As the morning opens, there are several important developments.
The EU has announced it will rush 70 fighter jets to Ukraine, in a significant escalation of military aid. It is now confirmed that Bulgaria will send 16 MiG-29s and 14 Su-25s, Poland will provide 28 MiG-29 units, and Slovakia supplies 12 MiG-29s. These are consistent with the types of jet which Ukrainian military pilots will have trained with; more advanced jets like the Eurofighter would require extensive training. In addition, the Soviet fighter designs are similar to Russian military hardware and could benefit from the problems relating to IFF systems that Russia is experiencing, covered in yesterday’s summary.
Following BP on Day Three, Shell has now announced it is exiting its positions in Russian energy firms, including a whopping 27% stake in Gazprom. To mitigate the impact of economic sanctions, the Russian stock exchange is closed until at least March 5th.
Footage has also been released of what appears to be a Grad rocket strike from MLRS against a civilian area in Kharkiv this morning.
Overnight, another MLRS bombardment on the town of Okhtyra, northwest of Kharkiv, has killed 70 Ukrainian soldiers according to Ukrainian officials.
Belarus Enters the War — Or Does It?
In one of the most bizarre turns of the conflict, the erratic Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko appears to give a press conference in which he directly admits ‘openly and honestly’ that Belarus has taken part in missile strikes against Ukraine. Most incredible of all, Lukashenko gives this press conference while standing in front of a large map of Ukraine on which the Russian invasion plans were marked in generous detail. We cannot confirm whether the authenticity of the footage just yet, and warn readers that it may simply be doctored footage.
According to Ukrainian reports, Belarussian troops today crossed the border near Chernihiv to formally enter the war on Russia’s side. We await confirmation from reliable footage or Belarussian state announcements before verifying these claims. Due to Belarus’ large borders against NATO states, and the relative sizeof its army, direct Belarussian involvement in the Ukraine conflict would seem to be strategically unwise.
A Russian helicopter was downed by MANPAD missiles near Kiev while crossing the Dnieper.
Russians have struck Kyiv Broadcasting Tower with what appears to be a cruise missile, sparking international condemnation from news media. In addition, overnight airstrikes on the city of Zhytomir have caused large fires.
The queue of slow-moving Russian vehicles north of Kiev has now extended to a length of 40km. This is has been described by Western military observers as ‘a sitting duck’. Nevertheless, if these units are able to enjoy air cover and deploy for battle, we could see another massed assault on the suburbs of Kiev.
Russian military vehicles were recorded destroyed near Borodyanka, west of Kiev, this morning. Whether they were destroyed in today’s fighting or in previous skirmishes remains to be ascertained. There is new footage of a destroyed Russian convoy on Zhitomyr highway, but this was probably the result of action on Day Two, since the snow is already starting to settle on the wrecked vehicles.
No progress for the Russians in this sector, although Belarussian forces have allegedly entered the war in this sector to increase pressure on the besieged city. The highway to Kiev remains open as infiltrating Russian forces from the east are stalled near Pryluky and Nizhyn.
The encirclement of Sumy continues, but relative quiet from the Russian side concerning actions in this area, combined with a steady stream of footage showing destroyed Russian convoys, indicates that the Ukrainians continue to maintain a spirited defence of the city. Of the two remaining routes into Sumy, the highway west of the city appears to have been cut near Rhomny, while the south highway towards Okhtyrka is under threat. The rail line to Kharkiv was severed during previous Russian advances.
Russian forces have entered the town of Kupyansk, east of Kharkiv, as the manoeuvre to envelop the city continues.
Kharkiv was subject to heavy bombardment throughout the day, during which an Indian student was apparently killed. Bombardment continued well into the night, which may indicate the Russians are preparing a dawn attack on the city.
The advance of separatist troops from Luhansk has allegedly cut off Mariupol, which is under heavy attack. Mariupol is primarily defended by the neo-Nazi ‘Azov Brigade’, which has been fighting a bitter sectarian conflict against ethnic Russians in the region for at least 8 years. In the event of a Russian victory here, reprisals are liable to be brutal. Conflict is currently ongoing near Vinogradne, a town to the north of Mariupol, after which the city will be directly exposed. Fighting continues in the port town of Berdyansk to the west of Mariupol, which is under attack from regular Russian Army units.
Separatist forces have announced the creation of two ‘humanitarian corridors’ around Mariupol for civilian evacuation, ahead of a presumed attack on March 2nd.
Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station has apparently been occupied by Russian troops today. The Ukrainian Army demolished several bridges along the highway in order to delay the Russian advance towards Zaporizhzhia.
Alleged footage near Melitopol (under Russian occupation) shows Ukrainian citizens stopping a Russian military convoy via peaceful protests. The Russians do not open fire. Similar scenes have emerged from across the country, and so far it appears the Russians have kept their discipline and not engaged in wholesale massacres of protesters. Currently the troops appear uncomfortable and clueless in these situations. The Russian Army is likely to develop a policy for dealing with peaceful protests in the coming days, and we hope it is humane.
Much of Kherson has been taken by Russian troops today, following the city’s encirclement yesterday. Reports indicate that there are no regular Ukrainian Army units defending the city, with National Guard units being less well-trained and equipped. It seems that Kherson is likely to fall overnight or early tomorrow; numerous civilian footage shows Russian troops infiltrating towards the centre of town. The fall of Kherson would free up units for a subsequent attack against the city of Mykolaiv, 40km to the west.
Ukrainian helicopters have allegedly struck Russian convoys east of Mykolaiv.
Much commentary in the media focuses around the Russian use of ‘thermobaric weapons’. These are explosives which contain a 100% fuel mixture and use atmospheric oxygen as the oxidizing agent. Such weapons create a powerful lethal shockwave, which bursts the lungs of people nearby. They are also known as vacuum bombs.
While both sides possess such weapons, particularly for clearing trenches and buildings, concern has been raised about the indiscriminate use of thermobaric weapons in civilian areas, which would constitute a war crime.
Since the media has latched on to the term ‘thermobaric’ it is being widely misattributed to various large explosions, such as the following two clips which show ammunition dump explosions.
Meanwhile, the effectiveness of Western anti-vehicle weaponry is underlined by these two Ukrainian soldiers, dancing with an NLAW and what appears to be an RPG. The NLAW is becoming a totemic symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
According to a CNN poll, American support for intervention in Ukraine has risen from just 16% to 42%. While the majority remain opposed to direct intervention, the effect of footage coming out of Ukriane, as well as mass media messaging has already seen a decisive transformation of the popular mood in just a few days.
Deliveries of Starlink stations to Ukraine have begun arriving, which could enable the country to stay fully connected to the internet throughout the Russian invasion. The prevalence of smartphones has led to this being perhaps the world’s first ‘livestreamed conflict’.
A speech has emerged by Ukrainian neo-Nazi leader Yevhen Karas which appears to credit the ultranationalist movement for starting the war in Ukraine. Among his sensational claims is the statement ‘Maidan would’ve been a “gay parade” if not for Nazi influence’.
Sam Ashworth-Hayes writes in the Spectator with a sobering reminder that despite the optimistic tone of Western reporting on Ukraine’s chances in this conflict, Russia has still made significant gains in the first week of fighting, and there could be much more bloodshed in store. In particular, massive bombardment of Ukrainian cities could follow if the ground forces continue to make slow progress, similar to Grozhny in 1994. Western leaders who muse about ‘no-fly zones’ should understand that the enforcement of such zones is an act of war.
Turkey has closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits to all warships, preventing Russian naval assets from leaving the Black Sea. It cannot prevent Russian ships entering the Black Sea, however, since this would constitute an act of war.
A Ukrainian journalist has vented the frustration of many Slavs by haranguing Boris Johnson during a press conference in Poland. For some reason, this is considered newsworthy by the mainstream media. We at the Ukraine Observatory are nostalgic for the days when journalists asked questions, instead of performing for their follower base on Twitter.
Allegations of a mutiny aboard a Russian warship have been widely reported in lower-tier Western media outlets. We can find no further attribution to this sensational claim than ‘according to sources’ so we believe this claim to be fake news.