Ukraine Situational Report | 1 July 2022
The last week of war reporting has been marked by a series of significant developments both on the ground in Ukraine, and on the international stage, as a major NATO summit wraps up in Madrid. While Lysychansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas faces increasing Russian bombardment, Russian strikes have also targeted areas in the Sumy and Odessa regions. The Black Sea and the issue of food exports has also been at the fore recently, and in an unusual turn of events, Russian troops have been withdrawn from Ukraine’s Snake Island, sparking speculation over the circumstances and motive behind Moscow’s retreat from the Black Sea area.
International political developments
NATO’s three-day Madrid summit came to an end on Thursday, with leaders of the alliance agreeing to a significant increase in defence funding, as well as pledges of more financial aid and weapons for Ukraine. NATO leaders also issued renewed calls for Russian President Vladimir Putin to end Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. In a press conference after the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described Russia's nuclear rhetoric as "reckless and dangerous".
Another major development of the summit was a statement confirming Sweden and Finland will sign the protocol to join the military alliance next week. All member states will then need to ratify it, including Turkey, which lifted its veto on the two countries joining after reaching an agreement. The development means the NATO summit can largely be seen as a resounding success in terms of presenting a united front against Russian aggression on the European continent.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign minister has said that a new "iron curtain" is falling in place across Europe, between the West and Russia. This isn’t the first time the ‘iron curtain’ parallel with the Cold War has been drawn amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and it’s unlikely to be the last. Despite the Cold War rhetoric from Moscow, international leaders are continuing to seek paths to open dialogue in the hope of de-escalating the conflict. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has offered to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow after hand-delivering a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The issue of food exports has become a prominent one amid growing international concern surrounding a potential global food crisis. A war over grain from Ukraine has emerged, threatening to severely impact global grain supplies, of which Ukrainian exports make up a huge 10 percent. Kyiv has levied accusations at Russia of blocking Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and stealing grain - thereby contributing to global food shortages. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations but has recently begun shipping grain from occupied territory in Ukraine. Russian grain shipments from Berdyansk, in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, are to be shipped to what a pro-Russian regional official described as “friendly countries”. The shipment of Ukrainian grain by Russia lends weight to Kyiv’s accusations. The EU’s chief of foreign affairs has condemned the stoppage of Ukrainian grain exports a war crime by Russia; however, the Kremlin has insisted Ukraine is to blame for its own export issues.
Also in the Black Sea, news that Russian troops have been pulled back from Ukraine’s Snake Island has been met with international scepticism. Russia claims it has withdrawn its garrison as a "gesture of goodwill" to prove it isn’t obstructing grain exports. Ukraine dismissed that claim, pointing to the continued Russian shelling of its grain stores as evidence to the contrary.
According to Moscow’s narrative, Russia’s retreat from Snake Island is aimed at demonstrating Russia’s support for restarting food exports from Ukrainian ports; however, it is thought more likely that Russia withdrew from Snake Island because of troop isolation and an increased vulnerability to Ukrainian strikes. The island is located relatively far from Russia’s main naval bases in the Black Sea and is exposed to air and sea attacks from all directions. The small Russian garrison deployed to defend it had also been described as "sitting ducks" due to being well within the range of Ukrainian missile, artillery, and drone strikes from the shore.
The interpretation adopted by most of the international community is that Moscow’s troops were struggling to keep hold of the island amid a series of devastating attacks targeting the area. Ukrainian missile strikes had increased in the last few weeks, while anti-ship missiles also recently intercepted Russian naval ships attempting to re-supply the island – further evidence that Moscow had little to no intention to relinquish the island until it was effectively forced to do so.
On the ground
Russia has continued its assault in the eastern Donbas region, where the main offensive of troops there is to capture the rest of the Luhansk region. Russian ground forces claim to have captured the village of Pryvilla, just north-west of Lysychansk, while the regional governor of Luhansk has said it is no longer possible to evacuate people from the besieged city as Russian forces begin to encircle it. Intense fighting is also expected to continue for control of strategic high ground around the Lysychansk oil refinery.
Elsewhere, Russian missile strikes have hit a nine-storey apartment building and a recreational centre near the Black Sea port city of Odesa, killing at least 18 people, including two children, while dozens more were also injured. The strikes came just hours after the NATO summit ended on Thursday, and a day after Russia’s defence ministry announced its troops had withdrawn from Snake Island in the Black Sea.