Ukraine Conflict Assessment 13
Institute for the Study of War, Russia Team
with the Critical Threats Project, AEI
March 2, 2022
ISW published its most recent Russian campaign assessment at 4:30 pm EST on March 2.
This daily synthetic product covers key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Key Takeaways March 2
- Russian forces resumed offensive operations against Kyiv’s western outskirts on March 2 after pausing for resupply from February 27 to March 1 but failed to secure any additional territory.
- Russian forces launched offensive operations in Zhytomyr Oblast, expanding their envelopment of Kyiv further west than ISW previously assessed—likely to outflank stronger-than-anticipated Ukrainian resistance and limited Ukrainian counterattacks in Kyiv’s outskirts.
- Russian forces renewed advances toward northeastern Kyiv on March 2, reaching a line approximately 65km from the city center on that axis.
- Russian forces assaulted central Kharkiv and continued to heavily bombard the city on March 2, likely increasing civilian casualties.
- Russian forces fully encircled Mariupol as of March 2 and are conducting a deliberate campaign to destroy critical civilian infrastructure and residential areas in a likely attempt to force the city to surrender.
- Russian forces continued to reduce pockets of Ukrainian resistance in Kherson on March 2 and will likely secure the city in the next 24 hours if they have not done so already.
- The Russian Ministry of Defense released implausibly low Russian fatality counts for the first time on March 2, preparing the Russian population for the arrival of injured and killed service members back to Russia.
- The Kremlin made inconsistent statements regarding negotiations with Ukraine but agreed to a second round of talks scheduled for March 3.
- The Kremlin continued trying to control the domestic and international narrative around the invasion by restricting Russian citizens’ freedom of speech and access to information while framing Ukraine and the West as aggressors.
- The Kremlin continued to struggle with Western sanctions while it set conditions for longer-term domestic capabilities.
- Ukrainian defense officials claimed Ukrainian forces thwarted an assassination attempt targeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after a tip from anti-war Russian intelligence officers on March 1.
- Western states announced additional sanctions targeting Russia and Belarus while more private companies suspended operations in Russia.
- NATO and EU countries continued delivering lethal military aid to Ukraine on March 2.
- International organizations and Western leaders are increasingly concerned about Russia’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians and use of banned weapons as civilian casualties rise.
- The UN General Assembly voted on March 2 overwhelmingly in favor of a motion demanding Russia stop military operations in Ukraine; China and India abstained.
- Record-setting refugee flows began to strain the support structures in states neighboring Ukraine on March 2.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ukrainian officials urged caution as Russian forces advanced toward another Ukrainian nuclear power plant on March 1 and 2.
- Global oil and gas prices continued to skyrocket despite Western efforts to avoid sanctioning Russia’s energy sector.
Key Events March 1, 4:00 pm EST – March 2, 4:00 pm EST
Russian forces resumed offensive operations in support of their envelopment of Kyiv on March 2 but made few territorial advances. Russian forces resumed offensive operations on both axes of advance toward Kyiv after largely pausing for 72 hours to reinforce and resupply their troops north and west of Kyiv. Russian operations to envelop Kyiv are Moscow’s main effort. Russian troops are also undertaking three supporting efforts, one to seize Kharkiv, one to take Mariupol and secure the “land bridge” connecting Rostov-on-Don to Crimea, and one to secure Kherson and set conditions for a drive west toward Mykolayiv and Odesa. The three supporting operations were active in the last 24 hours; Russian forces likely captured Kherson and began a bombardment of critical civilian infrastructure in Mariupol in a likely effort to force the city to surrender while making few territorial gains in Kharkiv.
The Russian attack on Kyiv likely consists of a main effort aimed at enveloping and ultimately encircling the city from the west and a supporting effort along the axes from Chernihiv and Sumy to encircle it from the east. The long Russian column of combat and logistics vehicles observed north of Kyiv in the last 48 hours is likely now supporting attacks directly into the city from positions Russian forces maintain in Kyiv’s northwestern outskirts. However, Russian forces are more likely to prioritize the envelopment/encirclement in the coming days, rather than a direct assault into the city.
Russian forces resumed frontal assaults on Kharkiv on March 2 and continued using area-attack weapons, dramatically increasing the damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties. Russian ground forces appear to be conducting another frontal assault on Kharkiv from the northeast rather than enveloping the city and will likely face protracted Ukrainian resistance.
Russian forces in the south likely secured Kherson, began bombarding civilian infrastructure in Mariupol in a likely attempt to force the city to surrender without a direct assault, and appear to be holding their positions south of Zaporizhia. Russian forces will likely resume offensive operations toward Mykolayiv in the next 24 hours but do not appear to pose an imminent danger to Odesa. Russian forces likely seek to force Mariupol to capitulate by destroying critical civilian infrastructure and killing civilians to create a humanitarian catastrophe – an approach Russian forces have repeatedly taken in Syria. A Russian drive north through or near Zaprozhya to cut off Ukrainian forces fighting along the line of contact appears very unlikely in the next 24-72 hours.
Russian forces are engaged in four primary efforts at this time. The description of these efforts differs from previous reports’ discussion of axes because of the dynamic nature of the Russian military campaign
1) Main effort—Kyiv;
2) Supporting effort #1—Kharkiv;
3) Supporting effort #2—Mariupol; and
4) Supporting effort #3—Kherson and west.
1) Main effort—Kyiv axis: Russian forces resumed offensive operations against Kyiv’s western outskirts on March 2 but failed to secure any additional territory. Russian forces additionally launched offensive operations in Zhytomyr Oblast, expanding their envelopment of Kyiv deeper west than ISW previously assessed, likely to outflank stronger-than-anticipated Ukrainian resistance and limited Ukrainian counterattacks in Kyiv’s outskirts. Russian forces additionally successfully renewed advances toward Kyiv along the Chernihiv axis on March 2. Russian operations on the Kyiv axis consist of a main effort aimed at enveloping and ultimately encircling the city from the west and supporting efforts along the Chernihiv and Sumy axes to encircle it from the northeast and east.
2) Supporting effort #1—Kharkiv: Russian forces resumed assaults on central Kharkiv and continued to heavily bombard the city on March 2. The Russian air, artillery, and missile barrage may be intended to generate panic and reduce the morale of Ukrainian defenders in Kharkiv and elsewhere. It is not likely to achieve that effect. It is too early to evaluate the likelihood that a renewed Russian ground offensive will succeed in taking the city.
3) Supporting Effort #2—Mariupol: Russian forces fully encircled Mariupol as of March 2 and are conducting a deliberate campaign to destroy critical civilian infrastructure and residential areas in a likely attempt to force the city to surrender.
4) Supporting Effort #3—Kherson and West: Russian forces continued to reduce pockets of Ukrainian resistance in Kherson on March 2 and will likely secure the city in the next 24 hours if they have not done so already. Russian forces are likely deprioritizing the axis of advance north from Crimea in favor of operations west towards Miykolayiv and east towards Mariupol.
Russia’s Defense Ministry (MoD) released falsely deflated numbers of Russian casualties in Ukraine for the first time on March 2 after previously refusing to disclose any Russian casualties. The MoD is likely preparing the Russian public for Russian casualties as injured servicemembers and caskets begin to return to Russia. Russian MoD Spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov claimed that over 2,870 Ukrainians and 498 Russians have died in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of March 2. Konashenkov claimed that Russian forces have captured 572 Ukrainian troops as of March 2. Konashenkov denied claims that Russian conscripts and university cadets are participating in the war in Ukraine. A senior Western intelligence official told CNN that Western intelligence counted around 5,800 Russian deaths as of March 1. A Ukrainian military advisor told Reuters that Russian fatalities exceeded 7,000 as of March 2. Locals in Belarus’s southern Gomel Oblast described an influx of Russian servicemembers to civilian hospitals on March 2. Ukraine announced on March 2 that Russian prisoners of war may return to Russia if their mothers meet them at the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The Kremlin continued to make inconsistent statements regarding negotiations with Ukraine on March 2 but reportedly agreed to a second round of negotiations to take place on March 3. The Russian and Ukrainian delegations will meet in the Brest region of Belarus, near the Polish border. The Russian delegation includes Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, State Duma member Leonid Slutsky, and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov. Head Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky claimed that Russia wants to discuss the possibility of a ceasefire and establishing a humanitarian corridor through which refugees and aid might safely travel. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that parameters for demilitarization have not been announced. Lavrov falsely claimed that the main objective of Russian operations in Ukraine continues to be the “denazification” of the Ukrainian government. Lavrov falsely claimed that Russian forces are using high-precision weapons to avoid civilian casualties. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused the Ukrainian delegation of stalling negotiations “at the behest of the Americans.” Ukrainian President Zelensky stated he does not have high expectations for the negotiations and stressed the importance of “concrete steps” such as an immediate ceasefire in addition to the diplomatic dialogue. Zelensky emphasized that negotiations will be ineffective unless Putin himself is present at the negotiating table.
The Kremlin continued to further restrict Russian citizens’ freedom of speech and access to information on March 2, attempting to retain control of the domestic narrative surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kremlin Spokesperson Peskov stated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, noting that Putin “draws strength from the [Russian population’s] support.” Peskov refused to comment on the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office’s call for Russian censoring agency Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the independent radio station Echo Mosckvy but acknowledged that the Kremlin was aware of the situation on March 2. The popular Russian social media site VK blocked Echo Mosckvy and the Dozhd TV channel to avoid state restrictions on VK’s entire platform on March 2 after the Prosecutor General’s Office accused both outlets of publishing false information on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and encouraging illegal protests in Russia on March 2. Roskomnadzor also restricted internet access to The Village on March 2, accusing the outlet of publishing false information about Russian activities in Ukraine and calling for "extremist activities” and mass riots. Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny urged Russians around the world to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing it is not enough to “be against the war” but they must also “fight against it” on March 2.
Kremlin media sought to portray the Ukrainian government as racist and made false claims of Ukrainian abuses of civilians on March 2. Putin falsely told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Ukrainian security services are taking Indian students hostage and using them as a “human shield.” Putin claimed that Russia is “trying to organize an urgent evacuation of a group of Indian students from the war zone and their return to their homeland.” Kremlin-sponsored TV Russia 24 claimed Ukrainian “nationalists” purposely discriminate against and threaten foreigners on border crossings. Russia 24 broadcast Russian State Duma Chairwoman Valentina Matvienko’s article comparing Western involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine to Hitler’s occupation, Russophobia, and persecution of freedom of speech. The Kremlin likely seeks to exaggerate claims of racism in Ukraine for Western audiences. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister refuted Putin’s claim and called on Russia to immediately cease fire in Sumy and Kharkiv so that civilians, including foreign students, would be able to evacuate immediately. Poland additionally condemned Russian ”false information about the alleged mistreatment of particular countries’ citizens by Polish and Ukrainian services.” Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov continued to peddle misinformation about the “denazification” of Ukraine and claimed that a “huge number of nationalist military units” continue to operate. Peskov called for the ”punishment” of ”Nazi associations operating in the country.” Peskov also claimed that Putin’s speech about the historic lack of Ukrainian sovereignty and its Soviet creation of the state did not apply to other post-Soviet countries. Russian talk shows claimed that Moscow can finally show Ukrainians that Russians are not “nomads“ and can reclaim Kyiv as their historic birthplace. The Kremlin continues to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity to justify further Russian invasion.
The Kremlin began setting conditions to invest in its domestic technology sector and kept Russia’s stock exchange closed for a third day but is unlikely to mitigate Western sanctions. The Russian Central Bank kept Russia’s stock exchange closed for a third day on March 2 in a likely attempt to defer selloffs. The central bank also blocked coupon payments to foreign bondholders on March 2, risking a default. Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, withdrew from the European market and announced that its Austrian branch will soon close on March 2. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that despite the Russian economy experiencing a serious blow due to Western sanctions, “there is a margin of safety, there is potential, there are plans.” Peskov added that the “hostile” sanctions aim to undermine the integrity of the Russian economy.
The Kremlin is also taking measures to prop up Russian businesses and targeted sectors. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to accelerate Russia’s domestic IT development on March 2, likely to minimize future Russian reliance on Western technology and imports following the withdrawals of Western tech companies from the Russian market. Mishustin also announced additional government provisions including preferential interest rates and tax and inspection exemptions for Russia’s IT sector. State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin created the Council for Social Protection and Support of Citizens under Sanctions on March 2. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that Russia can withstand any pressure because “Russia has many friends, and it is impossible to isolate it” on March 2. Lavrov said that sanctions against Russia are not in states’ interests. Russian businesspeople and kleptocrats with ties to Putin have resigned from the boards of many international companies and are reportedly trying to sell off luxury real estate and other assets before European sanctions kick in.
Ukrainian National Security Council Head Oleksiy Danilov said Ukraine foiled an attempted Russian assassination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 2, allegedly after receiving a tip from anti-war Russian anti-war intelligence officers.Danilov said that two Chechen assassin groups participated in the plot. Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda reported Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attempt to liquidate Ukrainian leadership during a February 3 meeting with Chechnya’s head, Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov confirmed on his Telegram channel on March 1 that two Chechen servicemen had died and six were injured but did not directly respond to claims that Chechen servicemembers aimed to kill Zelensky.
US, NATO, and EU Activity
The United States and the European Union (EU) implemented additional sanctions targeting Russia and Belarus while more companies suspended their operations in Russia on March 2.
- The United States announced new sanctions against Russia and Belarus on March 2 to “hold Belarus accountable, weaken the Russian defense sector… [and] target Russia’s most important sources of wealth.” The United States imposed export controls targeting Russian oil refining revenues and Belarus’s ability to move technological goods to Russia. The United States sanctioned 22 Russian defense-related entities and entities supporting the Russian and Belarusian Military. The United States also banned Russian aircraft “owned, certified, operated, registered, chartered, leased, or controlled by, for, or for the benefit of a person who is a citizen of Russia” from US airspace. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told a US Senate panel on March 2 that the United States can do with regards to infrastructure and transportation to sanction Russia if necessary.
- The United States escalated efforts to target Russian businesspeople and kleptocrats through additional sanctions and a new task force. Anonymous US officials told The Washington Post that the United States is preparing to sanction additional Russian businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Task Force “KleptoCapture” will target the assets of Russian businessmen and examine Russia’s use of cryptocurrency to evade sanctions, among other efforts.
- The EU sanctioned Belarusian military officials and banned more Russian banks from the SWIFT financial network on March 2. The Belarusian sanctions targeted 22 high-ranking members of the Belarusian military and placed further restrictions on Belarusian trade. The EU also removed seven additional Russian banks from the SWIFT financial network: Russia's second-largest bank VTB, Bank Otrkitie, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, Bank Rossiya, Sovcombank, and VEB. None of the banks handle energy payments.
- More private companies from the aviation and technology sectors suspended their operations in Russia. Software maker Oracle and plane manufacturers Airbus and Boeing Co. suspended their operations in Russia on March 2. An anonymous Ukrainian government official told Reuters on March 2 that Ukraine plans to urge around 50 more tech companies to suspend operations in Russia.
- Malta suspended its “golden passport” program for Russian and Belarusian applicants. The program allowed wealthy foreigners to obtain a Maltese passport after investing an average of 1.1 million USD.
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on March 2 that law firms working with Russian businessmen to evade sanctions could face legal consequences.
- [Correction] Nord Stream 2 AG denied a March 1 report by Swiss outlet SRF that it filed for bankruptcy. The Nord Stream 2 AG base economy director affirmed that it has not yet filed for bankruptcy with the Zug Commercial Registry Office. Reuters published a separate source on March 1 claiming that Nord Stream 2 AG may fold later in the week.
NATO and EU countries delivered more shipments of lethal defense equipment to Ukraine on March 2.
- Estonia delivered an unspecified number of Javelin anti-tank missile systems, Germany delivered 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 ground-to-air Stinger missiles, and Turkey delivered an unspecified number of Bayraktar TB2 drones.
- The EU opened a logistical hub in Poland on March 2 to coordinate weapon shipments to Ukraine.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba emphasized Ukraine’s need for additional anti-air weapons in a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 2. US Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez stated the US will continue to provide lethal defense assistance to Ukraine.
Other International Organization Activity
The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion demanding Russia stop military operations in Ukraine on March 2. Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba joined Russia in voting against the motion. China, India, and 33 other countries abstained from the vote. Russian Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya claimed on March 1 that the West coerced the UN into condemning Russia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closely monitored the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities as Russian forces advanced towards another Ukrainian nuclear power plant on March 2.
- The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) requested assistance from the IAEA to coordinate the safety of all Ukrainian nuclear power plant facilities on March 1.
- Hundreds of workers blocked access roads to the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant to prevent Russian military forces from advancing toward it on March 2. Russia informed the IAEA it seized control of the territory around the nuclear facility on March 2.
- The IAEA emphasized on March 2 that they are “working with all sides” to ensure the safety of all Ukrainian nuclear facilities. IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi stressed that all parties must avoid “any military or other action” that could jeopardize the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities.
- The IAEA revised a draft resolution condemning the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine to gain more consensus in a vote scheduled for March 3. It is unclear if the final resolution will outright condemn all Russian action in Ukraine or limit the scope to concern for nuclear accidents at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on March 2 that “Russia’s military operation is aimed at disarming Ukraine” and preventing Ukraine from obtaining nuclear weapons. IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi dismissed Russia’s unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine was seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. Ukraine’s nuclear program has been under IAEA oversight for several years, allowing the agency to conduct extensive inspections of the country’s facilities and reactors.
- Ukrainian atomic agency Energoatom stated that Russian and Belarusian soldiers at Chernobyl exposed themselves to dangerous radiation levels by using heavy equipment in forbidden areas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has likely killed hundreds of Ukrainian civilians as of March 2. International organizations and Western leaders are increasingly voicing concerns about Russia’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians and alleged use of banned weaponry.
- Regional Ukrainian officials outlined the dire circumstances of civilians in war-torn towns on March 2. The mayor of Mariupol said civilians are suffering mass casualties due to water shortages, Russian attacks, and the absence of a humanitarian exit corridor for trapped civilians. Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleg Synegubov said Russian shelling has killed 21 people and wounded a further 112 as of March 2. The Chernihiv mayor called on civilians to prepare for urban warfare. A senior US defense official told Reuters on March 2 that Russia is increasingly targeting Kyiv’s infrastructure with artillery and rockets.
- Western leaders raised alarms on March 1 and 2 that Russia may escalate its use of indiscriminate and illegal weapons against civilians and cities. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace warned on March 1 that Russia may begin to “carpet-bomb” urban areas. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia is moving weaponry such as cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, which are banned under the Geneva convention, into Ukraine on March 2. The UK Presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) also expressed its concern on March 2.
- The Ukrainian Emergency Service said that Russian attacks have killed more than 2,000 civilians between February 24 and March 2. The United Nations reported on March 1 that at least 406 civilians have been reported hurt or killed in Ukraine.
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden accused Russia on March 2 of indiscriminately targeting civilians. Johnson called Russian targeting of civilians a “war crime.”
Ukrainians continued to flee the conflict in record numbers, straining support structures in neighboring states.
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said on March 2 that over 835,000 refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, with more than half fleeing to Poland.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of challenges in distributing medical aid to Ukraine and called for better humanitarian access to Ukraine to mitigate supply shortages on March 2.
Individual Western Allies’ Activity
Other International Activity
Global oil and gas prices skyrocketed despite Russia’s energy sector remaining largely unsanctioned as of March 2. White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated on March 2 that a future US ban on Russian oil exports is “not off the table.” However, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the US does not have a “strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy.” Multiple US Republican officials called on US President Joe Biden to stop oil imports from Russia to the United States and to boost domestic production. The OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia, said it would not alter a July 2021 agreement to increase monthly production of oil by 400,000 barrels a day, despite the disruption to Russian oil exports. The United States and other major oil consumers have repeatedly called on OPEC+ to boost output to help calm inflation as oil prices have risen to an eight-year high. Gas prices in Europe rose to a new high at 2,260 USD per thousand cubic meters according to data from the London Stock Exchange.
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