and southern banks of the Siverskyi Donets River in order to strengthen their ground lines of communication and reduce the frontline. Ukrainian commanders are likely to consider the respective defence of Slovyansk and Lysychansk across the river more viable in the coming weeks.
As the siege of Azovstal has concluded, Russian forces in Mariupol will most likely shift their focus to occupational control of the city.
On 25 May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko declared Russia’s readiness to facilitate humanitarian sea corridors for ships carrying food from Ukraine in exchange for sanctions relief. Russia’s naval blockade of the northern Black Sea coast has prevented shipments of grain, corn and sunflower oil, among other commodities, driving up world food prices and significantly increasing the risk of a global food crisis in the coming months. This will particularly affect food insecure regions around the world, such as the Middle East and East and West Africa, and contribute to upwards pressure on inflation across Europe and much of the world.