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 have countered with artillery strikes of their own. The Pentagon is sending 90 M777 howitzer cannons to Ukraine, 85 of which have arrived, and in excess of 100,000 artillery shells. More than 300 Ukrainian soldiers have completed training on how to operate the howitzers, the official said.
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 their 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 each.
VICTORY DAY: How Putin uses WWII Victory Day to glorify Russia and himself
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►Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and European Council President Charles Michel had to move their Monday meeting into a bomb shelter because of Russian shelling near the southern port city of Odesa, Shmyhal said in a tweet.
►President Joe Biden on Monday signed an updated version of the Lend-Lease Act, which would quicken the process of providing military aid to Ukraine and other allies. The bill received overwhelming support in both chambers of the usually polarized Congress.
►The US 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.”
►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. In a similar ceremony in Berlin, Russian Ambassador Sergey Nechaev repeated Moscow’s false claims that the goal of its invasion is to eradicate Nazism in Ukraine.
Biden offers to split Ukraine request from COVID funding to expedite bill
The need for Congress to approve additional aid for Ukraine is so urgent, President Biden said Monday he’s willing to separate his $33 billion emergency request from the billions he’s seeking in pandemic funding.
“We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further congressional action,” Biden said in a statement.
The funding needs to be passed within about 10 days to avoid delay, he said.
While there’s bipartisan support for helping Ukraine, Republicans have complained that Biden is seeking too much additional pandemic funding. They’ve insisted new spending be offset with cuts to unspent funds in previously approved packages.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, applauded Biden’s decision.
“A clean Ukraine bill will have the votes,” he said in a statement. “Let’s get this done.”
— Maureen Groppe
President Joe Biden is unhappy with recent reports detailing how US intelligence has helped Ukraine fight Russia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Monday.
“The president was displeased with the leaks,” Psaki said when asked about reports that Biden called top intelligence and defense officials to complain.
News outlets have reported that US intelligence Ukraine helped sink the Russian cruiser Moskva last month and helped the Ukrainian military kill Russian generals. Psaki said the reports were overstated and inaccurately described the US’s role and understated Ukraine’s leadership.
“He did not feel they were constructive,” she said.
— Maureen Groppe
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.”
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 its economy.
Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took it as a positive sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not announce an expansion of the war effort in Ukraine during his Victory Day speech Monday.
“In effect, today was marked by no verbal escalation nor a geographic escalation nor an escalation in the use of arms. Is this sufficient for us? No,” said Macron, adding that the goal is a cease-fire.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveled to Hungary on Monday to try to secure unanimity on a proposal to ban oil imports from Russia. After meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, von der Leyen said in a tweet that they “made progress, but further work is needed.”
Von der Leyen 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, Szijjarto said.
Zelenskyy vows Ukraine will soon have two Victory Days
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 of him 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.
“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 country’s first lady. Biden also visited a school that is being used as temporary housing and shelter for 163 displaced Ukrainians, including 47 children.
During that stop, 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.
War reveals ‘shortcomings’ in Russia’s ability to conduct surgical strikes
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 plant is the only part of Mariupol not under Russian control. The port city has been constantly bombed by Russia for weeks, but the tunnels and bunkers deep underground the mill provided some protection to those inside the compound.
More than 300 people were evacuated in recent days, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, after conditions in the 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 them.
Contributing: The Associated Press