Ukraine Situation Report: Top Russian General Did Visit Ukraine, Pentagon Says
Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, visited Ukraine as the country’s new offensive has failed to produce real gains.
A senior U.S. defense official said today that the Russian military's Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the country's top-ranking military officer, did indeed travel to Ukraine last week. That same individual could not confirm reports that Gerasimov may have been injured during his visit, or say exactly what he was doing there. This news follows earlier assessments that reinvigorated Russian offensives in areas of eastern and southern Ukraine have failed to meet desired timelines for achieving various operational goals.
The same senior U.S. defense official said just today that the Russian military's advances in eastern Ukraine as part of a renewed offensive are, at best, "tepid," and that Russian commanders appear to be increasingly risk and casualty averse. The U.S. military says that Russia's forces have actually lost ground around the strategic northeastern city of Kharkiv and appear to be unable to hold many of their gains in the eastern Donbas region for any protracted period of time.
Earlier, the U.K. Ministry of Defence released an assessment today saying that just over 15 percent of all of Russia's ground units are now 'combat ineffective' as a result of the fighting in Ukraine. Some of the Russian military's most capable forces, including airborne elements, commonly referred to collectively by the acronym VDV, are among those that suffered the greatest losses and it could be years before they can be reconstituted.
All of this comes as the anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II – May 9 – is now only a week away. There have been indications for some time already that the Russian military has been under immense pressure to produce tangible successes ahead of that date.
Amid the possibility that the desired battlefield victories may not come before Victory Day, there are a growing number of warnings, especially from Ukrainian authorities, about the potential for other kinds of provocations on or ahead of that date. Concerns about Russian officials staging some kind of referendum regarding the 'independence' of potions of eastern or southern Ukraine and show trials in Russia of Ukrainian prisoners of war, among other things, have been raised.
Beyond the immediate conflict in Ukraine, a string of curious fires and other incidents inside Russia continued today with a blaze at a plant that produces explosives and propellants to go into various munitions in the country's central Perm region. At the time of writing, Russian authorities have not yet said who or what they believe to be responsible for this incident, but it is already adding to previous speculation that the Ukrainian government may be conducting some kind of sabotage campaign. Similar incidents in the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, have now led to an official imposition of a state of emergency there – including a fire at a Ministry of Defense facility just yesterday.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
The War Zone readers can first get up to speed fully on recent developments in the conflict in Ukraine before getting into the latest news below through our previous rolling coverage here.
POSTED: 5:00 PM EST—
"For several days last week he was in the Donbas. We don't believe that he's still there," a senior U.S. defense official said of Gerasimov's visit. "We can't confirm reports that he was injured."
The New York Times had reported on Gerasimov's trip to Ukraine yesterday, citing anonymous Ukrainian and U.S. officials. This followed earlier reports on social media about the Russian general being in Ukraine, including that he might have been injured, or even killed, in a Ukrainian attack on a command post near the eastern city of Izyum. Unconfirmed reports claimed that this attack killed hundreds of Russian personnel, in total, including Maj. Gen. Andrei Simonov, an officer who was said to have been in charge of all electronic warfare units within the 2nd Combined Arms Army. Ukrainian forces claim to have killed at least 11 Russian general officers so far in the course of the conflict.
"It's certainly possible that his trip was of a manner of oversight in trying to gauge for himself what was going on," the senior U.S. defense official said. "What he learned, what he transmitted to his commanders, if anything, we just don't know."
It seems very possible, if not plausible that Gerasimov made this high-profile and potentially dangerous trek to the front lines to try to find a way to get the Russian military's offensives in Ukraine on track. By every indication, more than two weeks after Russian forces launched their new pushes into eastern and southern Ukraine, the gains have been minimal at best.
The senior U.S. defense official said today that in some areas Russian units appeared to move in and declare victory, but then almost immediately withdraw. Russian forces have also lost significant territory that they had occupied around the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which occupies a highly strategic position along a major highway that links both countries.
The senior U.S. defense official did note that the Russian military continues to be capable of carrying out offensive operations. It retains approximately 75 percent of the combat capacity that it had arrayed around Ukraine before launching the invasion in February, according to American assessments. Russian forces continue to be able to carry out air and missile strikes against targets in Ukraine, as well, despite still not achieving air superiority over the country.
The current U.S. military assessment of Russian combat capacity in and around Ukraine is notably different in some ways from one that the U.K. Ministry of Defence put out earlier today. With approximately 65 percent of all Russian ground units committed to the fighting, according to the U.K. government, this would represent a loss of around one-sixth of the country's total ground combat capacity. The reason for the discrepancies between American and British assessments is unclear.
All of this can only impede the Russian military's push to achieve significant victories, or at least make gains that can be presented as such, before the marking of Victory Day on May 9. It's not hard to see the desire to link progress in Ukraine to the anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany, given that the Russian government has sought to portray its invasion of Ukraine as an operation to "denazify" the country, without providing any real logic to substantiate this.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated the "denazification" point just over the weekend, stating that this was true despite Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky being Jewish. He then further commented that Hitler had "Jewish blood," a long-posited conspiracy theory about the Nazi dictator's heritage that is seen as extremely offensive to many Jews. Lavrov's remarks quickly drew immense criticism, including a call for a formal apology from the Israeli government.
There are now growing fears that the Russian government may execute other provocations on May 9 or in the lead up to the anniversary, especially if the Russian military cannot produce tangible successes on the battlefield. Reports have suggested these actions could include a staged 'independence' referendum in Ukraine's southern Kherson region, but it's unclear if Russian forces control enough territory in that area for this to carry any legitimacy.
There are also unconfirmed reports that the Russian government may parade Ukrainian prisoners of war during Victory Day events, which would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions, or carry out show trials to 'convict' them of various crimes.
The U.S. government has said it has no indications of any imminent Russian intervention into neighboring Moldova, something that has also been a recent topic of discussion. The Russian-aligned Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria has been linked in recent weeks by Russian officials to the war in Ukraine and various incidents there already have prompted talk of whether the conflict may be able to spill over.
In the meantime, U.S. and other foreign military aid packages continue to flow into Ukraine. Recent deliveries include 155mm M777 towed howitzers from the United States, Australia, and Canada. U.S. Army National Guardsmen from Florida are training Ukrainian personnel on these weapons and other systems in Germany. A senior U.S. defense official said an initial run of M777-related training had been conducted by Canadian Forces at an unspecified location. Ukrainian forces are now receiving instruction on the still-secretive Phoenix ghost loitering munition, or suicide drone, which you can read more about here.
The video in the Tweet below reportedly shows ex-Polish T-72 tanks that Ukrainian forces recently received. Military aid packages for Ukraine have steadily begun to include tanks and other armored vehicles in recent weeks.
The U.S. government alone has now transferred more than 5,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. American officials continue to insist that deliveries of these weapons, as well as Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), have no negatively impacted the U.S. military's readiness.
The U.S. military has not yet transferred any additional Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip-type helicopters to Ukraine, despite pledging to do so weeks ago now. Those transfers, which involve aircrafts that had belonged to the now-defunct Afghan Air Force, are expected to occur soon. American officials have also denied reports that 227mm High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) have been sent to Ukraine.
A string of curious fires and other incidents continue to prompt speculation that the war in Ukraine is spilling back over into Russia. Earlier today, a fire broke out at the FKP Perm Powder Plant in the city of Perm in central Russia, killing at least two workers and injuring a number of others. So far, Russian authorities do not appear to have said anything beyond that "product" at the plant burst into flames. The facility, one of the country's largest defense enterprises, makes explosives and propellant charges that go into various munitions, including artillery rockets used in the Grad and Smerch systems, among many others.
There had also been reports of blasts in the Belgorod region overnight, but that could be linked to combat jets flying at supersonic speeds and producing sonic booms while on patrol following a new state of emergency there coming into effect. Another fire did break out in the Belgorod region at a Ministry of Defense facility this weekend.
There have been numerous other reported incidents in Belgorod, as well elsewhere in southwest Russia, in recent weeks, as you can read more about here. Whether or not any of these incidents are the result of hostile action, or are simply accidents, which Russia is no stranger to, or are a mix of both, remains unclear.
Fighting at the Azovstal plant in the beseiged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has only increased following an evacuation of civilians over the weekend. The situation for the defenders there now appears increasingly dire and some Ukrainian commanders there have been openly talking about trying to secure their own evacuation from the city, despite others pledging to fight until the end.
The video in the Tweet below reportedly shows Ukrainian special operations forces ambushing Russian units equipped with T-90A and T-80BVM tanks, as well as TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launch systems and other vehicles.
The Tweet below has a video that reportedly shows a Russian missile, possibly a Kh-59 cruise missile, hitting a building in Ukraine's eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk.
A U.S. Congressional delegation traveled to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv over the weekend, marking the latest visit to the country by American officials and lawmakers. The U.S. State Department has said it was still assessing the security situation there ahead of possibly reopening the U.S. Embassy.
German authorities say they are open to discussions about an immediate European Union embargo on Russian oil imports. This comes as that country looks to stop buying Russian oil completely. At the same time, there is still no indication that Germany, as well as a number of other EU member states, are anywhere close to being able to halt imports of Russian natural gas. Some nations may not be able to decouple from Russian oil in the near-term, either.
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