Asia Times is initiating a near-daily Ukraine war situation report based on multiple military and think tank sources. It’s our unvarnished bid to cut through the propaganda and misinformation of all sides that contribute to the fog of war.
Principal action over the weekend was on the political front with Russian President Vladimir Putin responding to US President Joe Biden’s acknowledgment in a New York Times op-ed that the US will provide Ukrainian forces “with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield.”
On Sunday (June 5), Putin told Russia 1 TV that US-made multiple-launch rocket systems are unlikely to add anything substantially new to existing Ukrainian forces’ capabilities unless long-range systems are supplied. “If they are supplied,” Putin said, “we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our weapons, which we have enough of, in order to strike at those objects that we have not yet struck.”
The weapons Putin most likely referred to are the 2S7 Pion (“peony”) 203mm tracked howitzers, the world’s largest and heaviest at 46.5 tons. Significantly, these heavy artillery pieces are capable of firing 3BV2 Kleshchevina plutonium-based nuclear shells with a yield of 0.5 to 1 kiloton.
The Ukrainian military operates Soviet- and Russian-designed Grad, Smerch, and Uragan MLR systems; The Situation will assess the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the Russian systems in a separate upcoming report.
On the battlefield, the Ukrainian capital of Kiev came under Russian attack for the first time in five weeks on Sunday.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said during a regular briefing that Russian forces carried out airstrikes “on the outskirts of Kiev, destroying T-72 tanks and other armored vehicles that were supplied by Eastern European countries and kept in railcar repair facilities.”
The airstrikes, most likely conducted with cruise missiles, were confirmed by the Ukrainian side, though they did not corroborate Russia’s claim of successful hits on key assets.
Russia has significantly stepped up attacks on the extensive 22,000-kilometer Ukrainian rail network over the past two weeks to disrupt, in particular, Ukrainian resupplies through Poland.
On the ground in the center and east, block-to-block fighting in Severodonetsk continues. There were Ukrainian claims on Saturday and Sunday of having regained some earlier lost ground. However, on Monday morning the Ukrainian head of the Luhansk regional administration said the situation had “worsened a bit.”
In the northeast around Kharkiv and the south in the area of Mikolaiv, there were reports of continual heavy artillery fire.
Center and East
There are currently three focal points of ground fighting, each of which define potential encirclement of Ukrainian forces remaining in the Donbass. From east to west they are 1) Severodonetsk and the twin city Lysychansk; 2) the Popasna- Soledar – Bakhmut triangle; and 3) the area southeast of Izium and southwest of Lyman reaching down to Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
There are Ukrainian reports that in Severodonetsk Russian forces are advancing behind direct artillery fire and with aircraft support. According to a German report, the tactic is similar to one frequently used in World War II.
The issue now, with Severodonetsk largely in Russian hands, is whether Russian or Ukrainian forces will drop the bridges across the Donets River into Lysychansk.
On the second focal point, Russian forces moving out of Popasna in the direction of Bakhmut are estimated to be 5-8 kilometers away from the transport hub and crossroads at Bakhmut.
Russian forces moving toward the southwest from Lyman have closed to within about 10-12 kilometers from Sloviansk and have reached Raihorodok.
Russian progress in the southeasterly direction from Izium has been slow and a Ukrainian General Staff (USG) report issued on Monday morning notes fighting near the town of Sviatohirsk.
A second Russian prong is launching attacks further west near the town of Barvinkove. Sloviansk is a rail transportation hub and would appear to be a priority for Russian forces at this stage.
Russian and Ukrainian forces remain engaged northeast of Kherson. The UGS reports attempts by Russian forces trying to regain terrain on the east bank of the Inhulets, in the vicinity of Lozove.
Russian artillery activity in the area is concentrated in the vicinity of Mikolaiv, indicating a softening up of Ukrainian positions in possible preparation for a Russian move on the strategic city if and when the situation in the Donbass focal points permits.