Plenty of developments in the Ukraine conflict on Thursday 21st April: Russian public buildings falling victim to arson attacks; multiple villages captured in East Donbas as the Russian offensive gathers momentum; and a long-overdue review of the reliability of Open Source Intelligence channels.
Mysterious Fires in Russia
Russia’s Air-Space Defense Research Institute in Tver has ‘caught fire’ following the mysterious spontaneous combustion of several public buildings across the country. Arson and sabotage operations are a likely culprit for these mysterious incidents, hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border.
Loud explosions continue in Mykolaiv, while Russian advances south of Kryvyi Rih were frustrated according to Ukrianian reports. Caches of ammunition were found by state security services near Kryvyi Rih.
Two Russian missiles struck bridges in Zaporizhzhia, further degrading Ukraine’s ability to transport supplies to the Eastern theatre. A Ukrainian An-26 transport aircraft crash-landed in the region, indicating that the Ukrainians may be risking airlifts in order to supply troops on the front lines. Strikes were also reported in Dnipro and Kropyvnytskyi.
Ukraine claims that a Ka-52 helicopter and another Mi-8 helicopter were shot down along this front; this appears to be confirmed by both ground-based and drone footage.
More than 16 towns and villages experienced shelling with tanks, MLRS, howitzers, and mortars across the 130km front line from Kamianske to Velyka Novosilka. This may be in anticipation of a major offensive operation by Russian forces in this sector; regardless, the bombardment is likely to draw Ukrainian forces away from the main operations in the East. A successful Russian advance in this sector would leave the East Donbas salient in a very precarious position.
The believed steel plant at Azovstal continues to be subject to bombardment, though no assault operations are being undertaken as per Vladimir Putin’s directive yesterday. Chechen militias released a celebratory video from the ruins of Mariupol, led by what appears to be a ‘battle imam’; they conclude the announcement by chanting ‘Glory to Chechnya! Glory to Russia! Allahu Akbar!”
Due to a longstanding militaristic culture that values martyrdom, Chechen fighters appear to be enjoying the war in Ukraine immensely, despite suffering severe losses in Kiev at the start of the conflict.
According to various Ukrainian Telegram channels, 42 villages have been captured by the Russians in recent fighting, with some speculating that Ukrainian forces are being slowly pushed off the north bank of the Sieversky Donets river by sheer weight of incoming fire. Other analysts maintain that Russian offensive operations are still experiencing very limited success, and that their troops remain road-bound due to the inhospitable, muddy countryside.
Lights in the sky near Zarichne may be due to white phosphorous flares or incendiaries. Shelling and bombardment across this front remains intense. A more accurate picture of the progress of the Russian offensive is likely to emerge in the coming days.
The following footage is unverified, but may indicate successful employment of night vision equipment by Russian special forces.
OSINT stands for ‘Open Source Intelligence’ and essentially describes the numerous channels on Twitter and other sites that sift through information and footage first-hand — be it destroyed vehicles, satellite pictures, or intercepted communications — in order to build up a picture of what’s happening on the ground of a conflict.
OSINT can be very useful in modern times, and given the sheer volume of footage emerging from combat theatres where everyone from the troops to the civilians is toting a smartphone, this kind of intelligence-gathering promises a more real-time and accurate understanding of the progress of war than at any time in history.
It is unlikely that genuine military and national intelligence services have allowed these sites to pass them by, and a great deal of misinformation appears to be flowing through various high-profile OSINT channels. On Twitter, this takes the form of Ukrainian information warfare being massaged into public channels, and so OSINT must also be treated with scepticism.
Some claims are simply laughable, such as the following from OSINTdefender:
While foreign aid to Ukraine has been generous, the idea that Ukraine now has more battle tanks than the Russians in Ukraine is simply absurd. Russia has over 12,000 tanks, much more than the whole of Europe combined, and many of them are currently operating in Ukraine.
Armchair Warlord also has a thread criticising the combat losses record compiled by the OSINT channel Oryx as slovenly and unreliable — which matters, since Oryx is widely cited in both mainstream and popular media, and has likely received plenty of donations for its work in covering the conflict.
US Congress has now approved $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine.
Inflation has reached 8.5% in the US, a truly alarming figure that amounts to an 8.5% tax rise on income and savings. This is due to profligate government spending and general economic mismanagement. The producer price index is significantly inflated, with Tesla CEO Elon Musk reporting that key producers in the supply chain are being forced to inflate prices by as much as 30% in response to price rises in vital inputs (such as energy, fuel, metals, and rare earth metals).
While the Ukrainian economy is devastated by war and the Russian economy is devastated by sanctions, the Chinese economy appears to be struggling with lockdowns, and the European and American economies are suffering from irresponsible public spending and rising inflation. Beyond the headlines, Peru has seen its middle class reduced from 54% to 29% as a result of economic hardship, with recent riots leading to the death of 9 people.
The Ukraine conflict is but one factor in this equation, with many of these regions paying the price for drastic COVID measures and economically-illiterate governments, but it remains a significant contributor to what may become a decade of hardship for many across the world.