Issue 26, 13 March 2022 (Free access)

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Situational report

Key Points

  • Lukashenko met Putin in Moscow, but the results of the meeting are inconclusive.
  • Belarusian Armed Forces are to rotate units deployed near the border with Ukraine; General Major Victor Gulevich stated that they will remain on Belarusian soil.
  • The Russian missile attack on Yavoriv does not likely indicate a Russian willingness to strike targets in Poland and highlights deficiencies in ISR

Lukashenko meets Putin

On Friday (11MAR2022) Lukashenko met Putin in Moscow. The meeting lasted five hours, but the Kremlin published only a smart portion of the conversation. The Presidents discussed issues relating to the 1) current regional situation and the progress of negotiations with Ukraine, 2) bilateral relations and further cooperation, (particularly with industry, agriculture and cargo transportation) 3) mutual help of countries facing western sanctions, 4) development of military-industrial industries and defence capabilities of the Union State, and 5) the delivery of modern Russian military equipment to Belarusian Armed Forces.

Both leaders agreed that under the current sanctions regime they see many opportunities to further develop economic, political, and military co-operation. This is certainly something that Russia will be pushing even if Belarus becomes reluctant during the process. Furthermore, Lukashenka stated that he “got used to western lousy tricks” and that “we may forget about sanctions in one month”. He also stated that Russian forces saved the Union State from a Ukrainian attack with a pre-emptive strike.

Indeed, Lukashenko sees himself as “a Soviet person” and that he and Putin “were always under sanctions, but […] lived and moved forward notwithstanding.” This is likely a new narrative that has emerged, which assumes that both Russia and Belarus have always been sanctioned. Therefore, the current wave of restrictions is just an extension of what has been happening for many years. Lukashenko also claimed that Ukraine began shooting two days prior to the invasion and sought to provide a justification for the so-called ‘military operation’ in Ukraine.

Belarusian Armed Forces presence near Ukraine’s border

According to the Belarusian Chief of General Staff, General Major Victor Gulevich, five battalion tactical groups (BTGs) and elements of the border service are responsible for protecting the southern border. These units are tasked with preventing border penetration by illegal armed groups and ensuring no illegal weapons are delivered to Ukraine. More specifically, they perform tasks related to reconnaissance, patrol, and protection of significant facilities. More importantly, Gulevich stated that these BTGs would be rotated out in the near future. It is unclear whether new units will also include airborne and special forces, or other ground elements, such as mechanised formations.  Gulevich also reiterated the official narrative which states that the presence and movement of Belarusian troops are not related to the Russo-Ukrainian war. Belarusian soldiers will only perform their tasks on their own territory, or so the refrain goes.

Russian military activity from Belarus. Source: Motolko

Meanwhile, there has been a significant decrease in Russian air operations from Belarus over the past several days. It is unclear the root cause of the drop or whether it will be permanent. Perhaps the Russia Aerospace Defence Forces (VKS) are preparing for an increased operational tempo if the ground offensive around Kyiv materialises. Otherwise, the Ukrainian air defence threat is undoubtedly a contributing factor when it comes to VKS operations.

Russian helicopter shot down at 50.758821, 30.365973 in Kozarovychi, Kyiv Oblast.

Russian attack on Yavoriv

Last night, Russia struck the Yavoriv military base in western Ukraine. The attack on the base, which is located some 20 kilometers from the border with Poland, is considered by some analysts as a significant Russian escalation as Yavoriv houses the U.S.-led Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. However, we do not fully support this assertion.

The attack occurred after the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister warned that western supply lines were legitimate targets. Hours before Russian missiles landed, the Kremlin publicly stated that mercenaries and Western-made equipment were present at the base.  From the declaratory policy point of view, it should come as no surprise that the base was hit. However, what is surprising is that the base had not been abandoned and personnel dispersed prior to the strike.

We do not know what the Russian OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop is or how quickly information is gathered, analysed, and decided upon, but every Ukrainian military or dual-use facility is likely at risk of being destroyed or at least targeted by Russian air and missile strikes. Does the attack mean Russia will now actively target and engage areas of concentration of foreign troops and equipment delivered from abroad in Western Ukraine? Possibly. We do expect a shift in air and missile strikes towards Western Ukraine as more territory is sized in the East. However, such attacks are likely going to be sporadic.

A permanent Russian ISR air presence over Western Ukraine would be needed to continually monitor ground movements and look for Ukrainian and Western military presence [read: mercenaries] or storage areas. This is unlikely to materialise.

A lack of a near real-time reconnaissance picture is a major drawback for conducting Russian military operations in Ukraine. This conclusion is, among others, derived from the fact that the VKS has not yet attacked Ukrainian armour units stationed (and hiding) in Western Ukraine—despite having demonstrated the capability to attack concentration areas with high-precision weapons. That said, our main concern with airstrikes so close to the border is that one of the missiles can go awry and land in Poland killing civilians. This could result in a NATO kinetic response.

We consider this to be a very low probability event that Russia would deliberately attack targets in Poland.

Russian lines of advance in Ukraine

There are no updates to the map

The Ukrainian General Staff noted today that the Russian Armed Forces are conducting their offensive operations in almost all directions (Volyn was the exception). At the same time, Russian units are taking measures to restore combat readiness and regroup to prepare for further missions.

Northern Operational Direction

There have been no apparent changes over the past 24 hours.

Russian forces control areas from Poliskie, through Irpin, to Kozarovychi and Sukholuchye.

In the north, Russian forces also control a number of settlements and they appear to have been pushed back from Brovary. Russian forces control the E95 highway.

Kursk-Belgorod Operational Direction

Russian forces are controlling areas east of Lebedyn to Severodonetsk.

Kharkiv and Izyum are still under Ukrainian control.

The offensive continues. Russian and proxy forces have pushed another 9 kilometers west. Villages Pavlivka, Blahodatne, and Volodymyrivka are under Russian control.

LPR forces took Popasna

(*Information obtained from the Russian MoD)

Crimea Operational Direction

Russian forces were stopped en route to Novovorontsovka.

Russian forces seem to be pushing towards Kryvyi Rih or Zaporizhzhia along two main lines: from Beryslav along the bank of Dniepr and from Snihurivka-Bereznehuvate also further north.

Imagery intelligence

Planet Skysat imagery acquired 11MAR2022 showed POL storage tanks on fire at Hostomel airport. The airport remains likely contested as Russian forces have met strong resistance in the area. New bermed parking positions have been established at the airport since 28FEB but remained unoccupied at the time of capture.

Planet Skysat imagery acquired 11MAR2022 shows 28 helicopters at Valyuki’s parking area. Helos deployed to Valyuki can support Russian forces from Severodonetsk to Kharkiv.

Planet Skysat imagery acquired 11MAR2022 shows a number of vessels operating at Lake Donuzlav. Currently we assess an amphibious operation near Odessa to be unlikely.