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This newsletter was prepared by Ukrainian experts working at Information Defense Hub in Prague, which the European Values Center for Security Policy launched last week. Read the press release here.
IN THIS ISSUE:
What is happening in Mariupol after 9 May?
Russia changes plans regarding the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to secure their prompt annexation
Ukraine has lost access to a third of the capacity for transit of Russian gas to Europe
Is the world threatened by famine because of Russia’s attack on Ukraine?
Macron and Scholz's statements
Forced deportation as evidence of genocide of Ukrainians by Russians
Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund
Russian silent mobilisation
Ukraine and Russia continue to contest control of the 600m x 600m Snake Island (Zmijnyi ostrov), which is of strategic importance both for Ukraine and for the Russian occupiers, as it enables the control of the Black Sea waters, access to Ukrainian ports in Odesa and Mykolayiv, as well as to a certain extent, the aerial situation in the south of Ukraine. Snake Island is also strategically important in terms of Russia’s ability for a tactical naval landing. According to the Chief of the Military Intelligence of Ukraine, the island is a strategically important point “to open trade routes, import weapons and exclude any possible Russian military action in Transnistria, from where they can attack the western part of Ukraine”. Currently, the occupiers are managing to retain their military post on the island, but keep losing personnel and materiel due to Ukrainian strikes from the air, which increased with the destruction of the “Moscow” Black Sea flagship.
According to the Defence Express data, the losses of the Russian army on Snake Island as of 8 May amounted to $78 million USD. On 14 May, Ukrainian experts reported that Russians unloaded one anti-aircraft missile system “Tor-M2” and two complexes “Pantsir-C1”, though this was not confirmed by official sources. The island is also an ideal location for surveillance and radio reconnaissance systems deployment, since Russia’s reconnaissance capabilities in the area were significantly diminished by the loss of the “Moscow” cruiser. Russia’s contingent on Snake Island is exposed to possible destruction by one volley of the of long-range MLRS-like “Tornado”. However, for Ukraine to get that close to the island is possible only by crossing the Dniester estuary, the bridge over which was recently damaged by cruise missiles.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN MARIUPOL AFTER 9 MAY?
It was expected that on 9 May the city would host a large-scale “victory parade” - the occupiers began training in advance. But instead, according to the mayor's adviser Petro Andryushchenko, a “carnival” took place. Several hundred “volunteers” were brought from Russia to Mariupol, who carried a 300-meter “St. George’s ribbon” along Nakhimov Avenue (use of these symbols is prohibited in Ukraine). Local residents did not take part in this, although people were promised “humanitarian” food kits. At the same time, fighting continued on Azovstal. For over 100,000 of the population in Mariupol, the occupiers distribute five thousand humanitarian rations a day. People have a choice: to stand behind them in long lines or to do the only possible work - to dismantle the debris, removing from under them the bodies of the dead, some of which have been there some time. It is often not about whole bodies, but about their parts.
In 2014, the city actively defended itself from occupation, and after the capture of Donetsk by Russia, it became the “face of the Ukrainian Donbass”, which grew and developed. Mariupol is essential for the renewal of industrial production in (L)DNR. Production was disrupted in 2014. Controlling the city would also allow for a direct land connection between Crimea and continental Russia.The defenders of Azovstal declared they would fight till the last man. At the same time, relatives of the military defending the city appealed to Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help save the fighters using an extraction procedure. Turkey has already agreed to such a procedure (export of fighters to a third country, where they will remain until the end of the war and are guaranteed not to take part in hostilities), but Russia has not yet agreed to such a procedure.
Update: On the night of May 16-17, there were reports of ten buses with Azovstal defenders moving towards the temporarily occupied Novoazovsk. A total of 53 seriously wounded defenders were taken away. Another 211 people were taken through the humanitarian corridor to Olenivka (also occupied). They will be assisted and exchanged later.
RUSSIA CHANGES PLANS REGARDING THE TEMPORARILY OCCUPIED TERRITORIES OF UKRAINE TO SECURE THEIR PROMPT ANNEXATION
Russia has failed to organize the rigged referendum on the establishment of the Kherson People’s Republic in the temporarily occupied territories in the South of Ukraine. On 11 May, the Russian-imposed military-civilian administration in Kherson, chaired by the collaborators Volodymyr Saldo and Kirill Stremousov, announced they would ask Russia to include Kherson Region in the Russian Federation. Moscow reacted ambiguously, referring to the need of respecting the will of the local population, and conduct the procedures in accordance with international law, as it was done in Crimea in 2014 . In response, Stremousov assured that the issue of integrating into Russia is not a short-term matter and the address to President Putin would be formalized only after “all internal integration processes are settled”. Meanwhile, resistance of population continues, with Ukrainian flags reportedly appearing in different locations throughout the city, despite increased pressure from the occupiers. Russia is strengthening its defensive positions in the region, with the Ukrainian Armed Forces having insufficient capability to counterattack in this direction from the neighbouring Mykolayiv region.
Kherson, located at the mouth of the Dnipro River on the Black Sea coast, bears strategic importance for Russia for its aim to take southern Ukraine and establish a land bridge to Crimea, to secure supply of drinking water and irrigation.In April, access to Ukrainian television channels was blocked and internet service providers were replaced with Russian ones. Ukrainian local currency is now being slowly replaced by Russian rubles with the authorities banning deliveries of Ukrainian money to banks from 1 May, while schools are forced to switch to Russian curricula. The call for annexation without a referendum is a sign of the weakness of the Russian position in the Kherson region Russia due to lack of local support. Citizens in the Kherson region are likely to continue to demonstrate their opposition to Russian invaders, despite the reports that thousands of activists have been arrested and tortured, and dozens executed. The annexation of Kherson would be used for pressure on the Ukrainian government.
UKRAINE HAS LOST ACCESS TO A THIRD OF THE CAPACITY FOR TRANSIT OF RUSSIAN GAS TO EUROPE
On 10 May, Ukrainian Gas Transportation System Operator (GTSO) announced that due to the loss of access to its facilities in the combat area, Ukraine is forced to stop, as of 07:00 May 11, receiving gas from Russia at the physical point of the Sokhranivka connection,which provides about a third of the transit of Russian gas to the EU. The company explained this decision by the occurrence of force majeure, which makes it impossible to continue transporting gas through the Sokhranivka DHW and the Novopskov Border Compressor Station (CS) located in the occupied territories. The decision was taken after GTSO dispatchers reported the unauthorized intervention in gas transit flows from the Novopskovsky industrial site through the Soyuz gas pipeline by opening a jumper valve (17y), which probably had taken place in the afternoon of 9 May. They recorded unauthorized offtakes of transit gas from the Soyuz main gas pipeline to gas pipelines in the temporarily uncontrolled territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. It is about the theft of gas and the inability of GTSOU to be responsible for maintaining transit volumes. Due to the direct interference of the occupiers in the modes of operation of the Ukrainian GTS, GTSOU was forced to declare force majeure at the entry point Sokhranivka.
Russian officials used the opportunity to accuse Ukraine of violating contract agreements on gas transport to Europe. However, the fact is that Ukraine is fulfilling its transit responsibilities even in times of war. Under the terms of the transit contract, Ukraine has the right to transfer the reception of gas to another point (Sudzha), which was offered to the Russians, following consultations with international lawyers. Russian PJSC Gazprom has not taken the opportunity to transfer transit capacity from Sokhranivka to Sudzha, even though the technical ability of Sudzha (244 mcm of natural gas per day) is more than sufficient to continue transporting the contracted volumes. Moreover, even without changing the current contract, “Sudzha” can accept 77.2 mcm of natural gas per day. At the same time, currently, the capacity of the GMS Sudzha for the increase of transit volumes to European countries is not being used. Also, before declaring the emergency situation, Ukraine had warned its European partners, and is expecting a legal response from the Russians. If Russia stop transit, Ukraine is ready to move the case to the international courts.
IS THE WORLD THREATENED BY FAMINE BECAUSE OF RUSSIAN ATTACK ON UKRAINE?
Until 24 February, 2022, exports of agricultural products were one of the main sources of currency in Ukraine (for a month through ports, Ukrainian companies exported from 5 to 7 million tons of grain). Currently, due to Russian aggression, about a third of agricultural land will not be sown. The most agrarian regions of Kherson, Zaporozhye and Mykolayiv remain largely occupied. According to UN estimates, the amount of grain that Ukraine cannot ship due to the blockade of ports (Odessa, Mykolaiv, Mariupol and other cities) is 2.5 million tons of grain (only about 1 million tons can be transported abroad by rail and road today). Last year, the share of Asian countries was almost half - 49.1% to 13.7 billion dollars (all agro-export). In 2021 China’s share of Ukrainian agri-food exports was over 15%, and the EU’s share of Ukrainian agri-food exports was 30.1%. Volumes of supplies to African countries accounted for 13.3% of all Ukrainian agricultural exports.
Due to the blockade of ports, the traditional directions of export of Ukrainian agricultural products were lost, and it actually forced farmers to look for new directions. This search is ongoing. According to preliminary estimates, the price of Ukrainian grain - due to new supply routes as well as fuel shortages - may increase by at least 60%.
MACRON AND SCHOLZ'S STATEMENTS
On 9 May, President of France Emmanuel Macron, speaking at the European Parliament, proposed to create a new format of cooperation between European states and Ukraine. According to him, it could take “several years” for Ukraine to join the EU. German Chancellor Olaf Scholzstatedthat he welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to create a more comprehensive European club outside the EU. The Office of the President of Ukraine does not support Macron’s idea regarding an alternative to UA membership. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, also stated that “if Ukraine does not receive the status of the candidate for EU membership, it will mean deception on the side of the EU and Ukraine is not going to swallow it”. In addition, Russian diplomats continue to create new “red lines” for the West, opposing Ukraine’s accession to the European Union.
Proposals to launch a new format of EU cooperation with Ukraine seven weeks before the European Commission’s conclusion to grant Ukraine status of candidate demonstrate that France and Germany currentlylack the political will to speak about Ukraine’s membership prospects. Obviously, EU member states will continue to help financially and impose sanctions on Russia. However, they are not ready to take responsibility for the future of Ukraine as a member of the European Union. Such EU policy is a positive signal for the Kremlin and its propagandists, who will use this message to sow more discord, both in Ukraine and in the EU. Ukraine is analysing the rhetoric of EU leaders, understanding the risks of a negative response during the EU summit in June, taking a confrontational stance and calling the possible non-granting of candidate status as “Bucharest 2”. Such disagreements among the partners could have negatively affected the relations between Ukraine and the EU, as well as the mood of Ukrainians, causing frustration and despair of the EU, which is only in Moscow’s favour.
FORCED DEPORTATION AS EVIDENCE OF GENOCIDE OF UKRAINIANS BY RUSSIANS
According to aggregate data, as of 15 May, 1.2 million people have already been deported from Ukraine to Russia. Of these, 211,000 are children, including at least 261 orphans deprived of parental care. The latter are currently being prepared for adoption by Russian citizens. In particular, trials of at least 24 such children are underway in the Moscow region. According to Russian law, after the adoption process is completed, information about the child’s previous life is destroyed, so it will not be possible to establish proof of Ukrainian citizenship upon birth. According to Ukrainian authorities, the lists of “quotas” of deported Ukrainians, which were to be accepted by the Russian regions, were formed before the start of the large-scale invasion on 24 February, 2022. Thus, one such list, which provides for the distribution of Ukrainians in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, as well as the Penza region of the Russian Federation, is dated 18 February. Ukraine is currently in informal talks with Georgia and China so that their offices in Russia can provide consular support to Ukrainian citizens who have been forcibly deported to Russia, and who are currently in difficulty and want to return home.
According to international law, forced deportation is a form of genocide. Why are the Russians forced to deport Ukrainians? The first reason is ideologically-chauvinistic. The goal is to destroy the Ukrainian nation by removing as many women and children as possible from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. In remote regions of Russia, where living standards are extremely low and weather conditions are difficult, they may seek to use Ukrainians as cheap labour. The third and most important is to “cleanse” the occupied territories of the indigenous population in order to populate them with Russian citizens from the same remote territories. That has already taken place in Crimea. Beginning in 2015, ethnic Russians began to move en masse to the peninsula. In both cases, the Russian government’s calculation boils down to the fact that if the geopolitical situation begins to change, it will be more difficult for Ukraine to regain territories in which the Ukrainian population no longer predominates.
UKRAINE SOLIDARITY TRUST FUND
According to the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine and Kyiv School of Economics, Ukraine’s rebuilding and restoration will cost at least $600 billion USD. The Ukrainian government is currently developing a rebuilding plan cooperating with world experts. EU estimates are similar to Ukraine’s. There are different ideas on how to finance the Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund. These include confiscating frozen Russian assets, forcing Russia to pay in a peaceful settlement, and sending money from international donors, including G7 members. On 10 May, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine decided to nationalize all Russian assets in Ukraine. On 3 March, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine passed a law on the forcible seizure of Russian assets in Ukraine. Experts estimate Russian property in Ukraine to be valued at billions of US dollars.
Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction will take years and will require a significant financial investment. The EU is already giving clear assessment of the challenges and stands ready to support the ambitious “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian aggression, the European Union has provided Ukraine with political, diplomatic, military, financial and humanitarian assistance. Work on the launch of the Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund and the search for sources for its funding indicates that such help will continue not only at the tactical level but also at the strategic level. It also demonstrates the importance of restoring and strengthening Ukraine, for the European Union and West in general. At the same time the West is signalling to the Kremlin that it is united and will continue to support Ukraine, including in post-war times.
RUSSIAN SILENT MOBILISATION
Local administrations in the Rostov region, the Mari region (Tatarstan) and the Krasnodar region (and according to some sources in other areas of the Russian Federation) were given the task of calling the male reservists to the military recruitment centres, where the conditions for participating in a “special operation” (war in Ukraine) are clarified to them. Persons who were in the so-called BARS (combat army reserve of the country) are called to military centres, from where they are then to be sent to Ukraine. State organizations provide military recruitment centres with lists of their personnel subject to military service in order to update the military recruitment centres’ data.
Despite information from the British and American media, the Russian president did not announce the reversal of a general mobilization on 9 May following unfavourable results for Russia on the battlefield. Such a step would be very negatively received by the Russian population. In addition, with this step, Putin would confirm that the “special operation” is not going according to plan and that Russia is “at war.” Instead, he opted for the silent mobilization of primarily previously demobilized Russian soldiers (soldiers in reserve) who have at least basic training. The move clearly signals that the Kremlin is not ready to end the conflict in the coming weeks.