Now leading the country into its seventh week of war with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hosted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in kyiv on Saturday.
Johnson’s trip to the capital, just a week after a Russian siege that left parts of the city’s outskirts and nearby towns in ruins, is by far the most high-profile visit by a NATO chief. in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24. comes as Russian troops continue their attacks in eastern Ukraine after repositioning themselves after offensives in the north.
To soak up the war as it presents itself today, The war zone readers can find our previous status report here.
UPDATE: 4:12 PM EST —
A remarkable video showing Johnson and Zelensky walking around Kyiv surrounded by armed guards has been released. It’s pretty amazing from a security perspective, with huge sight lines visible in the video:
Published at time of original publication:
The Ukrainian Embassy in the UK first tweeted a photo of the two leaders on Saturday morning. The BBC reported that the trip was not just a “show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people”, but also to discuss continued British economic and military support for Ukraine.
The visit also came just a day after the British government announced a new military aid package for Ukraine, including NLAW and Javelin anti-tank systems, stray munitions and Starstreak air defense systems.
Downing Street later announced that leaders had agreed on some 120 armored vehicles and an unspecified anti-ship missile system for Ukraine’s armed forces. While the armored vehicles would be six-wheeled Mastiffs, the question remains as to what type of anti-ship missile Ukraine will receive.
Johnson’s visit further highlights the situation around Kyiv. While Polish, Czech and Slovenian leaders have already traveled to the beleaguered capital by train on March 15, Britain’s prime minister is another matter.
Simply put, Johnson and his team represent a nuclear-armed NATO country on Ukrainian soil, and a Russian attack on them in Kyiv or in transit, even accidentally during other operations, poses serious escalation risks. This trip only takes place if the British and NATO calculate the risk of Russian attacks to be low, or feel particularly brave about heading into a war zone in diplomatic consultation. It is unclear at this time what, if any, assurances the UK had that helped offset the risks of this high-profile diplomatic operation.
Still with the Brits, here are the latest assessments from the UK Ministry of Defense on the war. This largely aligns with open-source reports that Russian forces now appear focused on Donbass and possibly securing a land corridor to Crimea, though continued resistance in Mariupol and elsewhere is hampering those efforts.
He also took note of the deadly Russian Tochka-U missile attack on Kramatorsk railway station which reportedly killed more than 50 people trying to leave the area.
The video showed Russian troops atop armored vehicles, largely V-marked BMD airborne infantry fighting vehicles and T-80U tanks with accompanying trucks, on the road near Izyum. The city, recently occupied by Russian forces, is likely the keystone of a Russian attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces in Donbass.
Clear blue skies in eastern Ukraine made smoke trails from missile launches visible for miles, as seen near Donetsk as well as further north on the Belgorod-Kharkiv front line. It is unclear whether these are ballistic missiles like the Tochka-U or Iskander, long-range artillery or air defenses opening fire.
There are more Resistance images mentioned in the UK MoD update. Video released by the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, likely from a small drone, shows precise mortar fire at several Russian trucks in Mariupol near the seafront. Satellite data also shows fighting near the town of Popasna.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said it targeted a Maltese-flagged freighter in the Azov Zea which it said was trying to resupply Ukrainians in Mariupol.
Satellite images of the Black Sea may also indicate that a Russian mine clearance operation is underway. While Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has staged “amphibious displays” amid rumors of a landing in Odessa persist, such an operation would certainly require mine clearance to ensure landing ships could reach shore intact.
Regardless of any planned landings, the risk of mines in the Black Sea would have made shipping in the region prohibitively expensive. The Turkish navy is said to have already eliminated at least three floating mines found near shipping lanes in the Black Sea.
On land, it seems the noble task of clearing unexploded ordnance (UXO) from Kyiv and surrounding areas has begun. Six weeks of intense shelling and street-to-street fighting means there can be literally tons of UXO dropped by fighters, duds still stuck in the ground, or unburned munitions in knocked-out vehicles .
Speaking of vehicle kills, popular open-source military observer Oryx reported on Saturday that the visually confirmed count of Russian heavy military vehicles and equipment cleared 1,000 units on Saturday.
We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.
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