Ukrainian counterattacks near Bakhmut likely eliminated the threat of Russian encirclement

Ukrainian counterattacks near Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast in recent days have very likely eliminated the possibility of Russian encirclement in the area, even as Russia concentrates its reserves on the fight around the city, the Institute of the Study of War said in its latest update.

The counterattacks "have notably likely eliminated the threat of a Russian encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut and forced Russian troops to allocate scarce military resources to defend against a limited and localized offensive effort, as Ukrainian command likely intended," the ISW wrote.

Earlier on May 19, Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military's Eastern Operational Command, confirmed that Ukrainian forces were gaining the battlefield initiative near Bakhmut.

Ukrainian troops advanced up to 500 meters in some areas of the Bakhmut front line on May 18-19, Cherevatyi said. The ISW said that Ukrainian forces had also advanced 1,000 meters in another area.

At the same time, the ISW reported, citing a May 19 statement by Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar, that Russian forces had concentrated most of their reserves around Bakhmut, slowing the rate of Ukraine's advances, although, according to the ISW, "Russian forces on Bakhmut’s flanks likely remain weak."

Italy may train Ukrainian pilots but can't supply F-16s

Italy may commit to training Ukrainian fighter pilots, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on May 20 at a news conference following the G7 summit in Japan.

Earlier this week, the U.K. and the Netherlands announced they would lead a coalition of countries that would provide Ukraine with F-16 fighters and the training to use them.

The coalition also includes Belgium, Denmark, the U.S., and Portugal.

Italy may join this coalition but does not operate any F-16s of its own and therefore cannot provide F-16 jets to Ukraine, Meloni said.

In February, the Italian government reportedly considered providing Ukraine with the jets it does operate, but would only proceed after other countries did the same.

Ukraine has been asking for modern fighters for many months, to defend its skies and provide needed air support during counteroffensives.

Investigation finds Russia evading sanctions through Kazakhstan

Despite Western sanctions intended to prevent the import of drones and other technology to Russia, sensitive electronics are still finding their way to the Russian military through companies recently established by Russians in Kazakhstan, an investigation by the OCCRP, German Der Spiegel, and Russian iStories found.

Investigators found that Kazakh trade data from 2022 strongly suggested that Kazakhstan was being used as an intermediary for Russia to import drones and advanced microchips, used in everything from missiles to demining robots, thereby evading Western sanctions.

According to trade data, Kazakhstan imported close to $5 million worth of drones, almost completely from China, and exported $1.23 million in drones to Russia. Before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kazakhstan imported so few drones they did not even appear in official import-export data, the investigation said.

The import of microchips more than doubled to over $75 million in 2022. Meanwhile, the export of microchips from Kazakhstan to Russia was 70 times higher in 2022 than the year before, increasing from a meager $245,000 to $18 million, the investigation showed.

While Kazakhstan's foreign minister has said that his country is doing what it can to avoid sanctions evasion by Russia, he also said it is "very difficult," as Russia and Kazakhstan are part of the Eurasian Economic Union, meaning that trade between the two is not subject to customs checks, the investigation said.

G7 leaders agree to step up sanctions against Russia

he leaders of G7 countries on May 19 agreed to tighten sanctions against Russia and expand financial aid to Ukraine at the summit in Hiroshima, Japan, as declared in their joint statement. However, the joint statement provided little information about their next steps.

The Russian full-scale war against Ukraine is to be a key topic of the summit as President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to attend it in person over the weekend. The new sanctions target Russia’s ability to support its war efforts, aiming at industrial machinery and technology sectors.

Other measures aim to cut Moscow’s profit from diamond and metals export. Such a step was announced earlier today by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The G7 members have previously slapped a number of sanctions against Russia following its aggression against Ukraine. This included freezing Russian foreign assets, restricting access to the SWIFT banking system, and limiting oil imports from Russia.

Moscow seeks to evade these sanctions, using various third-party countries and entities. To that effect, another crucial point of the new package is limiting Russia’s ability to circumvent sanctions.

The US has already announced its own set of measures against sanctions evasion. Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz attempted to temper Washington’s steps, calling for a more “pragmatic” approach.

During the first quarter of 2023, Germany’s exports to Russia's neighbors rose sharply, sparking fears that German goods reach Russia through intermediary countries.

Russian shellings kill 5, and injure 13 in 4 different oblasts

Russian shellings killed five civilians and injured four between May 19 and May 20 in the Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk oblasts. 21 settlements in the Kharkiv Oblast were shelled on May 19, leaving one civilian dead and one injured.

Kharkiv, Kupiansk and Chuhuiv districts came under fire from Russian mortars, artillery, and aircraft, according to the regional military administration head.

On the same day, Russia shelled 11 settlements in the Donetsk Oblast. Two civilians were killed in the city of Chasiv Yar, as reported by the regional military administration head. Furthermore, two more people were injured by the shelling elsewhere in the Donetsk Oblast.

The Russian forces also launched 92 strikes against 16 settlements in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, injuring 9 civilians. One man, injured in an air strike on Mala Tokmachka, is in critical condition, according to the regional military administration head.

On May 20, two civilians have been killed and one injured by Russian strikes in the Kherson Oblast. A man and a woman died under rubble in the city of Beryslav and one man was injured in Kindiika, the prosecutor’s office reported. The Kharkiv, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts are in the vicinity of Russian military positions and have suffered shelling and partial occupation since the beginning of the full-scale war. The Donetsk Oblast has been partially occupied since 2014 and remains a site of heavy battles.