Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Sees Victory Day Prize In Conquest Of Mariupol
Russian forces are running out of time to produce clear successes in Ukraine ahead of the Victory Day anniversary.
A renewed assault by Russia on the besieged Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol has been going on for at least two days now. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has assessed that this is likely an effort on the part of the Russian military to achieve at least a symbolic victory in the city that President Vladimir Putin could then tout on the country's May 9 Victory Day anniversary.
Ostensibly a patriotic remembrance of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, complete with military parades through Red Square, Victory Day has been co-opted by Putin and his regime as an annual nationalistic showcase of military might and hardware. This year's anniversary has additional significance overall given that the Russian government has claimed that "denazifying" Ukraine is a key objective of its operations there.
Two weeks ago, Putin had officially ordered the Russian military to simply surround the steel plant, where numerous civilians, including women and children, are holed up, in addition to Ukrainian defenders. Russian officials denied any change in their operational posture in Mariupol earlier this week, despite reports to the contrary from Ukrainian forces.
The gallant and so-far successful defense of the site by Ukrainian forces, who have fought on despite suffering significant casualties over the past two months or so, has become a national rallying cry. The steel plant's expansive, miles-long structure with extensive underground tunnels is designed to withstand a nuclear attack, so continuing bombardments have not flushed out the troops and civilians that remain inside.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
Before getting into the rest of the latest updates below, The War Zone readers can first get up to speed on previous developments in the conflict in Ukraine with our earlier rolling coverage here.
Russian troops have continued their offensives broadly in the southeast and east of Ukraine as of May 6, but have continued to struggle to make any significant tactical advances outside the areas in the Donbas and around Crimea that they already control.
Belarusian forces were seen deploying for exercises inside their country to the North of Ukraine, something that has prompted concerns. The U.K. Ministry of Defense had previously assessed that the Russian military could exploit these drills since they require Ukrainian forces to maintain a presence along portions of the country's northern border that would prevent them from redeploying to join the fighting in the east. Meanwhile, Russian missile strikes continue to reach deep into the Ukrainian interior, destroying various military and non-military targets in the process, the latter category of which has included schools, hospitals, and homes.
For his part, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claims his country is not involved in the war in any capacity and that his military's drills pose no threat to Ukraine. Lukashenko, a key ally of Russia's President Putin, also took the unusual step of saying publicly that his erstwhile neighbors have so far failed to achieve their goals in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has strongly denied reports it is preparing for a full mobilization of its armed forces in order to expand operations in Ukraine. Reports that such a decision might be coming follow Russia's military largely abandoning its initial push on the capital Kyiv in order to mass troops and materiel in the south and east, where a renewed offensive has taken shape.
As Russian air and land forces continue their operations, there are swirling rumors that the Russian Navy may have lost, or at least sustained significant damage to, yet another major surface combatant. Unsubstantiated accounts that the Admiral Grigorovich class frigate Admiral Makarov, one of the most advanced Russian warships, was hit by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles while underway in the Black Sea, began to appear on May 6. Highgly suspect video of the ship on fire surfaced on Twitter, and was widely discredited as video game footage, but Russia has not yet denied the core reports of one of its warship at least suffering significant damage. You can read more about all of this here.
In other Russian ship news, at least one victim of the sunken Moskva guided missile cruiser officially "went missing" rather than perished in an act of war, according to Russian authorities. Russian sailor Dmitry Shkrebets' parents were apparently told the ship never entered Ukrainian water and sunk on its own without the help of Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles. This not only tows the Russian government's line that hostile action was not responsible for sinking the cruiser, but may also cut off the Shkrebets, and the families of other sailors who died, from benefits afforded to those related to military personnel who died in combat.
It recent report from NBC News also says that the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, was achieved with the apparent aid of U.S. intelligence. The White House has described that report as "inaccurate," but without elaborating on what specifically is wrong in its contents. The Pentagon has similarly pushed backed on another recent report from The New York Times that said U.S. intelligence has helped Ukraine target Russian generals in the field, but at the same time confirmed that American officials are passing information important to the war effort to the Ukrainian counterparts.
Despite the humiliating loss of Moskva and other setbacks the Russian Navy has suffered, the flow of goods through Ukraine's ports is severely constricted. Russia has also targeted the nation's fuel depots as part of what appears to be an at least somewhat concerted effort to target critical infrastructure.
Ukraine has also continued its call for assistance, particularly Western fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles. So far seen as unnecessarily escalatory by some Western countries, including the United States, some members of the U.S. Congress seem like they are warming to the idea of transferring Western jets to Ukraine. It remains to be seen how quickly the Ukrainians could be trained to fly unfamiliar airframes and whether they would be able to sustain them without massive outside assistance.
Still, Russian efforts to threaten the international coalition supplying Ukraine with arms and other goods, and to disrupt the flow of those supplies to the front, seem to not be effective. M777 howitzers and a cornucopia of other new weapons continue to show up in Ukraine, while videos and photographic evidence of their actual use in combat continues to proliferate online.
One particularly notable development in terms of the appearance of additional foreign military aid for Ukrainian armed forces on the battlefield came today in the form of pictures that reportedly showed parts of an expended U.K.-supplied Brimstone missile. Last Friday, British officials said that they expected it would take "weeks" for these missiles to even arrive in the country.
Foreign supplied and domestically produced weapons have both had devastating tactical impacts on Russian forces, as the T-72 tank turret sunk into the pavement in the photograph below can attest. The waterlogged corpse of a Russian attack helicopter being hauled out of the water where it crashed seen in the Tweet below is another example. Russian tank losses in Ukraine now include at least one T-90M, one of the nation's most advanced combat vehicles, and one that is in short supply.
Ukrainian drones keep taking their toll on the Russians while satellite footage continues to show the devastation of Ukraine, as evidenced by the video below.
A reported video of the use of U.S.-made Switchblade loitering munitions, commonly called suicide drones, in Ukraine, has surfaced. The clip shows the relatively small but well-aimed blast of a Switchblade dispersing shrapnel through a Russian machine gun emplacement. Russian forces then later posted photos of the drone's carcass to social media. The U.S. has promised hundreds more Switchblades, as well as mysterious new loitering drones called the "Phoenix Ghost," which was tailored by the U.S. Air Force's Big Safari office for use in Ukraine against Russian forces but has yet to show up online.
A British Martlet surface-to-air missile was able to shoot down yet another Russian Orlan-10 drone, in what seems like a case of using a cannon to kill a mosquito until one considers the lethal role small unmanned systems have assumed in this war.
A reminder that Ukraine is not immune to having its own drones shot down, although it is thought that Russia could be employing captured Soviet-era jet-powered drones like the Tu-141, as well.
Russia has reportedly struck the home of a Ukrainian grandmother who became an icon in Russia for waving a Soviet flag at Ukrainian troops. The Consul General of Russia later admitted that its Twitter account was hacked after the account posted photos of protestors dressed in yellow and blue carrying signs saying "I support Ukraine." The Consul General then made its account private.
A new list of sanctioned individuals was issued by the U.K. treasury. On this list was a journalist working for Russia Today.
In yet another bizarre episode associated with this war, the Israeli prime minister told Reuters on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized for comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who proclaimed Adolf Hitler was partly Jewish and that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust. The Kremlin later declined to say whether the conversation or apology had taken place.
More evidence that this war will be beamed across the internet has emerged via a soldier apparently spray-painted his Instagram handle on the wall of a civilian home amid the murderous rampage of Russian forces through Bucha.
We will continue to update this post with new information until we state otherwise.
Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com