Ukraine Situation Report: NATO Says Ukraine Will Become A Member In The “Long Term”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s pledge comes as memberships for Finland and Sweden are being fast-tracked.
As the war in Ukraine grinds on, it looks like Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO are also growing, a prospect that has long angered Russia.
Speaking today at a press conference in Finland, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine will become a member of the military alliance in the “long term.”
“NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of our alliance, but at the same time that is a long-term perspective,” Stoltenberg said.
However, bringing Ukraine within NATO appears to be very much a long-term goal, with Stoltenberg stressing that the immediate priority is preserving Ukraine’s independent status and repulsing the Russian invasion. The “top priority” for the alliance right now, he said, was inducting Finland and Sweden, promising the “quickest accession process in NATO’s modern history.” Both Nordic countries decided to join NATO primarily as a result of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They could both now become formal members as early as July 11 when a NATO summit is due to take place in Lithuania.
As well as the NATO developments, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted to Twitter today that the government remains committed to ultimately joining the European Union (EU). This comes exactly a year after Kyiv first applied to join the EU.
Ukraine “has always been Europe, Ukraine will always be Europe,” Zelensky wrote. The Ukrainian president added that this year “is the time to decide on the launch of membership negotiations.”
“It’s Ukraine that has brought the EU together like never before. It’s Ukraine that’s defending European values for generations to come. It’s Ukraine where Europe becomes whole, free, and at peace. Together in struggle, together in victory.”
Meanwhile, Russia has said it will “never compromise” on the areas of Ukraine that it’s already annexed, although Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov did say that Moscow is open to negotiations to end the conflict. That statement may reflect the fact that both Russia and Ukraine have cautiously welcomed a Chinese peace plan, although it’s clear that Moscow will not easily give up what Peskov described as new “territorial realities.”
“There are certain realities that have already become an internal factor,” Peskov said. “I mean the new territories. The constitution of the Russian Federation exists and cannot be ignored. Russia will never be able to compromise on this. These are important realities.”
In particular, Peskov pointed to the annexed regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, and Donetsk as being non-negotiable. Following staged referendums, the annexation of all four regions was formally announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bellicose speech last September, which you can read about here.
Provided that Kyiv accepts Russia’s claims on those territories, Moscow would be open to talks.
“With a favorable state of affairs and the appropriate attitude from the Ukrainians, this can be resolved at the negotiating table,” Peskov continued. “But the main thing is to achieve our goals.”
However, negotiations look like an extremely remote possibility, considering Ukraine’s steadfast commitment to bringing all Russian-occupied areas fully back under its control.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Multiple reports suggest that Ukraine launched a concerted series of drone strikes against targets deep in Russia overnight, although Ukrainian officials have not commented on this and there is as yet no independent verification. While you can read our full analysis of these events here, the key points from today are as follows:
- Russia claims that a Ukrainian drone was used in an attempt to strike a gas facility in the Moscow suburbs. The drone reportedly crash-landed in the village of Gubastovo, just short of its target. Available photos show what appears to be a Ukrainian-made UJ22 drone, suggesting it was deployed as part of an effort to attack critical infrastructure hundreds of miles behind Russian lines.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that it prevented two attempted Ukrainian drone attacks in different parts of southern Russia overnight, in the Krasnodar territory and the Republic of Adygea. The ministry claims that the drones “were suppressed by the electronic warfare units of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”
- A drone was reportedly seen overhead an oil depot in the town of Tuapse, on the coast of southern Russia, overnight, before a blaze broke out there. Emergency services said they had dealt with the fire by the morning and the local administration claimed that there was no damage to the oil tanks and no casualties. Tuapse is in the Krasnodar region, although it’s not immediately clear if the drone spotted over Tuapse is the same one claimed destroyed by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
- After unconfirmed reports of an unknown object, possibly a drone overhead Pulkovo Airport in Saint Petersburg, all flights from there were temporarily suspended today. The airspace within a 124-mile radius was shut for around an hour and flights were diverted to Moscow. Unconfirmed reports suggest that a Russian fighter jet was scrambled to investigate the object. The Russian Ministry of Defense later said that this was due to an air defense training exercise in the region.
More airspace disruption has been taking place in Moldova, where, as we reported yesterday, tensions are rising, especially around the breakaway pro-Russian republic of Transnistria, sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. Citing concerns about the safety of the airspace, the Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air has announced it will suspend flights into Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, starting March 14. The airline described this as a “difficult but responsible” decision and noted that it considered the risk “high, but not imminent.”
Unconfirmed reports out of Moldova suggest that a huge arms depot located in Transnistria has been rigged with explosives, meaning it can be triggered should Ukraine make a move to occupy the region, something that Moscow has warned could happen, without presenting any evidence. The ammunition depot in Cobasna is described as one of the largest in Europe — with around 20,000 tons of munitions — and is reportedly used to store weapons that were moved from former Czechoslovakia and East Germany after Soviet forces withdrew from those countries in the 1990s.
The self-styled Interior Ministry in Transnistria claimed yesterday that shots were fired in the village of Cobasna after drones flew over the area from Ukraine. This claim, too, has not been independently verified. However, it is not the first such allegation of Ukrainian activity in Transnistria, with claims in previous days of bombing of radio relays, an attack on a separatist military unit, and explosions targeting the Ministry of State Security.
Other long-range Ukrainian attacks apparently took place earlier today, targeting infrastructure in the Russian-occupied city of Kadiivka in Luhansk Oblast. While the weapons involved in the Ukrainian strikes are currently unclear, the targets were a railcar repair plant, used by Russian troops as a military base, and an ammunition depot located nearby. Reportedly, a major fire and secondary detonations resulted from the attack on the latter. With Kadiivka located around 25 miles behind the front line, it could have been targeted by the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the area around the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut continues to be the scene of intense fighting, as Russia concentrates its forces to achieve a breakthrough here.
“In the Bakhmut sector, the situation is constantly becoming more difficult,” President Zelensky said in his nightly address. “The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions for fortification and defense.”
The words of the president were echoed by Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, who said Russia is “increasing the intensity of its assaults” as well as using “tactics of exhaustion and total destruction”.
“To put it briefly and simply: the situation at the front is complicated. The enemy army is increasing the intensity of its assaults. The most difficult situation remains in the Bakhmut direction. During offensive operations, the enemy uses tactics of exhaustion and total destruction. At the same time, the enemy is suffering significant losses, losing from 600 to 1,000 people daily.”
Russian and Ukrainian forces alike are engaged in fierce urban warfare as well as battling with mud, brought on by the sudden onset of warmer weather, which is slowing down the movements of vehicles and troops.
“Both sides stay in their positions because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,” one Ukrainian commander told Reuters.
Commander of the Ukrainian Army, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, described the situation around the town of Bakhmut as “extremely tense” and highlighted the participation of the Wagner Group, the Russian private military company that makes use of mercenaries as well as prisoner-conscripts.
“Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defenses of our troops and surround the city,” Syrskyi said.
As well as Wagner, Russian regular forces are also flooding into the area around the city. “The number of enemy personnel is increasing,” the Ukrainian General Staff announced, noting also that six settlements in nearby Donetsk have also come under Russian shelling.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has said it destroyed a Ukrainian ammunition depot near the town of Bakhmut and has also claimed to have shot down four HIMARS rockets and five drones launched by Ukrainian forces.
Of course, fighting continues elsewhere, too, with the following round-up of recent developments provided by Ukrainian state broadcaster Suspilne, on its Telegram channel.
“At night, Russian troops shelled Sviatohirsk in the Donetsk region — they hit a part of the state emergency service. A rescuer was killed and four others were injured. Also at night, the Russian army shelled Zelenivka near Kherson; no people were injured.”
“Over the past 24 hours, one person was killed and nine others were injured in the shelling by the Russian army in the Donetsk region. Three people were injured in the Kherson region.”
“Russian troops continue to advance in five directions. On the last day, defense forces repelled more than 60 attacks, as well as destroyed 12 drones, and struck four areas where the Russian Army was concentrated.”
There are unconfirmed reports that the first of Ukraine’s German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks could have seen action already, with rumors that examples have been spotted near the besieged town of Bakhmut. The origin of this latest rumor appears to be Yan Gagin, an adviser to the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Gagin said there have been claims that Leopards have appeared near the battlefield, but that there was “no need to sensationalize” the presence of the fighting vehicles near the frontline.
“Given the muddy weather now, it will make it difficult for heavy vehicles like the Leopard to move. [It] is the same armored target as all the others,” Gagin said.
Previously, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, had said there was information that Leopard 2s had arrived at Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut, but that they had not yet been involved in direct combat.
As we reported last week, the first four of the initial 14 Leopard 2s promised to Ukraine by Poland recently arrived in Ukraine, a notable success for Kyiv after months of negotiations, global political pressure, and constant urging to obtain modern Western main battle tanks.
Other German-made defense equipment that now seems confirmed as being in Ukraine comprises Skynex and Skyranger air defense systems from the Rheinmetall company, whose CEO, Armin Pappenberger recently said that these had been delivered. While Skynex is a modular system that integrated different sensors to provide a recognized air picture for air defense operators, Skyranger is a battle management system used to connect tactical and operational air defense networks.
It was announced in December that Germany was to send two Skynex air defense systems to Ukraine, with reports that these would be delivered in early 2024. The systems that Pappenberger says are already in Ukraine may relate to an earlier arms transfer, although the equipment is not currently included in the official list of German military aid to Kyiv.
Already a very familiar presence on the battlefield is the fleet of Mi-8/17 Hip combat transport helicopters operated by the Ukrainian Army Aviation branch. Among the latest footage of these rotorcraft is this video from BBC correspondent Orla Guerin, filmed aboard rocket-armed Mi-8s of the Ukrainian unit known as the Sikorsky Brigade:
That’s all for now. We’ll update this story if we have more to report.
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