Military

Northeast – Kharkiv Area of Operations

  • Russian Federation Armed Forces (RFAF) continued to withdraw to the north-east of Kharkiv city, back towards Vovchan’sk which is a critical node linking Belgorod region of Russia to the Izyum front.
  • Ukrainian Armed Forces – 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of the Territorial Defence Forces – reported to have made advances up to the Russian border, near Ternova.
  • UAF reported to have conducted a small counteroffensive south of Chuhuiv, to pressure RFAF rear elements supporting the Izyum axis of advance. No notable UAF gains made during this attack.
  • Despite RFAF withdraws, bombardment activity continues to be observed across the region. Notably, on 12 & 13 May 22, missile strikes were reported in Derhachi, Chuhuiv, Zolochiv, and Lozova.

Video showing UAF at the international border following RFAF withdrawal. Source: @nakipeloua


East – Donbas Area of Operations (assessed RFAF Main Effort)

  • RFAF continue to be in a period of consolidation in Izyum, focussing on resupply and reinforcement to support a future assault on Slovyansk. Separately, UAF reportedly shot down an RFAF Ka-52 helicopter near Izyum on 11 May 22.
  • On 11 May 22, RFAF suffered significant losses in a failed river crossing on the Siverskyi Donets near Kreminna. Over 450 casualties reported, plus damage to 80+ pieces of equipment – approximately a reinforced Battalion Tactical Group (BTG).
  • Between 13 - 16 May 22, RFAF attempted to attack UAF positions along the M03 route near Bohorodychne and Dovhenke but were repelled.
  • Separately, fighting continues to be observed near Lyman and Oleksandrivka throughout the reporting period. RFAF are reported to have made limited territorial gains along this axis but have not been able to break through UAF defensive lines in key objectives.
  • RFAF make gains to the north, west, and south of Popasna, including Novozvanivka and Oleksandropilia.
  • Heavy shelling and bombardment was reported in Rubizhne, Sievierodonetsk, and Bakhmut. RFAF offensive operations were also observed to the south of Sievierodonetsk, in Toshkiva and Hirske.
  • On 17 May 22, RFAF conducted several assaults across the Donetsk region – notably near Avdiivka and the H20 route. Reporting suggests that some urban settlements including Novoselivka Druha are now under RFAF control.
  • Separate reporting on 18 May 22 indicated that RFAF used phosphorous shells when targeting infrastructure in Avdiivka centre.

Post referencing Ukrainian claims that the RFAF used phosphorous shells against targets in Avdiivka. Source: @nexta_tv


South – Kherson and Black Sea Coast Area of Operations

  • On 16 May 22, UAF official ordered its troops defending the Azovstal plant to surrender to the RFAF. As of 18 May, Russian officials reported that nearly 1,000 UAF troops have surrendered and have been taken into Russian-controlled territory.
  • RFAF conducted multiple rocket and aviation strikes across Odessa and Mykolaiv regions, targeting infrastructure supporting the UAF logistical effort – including transportation nodes. On 17 May 22, two missile strikes were reported on the Zatoka bridge. Post-strike reflections from local reporting suggest that repair work is unlikely to be undertaken in the short term.
  • Bombardment activity continues to be observed to the north of Kherson region, including reports of multiple shellings across Tariyske, Kotlyareve, Hannivka and Osokorivka on 13 May 22. Heavy shelling was also reported south of Kryvyi Rih on 12 May 22, including reported use of incendiary and cluster munitions.
  • On 12 May 22, Russian Black Sea Fleet submarines were reported to have gone to sea from Sevastopol.
  • Reports that RFAF are continuing to pressure Ukrainian civilians into Russian occupation across the axis, including a planned referendum in Enerhodar. Further south in Melitopol, reporting suggested that two RFAF soldiers have been killed by Ukrainian resistance forces. Also, a Russian armoured train was reported to have been destroyed by the same movement on 18 May 22. Signs have also been observed in Kherson, challenging Russian occupation.

New York Times article on the current situation in Mariupol following the UAF surrender, including the prospects of a prisoner swap. Source: @nytimes

Post from scholar retweeting image of sign reported to be up across Kherson, from Ukrainian resistance forces challenging Russian occupation. Source: @eugene_finkel


Strategic/Political

  • On 18 May 22, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO following a period of consultation within their respective political structures. Both applications have been submitted despite fears that Turkey might block them, following several reservations communicated by its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russian state TV reaction to this news has been overwhelmingly negative, as expected. Most Russian outlets view Finland and Sweden’s accession plans as a US plot, designed to create further tension with Russia. Pundits also suggested that if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO, this would in fact reduce their respective levels of security.

Post from the Swedish NATO Mission confirming both Finland and Sweden’s plans to join the alliance. Source: @SwedenNato

  • A Russian military analyst and retired RFAF officer delivered a damning judgement on Russia’s military performance in Ukraine during a talk show on Russian state TV. Mikhail Khodaryonok made several points on Ukraine’s willingness to fight and its ability to supplement its front-line troops with highly motivated reserves, intangible factors which he said are critical to winning a conflict. Khodaryonok also claimed that Russia is losing sight of reality in this invasion, and its wider position on military policy – including the nuclear threat towards Finland and Sweden. The show’s host, Olga Skabeyeva, challenged Khodaryonok on his view that Russia is isolated in the international community, using China and India as examples of Russian support. However, Khodaryonok reiterated his position and said that China and India’s support “is not so unconditional”.

Post included translated video of Mikhail Khodaryonok’s assessment on the Ukraine invasion aired on Russian state TV. Source: @francis_scarr

  • RFAF conducted two sets of strikes in Lviv region on 15 & 16 May 22. The second series of strikes included up to a reported 12 missiles, many of which were intercepted by Ukrainian air defence systems. Media reports suggest that military infrastructure in Yavoriv was the intended target for both series of strikes; railway infrastructure was also reported to have been damaged.

Image showing reported fire from Yavoriv following RFAF missile strikes on 15 May 22. Source: @AZmilitary1


So What?

  • The next step in the NATO application process is for all 30 member countries to consider each application, which is expected to take two weeks. However, this internal consultation is likely to take longer until Turkey’s concerns are addressed. These concerns tie back into the Scandinavian’s relationship with Kurdish separatist groups, which Turkey has designated as terrorist organisations. Reporting also suggests that Turkey wants to secure concessions ahead of any ratification, including one from the US on the provision of F35 aircraft; the removal of sanctions on its S-400 AD system; and the lifting of an arms embargo on Turkey. If these issues can be resolved, then membership could be approved by September 2022; a point that many European commentators believe is possible. This expedited timeframe is a break from the NATO norm, where new member countries are ratified usually between 8-12 months from their initial application. However, NATO leaders have expressed a willingness to move quickly and bolster its security footprint in Europe.
  • Khodaryonok’s perspective on the invasion represented a rare moment of candour to a domestic Russian audience. Typically, Russian state TV is used to amplify positive Russian narratives; deflect negative news stories; and minimize coverage on topics which are unlikely to attract positive audience engagement. Khodaryonok’s assessment is much more aligned to those in the Western intelligence communities, including his observations on the importance of morale as a force multiplier. Khodaryonok’s views pre-invasion have also been circulated online following his TV appearance, largely mirroring what he said on the panel show. This has raised the question from some commentators on whether Khodaryonok had prior Kremlin approval to express his views on the invasion. One gauge to determine the credibility of this inference will be to monitor how much airtime Khodaryonok is given going forward. If Khodaryonok’s public platform is minimized, that will be an indicator disproving this assumption. However, what Khodaryonok’s performance has done is open-up the door to the possibility that other media pundits will be galvanised to offer-up their honest evaluation of the Ukraine invasion. Or, conversely, the Russian media landscape will become increasingly censored to prevent further Khodaryonok-esque scenarios.

What Next?

The surrendering of UAF in Mariupol will enable the RFAF to redeploy troops to other fronts in the short term. The encirclement of Sievierodonetsk appears to be a key RFAF objective in the next few weeks, as its units continue to make incremental gains along the salient. This will include Popasna, where it is likely that the RFAF will attempt to make further territorial gains to the north in the next 7-days to fix UAF defences.

Support to the Izyum axis is likely to remain an important supporting effort, whilst operational forces orientated towards Zaporizhia and Kryvyi Rih are also likely to require further consolidation and reinforcement prior to future offensive operations, and this is unlikely to occur in the short to medium term. Current dispositions of troops and the high level of indirect fire along the Donetsk and Luhansk borders reinforce that this front is likely to be the RFAF Main Effort currently. Massed bombardments as ‘preparatory fire’ is an indicator of intent to advance and push the FLET further west.

In Kharkiv region, the RFAF main effort is highly likely to be focused on securing a defensive line west of Vovchan’sk, in order to fortify and protect its road and rail lines of communication towards Izyum and reduce the threat of Ukrainian strikes into Russian territory. Support for this effort will be more evident if additional troops are observed to be deploying forward from staging areas in Belgorod region, or redeployments from the Izyum front. However, current indicators suggest that the UAF will be able to continue to harass RFAF troops located along the T2104 route up towards this objective, and also further north-west towards Kozacha Lopan, where RFAF elements are becoming increasingly isolated and are vulnerable to a UAF assault if they fail to withdraw in the next 7-days.


Soldiers with the Carpathian Sich Battalion reviewing drone footage of an attack against Russian forces near the front in the Kharkiv region on May 11. Lynsey Addario for The New York Times