Update 28 March

28 mars, 2022

There have been several developments during the weekend. Russia has announced a change in strategy where it will focus its military operations in eastern Ukraine. There are already reports coming from Kyiv that Russian ground troops are withdrawing from the capital. Ukraine’s President Zelensky claims that he is willing to negotiate over the Donbas region and a potential neutral status for Ukraine. However, Russia remain sceptical to direct talks between President Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart.

In the north, amid heavy losses, Ukrainian intelligence reports suggests that Russian ground troops are withdrawing from the capital. However, other reports on 28 March suggests that Russian troops are advancing on Kyiv. Furthermore, the city is still subject to Russian shelling. Despite this, schools in Kyiv will reopen, albeit online. The mayor of Chernihiv claims that the city is now encircled by Russian forces and is on the brink of destruction. However, Ukrainian troops managed to defeat a Russian column outside the city on 27 March.

In the east, Russia is continuing to shell Sumy and Kharkiv. The Ukrainian Armed Forces claim that they have repelled Russian attacks in Luhansk and Donetsk. However, if Russia do refocus their military operations to the Donbas, more intense attacks can be expected. In Mariupol it is believed, according to British intelligence, that Russian troops are close to seizing the harbour. In addition, there are reports that Russia has captured a military base belonging to the infamous Azov Battalion in Mariupol. According to the mayor, the city itself is on the brink of catastrophe, as civilians are starving to death.

In the south, rallies against the Russian occupiers continue, most notably in the city of Kherson. The Ukrainian counterattack from Mykolaiv to Kherson appears to have stalled. In Odessa, two Russian missiles were shot down, however, Russian shelling of the region continues.

In the west, there have been several Russian airstrikes against Lviv during the weekend. No causalities have been reported. In the city of Lutsk, a Ukrainian oil depot was struck by a Russian missile.

International Reactions

During US President Joe Biden’s visit to Poland, Biden suggested on 26 March the removal of Russian President Vladimir Putin from power. However, after these statements several US administration officials denied that Biden was calling for a change of government in Russia. This clarification indicates that US officials realised that Biden’s speech could further escalate tensions, increasing Kremlin paranoia that the US intends to conduct a regime change in Russia. The Kremlin has stated that the West, led by the US, is actively engaging in ”hybrid warfare” against Russia, and has been for many years. Biden’s statements thus highlight again the potential for escalation of the current conflict if Putin believes his position is under threat. For now, there is limited indication that the Kremlin perceives an imminent threat to its survival, but this threat is likely to increase as the war continues to undermine Russia’s economy and troops.

During an interview, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Joseph Borrell stated that the EU would be able to impose sanctions on Russian gas within two years and that the bloc is aiming to diversify its energy sources.

Humanitarian and Migration Developments

Evacuation of civilians from the heavy shelling cities continue. On 27 March, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk announced two humanitarian corridors agreed by Russia and Ukraine from Mariupol city to Zaporizhzhia (Donetsk Oblast) and from Rubizhne city to Berdyansk (Luhansk Oblast). In Mariupol, civilians were allowed to join humanitarian corridor by their own vehicles as well. Over a thousand of civilians have evacuated from Mariupol and the breakaway regions. On 28 March, no evacuation corridors have been decided yet due to intelligence reports on possible attacks by Russian forces.

As the war enters into the second month, 3.8 million Ukrainian people have fled the war to seek refuge. The number is almost reached the UNHCR’s estimations at the beginning of the war, which were estimated as 4 million Ukrainians in total. As the situation continues, the number of refugees is expected to rise even more.

In the meanwhile, Russian citizens who have attempted to leave Russia since the Ukrainian invasion began, have gone under long interrogations by the Russian Federal Security Service. According to the reports, the Georgian government has recorded at least 30,000 Russians have entered Georgia so far while Turkey reported 14,000 Russian citizens have entered the country during the first week of the hostilities.

Cyber developments

On 25 March, Anonymous claimed to have hacked Russia’s Central Bank and threatened to leak 35,000 sensitive documents, including ”secret agreements”. On the other hand, cybersecurity warnings continue to emerge for Western countries, as the FBI warned that Russian hackers have been scanning US-based energy sector companies looking for vulnerabilities. Despite this, Russian hackers are unlikely to attack NATO countries’ strategic infrastructure in the coming weeks as this would involve these countries in the conflict and would detract resources from their military offensives in Ukraine.

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