Amphibious Assault On Odesa Could Be Imminent According To Satellite Imagery (Updated)
There have been fears Russia could launch an offensive to take the strategic Black Sea port city since the invasion began.
Russian forces are still making at best sluggish advances in Ukraine 20 days after the start of the invasion. Still, the Kremlin continues to push ahead with its "special military operation" and has even expanded it to some degree with recent missile strikes in Ukraine's far western regions. Now, new commercial satellite imagery strongly indicates that a flotilla of Russian warships, including amphibious warfare vessels, are heading toward the strategic Black Sea port city of Odesa, possibly ahead of a new offensive there. The leaders of three European countries, all of which are NATO and European Union member states, are also due to visit Kyiv today in person in a major show of support for the Ukrainian government, according to Polish authorities. It's unclear how exactly they will make the trip and what security guarantees they may have received from the Russian side.
Readers can get fully up to speed on recent developments in the conflict in Ukraine through our previous rolling coverage, here, before diving into the latest updates below.
You can continue following our rolling coverage of the conflict in Ukraine here.
UPDATED: 2:25 PM EST—
It has now been confirmed that the Polish Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovenia, have been traveling to Kyiv by train.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now announced that he is dispatching his country's Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to visit both Kyiv and Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine. Turkey recently hosted talks between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers, which did not produce any meaningful results.
Separately, NATO has also announced an extraordinary meeting of the heads of state and government of the members of the alliance will take place next week. U.S. President Joe Biden, among others, will attend this gathering at the NATO headquarters in Brussels in Belgium.
There are unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian forces have launched a new attack on the air base in the southern city of Kherson, which is under Russian country.
The video below reportedly shows Russian special operations personnel, or Spetsnaz, operating in eastern Ukraine's Kharkiv region.
A picture has emerged reportedly showing a civilian-operated Ukrainian tractor towing a trailer carrying captured 220mm artillery rockets.
The European Union has levied new sanctions against Russia banning the export of champagne, luxury cars, and high-end clothing to the country.
POSTED: 1:00 PM EST—
Naval expert H.I. Sutton, together with Twitter user @detresfa_, an independent open-source intelligence analyst, spotted what appear to be 14 Russian warships in three distinct groups heading in the general direction of Odesa in a Sentinel Hub satellite image taken today. In the lead-up to the invasion, the Russian military moved additional large landing ships and other naval vessels into the Black Sea to bolster its already significant maritime capabilities in the region. The came before Turkey declared two weeks ago, with notable caveats, that it would block warships from any country from entering this body of water.
It is very possible that the ships seen in the Sentinel Hub image at least include some of those that were observed off the coast of the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, just southwest of a naval base there, in other commercially available satellite imagery yesterday. Those vessels look to have been positioned there since at least March 3.
There have been fears that the Kremlin could launch an offensive against Odesa since the beginning of the invasion. Steps have already been taken to fortify the city against amphibious landings and other ground attacks, such as mining beaches and setting up tank traps and other obstacles in the streets.
Odesa is the third-largest population center in Ukraine and a highly strategic port. Russian forces are also attempting to push in this general region overland via the southern city of Mykolaiv. British officials have also warned that Russian authorities may be working toward taking action to create a new breakaway area in southern Ukraine similar to those in the eastern Donbas region that Moscow now recognizes as independent countries.
Active fighting, of course, is ongoing in many other areas of southern, eastern, and northern Ukrainian. This includes areas around the capital Kyiv, which was itself reportedly subjected to new Russian trikes today. A new two-day curfew has been instituted in the city amid fears of escalating attacks The capital's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, has said the city will never surrender to invading Russian forces.
This all comes amid the Polish government's earlier announcement that the country's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, who is also Chairman of the National Security and Defense Committee, would be heading to Kyiv today. An official statement said that Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala and Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Jansa would accompany them to the Ukrainian capital, where they are all due to meet with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmyhal.
"The visit is organized in consultation with the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen," according to the press release. "The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. The aim of this visit is also to present a broad package of support for the Ukraine and Ukrainians."
It's not at all clear how these officials plan to get to and from Kyiv, which is an active warzone, safely and whether or not the Kremlin may have provided any security guarantees. This trip, if it does indeed transpire, is significant given the very real risks involved in traveling to Kyiv and represents the highest-level foreign delegation to visit Ukraine since the conflict began. In addition, though this is being conducted under the auspices of the European Council, the European Union's main political body, all three of the countries involved are also NATO members. The Kremlin has previously has called on Ukraine to formally renounce any plans to join either of these international bodies as one of a number of prerequisites for a negotiated settlement to end its war.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has criticized NATO on a number of occasions for not taking more active steps with regards to the conflict, such as establishing a no-fly zone. Eastern European outlet Nexta had reported that Zelensky had said that "We realized that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO" in a speech today, where he also called for new forms of security guarantees from the West. However, a more accurate translation of his remarks shows that he was simply acknowledging that Ukraine remains outside of the alliance at present.
Satellite imagery from Planet Labs indicates that Kherson Air Base in southern Ukraine, now controlled by Russian forces, has been subjected to artillery strikes. However, there is no clear evidence to support previous Ukrainian claims to have destroyed dozens of Russia's helicopters there.
The video footage below reportedly shows a Ukrainian Buk-series surface-to-air missile system shooting down a Russian aircraft.
The video below, taken using a small drone, reportedly shows a Russian tank being destroyed by Ukrainian forces, possibly with a mine.
The Tweet below has the latest official figures from the Ukrainian government regarding claimed losses that its forces have inflicted on the Russians. These totals remain largely unconfirmed and are, in many cases, higher than other estimates.
The video below shows Russian forces with captured Ukrainian weapons, including U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, a British NLAW anti-tank missile, German-made Panzerfaust 3 shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons, and Igla-series shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). You can read more about all of these weapons here.
The United Nations says that approximately 3 million people in Ukraine, including third-party nationals who had been living in the country, have now been displaced by the fighting and had fled into neighboring states.
In a tit-for-tat move that is unlikely to have any major impacts, if any at all, the Kremlin has now sanctioned U.S. President Joe Biden and a host of other current and former U.S. government officials. This comes as sanctions against Russia continue to grow.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that "China is not a party to the crisis, still less wants to be affected by the sanctions." This follows reports that the Chinese government may have been open to providing military assistance to the Kremlin to help it continue its operations in Ukraine.
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