With extensive progress made in Istanbul today, a ceasefire could be in sight for the Ukraine conflict. However, fighting and shelling continued throughout the region on Day 34.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced at a press conference today that the Ukrainian Air Force, air defences, and Navy had been completely destroyed in the ‘first phase’ of the invasion. The veracity of this statement remains to be seen, with Ukraine continually claiming to have downed incoming missiles.
Mykolaiv and Kherson
In the evening of day 34, a Russian boat was seen near the supports of the Antonovsky bridge in Kherson, potentially setting explosives. A convoy of Russian vehicles was also photographed heading in the direction of Mykolaiv.
Missile strikes in Mykolaiv destroyed the regional administration building before dawn on day 34. A missile strike also hit Nikopol in central Ukraine, north of the Dnieper, across the water from occupied Enerhodar.
As part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, a team of ex-special forces personnel called ‘Alpha-1’, which includes US citizens, participated in the liberation of Irpin earlier this week. In the same area, Russian troops looted residential buildings and withdrew 6km northwest towards Blystavitsa, near Hostomel Airport, according to local residents.
An oil depot in Khmelnitsky, 270km west-south-west of Kiev, was destroyed in a missile strike before dawn on day 34. An undisclosed military target in the region was hit at Starokostyantyniv during the afternoon, while 3 missile strikes in Khmelnitsky region hit industrial targets overnight. A Russian missile was downed over Volyn, north of Lutsk.
Donetsk and Luhansk
During a relatively calm night in Maryinka, near Donestk, volunteers brought humanitarian aid and continued to evacuate civilians westward to Kurakhove. However, shelling resumed throughout the following day.
A complete blackout is in effect in Sievierodonetsk after Russian shelling. According to Ukraine, teams attempting to repair the downed power lines are also being targeted.
A large explosion rocked Belgorod, in Russia, 45km north of Kharkiv, as an arsenal goes up in smoke. Emergency services claim that a ‘human factor’ was responsible for the explosion, indicating incompetence or insubordination. This is not the first explosion in Belgorod since the outbreak of war; it is not impossible that sabotage teams may have infiltrated across the border to this town.
The skies over Kharkiv glowed red today with the fires caused by repeated shelling.
NATO Air Assets
An American F-15E was tracked loitering near the Polish-Ukrainian border.
US B-52 strategic (nuclear) bombers continue to patrol the skies over Europe, passing over Romania on day 34.
In person talks began for the first time in two weeks, between senior delegators on both sides.
During the talks in Istanbul, Turkey, the Russian Deputy Defence Minister claimed that Russia will ‘decrease military activity around Kiev and Chernihiv’, as a sign of goodwill. If this is followed through, it could lead to a significant de-escalation of the conflict. Alternatively, this could be a sign that Russia is repositioning its reinforcements in order to strengthen the southern front, or even open a new front further West against Lviv. Speculation is rife on these points, but time will tell.
Despite this statement, the mayor of Chernihiv has stated there has been no let-up in the shelling of his city, with heavy shelling targeting infrastructure overnight. It is worth pointing out that the Armistice in WWI ended with intense shelling as commanders on both sides sought to dispose of their cumbersome stocks of ammunition; whether a similar phenomenon is at play here will be revealed in due course.
Ceasefire discussions are also ongoing. The Ukrainian negotiators have said that an agreement may only be reached if Russian troops withdraw to their zones of deployment on February 23rd, i.e. the day before the invasion.
In exchange for neutrality between NATO and Russia, Ukraine demands security guarantees analogous to NATO’s Article 5: if attacked, this would allow Ukraine the right to demand consultations, while mandating signees of the agreement to provide military aid and implement a No Fly Zone. Negotiators reiterate that under these conditions, Kiev will agree to neutrality. They have proposed Poland, Israel, Canada, and Turkey as guarantors of this agreement.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a statement saying that a ceasefire in Ukraine would not be enough to lift sanctions on Russia. The timing of this announcement could be taken to indicate that the UK government would prefer the conflict to be prolonged.
The Russian delegation announced that there would be no talks on the following day, March 30th. Presumably the Russian delegation will be in close contact with the Kremlin throughout the day.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin also spoke by phone following the negotiations.
Photo Credit: Павло Парфенюк, Ministry of Defence of Ukraine. CC-SA-2.0.