Russia may be planning a false flag operation with use of chemical weapons — CDS

12 March, 11:29 AM
Rescuers put out a fire caused by a Russian airstrike on Dnipro. (Photo:State Emergency Service of Ukraine)

Rescuers put out a fire caused by a Russian airstrike on Dnipro. (Photo:State Emergency Service of Ukraine)

The Centre for Defense Strategies (CDS) is a Ukrainian security think tank. Operating since 2020, it focuses on security studies, defense policy research and advocacy. This is CDS’s overview of the main developments in Russia’s war against Ukraine occurring on March 11.

There are growing worries that Russia is planning a “false flag operation” involving the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine. Russian media are currently creating narratives to provide a context for such an operation.

On March 9, the Guardian reported that Britain was concerned that Russia may resort to using such weapons, as its plan to occupy Ukraine in a few days had utterly failed. Russia has experience supporting the use of chemical weapons during the war in Syria by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s information campaign on chemical weapons is currently repeating a 2018 scenario in which Russia tried to deny the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, instead accusing Britain of involvement in the Douma chlorine attack that killed 40 people.

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Of course, Russia’s claims of some operations done in Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons are completely unsubstantiated. International parties’ statements confirm Ukraine’s position on this. The U.S. government had dismissed Russia's accusations of Ukraine for developing biological warfare.

Also, the UN has stated that it has no information about the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine. Imminent Belarusian involvement in the war is a high risk. After Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s trip to Moscow discussions about an invasion of Ukraine by Belarus were resumed.

Pravda.com.ua even published the time and date, today 11th of March, 21:00 (that time has passed, but as we know dates and times can be moved back and forth).

An announcement of the official participation of Belarus in the war could be made any time now. As we know, de facto Belarus has participated from the first day of the war, providing its territory, border crossings and infrastructure to invading Russian forces. But today it could deploy its own forces.

Such participation remains extremely unpopular in Belarus, and, as we discussed in previous issues, the civilian population has launched a massive information campaign persuading Belarus not to join and its military not to get involved.

Joining the attack on Ukraine is also extremely unpopular with the Belarusian military. Lukashenko has been trying to avoid this participation and several times has announced that Belarus will not join in the war. The same message was released by the Belarusian MOD in various media, blaming the West for spreading this idea.

The suspicion of possible involvement by Belarus was actively discussed today after Ukraine announced that a Russian plane had shot missiles from the territory of Ukraine into Belarus as a provocation. Belarus later announced that report a fake. However, we consider is an established fact that Russian fighter jets attacked Belarusian territory on the border with Ukraine: Su-25 fighters, flying into the territory of Ukraine from Belarus, first bombed Ukrainian territory, then launched airstrikes on the territory of the Republic of Belarus.

The flight of 2 fighter jets from Russia was recorded by border patrols at a site of the Dubrovitsa territorial department, in Rivne Oblast. Such enemy attacks and actions on settlements of Belarus was a deliberate provocation to bring the Belarus Armed Forces into Russia's war against Ukraine.

Humanitarian aspect: According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the number of Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian occupiers exceeds the number of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. Russia bombs schools, hospitals and maternity hospitals. According to the UN, 549 civilians have been killed.

However, this figure is understated due to the complexity of calculating it in the current situation. For example, according to the Mariupol City Council, 1,582 residents of Mariupol were killed by the Russian army in 12 days of blockade of the city and shelling of the residential areas. Mariupol is still in the most critical situation. Civilian districts are bombed and shelled.

Villages around the town of Izyum, in Kharkiv Oblast, are under constant shelling. Evacuation currently does not seem to be possible. On the night of March 10 to March 11, the Russians carried an airstrike on Dnipro (a kindergarten, an apartment building, and a shoe factory were damaged, one person was killed); Lutsk; Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine; Chernihiv (a stadium and a library damaged).

The invaders also abducted the mayor of Melitopol, who refused to cooperate with the Russians. This provoked the anger of Melitopol residents, who took to the streets in protest against the abduction of their mayor.

Ukraine in general: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisor has reported that the estimated cost of material infrastructure damage from Russian attacks is in excess of $100 billion.

Due to the war and military operations, the Ministry of Education and Science has canceled independent external exams (known as "ZNO") for university applicants in 2022.

Nuclear and Energy Safety: Contact with the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant has been lost (UN). As a result of Russian shelling, the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology site, a nuclear research facility, was damaged.

 There are no threats to the safety of civilians due to the shelling of the facility as of now.

International Diplomacy: The heads of EU member states announced their recognition of "European aspirations and European choice of Ukraine." They called for the European Commission "to provide their opinion on (Ukraine's) application (for EU membership of Feb. 28, 2022) and in accordance with relevant provisions of (the Treaties of the European Union)."

Even though the statement does not contain any reference to Article 49 of the Treaties, nor does it mention the accelerated procedure of Ukraine's accession, this ambiguous bureaucratic formulation is a good step forward. According to the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, this is a major historic decision because it gives a green light to Ukraine's aspirations to join the EU.

The positive response at the Versailles summit is important both as a beginning to the accession process and as a demonstration to Russia that its actions are not inhibiting Ukraine's integration into the European economic, legal and political space.

The EU also approved an increase in its military aid to Kyiv up to EUR 1 billion.

At a Russian National Security Council meeting, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin approved a proposal of the Minister of Defense to send 16,000 mercenaries from the Middle East (mainly Syria) to the temporarily occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Obviously, this shows an attempt to recruit mercenaries with experience of combat in cities, which will allow the Russians to deny their part they are playing in war crimes in Ukraine.

The United States has denied Russia the status of having permanent normal trade relations, which in a way complicates bilateral trade and applies a certain list of goods and services. This limitation does not hurt the Russian Federation in any severe way, because there is no significant bilateral trade between Russia and the United States. Still, this decision falls within the strategy of systematically isolating Russia's economy.

The United Kingdom imposed sanctions against 386 Russian MPs for their involvement in the aggression against Ukraine. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has gone to Moscow in order to find "compromises" and end the Ukrainian-Russian war.

Our hypothesis in this respect is that Putin's close friend and one of his most influential western agents will try to save the reputation of the Russian dictator, probably by offering him a plan to get out of the dead end he has driven himself into. It is hardly likely that Schroeder will convince Putin of anything, but according to the reaction of Berlin in the coming days, we might find out how Schroeder himself saw his mission.

The U.S. Senate voted for a $1.5 trillion spending package, part of which will be emergency assistance to Ukraine worth $13.6 billion, in particular for humanitarian and defense assistance, and economic support for the region due to Russian aggression. During a telephone conversation between the presidents of the United States and Turkey, the latter stressed his mediating role between Kyiv and Moscow.

In addition to discussing the security situation, the Turkish leader questioned the urgent purchase of 40 new fighters, the repair of existing F-16s and the lifting of discriminatory sanctions imposed during former U.S. President Donald Trump's term. The improvement of relations between Turkey and the United States is of great benefit to Ukraine, since both countries play an important role in the confrontation with Russia. Ankara's defense capabilities and its actions in agreement with non-Black Sea NATO members indirectly affect Ukraine's security.

Russian Federation:  Supermarket chains in Russia continue to impose limits on the sale of products per person, including the purchase of instant ramen noodles, toilet paper and buckwheat.

The Russian Central Bank has published a forecast for 2022 (for the first time since the expansion of sanctions): inflation - 20%; GDP - a decrease of 8%; Dollar exchange rate - 110 rubles (this has already been exceeded); Banks have sharply restricted the purchase of the ruble after its sharp fall and there has been a ban on the sale of currency in order to protect the financial system from an influx of Russian "currency" tourists.

After restricting the access of Russians to Facebook and Twitter, Roskomnadzor is also restricting access to Instagram on the territory of the Russian Federation. Restrictions will be introduced at midnight on 11.03.22.

Operational situation: The Russian Federation has a plan to exercise its long-term vision of the occupation of southern Ukraine and thus all of the northern Black Sea coast. That establishes (if implemented) factual Russian control of the northern parts of the Black Sea and of the Azov Sea.

Hence, Russian forces are attempting to create a land bridge from Transnistria to the Krasnodar region by occupying all Ukrainian southern cities, towns and territories between them. They are pushing reserve forces from Crimea, regrouping existing units in southern Ukraine, and resuming an offensive in southern Ukraine to seize the seaports of Mykolaiv and, most likely later the city of Odesa. The defenders of Mykolaiv pushed back the enemy to the east of the city. Russian airborne troops are expected to land in Odesa if the enemy manages to surround the city by land using units that are now attacking Mykolaiv.

 In the case of an assault on Odessa, the involvement of Transnistrian troops (up to 8,000-10,000 servicepersons) is highly possible from the Voznesensk city direction. As we informed in our previous issues, Crimea is a base for 10+ marine landing ships and guard ships.

Part of the marine forces were removed from the ships and sent to the south of Ukraine to reinforce the forces operating in the Mykolaiv direction (336th Marine Brigade of the Baltic Fleet). A replacement process is taking place with respect to key personnel of the Black Sea Fleet's 810th Marine Brigade units, which as we know refused to carry out a landing operation in Odesa on March 2, 2022.

The current weather conditions in the northwestern part of the Black Sea (Odesa) make all landing operations hard to fulfil. Missile attacks and air raids on Odesa continue. The situation in Mariupol remains extremely difficult. Our troops are holding the city, but it is completely encircled by the enemy, which is using heavy artillery, MLRS systems, tanks and aviation in its attack.

The enemy has now been halted  in both northwest and northeast operational areas after suffering losses. The Russians are attempting to consolidate their position, but now have do it in a more disadvantaged situation. In the Donetsk area, Ukrainian forces fought back against the enemy in a fierce combat operation. Overall, the pace of the invaders' offensive has slowed. Kyiv and Mariupol remain the enemy's main areas of concentration, as well as its advances in the areas of Kryvyi Rih, Kremenchuk, Nikopol and Zaporizhzhia.

Plans to take control of Mykolaiv and advance towards Zaporizhzhia and Kryvyi Rih have not been implemented. Because of significant losses, the invaders are forced to turn to defense and working to carry out a comprehensive re-supply.

Unable to succeed in the ground operation, the enemy continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on cities deep inside Ukraine - the cities of Dnipro, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk.

An expansion of the anti-aircraft defense system of the invading Russian forces has been noted in the Donetsk and southern areas. In the north-west part of the country, the threat of sabotage of military and civilian infrastructure remains. In the northern area, there are no active enemy’s offensive actions. In some areas, the enemy conducted fire raids and reconnaissance of Ukrainian Armed Forces units. In the northeast direction, the enemy has Sumy surrounded and is partially blocking the city of Kharkiv, from the north. Regrouping of troops is in progress.

In Donetsk Oblast and the south, the occupants continue to attempt to capture Mariupol (as discussed above) and Severodonetsk, but with no success. As per land troops command reports, the Ukrainian armed forces killed Russian Major General Andrei Kolesnikov, the commander of Russia's 29th Army of the Eastern Military District.

The city of Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast are firmly controlled by the Ukrainian government and defense forces. No major incidents have occurred over past day. Military observers have seen the enemy’s forces congregating to the north of Kyiv, however there is as yet no clear understanding of a possible assault date (assuming the Russians still intend to assault Kyiv).

It is a common understanding of analysts that the city of Kyiv remains the main goal of Russian forces. In Kyiv Oblast towns, apartment buildings have been damaged as a result of a rocket attack by Iskander tactical ballistic missiles. The infrastructure of the settlement of Baryshivka in Kyiv Oblast has been partially destroyed or damaged.

Dnipro

Russian troops launched three airstrikes on the city of Dnipro. A fire broke out in a footwear factory. As of now, it is established that one person was killed in this attack.

Kharkiv Oblast

Russian occupants attacked the Oskol psychoneurological boarding school in Kharkiv Oblast, which is home to 330 students;

 Lutsk

In the morning of March 11, at approximately 0545, a Russian Army bomber launched four rockets at Lutsk military airfield facilities;

Zhytomyr Oblast

About 70 percent of the residents of the town of Korosten in Zhytomyr Oblast have been evacuated;

 Luhansk Oblast

Two persons were injured by Russian shelling of Severodonetsk. A residential establishment in Rubizhne for elderly people was set on fire by Russian shelling;

Chernihiv Oblast

Showing great determination, resistance forces operating in Chernihiv Oblast have retaken five settlements from Russian occupiers; The occupiers dropped three aerial bombs on the Chernihiv area in the morning.

Total combat losses of the enemy from 24.02 to 11.03 are estimated at:

Personnel – around 12500 thousand people (up to +0.5 thousand for the previous day);

Prisoners of war – up to 2,000;

Tanks ‒ 353 (+18);

APCs - 1165 (+60);

Artillery systems – 125 (+2);

MLRS – 58 (+2);

Anti-aircraft defense systems – 31 (+2);

Aircraft – 57 (+8);

Helicopters – 83 (+2);

Vehicles – 558 (+32);

Ships / motorboats – 3 (0);

Fuel tankers– 60 (0);

UAVs – 7 (0).

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