In northern Ukraine, a residential area in Kyiv was struck by a Russian missile on 26 June. Sporadic missile and rocket attacks continue to be a risk throughout Ukraine. Another such attack was on 27 June against a shopping center in Krementjuk. Undetonated explosives still exist around Kyiv and, on 29 June, a bridge was destroyed as a result of detonations of explosives due to a thunderstorm.
Russia continues to shell towns in Sumy region from across the border. As previously reported, it is unlikely that this is a preparation of a ground assault on Sumy, rather it is a way to fix Ukrainian troops.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia continues to shell Kharkiv and surrounding towns. It is also believed that Russia has made minor territorial gains north of Kharkiv city, however, Russia’s ability to launch a full ground assault on Kharkiv city remains low at the moment.
In the Donbas, Russia has made significant advances in the last week. The whole of Severodonetsk is now under Russian control, and Russia has seized several contested towns south of Lysychansk, there among Hirske, Zolote, Borivske, Toshkivka, and Myrna Dolyna. It is also believed that Russian forces have now entered Lysychansk refinery. Russian advances south of Lysychansk suggest that Russia will be able to launch an assault on the city without having to cross the Donets river. Furthermore, Russia has seized portions of the T-1302 highway between Bakhmut and Lysychansk and thus hindering Ukrainian logistics from to and from the city. It is also likely that Russia will seize parts of the road from Lysychansk to Siversk in the coming days – the last connection between Lysychansk and the rest of Ukraine. This, in addition with that Russia has seized Pryvillia (north of Lysychansk), suggests that Russia will encircle Ukrainian forces in Lysychansk, and will most likely seize Lysychansk in the coming week(s). Once Lysychansk falls, Russia will have successfully occupied all of Luhanks, a key strategical objective in Russia’s military operations in Ukraine.
It is likely that Russia will focus its military operations in Donetsk region once Luhansk region is fully occupied. Russian advances south and east of Bakhmut are likely to intensify, as will Russian advances north and east of Sloviansk. Russia has made minor advances towards both Bakhmut and Sloviansk during the past week. It is also likely that Russia will intensify its operations in southern Donbas around Vuhledar, and push north.
In the south, Russia continues to shell north of its defence line in Zaporizhzhia region in a bid to consolidate its positions. It is unlikely that Russia will launch a ground assault towards Zaporizhzhia in the near future. A similar situation can be found north and west of Kherson. Minor sporadic ground assaults occur, however, nothing that would entail major territorial shifts. Furthermore, Russia continues to shell and launch missile attacks against Mykolaiv and Odesa.
On 30 June, Russia announced that it has withdrawn its forces from the much-contested Snake Island that sits south of Odesa. What tactical and strategical effects this will have remains to be seen.
In western Ukraine, there have been no significant developments. All of Ukraine remains under the high risk of Russian missile attacks, however, the risk of a Russian ground invasion of western Ukraine remains low.
Developments in Russia
Russia missed the deadline for making bond payments, it is Russia’s first default on foreign debt since 1918. After Western sanctions thwarted the government’s efforts to pay foreign investors, around 100 million US dollars debt in dollar- and euro-denominated interest payments failed to reach investors within a 30-day grace period following a missed deadline on 27 May. After a month, on 27 June, grace period has also expired.
In response, Russia’s finance ministry announced that the Russian government had made the payments in May and they had been transferred to Euroclear, a Brussels-based clearinghouse, but subsequently blocked from reaching bondholders. The Kremlin is rejecting the default declaration on the grounds that it has made efforts to pay. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, stated on 27 June that the statements about default were “absolutely illegal.” Peskov also added that the fact that Euroclear withheld this money, did not transfer it to the recipients, it is not Russia’s problem.
In Russia, Bank customers’ confidence in their income stability is rapidly declining. According to a survey that was conducted in May, 77 percent of Russian loan borrowers do not guarantee that they will be able to service their loans in the future. The number of forfeited loans in Russia is also growing. According to the Central Bank, in the first quarter of 2022, the amount of loans 90 days overdue exceeded 1 trillion rubles. High unemployment, wage arrears, and unstable ruble exchange rates affect the financial stability of Russian citizens. Therefore, the number of those who cannot pay off their loans will be expected to increase.
Russian pharmaceutical industry has also faced an acute shortage of components. Russian media reported that a number of major European manufacturers of equipment for the pharmaceutical market have stopped supplying spare parts in Russia, although the industry has not been affected by sanctions. Due to the current shortage, Russian companies are urgently looking for new suppliers in India and China or trying to import components through third countries.
Vladimir Putin stated that Russia will transfer Iskander-M tactical missile systems to Belarus within the next few months and he reminded that these missile systems can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions. He also added Russia would help Belarus upgrade its fleet of Su-25 fighter jets to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
In February 2022, President of Belarus Lukashenko held a constitutional referendum that, gives him the right to be ”re-elected” two more times, and dismantles a non-nuclear status clause of Belarus constitution. Since 2014 Russian authorities and propagandists have been bluntly employing belligerent nuclear rhetoric.
There also has been an increase in reckless behaviour of the Russian strategic air force, along with the intensity of overflies near the airspace of NATO countries. After the annexation of Crimea, the Russian Ministry of Defence restored nuclear storage facilities on the Crimea Peninsula, while its Black Sea Fleet had been able to carry nuclear missiles even before 2014.
Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty caused the US to withdraw from it in 2019. In 2020 Putin adopted a new nuclear deterrence policy that loosens restrictions on the use of nuclear arms. Before and after the all-out invasion of Ukraine this February, Putin ordered nuclear forces to be on high alert and conducted several drills as a show of force. In 2022 Russia conducted tests of its SS-X-30 ’Sarmatian’ Intercontinental ballistic missile. It recently announced that the replacement for the SS-18 ’Satan’ ICBM went into mass production, with the first missiles to be in service by the end of the year.
World leaders have met in the two-day NATO summit in Madrid, Spain. Turkey called off its objection to NATO membership of Finland and Sweden. The Alliance is enforced with two fully interoperable fighting-capable nations in strategic locations. With the plans of Helsinki to procure 64 F-35As, it’s turning into a powerful deterrence force up North. NATO will increase its intelligence capabilities, including those related to the Kola peninsula where the Russian Northern Fleet is stationed, particularly nuclear subs armed with ICBMs. Russia will face more challenges to its Arctic strategy, particularly the militarization of the region aimed at the dominant position to establish a monopoly on the Northern Sea Route.
The Baltic Sea will be turned into a de facto NATO ”lake”, making vulnerable Russia’s sea lines of communications and its ability to support its Kaliningrad exclave. It became troublesome after the EU closed its airspace for Russia, and Lithuania imposed restrictions on certain goods transferred to and from the exclave via rail. From now on, the Baltic states will reduce their geographical vulnerability. With the adopted new forces posture in Madrid and revision of war plans, Russia is losing its hypothetical advantage of seizing the Baltic states.
With the new two invitees, NATO has adapted to the deteriorated security environment in Europe with changing strategy, enhanced force posture and approach towards partners. Rapid reaction forces are increased by almost eight times to 300 000. US has made significant steps to strengthen the security of its European Allies proving that the transatlantic bond between NATO countries is indispensable to security of all member states.
The first permanent US forces on the Eastern Flank will be V Corps HQ Forward Command Post. An additional rotational US Brigade Combat Team will be positioned in Romania. Enhanced rotational deployments in the Baltics will include armoured vehicles, aviation, air defence, and special operations forces. The US will add two more destroyers stationed in Italy, bringing the firepower to six, and deploy two squadrons of F-35 aircraft to the UK. Also, an unspecified quantity of the US air defence systems and other enablers will be deployed to Germany and Italy.
Ukrainian President Zelensky joined the NATO summit by videoconference. He stated that Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area. Zelensky also added that Ukraine needs security guarantees and it needs a place within the common security space. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg’s responded as NATO will be Ukrainian side and Ukraine can count on the support of the Alliance. Stoltenberg also mentioned more military equipment support for Ukraine as well as more training for Ukrainian forces on more modern weapons systems provided by NATO nations.
During the G7 Summit between 26 and 28 June, new measures against Russia have been discussed. Canada, the US, UK and Japan are planning to introduce a ban on Russian gold imports. As a result, the price of gold rose on Monday 27 June by 0.5 percent to around 1,835 dollars per ounce. Russia produces about 10 percent of the world’s gold output.
A price cap on Russian oil imports has also been discussed in the G7 Summit in order to address rising energy prices. The measure represents an attempt to further limit Russia’s energy revenues. However, the discussions are likely to be delayed due to concerns among some European governments that the introduction of a price cap could provoke retaliation from Russia, drastically reducing energy exports to Europe, which would exacerbate energy supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures.
On 27 June, both Lithuanian public and private institutions suffered Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks (DDoS), targeting state institutions, transport institutions, and media websites. The pro-Russian hacktivist group Killnet claimed responsibility via the dark web and reported that these attacks were a response to Lithuania’s decision to block the transit of certain goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
On 23 June, the EU agreed to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. This decision marks the start of the accession process for both countries, which is likely to last several years, as the Commission has set a number of prerequisites that both countries must fulfil before reaching full membership. Tensions with Russia following the grant of candidate status are highly likely to increase.
The Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported that, 144 defenders of Ukraine were released from Russian captivity during a large-scale prisoners of war exchange with Russia. Ninety-five of them were defending Azovstal.
Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine announced that the exchange was the largest one since the beginning of the invasion. The majority of the released Ukrainians have bad injuries including gunshot and shrapnel wounds, explosive injuries, burns, fractures, or amputations of extremities.
The European Court of Human Rights accepted Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia. The Ukrainian authorities are suing over Russian military aggression, attacks on civilians, and other human rights violations. In total, the European Court of Human Rights is currently considering five complaints from Ukraine against Russia. The Court also has about 8,500 individual statements related to the events in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and the Sea of Azov.
The Biden Administration showed some restraint on the nuclear issues (several times putting off scheduled missile tests, employing cautious messaging, etc.) and stated that it doesn’t have plans to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe. However, the Kremlin seems to have set its agenda to escalate by sending Iskander-M to Belarus.
Putin might justify such a move as ”a reaction” to the deteriorating security environment on the continent with Finland and Sweden joining NATO, as well as the increasing presence of the US and other allied nations’ troops in the proximity of the Russian border. It would further dismantle the remaining arms control and non-proliferation regime and unbalance the security situation up north. NATO would need to revise its Founding Act with Russia to bring its posture and capabilities to the changing security environment. The US might consider taking a symmetric step to counter the escalation.