Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine Enters Its 17th Day
17 days into its invasion, Russia has expanded its strikes into the western reaches of Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has increasingly stagnated after 16 full days of fighting and amid greater than expected resistance by the Ukrainians. This has led to the Kremlin's forces suffering significant losses in armored and unarmored vehicles, aircraft, and personnel, and prompted a shift in tactics to encircling and laying siege to key cities. As the fighting on the ground has entered this grueling phase, the information war appears to be ramping up and there are growing concerns that the Russian government will stage various provocations to try to change the tenor of the conflict. At the same time, Russian forces now appear to be expanding their stand-off strikes to include targets that had previously been left relatively untouched in far western Ukraine.
Readers can first bring themselves up to speed on how the conflict Ukraine has evolved so far with our previous rolling coverage here and then dive into the latest news below.
UPDATED: 4:55 PM EST—
The video below reportedly shows one of Ukraine's Turkish-made TB2 armed drones strike a Russian command vehicle. The Tweet also makes a reference to "Ctrl+Z" operations, a clear reference to the "Z" markings that many Russian forces have applied to their vehicles to differentiate themselves from Ukrainian forces. The "Z" has become a symbol of support for the invasion among some Russians and others.
Another video, seen below and shot using a drone, has emerged that reportedly shows Ukrainian forces ambushing a column of largely unsupported Russian tanks and other armored vehicles moving down a road outside of Kyiv.
A local team working for the BBC in Ukraine has shot some excellent on-the-ground footage in and around the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has been the site of heavy fighting for days now.
Satellite imagery all but confirms that a dam on the Irpin River near Kyiv was either destroyed or deliberately open, flooding a wide swath of terrain.
Another set of pictures showing German-made Panzerfaust 3 shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, one of a number of types being supplied by Ukraine's international partners, in the hands of Ukrainian forces is seen below.
The Pentagon says that military aid continues to flow to Ukraine unhindered by the Russian government and that, with a few exceptions, a deconfliction line established to help reduce the chance of any incidents from those shipments arising has been working as intended.
There are reports that Russian President Putin has fired a number of generals over the state of the conflict in Ukraine and that he is also upset with the performance of the country's Federal Service Service, or FSB.
Anecdotal reports about the flagging morale of Russian forces in Ukraine continue to appear.
POSTED: 1:45 PM EST—
The Russian Ministry of Defense said today that it had employed unspecified "high precision long-range weapons" to strike two Ukrainian air bases and other nearby targets in the cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the western part of the country. Both of these airfields, which the Russian military said it had put out of action, are relatively close to Ukraine's western borders with NATO members Poland and Slovakia. Russia has previously refrained from striking any targets in this part of Ukraine.
It's not entirely clear what weapons Russia employed in these strikes, but a Ukrainian official reportedly said that this operation at least included cruise missiles fired from Russian bombers. These bases would be well within the range of Russian Iskander-M ballistic missiles fired from neighboring Belarus, as well. A senior U.S. defense official said today that Russian forces have now fired almost 810 ballistic and cruise missiles at Ukrainian targets since the conflict began.
These strikes come amid indications that the Kremlin may be making a new push to neutralize the Ukrainian military's aerial combat capacity, which has continued to be a threat to their operations even after more than two weeks of fighting. The Ukrainian Air Force has been able to preserve much of its combat jet fleets, no doubt in part by operating from bases in the western end of the country, according to U.S. defense officials. Those aircraft have been an important factor, together with ground-based air defenses, in preventing Russian forces from gaining air superiority so far.
Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk have reportedly been important logistical hubs, too. Lutsk is notably home to Ukraine's only maintenance depot for servicing the RD-33 engines that power its MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, which was one of the targets that was reportedly struck.
When it comes to the air war over Ukraine, earlier today, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine issued a statement that said two Russian Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft had been observed entering Ukrainian airspace from Belarus to the north. Per that release, those aircraft struck targets in Ukraine before heading back into Belarus' airspace. They then conducted additional strikes in that country. Ukrainian authorities released a video as evidence of this allegation and a picture reportedly of smoke rising somewhere within Belarus following the strikes there is now also circulating online.
This allegation is now being widely circulated on social media, including from official Ukrainian government accounts and by members of the country's parliament, or Rada, often with the additional detail that the Russian aircraft initially launched from Dubrovitsa (Dubrovytsya) in Belarus and that they struck targets near the Belarusian village of Kopani (Kopany).
However, it has already been pointed out that there is no suitable military airfield near Dubrovitsa. At the time of writing, there does not appear to be any independent confirmation from the Belarusian side, either.
With regards to the airfield issue, the original statement from Ukraine's Border Guard Service only appears to say its personnel in the Ukrainian region of Dubrovytsya were the ones to call in the report about the Su-25s. It does not appear to mention Kopani at all. It's not entirely clear where those additional details might have come from originally.
The Ukrainian city of Dubrovytsya is notably just around 50 miles south of Luninets Air Base, which saw a large influx of Russian Su-25s prior to the launch of the invasion and where those aircraft have been flying since then.
All told, the allegations remain very much unconfirmed. At the same time, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko did tell Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Moscow today that he had evidence Ukrainian forces were about to attack his country. A provocation like this could provide a pretext for the Belarusian military to become more directly involved in the conflict. This is something U.S. intelligence analysts had expected to happen quickly after the invasion started, but that has not yet materialized, reportedly in part due to resistance from within the Belarusian military.
The U.S. government has continued to separately warn that wholly unsubstantiated claims from the Kremlin about U.S. and Ukrainian work on chemical and biological weapons may be a possible attempt to create some kind of possible pretext for Russian forces to use those weapons or to lay the groundwork for a false flag operation. The Ukrainian government has made its own additional allegations that Russia may be planning to do something similar with regards to the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
A senior U.S. defense official has confirmed reports that a large Russian convoy north of Kyiv appears to have dispersed off the road. American authorities assess that this is to help protect against strikes and that these units remain stalled. Russian forces have appeared to make some gain along other axes toward the Ukrainian capital.
Pictures and videos highlighting Russian forces' use of unmanned aircraft are increasingly emerging from both sides of the conflict.
A new video reportedly showing Ukrainian forces shooting down a Russian Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopter has appeared online, but it's not immediately clear if this footage shows a new loss or offers a different view of an older one. Ukraine's National Guard has also now indicated that a recently delivered Polish-made Piorun shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile system was among the weapons used to bring down a Russian Su-25 on March 6.
A third Russian general officer appears to have been killed in the fighting in Ukraine. Maj. Gen. Andrei Kolesnikov was the commander of Russia's 29th Combined Arms Army (CAA).
A video reportedly shows Russian forces having captured a Command Launch Unit (CLU) for the U.S.-made Javelin guided anti-tank missile, a weapon Ukrainian forces have been using to great effect in the conflict.
Legendary Syrian rebel Suheil Hammoud, more commonly known by the nom de guerre Abu Tow, who is credited with destroying hundreds of tanks in Syria, continues to say he is trying to get to Ukraine to take the fight to the Russians there. The Ukrainian government has actively welcomed foreigners into the country who wish to volunteer to fight, including a reported top Canadian military sniper known by the nickname "Wali," as part of the country's Territorial Defense Forces.
The Kremlin is courting its own foreign volunteers to fight in Ukraine, including from Syria and the Central African Republic.
Someone has apparently spoofed or otherwise tricked online flight tracking software into showing an aircraft claiming to be the now-destroyed An-225 Mriya heavy-lift aircraft flying a perfect circle around Ukraine's capital Kyiv with the callsign "FCKPUTIN."
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