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Sensemaker: The race to save Ukraine

Sensemaker: The race to save Ukraine

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Ukraine struck Russia’s flagship Black Sea missile cruiser, Moskva, causing serious damage and forcing its crew to evacuate.
  • New York City police arrested Frank James, a 62-year-old man, on suspicion of shooting 10 commuters in rush hour at a Brooklyn subway station.
  • Palestinian authorities said two youths were killed in an Israeli raid on the West Bank district of Jenin.

The race to save Ukraine

Ukraine is bracing itself for a renewed Russian offensive to its east and south. Russia’s aim, Kremlin officials have said, is for what they call the “complete liberation” of the Donbas, the region of Ukraine closest to Russia. 

The next phase of the war could be decisive. If Russia succeeds in taking the Donbas, it could use that position to consolidate its forces and launch fresh attempts to seize more Ukrainian territory in the coming months. But if Ukraine can beat them back, the Russians may be forced to come to the negotiating table. “Ukraine is ready for big battles,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Ukraine must win them.” 

Putin’s goals. Most immediately, Russia’s aim is to push deeper into the Donbas – and to do it, Russia is reassembling its forces. Satellite images show Russian armour gathering on the border close to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Meanwhile, Russian battalions repelled from the area around Kyiv by Ukrainian forces appear to be moving to regroup in the Donbas. Western sources told the Times that the Kremlin’s plan is to assemble enough soldiers in the region to outnumber Ukrainian forces by five to one, with the aim of seizing control of Ukrainian-held cities and towns across the Donbas.

When might Russia attack? On 9 May Russia will celebrate it’s “Victory Day”, commemorating the end of the Second World War and the defeat of Nazi Germany. The word from intelligence officials is that Putin would like to have something to celebrate by then. Even though Russian forces are still in the process of redeploying, they’re on a deadline: Ukrainian officials believe that a renewed offensive could begin within days. 

Ukraine’s position. Thousands of Ukraine’s most highly trained and experienced soldiers are based in the country’s south and east. They’ve been fighting against Russian-backed forces since a seperatist conflict began eight years ago and have built up strong defences in the region.

But if Ukrainian forces are to drive back a targeted Russian assault, they will need to remain well supplied with arms. Ukraine has appealed to its allies to step up – and speed up – their assistance. In a meeting with Nato members last week, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba told them they had “days, not weeks” to decide to send more military aid to Ukraine or risk their help arriving “too late”. 

What do the Ukrainians need? To succeed in battles fought on the open plains of the Donbas, Ukrainian forces will need more and different kit in addition to the Stinger and Javelin missiles they have so far received.

Ukraine has asked its allies for:

  • More anti-tank missiles;
  • Better air-defence systems, including long-range anti-aircraft missiles; 
  • Armoured vehicles;
  • Tanks; 
  • And fighter jets.

Warplanes have so far been off the table for most Nato members – it’s thought that providing them would be too much of a provocation to Russia (though it’s been reported that Slovakia is considering supplying Soviet-era MiG jets). But Ukraine’s allies appear to have responded to the urgency of Kuleba’s request and are looking at speeding up promised deliveries and examining what else they can supply. Here’s what is currently being pledged: 

  • The EU: On Wednesday EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell announced an additional €500 million in military support for Ukraine. The FT reports that EU foreign ministers discussed the possibility of sending heavier armaments than the light anti-tank missiles that have so far been provided. 
  • The UK: The British government has promised to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles, portable anti-aircraft missile systems and 120 armoured vehicles. 
  • The USA: President Joe Biden yesterday pledged a further $800 million of military aid for Ukraine. The package will include: 
    • 18 howitzer artillery guns;
    • 300 armoured vehicles; 
    • 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles; 
    • 300 Switchblade anti-tank drones; 
    • 11 Mi-17 helicopters. 

Those arms will be welcomed by Ukraine, but they need to arrive fast. Now that the Kremlin has re-focussed its efforts on the Donbas region Russia’s attacks will be more concentrated – and perhaps even more deadly. Time is of the essence.


Jersey and Roman Abramovich
The Royal Court of Jersey said it imposed a formal freezing order on “assets understood to be valued in excess of $7bn, which are suspected to be connected to Mr [Roman] Abramovich and which are either located in Jersey or owned by Jersey incorporated entities”. The order hints at the amount of wealth sheltered in offshore tax havens by the oligarch, who acted as Vladimir Putin’s envoy in Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine. Jersey’s move also hints at the end of the total secrecy and safety of these jurisdictions, which have complicated global efforts to fight financial crime and tax evasion.


UK-Rwanda asylum seeker deal
The UK will fly asylum seekers 4,500 miles to Rwanda as part of a government crackdown on immigration. Home secretary Priti Patel travelled to the Central African country yesterday after finalising a “migration and economic development partnership”. The deal with Rwanda will reportedly cost an initial £120 million – but the costs are likely to spiral much higher. Labour described it as “unworkable and unethical”, Human Rights Watch found that Rwanda subjects detainees to arbitrary detention, ill treatment, and torture. The government is still fighting opposition in the Lords to its Nationality and Borders Bill to make the scheme possible. There are no details so far on who will have jurisdiction over Rwandan processing centres and the welfare of people held there. As for cost, the Australian government spent £461m a year holding 239 refugees and asylum seekers offshore. More than 4,600 arrived in the UK by small boats so far this year.


Clearview in Ukraine
Clearview AI, a facial recognition company, gave its technology to the Ukrainian government to identify both the living and the dead in the wreckage of Russia’s invasion. Clearview is controversial. It scraped billions of photos from Facebook, YouTube, Google, and Twitter to create a database of what its chief executive and founder Hoan Ton-That called “a search engine for faces”. The social media companies sent Clearview cease-and-desist letters in response. Law enforcement agencies in America also use the technology. In Ukraine, the government is using Clearview to help identify enemy suspects despite concerns over its accuracy. “It shouldn’t be a life-or-death technology where you either pass or fail,” said facial recognition expert Conor Healy at IPVM, an organisation that reviews security technology, “where you could get imprisoned or, god forbid, even killed. That’s not how this should be used at all”.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Covid NHS cancellations
The President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Prof Neil Mortensen, warned that the NHS is cancelling operations because Covid is still causing “major disruption”. Some 28,000 staff are absent due to Covid, and there are more than 20,000 patients hospitalised with the virus. Six million people are on the NHS’ waiting list for hospital care. More than 23,000 of them have been waiting for over two years.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Tropical Storm Megi​​
Authorities in the Philippines said 123 people died as a result of Tropical Storm Megi, which hit the country three days ago. Many people are still missing. In the central Leyte Province alone, where landslides occurred, 86 people died. The storm is now out of the country, but search and rescue efforts remain hampered by rain. The Philippines sits on the so-called typhoon belt, enduring 20 storms a year. But climate change is subjecting the country to more intense and more frequent cyclones.

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Ella Hill

Photographs Getty Images

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