The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has made limited progress: small gains from forces pressing south from Izyium and a virtual stalemate pushing to the north from around Mariupol, a senior Pentagon official said Monday.
The official characterized the Russian attack as “incremental and somewhat anemic.” The Russians have been trying to orchestrate their artillery, air and ground forces in eastern Ukraine with little success, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments.
The Ukrainians, however, have countered with artillery strikes of their own. The Pentagon is sending 90 M777 howitzer cannons to Ukraine, 85 of which have arrived, and more than 100,000 artillery shells.
Russian morale continues to suffer, the official said, with anecdotal reports of officers refusing to follow orders in the eastern Donbas region. Muddy ground has further slowed Russian operations. The inability to supply its troops, a problem that forced the Russian retreat from Kyiv, continues to slow their progress in eastern Ukraine.
About 97 Russian battalion groups are inside Ukraine, the official said. That’s an increase in recent days of about five battalion groups, which total about 700 to 1,000 troops.
►Phillips P. O’Brien, author and professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, in social media posts described Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s troops as “ill-prepared cannon fodder” that can’t last long against experienced and increasingly well armed Ukraine. “Without concrete steps to build a new force, Russia can’t fight a long war, and the clock starts ticking on the failure of their army in Ukraine,” he tweeted.
►The U.S. is suspending the 25% import taxes on Ukraine’s steel for one year, the Commerce Department said Monday.
►Poland said it will increase its energy assistance to neighboring Ukraine and provide steady deliveries. Climate and Environment minister, Anna Moskwa, said a round-the clock effort is being set in motion to “ensure energy security to Ukraine.”
►Ukrainian troops continue to graduate from courses to train them on use of U.S. weaponry, including more than 300 soldiers on the operation of the howitzer cannons, said a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments.
►Protesters in Poland threw what appeared to be red paint, to symbolize blood, at Russian Ambassador Sergey Andreev as he arrived at a cemetery in Warsaw to pay respects to Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.
►Russian forces pushed forward Monday in their assault on Ukraine, seeking to capture the crucial southern port city of Mariupol. Determined to show success in a war now in its 11th week, Russian troops pummeled a seaside steel mill where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned Monday that it could take decades for Ukraine to win admittance into the European Union and suggested creating an alternative community of other democratic states in the region.
“We all know perfectly that the process of allowing (Ukraine) to join would take several years, in fact probably several decades,” Macron said. Other EU hopefuls like Moldova and Georgia would be candidates for what he called the “European political community.” Such a group of nations could take pressure off the EU to ease its stringent political and economic standards.
The European Commission hopes to deliver an opinion next month on Ukraine’s request to join the EU, commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday on Twitter. The 27 EU nations have been united in backing Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, but leaders are divided on how fast Brussels could accept Ukraine as a member. Ukraine does have an “Association Agreement” that includes a free-trade pact and plans to modernize Ukraine’s economy.
“EU support and Ukraine’s European pathway,” von der Leyen tweeted. “Looking forward to receiving the answers to the EU membership questionnaire.”
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen was headed to Hungary on Monday to try and secure unanimity on a proposal to ban oil imports from Russia. She has proposed having EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.
Hungary opposes the plan, and Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told his parliament on Monday that “Hungarians must not be made to pay the price of the war,” Hungary Today reported. The Hungarian government makes a “clear distinction between attacker and victim” and condemns Russia’s military aggression, he said. Hungary launched a massive aid program to help Ukraine and has so far accommodated nearly 700,000 refugees, he said
But oil sanctions would have the effect of a “nuclear bomb” on his nation’s economy and would destroy its stable energy supply, Sijjarto said.
Russia’s troops in Ukraine were “fighting for the motherland, its future,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday at a military parade marking the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
But Putin did not, as some analysts and Western officials expected, use his Victory Day speech in Moscow’s Red Square to declare a full mobilization or “war” against Ukraine. Putin stuck with the phrase he’s been using since Feb. 24 to describe Russia’s invasion – a “special military operation.” There was no declaration of victory.
In brief remarks at the parade, Putin accused the West of preparing the ground for “an invasion of our land” and said NATO was an “obvious threat” to Russia.
“The danger was rising by the day,” he said as he surveyed thousands of troops. “Russia has given a pre-emptive response to aggression. It was a forced, timely and the only correct decision.”
Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Twitter dismissed claims that NATO was going to attack Russia and said Ukraine had no plans to attack Crimea.
“The Russian military is dying, not defending their country, but trying to occupy another,” Podoliak wrote. “There were no rational reasons for this war other than the painful imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video address marking Victory Day in his nation, paying homage to the 8 million Ukrainians who died in World War II and promising that Ukraine will soon have two Victory Days.
“Today we celebrate Victory Day over Nazism,” Zelenskyy said. “We are our proud of our ancestors who together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition defeated Nazism.”
The Russian invasion prompted a war not just of two armies, but of two world views, Zelenskyy said. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has claimed his invasion was to “denazify” Ukraine. Zelenskyy, however, compared Russia’s aggression to Nazi Germany in WWII.
“We won then, we will win now, too,” he said.
A day after her unannounced trip to Ukraine, first lady Jill Biden said Monday that she told President Joe Biden about “the horrors and the brutality” Ukrainians she met with Sunday have faced.
“I said just how much I saw the need to support the people of Ukraine and you know …the horrors and the brutality that the people I had met had experienced,” the first lady told reporters, according to a pool report.
Jill Biden made a surprise trip Sunday into Ukraine, where she met with Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine. She also visited a school that is being used as temporary housing and shelter for 163 displaced Ukrainians, including 47 children.
During her visit to the school, Biden met with some internally displaced Ukrainians. Biden and Zelenska also met with a group of children who were making arts and crafts projects for Mother’s Day.
Biden’s trip to Ukraine was part of a Mother’s Day weekend trip to Romania and Slovakia, where she met with troops, displaced Ukrainians and officials who are helping with refugees who have been impacted by Russia’s war with Ukraine.
The war has dragged on beyond Russian pre-war expectations, likely “heavily” depleting Russia’s stockpile of precision-guided munitions, the British Defense Ministry said Monday in its daily assessment of the carnage. This has forced the use of readily available but aging munitions that are less reliable, less accurate and more easily intercepted, the assessment says. Russia will likely struggle to replace the precision weaponry it has already expended, it said.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed shortcomings in its ability to conduct precision strikes at scale,” the assessment says. “Russia has subjected Ukraine’s towns and cities to intense and indiscriminate bombardments with little or no regard for civilian casualties.”
The last civilians who were sheltering in Mariupol’s sprawling steel mill arrived late Sunday in Zaporizhzhia, the first major Ukrainian city beyond the frontlines.
The Azovstal steel mill is the only part of Mariupol not under Russian control. The port city has been constantly bombarded by Russia for weeks, but the tunnels and bunkers deep underground the mill provided some protection to those still in Mariupol.
More than 300 people were evacuated in recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, after conditions in the underground bunkers increasingly worsened and Russia ramped up its shelling.
Now, only an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters remain in the steel mill, where they are making what appears to be their last stand.
Zelenskyy said it would be “difficult” to evacuate the Ukrainian soldiers still there.
– Celina Tebor
Contributing: The Associated Press