Ukraine Invasion Update 22
Institute for the Study of War, Russia Team
with the Critical Threats Project, AEI
The Ukraine Invasion Update is a weekly synthetic product covering key political and rhetorical events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. This update covers events from April 2-7. All of the ISW Russia’s team’s coverage of the war in Ukraine—including daily military assessments and maps, past Conflict Updates, and several supplemental assessments—are available on our Ukraine Crisis Coverage landing page.
Key Takeaways April 2-7
- Russian atrocities in Ukraine, Kremlin efforts to falsely blame Ukraine for these atrocities, and continuing Ukrainian battlefield successes have reduced the willingness of the Ukrainian government and society to reach a peace agreement less than total Russian defeat.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky specified for the first time that Ukraine’s desired “security guarantees” in lieu of NATO membership are written commitments from several states to provide Ukraine with immediate military aid and enact sanctions on Russia in the event of further Russian aggression.
- The Kremlin is blaming the United States for Russian atrocities against civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where Russian troops killed around 400 Ukrainian civilians. Western states imposed additional sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats in response to the Russian atrocities.
- The Kremlin is setting conditions to blame Ukraine for Russian atrocities in occupied areas and may be intentionally doing so in areas where the Kremlin knows Russian forces have already killed civilians to disguise Russian culpability.
- Russian forces are accelerating operations to install governance structures in occupied Ukraine and are detaining or killing Ukrainian mayors.
- Kremlin media increasingly seeks to justify Russian atrocities and the intentional targeting of Ukrainian civilians to a Russian domestic audience.
- The Kremlin is attempting to frame the global economic consequences of its invasion of Ukraine as a result of Western sanctions to call for their removal.
- Newly announced weapons shipments from the United Kingdom and the United States will supplement Ukrainian supplies and expand Ukrainian capabilities to target Russian forces massed in southern Ukraine and in the Black Sea.
Key Events April 2-7
Ukraine will not resume negotiations with Russia until Ukrainian and guarantor state negotiators finalize meaningful security guarantees for Ukraine. Russian atrocities in Ukraine and Kremlin efforts to falsely blame Ukraine for these atrocities have reduced the willingness of the Ukrainian government and society to reach a peace agreement less than total Russian defeat.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky specified for the first time on April 5 that Ukraine’s desired “security guarantees” in lieu of NATO membership are written commitments from several states to provide Ukraine with immediate military aid and enact sanctions on Russia in the event of further Russian aggression. Zelensky said Ukraine seeks guarantor states that will “provide any kind of weapons within 24 hours” and impose sanctions within 24-72 hours to “repulse and isolate” Russia in the case of further Russian aggression against Ukraine. Zelensky stated on April 6 that the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, Germany, France, and Israel have expressed varying degrees of willingness to provide security guarantees to Ukraine. Zelensky said that representatives of these states will meet “in the near future” and said that Ukraine will not resume negotiations with Russia until Ukraine and the guarantors reach an agreement. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed on April 6 that Germany and Ukraine are holding confidential bilateral discussions regarding security guarantees. Zelensky likely seeks a comprehensive package of military aid to Ukraine and pre-planned sanctions on Russia as a deterrent to replace Kyiv’s desired NATO membership. Negotiations on these guarantees will likely take some time, and Ukraine is unlikely to substantially reengage with Russian negotiators in the coming weeks.
- The Kremlin is increasingly falsely claiming that Western states are forcing Ukraine to continue the war, obfuscating continued Russian military setbacks. Several Kremlin officials falsely claimed that the West staged atrocities in Bucha to justify new sanctions and undermine negotiations. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova falsely claimed on April 7 that US and NATO state military aid to Ukraine is preventing a peaceful settlement or meaningful negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov falsely claimed that western states forced Ukrainian negotiators to issue a new proposal on April 6, removing initial promises that security guarantees to Ukraine would not apply to Crimea and that Russia would have the ability to veto any international military exercises in Ukraine.
- Anger over Russian atrocities and continuing Ukrainian battlefield successes are strengthening the Ukrainian government’s willingness to reject Russian demands. Zelensky said on April 5 that it will be difficult to meet with Putin following the Bucha massacre and stated he will only meet Putin if Russia will “bear all the punishments” for genocide and confirm that Ukraine will not lose any territory. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov contrarily claimed on April 3 that Russia plans to continue negotiations with Ukraine, but that Putin will only meet with Zelensky after Russia and Ukraine reach a written agreement due to claimed “experience with Ukraine not fulfilling its obligations.”
Russian Domestic Opposition and Censorship
The Kremlin continued to set conditions for a potential chemical or biochemical false-flag attack against Ukraine for which it would blame Ukrainian forces and the West. The Kremlin has emphasized this long-running narrative since December 2021.
- Russia hosted a United Nations Security Council meeting on April 6 to discuss its false allegations of US-funded bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine. The United States and United Kingdom boycotted the meeting, while France and Norway attended but accused Russia of spreading disinformation. China and Brazil called for independent investigations into Russia’s claims. Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dai Bing said that China welcomes an international inquiry into US bio-military activities and called for greater transparency. China has echoed the Kremlin’s bioweapons narrative since March 2022.
- Chief of the Russian Military Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces Igor Kirillov claimed on April 6 that the Kremlin has discovered 30 US laboratories in 14 populated areas in Ukraine and linked the labs to the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called on the United States to provide more comprehensive information on alleged US biolabs in Ukraine on April 6.
- Kremlin-affiliated media amplified “expert” testimony from Kremlin-affiliated academics on April 5 claiming the United States and NATO developed “combat pathogens” in a network of biolaboratories surrounding Russia and Belarus to use against Russia because they are “too scared” to use a nuclear weapon against Russia. These reports claimed for the first time that Germany (rather than solely the US) maintains its own network of inter-related biolabs and implausibly claimed that both the United States and Germany are developing pathogens that would target only ethnic Russians.
Kremlin media increasingly seeks to justify Russian atrocities and the intentional targeting of Ukrainian civilians to a Russian domestic audience. Russian media amplified an op-ed written by Kremlin-affiliated film director Timofey Sergeytsev on April 3 that outlined specific steps to “denazify Ukraine” and sought to justify Russian atrocities. The op-ed claims the entire Ukrainian Armed Forces are Nazis and called for their total “liquidation.” The op-ed additionally stated Ukraine cannot be an independent state and called for a multi-generational effort to alter the educational, informational, and cultural infrastructure of Ukraine that would inevitably constitute “de-Ukrainization.” The op-ed called for the creation of “systemic conditions for the subsequent denazification in peacetime,” including the installation of a permanent Russian information space in Ukraine. The Russian State Duma additionally introduced a draft law on April 4 that would formally falsely claim “that Ukrainian authorities have committed a genocide of the Russian population since 2014.” Russian media continue to amplify this and other claims of the need for “denazification.” The Kremlin’s “denazification” rhetoric and growing calls to destroy Ukrainian society and culture are likely intended to condition Russia’s domestic population to accept further Russian atrocities in Ukraine and harsher crackdowns on civilian populations in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, particularly if Russia makes more permanent territorial gains in eastern Ukraine.
Russian Reactions to Sanctions:
The Kremlin is attempting to frame the global economic consequences of its invasion of Ukraine as a result of Western sanctions to call for their removal. The Kremlin may additionally plan to limit its agricultural exports and is threatening to nationalize European assets in Russia in retaliation for Western sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed on April 4 that anti-Russia sanctions are a “blow to the global economy” after a meeting with the Arab League Contact Group on Ukraine in Moscow, Russia. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev stated on April 2 that food exports are Russia’s “quiet weapon” and threatened that Russia may limit agricultural exports to “unfriendly countries.”
The Kremlin continues to threaten reciprocal sanctions and the nationalization of foreign assets as it attempts to leverage its energy exports. The Russian State Duma introduced a bill for discussion on April 4 to criminalize any entity that implements sanctions against Russia. Russian energy company Gazprom stopped supplying gas to Germany’s largest storage facility, Reden, on April 5 in likely retaliation for Germany’s nationalizing Gazprom Germania on April 4. Putin additionally threatened that Russia could nationalize European assets within Russia in response. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on April 6 that Hungary will pay for Russian gas in rubles, undermining a European effort to avoid propping up the ruble with energy purchases. Meanwhile, the Kremlin continued to seek outlets for its sanctioned goods. Bloomberg reported on April 4 that Chinese state-owned liquified natural gas (LNG) companies are secretly planning to purchase sanctioned Russian gas at a reduced price, and the Kremlin will likely pursue other similar sanctions mitigation efforts.
The Kremlin is blaming the United States for Russian atrocities against civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Western states imposed additional sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats in response to the Russian atrocities.
- Russian forces killed around 400 Ukrainian civilians throughout their occupation of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Ukrainian troops reported the civilian deaths of April 4 after recapturing the town. German outlet Der Spiegel reported on April 7 that German military intelligence intercepted Russian radio communications at minimum discussing the murder of civilians in Bucha and possibly indicating targeted killings of civilians were pre-planned.
- The Kremlin contradictorily claimed both that the United States faked videos taken in Bucha and that Ukrainian forces carried out actual killings. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharov denied any allegations of Russian involvement in civilian deaths in Bucha and claimed the United States is “organizing and orchestrating” an information war against Russia in a series of statements on April 4. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Alexander Lukashevich claimed that Ukrainian forces faked reports of mass graves in and around Kyiv to derail peace talks. Peskov claimed that videos of the massacre in Bucha were staged forgeries distributed by the “Kyiv regime.” The Russian Investigative Committee opened an investigation into the spread of “disinformation” regarding the Bucha massacre on April 4. Zakharova separately claimed on April 4 that the Ukrainian military had committed the crimes in Bucha to derail peace talks. Russian Presidential Advisor Dmitry Medvedev attributed the atrocities in Bucha to Nazis and claimed that Ukrainians had been praying for the Third Reich. Russian representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia claimed “only amateurs” would fall for the videos and falsely claimed that Russian forces do not target civilians. Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that the West had supported Ukraine’s “provocation” in Bucha and was as much a participant as Ukraine.
- European and western allied states capitalized on renewed international unity to expel Russian diplomatic staff and further isolate Russia from the international community following the exposure of Russian atrocities. Several European Union states expelled Russian diplomats between April 4 and April 7 after the massacre in Bucha was discovered, with several explicitly citing atrocities in Bucha as justification while others listed national security concerns. Lithuania, Germany, France, Latvia, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Estonia, Romania, Greece, Norway, Luxembourg, Ireland, and Austria expelled over 200 diplomats combined. The United States and its allies introduced and passed a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly suspending Russia’s membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council following the atrocities. Russian state media avoided directly attributing Europe’s decisions to expel diplomats to the massacre committed in Bucha and described the expulsions as resulting from Russia’s “special operation” or occurring “against the backdrop” of Bucha.
The Kremlin is setting conditions to blame Ukraine for Russian atrocities in occupied areas and may be intentionally doing so in areas where the Kremlin knows Russian forces have already killed civilians to disguise Russian culpability.
- The Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) People’s Militia claimed on April 6 that Ukrainian propagandists are planning a new “provocation” in the city of Kreminna by creating a “staged video” with the elderly and disabled to accuse Russian forces of atrocities against the population. The People's Militia claimed that those who “participated in Bucha” will take part in this video. The Kremlin or LNR may be aware of atrocities in or around Kreminna and may be attempting to pre-empt accusations of Russian or LNR brutality.
- National Defense Control Center of Russia Head Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev claimed on April 6 that Ukraine is collaborating with the West to prepare false materials documenting Russian atrocities and that their “[Bucha] scenario” will not work again. Mizintsev said that Western media have completed “provocations involving the civilian population in the cities of Konotop and Trostyanets in the Sumy region, as well as in Borodyanka and Katyuzhanka in the Kyiv region”—all cities previously occupied by Russian forces. He added that Ukraine is preparing “regular provocative materials” about the deaths of civilians in Derhachi, Kharkiv Oblast and claimed that Ukraine or Western media paid civilian crisis actors $25 for their participation. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov reiterated that claim on April 7.
- Russian state-owned news outlet RIA Novosti claimed on April 6 that Ukrainian forces are allegedly preparing to murder civilians in Chernihiv for aiding Russian troops.
- Ukrainian media reported on April 6 that Russian “top leadership” ordered Russian forces to use mobile crematoriums to hide additional evidence of civilian deaths in occupied zones, likely to mitigate additional international backlash like Russia has faced from the reveal of the Bucha massacres.
Russian forces are accelerating operations to install governance structures in occupied Ukraine and are detaining or killing Ukrainian mayors. Permanent Crimean Representative to Russia Georgy Muradov stated on April 6 that Crimea and Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian territories have “restored a single economic complex” and replaced the Ukrainian hryvnia currency with the Russian ruble. Russian forces dispelled an opposition protest with gunfire and explosives in Energodar, Ukraine, on April 2, indicating ongoing Ukrainian resistance in occupied territory. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuck reported that Russian forces killed Motyzhyn Mayor Olga Sukhenko on April 2 and stated on April 3 that Russian forces have kidnapped 11 Ukrainian mayors since the invasion began. Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) officials appointed pro-Russian politician Konstantin Ivashchenko as mayor of Mariupol on April 5 despite the fact that Ukrainian conventional forces remain active in the city. Russian forces are likely killing other Ukrainian government officials as part of occupation measures.
Drivers of Russian Threat Perceptions:
Newly announced weapons shipments from the United Kingdom and the United States will supplement Ukrainian supplies and expand Ukrainian capabilities to target Russian forces massed in southern Ukraine and in the Black Sea.
- The UK Ministry of Defense formally announced on April 7 it will send new long-range artillery and Harpoon weapon systems to Ukraine after UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace first discussed the shipments on April 2. These capabilities will threaten Russian naval operations in the Black Sea and would render an already-unlikely Russian assault on Odesa even less likely in the coming weeks. Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrey Kelin warned that long-range artillery weapons and anti-ship systems in the UK’s new military aid package to Ukraine would be “legitimate targets” in a statement on April 2.
- The United States announced several new military aid packages from April 2-7 containing drones, armored vehicles, machine guns, Javelin anti-tank missile systems, and biological and chemical protective equipment totaling over $400 million USD. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also stated that the United States is providing “intelligence to conduct operations in Donbas” to Ukraine during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 7.
- The US Senate passed the “Ukrainian Democracy Defense Lease Act” to waive legal requirements that slow the process of delivering aid to Ukraine on April 6. The US House of representatives is expected to vote on the bill after its two-week recess.
- NATO announced at the conclusion of a NATO conference on April 7 that the bloc will send unspecified “NATO-standard” equipment and heavy weaponry to Ukraine.
- Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced on April 7 that Australia will send “tactical decoys, unmanned aerial and ground systems, rations and medical supplies,” to Ukraine in its newest military aid package.
- A Czech defense official reported that the Czech Republic had recently sent T-72 tanks and BVP-1 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine in a comment on April 5.
The international response to Russian atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, likely distracted the Kremlin from threatening rhetoric in response to Poland’s offer to station US nuclear weapons in Poland. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kacyznski stated on April 2 that Poland would like the United States to increase its troop presence in Europe from 100,000 to 150,000 and that Poland would be open to stationing US nuclear weapons on its territory. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov warned on April 3 that troop buildups in Europe would heighten tensions and argued that nuclear weapons in Poland were “anti-Russian” and a cause for concern. The Kremlin likely intended to escalate that rhetoric and may have begun to discuss stationing Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus. However, the Kremlin media apparatus has instead focused on containing the fallout from Russian atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine.
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