Ukraine update: Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is …

Ukraine update: Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is …

On Saturday evening in Kyiv, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said they believe Russia is positioning its forces for a strike toward Sievierodonetsk. Located near the western edge of the Luhansk oblast, the city of 101,000, and the neighboring city of Lysychansk (population 95,000) are the lynchpins of Ukraine’s eastern defenses. Located on the east bank of the Seversky Donets River, Sievierodonetsk is threatened by Russian movements that have strengthened the salient running through Izyum and captured villages to the northwest.

The advance along this line is slow.  It’s taken Russian forces better than two weeks to move less than ten miles. Even so, the buildup of forces northwest of Rubizhne, and continued heavy shelling from Russian bases to the east, has led to some suggestion that, should Russian forces progress much further south from Izyum, Ukraine might choose to withdraw from both Rubizhne and Sievierodonetsk, falling back across the river and using that natural barrier as the new line of defense.

The dark line cutting between Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk represents trees along the river that could become the new front line.

The idea here is to prevent the possibility of a large number of Ukrainian forces being cut off. However, it’s hard to believe that Ukraine would take this action unless the situation was truly dire. Sievierodonetsk has been one of the cores of Ukrainian resistance since pro-Russian forces occupied parts of Luhansk oblast eight years ago. Ukraine certainly can’t be anxious to surrender any population center after seeing what’s happened in places like Bucha and what is still happening in Mariupol. Sievierodonetsk could expect to be come in for especially harsh treatment considering its role in holding back Russian forces since 2014.

So while a planned withdrawal may be on a “in case of fire” chart somewhere, don’t expect it to happen any time soon. Any idea that Ukrainian forces are about to pick up and run in large numbers is wishful thinking on Russia’s part.

Sec. of State Blinken and Sec. of Defense Austin to be in Kyiv on Sunday

Repeating the news from the last update, the Ukrainian government has announced that U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will make a trip to Kyiv on Sunday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.

Zelenskyy also stated that he expected President Joe Biden to visit Kyiv “when the security will allow.” Though a host of foreign officials have visited Kyiv in recent days, it seems unlikely that Biden will make that journey so long as Air Force One can get no closer than Poland, Russian missiles are still plowing into cities in western Ukraine, and getting to Kyiv requires making a long train journey along a route Russia has repeatedly threatened to destroy.

On the other hand … Biden likes trains.

Saturday, Apr 23, 2022 · 8:19:21 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Poor Humvee made it all the way to Ukraine, only to get totaled. However, there are plenty more where this came from.

📷Destroyed Ukrainian HMMWV near Izium, #Kharkiv Oblast. #Ukraine #UkraineRussiaWar

— (@Militarylandnet) April 23, 2022

Saturday, Apr 23, 2022 · 11:47:14 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

BREAKING: Without making it public, Slovakia has started transferring T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Two of them were spotted today in the Luhansk region, heading for the frontlines. Great job Slovakia! 🇸🇰🇺🇦

— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) April 23, 2022

It’s hard to sanction Russian oligarchs when they keep dying

On Friday, Newsweek published a list of Russian oligarchs who have been sanctioned right out of the land of the living. That includes two cases this week, one in Spain and the other in Russia, in which oligarchs appeared to die as part of a murder-suicide.

However. “appeared” may be the operative word here, as at least one of these cases was particularly grisly. 

The body of Sergey Protosenya, former top manager of Russia’s energy giant Novatek, was found together with those of his wife and daughter on Tuesday in a rented villa in Spain, where the family was reportedly on holiday for Easter.

The 55-year-old millionaire was found hanged in the garden of the villa in Lloret de Mar by Catalonian police, Spanish media reported, while his wife and daughter were found in their beds with stab wounds on their bodies.

According to local media outlets Telecinco and El Punt Avui, an axe and a knife were found next to the body of Protosenya.

The cause of Protosenya’s death isn’t detailed, but … can someone really commit suicide with an axe?

A day earlier, Gazprombank executive Vladislav Avaev was found dead along with his wife and daughter (shot, in this case). Which could be coincidence, but … last month billionaire Vasily Melnikov was found dead along with his wife and two sons. At least two other oligarchs have died since Russian forces rolled into Ukraine.

All this could still be coincidence. However, three murder-suicide plots that wiped out entire families in under a month seems like the sort of coincidence that might have Russian oligarchs worrying about more than the fate of their yachts. And it seems like the kind of news that would definitely make their families consider going on separate vacations.

Spontaneous Russian combustion

On Saturday, a significant fire broke out at the College of Aerospace Engineering and Technology in Korolyov, Russia. On closer inspection, it seems that this fire is actually at a facility called TsNIIMash, the primary analytical center for Roscosmos, the Russian space program. 

On Friday, the Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant, on the outskirts of Moscow, went up in a fairly spectacular blaze. This was Russia’s largest single chemical plant. Their major product is listed as “industrial solvents” like butyl acetate which is quite flammable (as well as smelling like a cross between apples and bananas). These products are used as raw material and reagents in synthesizing a host of other materials, and the loss of the Dmitrievsky plant can be expected to slowdown production at other plants across a large area. Reportedly, products from this factory were directly involved in Russian weapon production.

On Thursday, another fire broke out at a research facility with connections to both the Russian Ministry of Defense and Roscosmos in the city of Tver. At least six people are dead and 10 more missing, including scientists  reportedly involved in the design of Iskander missiles.

All of this could also be coincidence … Russia is not exactly known for high safety standards or up-to-date infrastructure. Fires happen in Russia with much greater frequency and higher loss of life than in most countries. But the idea of a few nondescript “repair men” driving around Russia in old coveralls, and carrying a toolbox full of railroad flares while humming the Ukrainian anthem under their breath seems a lot more fun.

Are you looking closely?

The latest one-week time-lapse from @War_Mapper could be considered an eye test, or just a challenge in careful observation.

A short day by day timelapse of the approximate situation of the war in Ukraine over the last 7 days. (17th –> 23rd April) The situation at 00:00 UTC each day.

— Ukraine War Map (@War_Mapper) April 23, 2022

Cataloging some genuinely vital equipment

#UkraineWar: Newly added Russian equipment losses: 1x Boji named Max (abandoned by Russia and captured by Ukraine) Full list:

— Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) April 23, 2022

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