Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Says Mariupol Steel Plant Standoff Is Over

After nearly three months of fighting, Russia looks to have finally captured Mariupol, but its progress in other areas isn’t exactly promising.

byJoseph TrevithickMay 20, 2022 8:35 PM
Russian servicemen stand guard at the destroyed part of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol on May 18, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
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The Russian Ministry of Defense claims to have seized the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, and to have finally fully secured the entire strategic southern Ukrainian port city in the process. This follows the agreed upon surrender of Ukrainian forces who had been about to hold out in a cavernous network of tunnels under the facility for weeks amid increasingly dire circumstances.

The capture of Mariupol is an important gain for the Russian military and an equally significant loss for the Ukrainian armed forces. In addition to helping provide a secure overland route between western Russia and the occupied Crimean Peninsula, this is a tangible victory that Kremlin propagandists will be sure to repeatedly highlight going forward.

At the same time, with the question of Mariupol now settled, at least for the time being, the focus on both sides can fully shift to the front lines in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are still struggling to make any real progress. The U.K. Ministry of Defense issued a public assessment today that said Russian commanders could rush to redeploy forces from Mariupol elsewhere in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region without giving them sufficient time to regroup and resupply, which could limit the ability to effectively contribute to the ongoing offensive there.

Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, said today that the country's long-term goal is to completely eject Russian and Russian-backed forces from the entirety of Ukraine.

WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.

The War Zone readers can get themselves up to speed first on what has been happening recently in the conflict in Ukraine already through our previous rolling coverage here.

POSTED: 8:35 PM EST—

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu directly reported the  “complete liberation” of Mariupol, including the Azovstal steelworks, to President Vladimir Putin earlier today, according to ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. A total of 2,439 Ukrainian personnel surrendered to Russian forces, including 500 just today, according to a ministry statement.

At the time of writing, there does not appear to be any confirmation of any of these details from the Ukrainian side. However, on Monday, officials in Ukraine had confirmed the existence of a Red Cross and United Nations-brokered deal to end the brutal siege of Azovstal, which had become the bastion for defenders in the city.

Russian forces had been able to encircle the entire city of Mariupol within days of the start of the invasion in February and had subjected it to punishing air and artillery bombardments for weeks. At least 20,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the ensuing fighting.

"Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively. This can be a lengthy process when done thoroughly," according to an assessment that the U.K. Ministry of Defense released today. "Russian commanders, however, are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives. This means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition."

The appearance of Russian 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled 240mm mortars near Severodonetsk, a city in the Donbas region that has become a particular focus of the fighting there, may be one of the first examples of additional forces being brought in from Mariupol. These weapons, which can fire laser-guided projectiles and that you can read more about here, had been employed in the final weeks of fighting over the Avostal complex.

Russian forces in Donbas are continuing to run up against significant Ukrainian resistance. The video below reportedly shows the aftermath of a recent Ukrainian attack on a supply convoy in the Luhansk region.

There have also been reports that Russia's military is looking to bolster its position in and around the southern city of Kherson, which has been another area in Ukraine where the country has looked to advance in recent weeks. There have also been reports that Russian forces are preventing civilians from evacuating from these areas, something they were also accused of doing repeatedly in and around Mariupol before international humanitarian organizations were able to intervene.

Pro-Russian actors in Kherson claim to have established an independent local government that will seek to integrate the region into the Russian Federation.

Regardless, the U.S. military continues to assess that Russian forces remain well behind schedule in how they were expected to advance in areas of eastern and southern Ukraine in recent weeks. At the same time, the U.S. government, among others, continues to work to send more military aid to the Ukrainian armed forces to help them hold the line and even counterattack in some regions.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is set to virtually host another meeting the Ukraine Contact Group, which was formed last month with the express purpose of helping to facilitate additional aid for Ukraine, on Monday. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said today that the U.S. military's top military assistance focus is on delivering additional "long-range fires" capabilities, a broad category that artillery and surface-to-surface missiles, to Ukraine. There were reports this week that unspecified anti-ship missiles could be part of forthcoming American arms transfers.

Armored vehicles are an increasingly common item in military aid packages for Ukraine. German authorities said today that it would begin delivering the first 15 Gepard armored self-propelled anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine in July. Officials in Germany are also reportedly facilitating the transfer of artillery pieces from the Czech Republic.

Russian forces continue to launch missile strikes at various targets inside Ukraine. Russian missiles reportedly fell in the northern Kharkiv and southern Odesa regions today. Pictures and video from the Kharkiv strike suggested that the weapon in question may have been Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missile fired from a Tu-22M3 Backfire bomber and employed in a secondary land-attack role. Video footage had emerged online last week that showed what might have been another strike involving a TU-22M3-launched Kh-22.

The video below shows a Russian Mi-28N Havoc attack helicopter conducting operations somewhere in Ukraine armed with S-8 80mm and S-13 122mm unguided rockets. Separately, Alexander Mikheyev, head of Russia's state-run arms broker Rosoboronexport, highlighted how important helicopters have been to Russia's war in Ukraine today at the HeliRussia-2022 exhibition in Moscow. Interestingly, he said that Mi-171Sh helicopters, a type intended exclusively for export, were among those being employed regularly by Russian forces in Ukraine.

New video footage of Russia's BMPT Terminator armored vehicles, reportedly shot near the city of Popasna in the Donbas region, has emerged online.

The video below reportedly shows elements of Russian S-300PM-series surface-to-air missile systems on the move in Ukraine's Luhansk region, a significant portion of which is under the control of Russian-back separatists. It is worth noting that after months of fighting Russia's military has still not been able to achieve air superiority in the skies over Ukraine.

Well-known YouTuber and Russian special operations forces veteran Alexander Arutyunov, who runs various social media channels under the handle RAZVEDOS, made a series of posts on Russia's Vkontakte social network, or VK, criticized the performance of various Russian small arms in Ukraine based on information he said he had received from still-active members of the Spetsnaz community. In particular, he said that various specialized rifles chambered in the 9x39mm cartridge had underperformed and been difficult to maintain. He further claimed that elite Russian personnel had sourced older 7.62x39mm AKMS rifles and PBS-1 sound suppressors because of issues in finding suppressors that are compatible with newer AK-12 rifles. Lastly, he offered reviews of various optics that Spetznaz personnel are using on multiple types of small arms.

There continue to be indications that the Russian military is in need of additional personnel to make up for losses sustained in Ukraine, but that authorities in Moscow would prefer to see alternatives to what could be a disruptive and unpopular general mobility of the country's armed forces. A member of Russia's parliament, or Duma, submitted a bill today that would, if signed into law, allow Russians over 40 and foreigners as old as 30 to enlist in the country's military.

Russian President Vladimir Putin posthumously awarded Arsen Pavlov the country's Order of Courage today. Pavlov, also known by the nom de guerre "Motorola," was a notorious separatist commander and self-described war criminal who led Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine until he was killed in a bombing of his apartment in 2016.

Russia is maintaining a complete blockage of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, preventing shipments of grain from leaving the country. There are growing concerns that this will contribute to a global food crisis.

Finland's national gas company Gasum has confirmed that Russia's Gazprom is set to cut off supplies to the country tomorrow. This is ostensibly over the Finnish government's refusal to meet Moscow's demand that foreign countries pay for Russian natural gas imports in rubles. However, it also follows Finland's announcement that it will seek membership in NATO, something that quickly drew rebukes from Russian officials.

We will continue to update this post with new information until we state otherwise.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

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