Strategic Ukrainian Port Of Mariupol Now Surrounded By Russian Forces

Meanwhile, Putin says Russian nuclear forces will be on a “special regime of duty” in response to NATOs reaction over Ukraine invasion.

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Strategic Ukrainian Port Of Mariupol Now Surrounded By Russian Forces © Strategic Ukrainian Port Of Mariupol Now Surrounded By Russian Forces

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered "strategic deterrent forces," that is to say elements of his country's nuclear deterrent arsenal, on a heightened state of alertness in response to how NATO has reacted to his war on Ukraine. This comes amid continued signs that Russian military advances have slowed and as significant portions of the international community take increasing steps to isolate Russia politically and economically. What follows is our latest updates on this conflict, which we will continue to add to until otherwise stated as part of ongoing rolling coverage. You can get up to speed first on what has happened already in Ukraine as Russia's invasion has entered its fourth day here.

The Latest:

UPDATE—

We have finished our updates to this piece and you can find our continuing rolling coverage of this conflict here

UPDATED: 3:10 PM EST —

The strategic port city of Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov, is now reportedly surrounded by Russian troops and is being subjected to regular attacks. Its capture has been a major objective for Kremlin as it is key to establishing a land bridge linking western Russia and occupied Crimea via two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine. 

Mariupol is near where U.S. officials said Russian forces conducted their amphibious landing earlier in the day. There have been reports of fighting and troop movements in areas near the city in the past day or so.

Fighting is continuing elsewhere in the country as the night wears on. A video has emerged from Kharkiv in the north showing civilians using subway tunnels to move safely from one part of the city, which has been subjected to repeated Russian missile and artillery strikes, to another.

Interestingly, TASS, a Russian state-run media outlet, has published details of reported Russian losses during the invasion, which are, if accurate, substantial. That story cited anonymous sources within the country's defense ministry, rather than an official spokesperson. The information has since been removed and there are reports that this may have been the result of a hack of the outlet's website.

Videos are emerging reportedly showing Ukrainians using farm tractors to tow away Russian armored vehicles. This comes amid reports that Russian forces have been abandoning them after running of fuel in some areas.

UPDATED: 1:40 PM EST —

U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has told CBS News that it is aware of Putin's announcement today and that its posture remains "appropriate" and "ready should the President [Joe Biden] call upon us."

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has released a video that it says shows a Turkish-made TB2 armed drone targeting a Russian Buk-series mobile surface-to-air missile system near Zhytomyr. Ukrainian TB2s are understood to be very active in this conflict, but Ukrainian authorities have been very judicious in releasing strike footage showing them in action.

Russian forces have reportedly entered Berdyansk, a port city in Ukraine on the coast of the Sea of Azov. 

In an interview for an AP story published today, Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko has said that his city is now fully "encircled." He made that remark in response to questions about whether there were any plans to try to help civilians evacuate, something he says is not currently an option.

Denmark has joined a growing number of countries to announce plans to deliver lethal aid to Ukraine, in this case 2,700 unspecified anti-tank weapons.

A European Union official has said that the economic bloc is worried that the number of people displaced by this conflict could reach 7 million. For reference, the total population of Ukraine is around 44 million.

UPDATED: 12:35 PM EST —

A military storage area near the airport in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr, situated some 85 miles west of Kyiv, has reportedly been hit by a missile.

Ukraine's Antonov aviation company, which owns and operates the An-225, has issued a statement saying that it cannot confirm or deny the status of the aircraft.

Video footage has appeared online reportedly showing Ukrainian civilians refusing to let Russian tanks pass in the southern part of the country. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba had previously said that what is going on in the country now "is a real people’s war." 

The Russian government is starting to admit its service members have been killed or wounded in the fighting in Ukraine, something that it has not done until now. This comes amid reports that mobile cremation vehicles have been moved close to its borders with the country, something that some had previously suggested would be employed to help conceal the extent of the body count, which could fuel domestic protests and criticism.

"I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try so that later not a single citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as President, tried to stop the war, when there was even a small, but still a chance," Ukrainian President Zelensky has said about the planned talks with Russia.

The Swedish government says that it will deliver 5,000 AT4 unguided anti-tank rocket launchers, as well as other military aid to Ukraine, a break with the country's typically neutral stance. Sweden is not a NATO member, though it has close ties with the alliance. Putin recently threatened the country, along with neighboring Finland, with both military and political consequences if either moved to join NATO. Support for doing just that has been rising in both countries in recent months, even before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union has announced that the airspace over every country in the economic bloc is now off-limits to any aircraft registered in Russia or operated by Russian entities, including private jets. The EU is also planning to ban Russian state and pseudo-state media outlets from broadcasting in member states. The bloc is now moving to take separate action against the government of Belarus.

An aide to Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who has been under house arrest following his indictment last year over allegations that he had been supporting Kremlin-backed separatists in the country's eastern Donbas Region, has denied reports that he has escaped. That individual claimed that Medvedchuk had only relocated within Kyiv in response to threats of violence from "nationalist organizations."

UPDATED: 11:35 AM EST —

Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst who runs the Russian Nuclear Forces research project, has given his thoughts on what the “special regime of duty” might mean for Russia's strategic forces, adding that he believes this may be the first time at least since the fall of the Soviet Union that such an order has been given.

Despite agreeing that the Kremlin has not achieved its objectives on its planned timeline, a senior U.S. defense official has warned against drawing any long-term conclusions for the state of the conflict at present. "We are in day four," they said. "The Russians will learn and will adapt and will try to overcome these challenges. I think we need to we need to be pragmatic about that."  

The U.S. military says that Russian forces that conducted an amphibious landing along Ukraine's coastline in the Sea of Azov are now making a push toward the strategic port city of Mariupol. They said that there has also been Russian activity observed near Odesa, on Ukraine's Black Sea coastline, but that it's unclear what they may be intending with regards to that city. U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drones have been flying over the Black Sea monitoring such developments in recent days as part of continuing American and NATO intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance flights by manned and unmanned aircraft in areas opposite Ukraine and Russia.

A back-and-forth battle for Antonov Airport outside of Kyiv is still raging, according to U.S. officials. Ukrainian authorities appear to have now confirmed the destruction of the only flying example of the An-225 Mriya heavy lift aircraft at that airport during the fighting. "Russia may have destroyed our ‘Mriya,'" Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter pointing out that the mriya means "dream" in Ukrainian. "But they will never be able to destroy our dream of a strong, free and democratic European state. We shall prevail!"

In another major knock-on effect from this conflict in Ukraine, Germany has announced major new plans for its armed forces and its defense budget. Authorities in Berlin announced that they are looking to establish a dedicated multi-billion-dollar fund to rearm the country's military, including the purchase of new manned and unmanned aircraft. In addition, officials say they will move to establish a permanent requirement for annual defense spending to be at least two percent of the country's GDP. That two percent figure is a goal that all NATO members, including Germany, are expected to try to meet, but which the vast majority of do not.

POSTED: 10:35 AM EST —

Putin announced that he was putting strategic forces on a "special regime of duty" at a televised meeting today with his Secretary of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. 

"Western countries aren't only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major Nato countries are making aggressive statements about our country," Putin said. "So I order to move Russia's deterrence forces to a special regime of duty."

This comes a day after the United States and other NATO countries announced new plans to deliver a wide variety of additional military aid, including Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Javelin anti-tank guided missiles, and other weapons, to Ukraine. 

Putin had made what many saw as a veiled threat to use nuclear force against any foreign powers that sought to intervene in the conflict in Ukraine two days ago. "There should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country," he had said in a separate televised address.

That same day, pictures and video had emerged on social media showing RS-24 Yars road-mobile intercolonial ballistic missiles on the move near Moscow, but there are no indications that this had anything to do with Putin's orders today. At that time, however, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that these movements were part of preparations for the country's annual Victory Day parade, which takes place in May.

It remains to be seen exactly what this "special regime of duty" for Russian strategic forces.

"We have no reason to doubt the validity of these reports," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters today in response to questions about Putin's order. "We believe this is not only an unnecessary step to take but an escalatory one...could make thing much much more dangerous"

They added that the U.S. is still "trying to assess what this action from him actually means in tangible terms."

In Ukraine, the conflict is still ongoing, with continued losses reported on both sides, both in personnel and materiel, including more reports of lost aircraft and vehicles, as Ukrainian and Russian forces engage each other on multiple fronts. Fighting is still raging in and around a number of major cities, including the capital Kyiv.

A senior U.S. defense official has now said that Russia appears to have committed two-thirds of the forces that it had previously arrayed around Ukraine to the invasion and that Russian forces had fired more than 320 ballistic and cruise missiles in the course of the conflict so far. The U.S. military assesses that Russian forces had still not been able to establish air superiority in Ukraine and have yet to fully secure any major cities. There are signs that they may be moving to adopt "siege tactics" in the battle for the city of Cherniv, which "increases the likelihood of collateral damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian life."

In the meantime, reports are still coming in that Russian forces are low on supplies, including fuel for vehicles, and that their morale is flagging. Though many of these claims are unconfirmed, U.S. and U.K. government officials have consistently said that their countries' militaries and intelligence services are making similar assessments.

Russia continues to claim that it is not targeting non-military areas of cities and other population centers, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his country has asked the International Court of Justice at the Hague to investigate Russia over possible war crimes.

The Russian and Ukrainian governments have reportedly agreed to talks without preconditions near the border with Belarus. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose country has been directly involved in the invasion of Ukraine, has given assurances that no Belarusian forces will attack Ukraine while the negotiations are ongoing, according to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba.

There are new indications that Turkey may move to take all steps available to prevent Russian warships from entering the Black Sea to join the conflict under the Montreux Convention. However, that international agreement gives the Turkish government limited options when it is not a belligerent party to the war in question.

Members of the international community are taking new steps to isolate Russia, and Putin personally, in various ways, both politically and economically. This slate of actions now even includes the International Judo Federation stripping Putin of his title as honorary president.

There are also reports that key political allies of Putin, including oligarchs who are now under sanctions or may soon be, might be breaking ranks over the conflict. Anti-war protests have cropped up in Russia and Belarus, as well as other countries around the world.

We will continue to update this post as more information comes available.

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