Security situation update: Ukraine anticipates intensified attacks on Independence Day
The coldest winter in the history of Ukraine: is there a plan B and C?
When will there finally be a new head of ARMA?
Trilateral meeting in Lviv
Prospects of visa restrictions for Russians
U-turn on Putin: Russiagate strikes in Italy
Ukraine’s cultural front attacks Putin-Orban friendship
SECURITY SITUATION UPDATE: UKRAINE ANTICIPATES INTENSIFIED ATTACKS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
In the second half of August, the advance of the Russian forces (RAF) has slowed down, though they continue to attack Ukrainian positions both in the East and the South, with superiority in number of air, tanks and artillery systems. Daily shelling, causing dozens of civilian casualties, continue in Sumy, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia areas. Mykolayiv and Kharkiv are also under attack from various types of missiles every night,
with reports of heavy destruction of residential buildings and civilian infrastructure. According to the Ukrainian Security Service, only one out of 20 Russian missile strikes in Ukraine hits a military target, while the rest hit civilian infrastructure. The Ukrainian air defence system, however, is intercepting missiles with increased effectiveness: on the morning of 20 August, four Kalibr cruise missiles launched by RAF on the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast were brought down by only four Ukrainian S-300 missiles. Also, Ukrainian forces (AFU) continued to strike Russian ammunition depots and positions in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts, including large arsenals in Melitopol, Nova Kakhovka. Resistance forces also continued attacks on the collaborators, RAF and installed occupant administrations.
A significant development is that, following the first registered blasts at the military airport Novofedorivka in the occupied Crimea on 9 August,a series of explosions has been registered daily in the various military infrastructure facilities around the peninsula. Ammunition depots in Dzhankoi, military airport Belbek near Sevastopol, and Russian military airbase in Gvardeyskoye were hit amongst other targets, with Russian occupation authorities blaming groups of Ukrainian saboteurs. On 20 August, Russian occupation officials in Crimea reported a drone attack (Mugin-5-PRO civilian drone) on the Russian Black Sea Fleet Headquarters in Sevastopol. Ukrainian IT specialists also hacked into the TV system of Crimea, broadcasting Ukrainian content, including an address by President Zelenskyy.
Russia is likely to respond with further escalation, including possible acts of violence during the celebration of the Ukrainian Independence Day (24 August), which will also mark six months since the start of the war. Russia is concentrating a large number of S-300 air defense systems near the border with Ukraine and along the front line, and will reportedly partially close the sky over the Lipetsk, Voronezh and Belgorod oblasts on 22–25 August 2022. Russians have significantly increased the number of missile carriers in the Black Sea. In the same time, Belarus extended military exercises on eight military ranges around boarder with Ukraine until 27 August. Also, Ukrainian cities introduced new siren systems, signalling radiological or chemical attacks. Based on Ukrainian intelligence, President Zelenskyy warned his partners about expected actions of the Russian Federation this week.
Explosions in the territory of Crimea, which remains internationally recognized as part of Ukraine, is a strong claim from Ukraine to regain the territories annexed by Russia since 2014. While AFU still lack the means and resources to conduct a large-scale counteroffensive, such precision attacks, both with the use of the newly acquired long range systems, as well as special forces operating deep inside the occupied territory, can be assessed as effective asymmetric tactics. Firstly, strengthening security in Crimea may require Russia to relocate part of its military away from the front lines. Secondly, strikes have multiple psychological effects, causing traffic jams of Russian tourists fleeing back home at the Kerch bridge. Combined with regular successful strikes targeting the Russian military in the other occupied territories, until recently beyond the reach of Ukrainian artillery, this feeling of insecurity further undermines morale among Russian troops. On 18 August, Ukraine received access to ICEYE's Synthetic Aperture Radar Satellite operations, acquired by donations from Ukrainians in a public campaign organized by a charity fund. This would help to make further strikes even more precise. While Russia will, presumably, respond with more violence, Ukrainian actions are becoming more sophisticated and complex, undermining the invaders’ logistics and radio-electronic warfare facilities, breaking IT systems, and conducting psy-ops. This may potentially create a beneficial background for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, provided that Ukraine continues to acquire sufficient weapons to challenge Russian dominance on the ground.
THE COLDEST WINTER IN THE HISTORY OF UKRAINE: IS THERE A PLAN B AND C?
Ukraine is expecting the most difficult heating season in its modern history. The problem is two-fold: where to get resources (money for gas and gas itself), and the high probability of destruction of electricity and heat supply facilities as a result of Russian bombings. Central authorities mostly say that everything is under control and all necessary measures are being taken. The government plans to purchase a reserve amount of the necessary equipment in case of its failure.
At the same time, mayors of Ukrainian cities last week came out with appeals to the public and advised the people in Kyiv to stock up on blankets and autonomous stoves. The mayor of Lviv recorded a video about gathering firewood and other advice on how to prepare for the upcoming winter. After these announcements, the price for firewood, pellets, generators, electric stoves increased even more, and shelves in stores with the these goods were emptied.
The question of surviving the upcoming winter for Ukraine is not only about gas volumes. Yes, there is not enough gas and most of the production is in the war zone. But gas consumption also fell by 40% due to the departure of millions of people from country, the impossibility of supply to certain parts of the country and the shutdown of industrial enterprises. Currently, underground gas storage facilities in Ukraine are filled with 12.6 bcm of gas. According to experts, 15 bcm will be sufficient. Every month, Ukraine pumps about 1.1 billion cubic meters of its own gas into storage facilities. If Russia completely stops the transit of gas to the EU through Ukraine, the pressure in the gas transportation system will drop. In this case it will be necessary to import additional 1-2 bcm. We wrote in detail about the issue of energy resources and money in July.
There will be no tariff riots in Ukraine either. The authorities have introduced a moratorium on heating price increases throughout the period of martial law and six months after it. Therefore, the main risk is Russian shelling of power plants and electrical substations. 327 critical infrastructure facilities in the field of heat supply have already been compromised (316 cogeneration plants and 11 thermal power plants) half of which have since been restored. Fortunately, thus far the number of hits has been limited and there has been time to recover from the damage. Attacks on energy infrastructure in autumn or winter will be more critical. The worst case scenario is a partial black-out. This would cause, among other things, an automatic shutdown of centralized heating, water supply and electric transport, paralysing hospitals, government bodies, telecommunication etc.
Mandatory evacuation of residents has been announced in the most affected Donetsk region. There will be practically no gas supplies. Of the 1.7 million people who lived in the region before the war, only 235,000 will remain there after the evacuation. That is the maximum number of people that can be provided with heat. The most difficult situation is predicted in the territories occupied by Russia, in particular, in the Zaporizhzhia region, where the occupiers are only simulating preparations for the heating season. There is also only one solution to the problem - evacuation to Kyiv-controlled territories.
The rest of the settlements must provide heat and light to their residents and IDPs from other territories. There are two categories of cities in Ukraine: those that have retained centralized heat supply and those with decentralized and individual heating (less than 40%). The second category is most vulnerable, because the municipal authorities are unable to influence the situation. Residents with individual systems must have generators for at least several apartments, of which there is currently a major shortage.
Mayors of some cities began to switch from gas to alternative sources. For example, Zhytomyr is switching its thermal power plants from gas to biofuel (wood chips) and wants to reduce gas consumption by85%.In the event of the failure of one boiler room, there is equipment for switching to another, and generators have been purchased to power entire neighbourhoods. But very few cities are so well-prepared. For example, Nikopol, which is currently under fire, and which previously gave up central heating, has every chance of freezing in winter.
Cities must not only prepare but be ready to implement crisis plans for situations when gas supply is interrupted or a major black-out occurs. There are steps that need to be solved urgently at the state level and with the help of international partners.
The government should also allow communities to collect wood from the forest (except in places where it is prohibited due to the threat of landmines). Currently, in Ukraine, all wood with a diameter of more than 6 cm can be collected only by state enterprises.
In the future, it is necessary to increase the number of complex programs of preferential lending to cities for switching to alternative sources of energy (biofuel, garbage). This requires state and European support programs. They are also needed to replace old heating and water supply systems. This must be taken into account in the post-war reconstruction programs of Ukraine: the new infrastructure must be energy-saving, ecological and take into account all security risks.
WHEN WILL THERE FINALLY BE A NEW HEAD OF ARMA?
On 15 August, the commission for the selection of the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA) head did not choose any of the candidates as the winner for this position. ARMA is an anti-corruption body that seeks the assets of persons involved in criminal proceedings. The commission has held about 20 meetings during its entire existence, however, it has not made any progress in choosing an independent and effective head. The further fate of this competition depends on the government’s decision.
The problem of delaying competitions for high positions in various institutions is common in Ukraine. Only recently, Oleksandr Klymenko was elected as the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). The competition lasted more than half a year and was artificially slowed down by the commission’s members. However, pressure from Ukrainian society and international partners prompted the commission to make a decision.
The competition for the ARMA’s head was not so actively covered in the media or by activists. This body is important for carrying out anti-corruption measures in Ukraine and supporting the reconstruction of objects destroyed by Russia. In times of war, ARMA searches for and discovers the assets of Russians or companies associated with the aggressor country. The task of ARMA is to manage seized assets and preserve their economic value. Therefore, an honest and independent manager is necessary for effectively performing this function.
Despite its importance, ARMA has been without a permanent head for more than two years. During the six years of its operation, the Agency was involved in various corruption scandals and could not carry out effective work with assets. At the same time, maintaining the Agency is expensive for the state. For the period of 2019-2020, the state budget for ARMA’s maintenance amounted to more than 18.5 million euros – almost ten times the income gained from it (less than 1.9 million euros).
At the time of the announcement of the competition for the position of the ARMA head, there was no information about the procedure for its conduct and the commission’s work regulations. Due to this, significantly fewer candidates participated. Potential candidates refrained from submitting documents without understanding how the selection process would take place. The current candidates in this competition raise doubts about their integrity.
The optimal way out of this situation would be to announce a new competition for this position. However, the commission did not recommend the government to hold a new competition. Ukraine is already taking steps to increase the level of public trust in the bodies responsible for the main reforms in the country. This is shown by the recent election of two members of the Supreme Council of Justice by the Verkhovna Rada, Roman Maselko and Mykola Moroz, whose integrity and impartiality are beyond any doubt. Together with the election of an independent SAPO prosecutor, this sends a positive signal to both society and partners regarding the state’s active role in the implementation of anti-corruption reforms. The effective work of ARMA can help Ukraine use assets related to Russia to reconstruct the country. Despite the active support of international partners, it is doubtful that Western countries will be able to cover 100% of the country’s financial losses. Therefore, Ukraine must use all opportunities it has to collect compensations from the enemy more effectively.
TRILATERAL MEETING IN LVIV
On 18 August, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Lviv. After two separate meetings, the parties also held a joint meeting. The main topics discussed were grain export, the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and the exchange of prisoners of war. A Memorandum of Understanding on the reconstruction of Ukrainian infrastructure was signed between Ukraine and Turkey. Erdoğan once again suggested a return to the format of the negotiations based on the meetings that took place in Istanbul in March. Mykhailo Podoliak, Adviser to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, stated earlier that it is no longer possible to return to the “Istanbul communique”. President Zelenskyy repeated Ukraine’s position by making a statement after the meeting, saying that Ukraine will only negotiate with Russia when all Russian troops withdraw from the occupied territories of Ukraine.
This was the first meeting Zelenskyy and Erdoğan had since the war began, although it was preceded by Erdoğan’s meeting with Putin earlier this month. Erdoğan’s efforts to bring Zelenskyy and Putin to the negotiation table may continue, and this time, the topic of focus was not the grain deal, but broader peace talks. The idea of a cease-fire was voiced by Turkey earlier, when Erdoğan urged Putin to announce a cease-fire. However, why would Russia be interested in a cease-fire on the battlefield? Because it would use it to gain time to reorganize its troops, strengthen its position, and develop new strategies, while at the same time not fulfilling the conditions of a hypothetical cease-fire. The cease-fire would end up prolonging the war, and consolidate Russia’s land gains, while it is already planning to hold a referendum in the south of Ukraine to establish its occupation forces. In any case, Ukrainian society won’t accept any concessions - 84% have stated that Ukraine should under no circumstances abandon any territories, even if this risks a prolonged war and threats to the preservation of independence. For Erdoğan it would be a way to please Putin and gain political points at home, increasing Turkey’s regional impact. However, this regional impact does not have any leverage over Kyiv. And it seems that the only practical outcome of the meeting was that Turkey defined its future participation in the reconstruction process of Ukraine.
PROSPECTS OF VISA RESTRICTIONS FOR RUSSIANS
As part of the 7th package of sanctions against the Russian Federation, the EU is considering imposing a visa ban for Russians. Some EU member states have already banned entry for Russian tourists under national laws. In June, the Czech government stopped issuing visas for Russians and Belarusians until March 2023. In early August, Latvia suspended the issuance of visas for Russian citizens for an unspecified period. From September, Finland will reduce the number of tourist visas issued to Russian citizens by 90%. Estonia has not issued tourist visas for Russians since March, and since last week Russian citizens with Schengen visas have not been allowed to enter the country. Lithuania supports Estonia’s decision and calls on the abolition of the “Schengen” for Russians across the entire EU. Poland and the EU-chairing Czech Republic support this idea. Kyiv calls for such action too. However, the European Commission claimed that EU rules do not allow to ban visas for Russians completely. At the same time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not support a complete ban on Russians entering Europe. The Kremlin reacted critically to the restrictions of EU countries. The mechanism of a possible ban on Schengen visas for Russians will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague in late August.
An EU-wide ban on Schengen visas for Russian citizens has been discussed at the EU and government levels for several weeks. This decision can be made only in case of approval by the EU Council with the unanimous support of the 27 member states. However, so far, there is no such support. Currently, more than 10 EU members are not issuing tourist visas for Russians (Baltic states, Finland, Norway, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Malta, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia). These states insist on abolishing Schengen visas for Russians within the EU. The main goal of such restrictions is to secure the EU space, increase pressure on Moscow, and end the war in Ukraine.
For the EU, visas are a security tool. After the EU closed its airspace to Russia in February, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland became the key land corridors through which Russian Schengen visa holders travel to other EU countries. For example, according to Finnish media, since the beginning of the war, Russians have applied for almost 60,000 Finnish visas. The Kremlin is taking advantage of the situation by sending its propagandists, spies, and saboteurs abroad as tourists. Therefore, by abolishing the Schengen visas for Russians for at least a year, the EU will protect its own space from the influence of Russian agents working on splitting the EU and undermining unity in helping Ukraine.
Another advantage of “visa sanctions” could be uniting the internal opposition within Russia. The instrument of pressure on the Kremlin should be the citizens of the Russian Federation themselves. On the one hand, Russians supportive of the actions of the Putin regime are also accomplices in the aggression against Ukraine, so the privilege of visiting Europe should be restricted for this group. On the other hand, those Russians who do not support Putin and are dissatisfied with visa restrictions may become the core of the opposition in the Russian Federation. Closing EU borders could be an incentive to protest against the Kremlin rule.
In the short term, visa restrictions will have a positive effect, especially for the image of the “big Russia”. However, there are also some risks that come with totally isolating Russians. The “Iron Curtain” for Russians may cause outrage against Europeans, although the goal is for resistance directed against Putin’s regime. Thus, with the help of propaganda, the Kremlin will further demonize the West. This argument can be used as an incentive for further mobilization for the war.
This week, Italian parties finally presented their lists of candidates as well as finalized the programs in preparation for the parliamentary elections on 25 September. However, the focus in Italy was not on the names but their links to Russia. During various TV shows and Twitter posts, leaders of Italian left-wing parties openly accused right-wing parties of ‘special connections’ with Russian leadership. However, the ray of light comes with another right-wing party – ‘Brothers of Italy’ (Fratelli d’Italia) headed by Giorgia Meloni. She presents a sort of anti-Russian stance signalling a change in the traditional Italian political set-up. The ‘Brothers of Italy’ is the only political party among the opposition to Mario Draghi’s government to support military aid to Ukraine. Taking into account she is heading the exit polls (24% of votes), this could be a sign of some incoming changes in doing business with Russia. Her party demands to add two important points to the coalition agreement after the elections: unquestionable support for Ukraine, and determination of economic reforms in Italy. In Meloni’s opinion, the agreed support of Ukraine will allow all ‘right-wing’ parties to have advantages during the coordination of ministerial positions, one of which is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. And, if a representative of the ‘Lega’ will embrace it according to the quota, then Italy will affirm its position as one of the leading countries of the world, in G7 and NATO.
Left-wing Italian parties are calling on ‘Lega’ to nullify its agreement with Putin’s party ‘United Russia’, signed in 2017. Since that time, many attempts to close the doors of Russiagate have been unsuccessful. One of the recent affairs is related to Italy’s prime minister resigning. According to investigations of La Stampa, in May 2022, the leader of the populist ‘Lega’ Matteo Salvini, together with the right-wing ‘5 Star Movement’ launched an open campaign against Mario Draghi’s government and promoted a resolution in the Parliament of Italy to ban arms supplies to Ukraine. It also claims that ‘Lega’ advisors were meeting with Russian diplomats in order to discuss the details of dissolving the Italian government.
Another leader of right-wing party ‘Forza Italia’ Silvio Berlusconi simply stresses “Italy needs me”. Silvio Berlusconi has always maintained a special attitude towards Russian business as well as relation with Vladimir Putin. The position of ‘Forza Italia’ was not defined since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. More precisely, there was just silence. But the opinion was finally formed on 20 May, when Silvio Berlusconi criticized NATO at a public event in Naples and declared that “Europe should make a peace proposal, trying to force the Ukrainians to accept Putin’s demands”.
It is obvious that Russia will continue to destabilize the situation in Italy in the future. Currently, an artificial migration threat is also used as a weapon to destabilize the situation in the Mediterranean Sea and thus in Italy. The influx of migrants has noticeably increased. The shores of Libya, which are partially under the control of the armed forces of General Haftar and Russian mercenaries from the ‘Wagner’ group, are increasingly filled with migrants. It is obvious that the issue of migration will become a key issue during the September elections.
UKRAINE'S CULTURAL FRONT ATTACKS PUTIN-ORBAN FRIENDSHIP
The performance of Ukrainian artists at Sziget festival on 10-15 August in Budapest will be remembered. Rapper Alina Pash (native of the Zakarpattia region bordering Hungary) tore apart the picture of Putin and Orban shaking hands, shouting “Shame on Russia!”. This performance was extensively covered in Hungarian media. “Hungary could make history as a country that supports the evil” – said a Ukrainian woman who showed up in a video message as part of Pash’s show. And Ukrainian band KAZKA called for support of Azovstal war prisoners and for an end to Russian nuclear terrorism.
Alina Pash found it crucial to speak to the Hungarian audience at Sziget. This was despite her criticism at home that she was not supposed to share the stage with Russian artists who preferred to keep silent regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Whether Ukrainian artists should perform with Russians in the line-ups has become the issue under debate. Kalush, this year’s winner of Eurovision, made a stance rejecting to take part in a festival in Montenegro together with Russian performers. In order to reach international audiences, Ukrainian artists often have to compromise their morality going to festivals with Russian artists who are silent about the war or even openly support it. On the other hand, some music festivals prefer not to cancel Russian musicians based on their views or lack of those.
Hungarian society is largely polarized on Russia and Ukraine issues. According to recent polls, 42% of Hungarians think that Russia invaded Ukraine because of genocide of Russians in Ukraine, while 45% do not believe in this statement. In April this year, Viktor Orban won the 4th consecutive term as Hungarian Prime Minister despite his open support for and cooperation with Putin. Orban did not only make his country dependent on Russian energy but also expelled the free-thinking Central European University from Hungary and prosecuted independent media and NGOs. Ukrainian artists made a strong statement that Hungarians should resist Orban’s pro-Russian sentiments not just for the sake of Ukraine but for the sake of their own freedom.