Yesterday we looked at no-fly zones. Today I want to take a brief moment to look at the status of the war on the ground. I’ve been doing this later in the evening on my social media because of the time zone difference, but I want to see if it works holding off the posting until the morning.
The status for 21 March is largely unchanged.
The biggest news is that Ukrainians seem to have counterattacked west of Kyiv and retaken the town of Makariv. It sits at a small river crossing and controls one intersection linking a north-south route to a route west. Additionally, a major highway runs east-west just south of the town.
As I’ve mentioned in my social media posts, it’s hard to see the situation improving for the Russians barring an influx of troops or a significant change in battlefield tactics or their broader strategy. The Ukrainians, however, can launch small counterattacks and slowly push back on Russian advances.
Then the question becomes, what sort of casualties are we talking about for Ukraine? Open source reporting gives us a decent idea of Russian ground losses. But those sources have a bias towards Ukraine and we often don’t get as good visibility into Ukrainian losses.
That bias presents itself in other ways, the second big thing I wanted to discuss. There was significant talk about how Russia used a cruise missile to destroy a Ukrainian shopping mall in Kyiv. I read and heard the term “war crime” to describe the attack. But just because something is horrific does not necessarily make it a war crime.
I am no lawyer, just an armchair general. But as I understand it, civilian infrastructure is protected from the type of attacks Russia has broadly been conducting. However, should the defenders (Ukraine) begin using civilian infrastructure as part of their military operation, it makes that infrastructure a legitimate target, though there are still provisions for appropriate and reasoned scale of force to limit civilian casualties.
Bringing us back to Kyiv, we often hear Russia say the evil Nazi Ukrainians used a maternity hospital as a barracks in Mariupol, therefore the horrific bombing we saw was legitimate. I rarely see instances where Russia claims are verified by visual evidence. (Evidence that is increasingly easy to fake. Just ask a designer about what we can do with Photoshop.)
The bombing of a mall is terrible and the last I read, eight people died. But, we are seeing photos and videos of Ukrainian artillery forces using the mall as a shelter for their multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) operating in the area. If this is true, and again, take Russian claims with a large grain of salt, that does not necessarily make this a war crime. The Ukrainian forces put the people in the area in jeopardy by using a civilian building as a military facility.
Do I blame the Ukrainians? Not at all. They are, after all, fighting off an invasion of their country. In their situation I would probably be doing anything I could to win, but that doesn’t mean those actions lack costs.
To reiterate, if true, this is different than the bombing of the hospitals and schools that we’ve seen. The Ukrainians may have used a civilian target as a makeshift base of operations.
I’ve also seen unconfirmed reports that journalists were not permitted near the actual impact site, though they were allowed to walk about and take photographs further away. I’ve seen a sensational claim that a local Ukrainian resident who posted a photo of MLRS systems in the building on social media was arrested for treason. (As I understand it, it’s presently a crime in Ukraine to report Ukrainian military positions.)
Those are all unconfirmed reports, but I report them only because it goes to the idea of we may not be getting the full scale and scope of the war because a lot of the sources upon which we are all relying have a definite and clear (and understandable) pro-Ukraine bias. It just means that we have to sometimes pay more attention about what’s going on with Russian forces because not everything is evil and bad and wrong. (Though a number of things clearly are.)
Credit for the piece is mine.