Russian troops at a welcoming ceremony as they deploy in Belarus, north of Ukraine, January 2022
Source: Institute for the Study of War
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Defense Minister Serge Shoigy on Friday, the first contact between the two men since February 18, six days before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Austin, who initiated the call, appealed for a ceasefire and “emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication” in an hour-long “professional” conversation, according to the Pentagon.
A US official said, “What motivated them to change their mind and be open to [the call], I don’t think we know for sure.”
He continued, “The call itself didn’t specifically solve any acute issues or lead to a direct change in what the Russians are doing or saying.”
UPDATE 1709 GMT:
Russia is suspending electricity supplies to Finland from Saturday because of the Finnish application for NATO membership.
RAO Nordic, a subsidiary of Russian State energy holding company Inter RAO, announced the suspension because it “is not able to make payments for the imported electricity from Russia”.
Finland’s Fingrid said electricity imported from Russia will be suspended “for the time being”, but added, “There is no threat to the adequacy of electricity in Finland.”
It noted that the Russia’s 10% share of Finnish power consumption will be replace with imports from Sweden and by domestic production.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had denied any Russian cutoff of supply, saying early Friday afternoon that Finnish reports of the impending step were “another newspaper hoax” and claiming that Gazprom had no intention of halting gas to Russia’s neighbor.
UPDATE 1659 GMT:
The latest UK sanctions target Vladimir Putin’s financial network, inner circle, and family, arguing that they are sheltering his wealth.
Among the 12 sanctioned individuals are Alina Kabaeva, a media executive and former Olympic gynmnast who is reportedly Putin’s long-time partner; Putin’s ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya; Anna Zatseplina, Kabaeva’s grandmother; businessman Igor Putin, a cousin of the president, and his son Roman, won runs a consulting firm; businessman Mikhail Shelomov, Putin’s first cousin once removed.
The UK Foreign Office said, “Putin relies on his network of family, childhood friends, and selected elite who have benefited from his rule and in turn support his lifestyle. Their reward is influence over the affairs of the Russian state that goes far beyond their formal positions.”
Other relatives of Putin, with executive positions at companies like Russia’s energy giant Gazprom, also face asset freezes and travel bans.
The UK has now sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
UPDATE 1359 GMT:
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said that he is prepared for direct talks with Vladimir Putin, but only if Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine is the starting point for discussions.
Zelenskiy told Italy’s RAI 1 TV:
As President, I am ready to talk to Putin, but only to him. Without any of his intermediaries. And in the framework of dialogue, not ultimatums….
Get out of this territory that you have occupied since February 24. This is the first clear step to talking about anything.
There have been no face-to-face discussions since the two sides met in Turkey on March 29. Ukraine tabled a 15-page document on issues such as Crimea and security guarantees, but the Kremlin refused to make any substantive response.
Ukraine and Russia have been in contact to arrange exchanges of prisoners.
UPDATE 1158 GMT:
Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz reports on his long phone call with Vladimir Putin today, saying he set out three important points: “There must be a ceasefire in Ukraine as soon as possible….The claim that Nazis rule there is false. And I pointed out to him Russia’s responsibility for the global food situation.”
Drei Dinge aus meinem heutigen langen Telefonat mit #Putin: Es muss schnellstmöglich einen Waffenstillstand in der #Ukraine geben. Die Behauptung, dass dort Nazis herrschen, ist falsch. Und ich habe ihn auf die Verantwortung Russlands für die globale Lebensmittellage hingewiesen.
— Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz (@Bundeskanzler) May 13, 2022
The Kremlin said Putin spoke about “measures being taken to ensure the safety of civilians” in his “special military operation”. He tried to reverse evidence of Russian war crimes — and defied Scholz’s injunction over Nazis — with a declaration of “gross violations” committed by Ukrainian militants “professing the Nazi ideology”. Then he insisted that negotiations were “effectively blocked” by the Zelenskiy Government.
UPDATE 0738 GMT:
European Union foreign policy head Josep Borrell says the bloc is providing another €500m ($520m) of military support to Ukraine.
Borrell said he is confident that the EU will soon agree a cutoff of imports of Russian oil, despite resistance from Hungary.
UPDATE 0728 GMT:
UK military intelligence says Russia “lost significant armoured manoeuvre elements of at least one Battalion Tactical Group” when Ukrainian forces blew up a pontoon bridge to check the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the Ukraine Defense Ministry published photos of the demolished bridge, across the Siverskyi Donets river in the eastern Luhansk region, near the strategic city of Lysychansk. The images showed destroyed Russian tanks and other armored vehicles.
The UK report summarized:
Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky manoeuvre and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine.
Russian forces have failed to make any significant advances despite concentrating forces in this area after withdrawing and redeploying units from the Kyiv and Chernihiv Oblasts.
UPDATE 0717 GMT:
The US-based Institute for the Study of War assesses that Russian commanders are narrowing their offensive in eastern Ukraine.
The Institute concludes that Russian forces are halting efforts to encircle the Ukrainian military along the Izyum-Slovyansk-Debaltseve line. Instead, the Russians will seek the more limited encirclements of the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Luhansk region.
The Russians may have finally occupied all of the city of Rubizhne and seized the town of Voevodivka, north of Severodonetsk.
But the Institute assesses that it is “unclear if Russian forces can encircle, let alone capture, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk even if they focus their efforts on that much-reduced objective”.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said this morning that fighting continues in Rubizhne with the Russian trying to storm the city as well as “Zolote, Nizhne, suburbs of Severodonetsk”.
UPDATE 0659 GMT:
The Ukraine military claims it has damaged another Russian warship near Snake Island in the western Black Sea.
A spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration said the logistics ship Vsevolod Bobrov — “one of the newest in the Russian fleet” — was struck and set on fire.
Last weekend satellite images confirmed that attacks on Russian-occupied Snake Island, a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion, had flattened most of the buildings. The Ukrainians claimed the destruction of a landing craft, two patrol boats, and a helicopter.
UPDATE 0651 GMT:
US Senator Rand Paul has blocked the passage of a $40bn package of economic, humanitarian, and military aid for Ukraine.
The Kentucky senator, a self-proclaimed libertarian, demanded changes such as an inspector general to oversee spending.
The Ron Paul Institute, established by the senator’s father, is a loud defender of Russia’s position on issues including its military intervention in Syria and its “special military operation” in Ukraine. The site often recycles Russian disinformation lines and conspiracy theories.
UPDATE 0646 GMT:
A Kyiv court is preparing for the first war crimes trial of an occupying Russian soldier.
Sergeant Vadim Shysimarin, 21, a commander in Russia’s Kantemirovskaya tank division, is charged with shooting and killing an unarmed man, 62, who was on a bicycle and talking on his phone in the village of Chupakhivka in northern Ukraine.
Prosecutors say Shysimarin, using an AK-74 rifle was ordered to kill the civilian to prevent the man reporting on Russian movements to Ukrainian forces. He faces from 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
Two other cases are due in court within days. One is the in absentia trial of Mikhail Romanov for rape and murder. He is accused of breaking into a house in March in a village near Kyiv, killing a man and then repeatedly raping his wife while “threatening her and her underage child with violence and weapons”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Soon after Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Western intelligence agencies have assessed that part of the Russian offensive’s initial failures — and its current difficulties in making any progress in the east — is due to low morale among Moscow’s troops.
Now The Guardian and the BBC have direct testimony from Russian soldiers supporting that analysis.
Dmitri, who serve with an elite Russian army brigade, tells The Guardian of refusal among the ranks to prepare for a second deployment to Ukraine in early April.
The unit, normally stationed in the far east of Russia, initially invaded Ukraine from Belarus at the end of February and was in intense combat with Ukrainian defenders.
When they were ordered to return, “it soon became clear that not everyone was onboard with it. Many of us simply did not want to go back,” Dmitri says.
Dmitri and eight compatriots told commanders of their refusal. “They were furious. But they eventually calmed down because there wasn’t much they could do,” he explains.
He has been transferred to Belgorod in Russia, close to the Ukrainian border: “I have served for five years in the army. My contract ends in June. I will serve my remaining time and then I am out of here.”
I have nothing to be ashamed of. We aren’t officially in a state of war, so they could not force me to go.
The extent of refusal among Russian forces has not been established, but a Ukrainian analyst has told EA Worldview that up to 70% of Moscow’s troops ordered back into Ukraine from Belarus have objected. Mikhail Benyash, a lawyer advising Russian soldiers, says more than 1,000 of soldiers had been in touch for advice, including 12 national guardsmen from Russia’s southern city of Krasnodar who sued after their dismissal. (Nine later withdrew from the lawsuit, saying they had received threats.)
“I Wanted to Return to My Family”
Sergey Bokov, 23, decided to leave the army at the end of April. He tells BBC Russian, “Our commanders didn’t even argue with us because we were not the first ones to leave.”
Putin has unwittingly assisted the refusals by calling his invasion a “special military operation”, refusing to declare that it is a war or to order a general mobilization.
Lawyer Benyash explained that, without the legal status of a Russia at war:
Commanders try to threaten their soldiers with prison time if they dissent, but we tell the soldiers that they can simply say no….There are no legal grounds to start a criminal case if a soldier refuses to fight while on Russian territory.
He continued, “During wartime, rules are totally different. Refusal then would mean much harsher penalties. They would be looking at time in prison.”
The Russian military is using mercenaries, including from the Wagner Group, but analysts say they cannot fill the large gap from heavy casualties and the soldiers refusing a return to the battlefield.
Breaking his pledge not to use conscript, Putin could order a mobilization. That would risk antagonizing large sections of the Russian population who currently support the “special military operation”, according to Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
More importantly, the conscripts offer no guarantee of reviving a Russian advance. Analyst Rob Lee explains, “Conscripts could fill some of the gaps, but they will be poorly trained. Many of the units that are supposed to train conscripts are fighting themselves.”
Kolesnikov adds that the mobilization could lead to “colossal losses of untrained soldiers”.
That assessment bolster Dmitri’s explanation of why he and his colleagues would no longer be part of Vladimir Putin’s invasion: “I wanted to return to my family — and not in a casket.”