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Sensemaker: The Battle for Donbas

Sensemaker: The Battle for Donbas

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v Wade in the US was leaked to Politico (more below).
  • Boris Johnson prepared to address Ukraine’s parliament as the first foreign leader to do so since the war began.
  • Netflix cancelled a number of series, including Steve Carell’s Space Force and Meghan Markle’s Pearl.

The Battle for Donbas

Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is now in its third week and Zelensky is worried that the world’s focus on the war is fading. Western officials say the offensive is several days behind schedule, but a full picture of how the battle is unfolding is hard to capture because of tight reporting restrictions. 

Here is what we do know:

  • Russia has not scored any major territorial advances. Over the weekend, it lost control of Ruska Lozova, a town of 6,000 people some 12 miles north of Kharkiv, enabling residents to flee. Some residents in Mariupol, key to Russia’s offensive, were evacuated to Ukrainian-held territory.
  • Russia’s battalion groups are not at full strength. There are now 92 battalion groups – each one with between 700 to 1,000 troops – in eastern and southern Ukraine, up from 85 a week ago but fewer than the 125 at the start of the war. Russia’s battalions suffered heavy casualties and equipment losses during that period and its efforts to resupply them were hurried.
  • Russia suffered high-profile losses. Ukrainian forces claim to have killed senior Russian officers in an artillery strike on a Russian command post in Izium. Valery Gerasimov, Russian army’s chief of staff, was flown out of Izium with shrapnel wounds. Vladimir Putin had sent him to Ukraine to take control of the Donbas offensive.
  • The artillery game may change. Russia’s artillery is pounding Ukrainian forces all along the 300-mile front. Ukrainian troops are ceding ground to survive the shelling, as they wait to take delivery of American howitzers. The US has sent most of the artillery guns to Ukraine, but they are not yet at the front and Ukrainians are still being trained to use them.
  • The ground conditions will change. As the weather warms up, the ground will thaw. Unlike the combat around northern cities, this battle is being fought in wide-open terrain that will soon become muddy, which could make Russian forces more reliant on paved roads, slowing their advance.

This is perhaps why Putin’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would not, as previously assumed, attempt to claim victory by 9 May, which marks the day Soviet forces took control of Berlin. “The pace of the operation in Ukraine depends, first of all,” Lavrov said, “on the need to minimise any risks for the civilian population and Russian military personnel.” 

His statement bears little connection to reality – more than 3,000 civilian deaths; between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian losses – but it does suggest the Kremlin’s own assessment of the battle for Donbas matches that of Western officials: the offensive is stalling.


Oil embargo?
Germany’s deputy chancellor and economy minister, Robert Habeck, warned EU consumers to brace for a big economic hit and higher energy prices as Berlin said it was willing to support an embargo of Russian oil over the invasion of Ukraine. Habeck cautioned that the move to an embargo should consider the high dependency of some EU member states on Russian supplies. Germany would need time to adapt its infrastructure, for example. Hungary said it would veto the embargo unless it could be guaranteed supplies from elsewhere. In contrast, Poland and the Baltic states want an immediate ban on Russian oil. The Czech Republic said it would support the embargo but that the “pain should be shared equally”. The difficulty here is that while Germany seems belatedly to have accepted some pain as the price for containing Putin’s war machine, Hungary has not. Is Orban seeing the same images from Mariupol as the rest of us?


Patel legal action 
A large number of Ukrainians, organised by the groups Vigil for Visas and Taking Action Over the Homes for Ukraine Visa Delays, have instructed lawyers to sue the Home Office over delays that have left thousands of Ukrainians stranded. After applying to travel to the UK weeks ago, their cases have been stuck in a chaotic visa backlog, leaving them at risk of trauma and Russian bombs or stuck in Eastern Europe. Some 59,000 people have had visas approved, but not yet arrived in the UK. Only 15 per cent of the 74,700 Ukrainians who applied under the government’s sponsorship route have made it to the country. The legal challenge could include a judicial review case against the Home Office and legal action on behalf of lone children who have been unable to access foster placements due to visa delays.


Longest haul
There are three things to say about Qantas’ announcement that it’ll operate non-stop, 19-hour plus flights from London and New York to Sydney from 2025. One is that it plans to offset the entire carbon footprints of these flights, which depends as an environmental / marketing gambit on the public buying the idea that offsets work, and so far there’s very little evidence they do. Another is that most of the cabin in the ultra long-range planes they’ve ordered for the routes will be filled with non-economy seating. So if you thought the future of long haul was flying for rich people, you were about right. The third is the planes are Airbuses, replacing Boeings, which reflects the stark fact that since the 737 Max 8 debacle Airbus has been crushing Boeing in market share terms after decades of dividing the world fairly evenly between them. Qantas has done very careful market research and obviously reckons the convenience of nonstop outweighs the risk and fear of going stir crazy or getting deep-vein thrombosis after 19 hours in an aluminium tube at 40,000 feet. It will be interesting to see how Emirates and Singapore Airlines market their mid-trip leg-stretches in response.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Twilight of Roe
Politico has seen a draft opinion from the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade. The 98-page draft, written by judge Samuel Alito, a conservative appointed by the younger President Bush, said that Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start” in its provision of constitutional protection for the right to abortion services. The opinion claims there is no constitutional right to an abortion and that abortion laws and regulations should fall to individual states. Alito’s draft was first circulated in February and may have been modified since then, but his opinion is that of the majority: it’s likely to enjoy the support of at least four of the other conservatives on the bench. If the Supreme Court’s final opinion – due in late June or early July – remains close to this draft then abortion will be banned or severely restricted in 26 states; some will forbid abortions even in cases of rape and incest. For months, reproductive rights groups have been preparing for Roe to fall: states, where access to abortion will be preserved, are upping funding to help women travelling from out of state, while other organisations are providing information about obtaining and self-administering abortion pills. Reversing Roe would increase the number of women for whom the nearest abortion provider would be California 30-fold, from 46,000 to 1.4 million. For women in states across the south and the midwest planning to enact bans it may take hundreds of miles – and hundreds of dollars – to access the care they need.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Hot India
A heatwave has been moving across India, sending temperatures up to the mid-to-high 40s°C with severe consequences for millions of people – even many outside the country. Farmers said the temperature spikes have affected their wheat harvest, which could have global consequences given supply disruptions in Ukraine – a major wheat producer. The heatwave has caused a surge in demand for power as people use water-coolers and air-conditioners to keep cool, leading to outages. Heatwaves are common in India during May and June, but this one has come early, with high temperatures starting in March. It is also expected to last longer. If earlier, more intense heatwaves are a consequence of global warming, it seems more and more appropriate to call it global heating.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

We are sorry that some members received the Net Zero Sensemaker twice today. It was not intended!

Paul Caruana Galizia

With additional reporting by Ella Hill and Giles Whittell.

Photographs Getty Images

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