Ukraine: Zelenskyy says he is 'target number one' for Russia
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Henry Wilkinson, Chief Intelligence Officer at security intelligence firm Dragonfly, told Express.co.uk much depended on whether Vladimir Putin succeeded in his apparent aim of delivering a rapid knockout blow, or whether the situation evolved into a protracted conflict. Missile strikes reportedly hit Kiev overnight, with footage showing a massive explosion over the Ukrainian capital.
Mr Wilkinson said: “We anticipate continued air and ballistic missile strikes against critical infrastructure in the coming hours; the Russian ministry of defence has said that all Ukrainian air defence is now destroyed.
“If true, this would give it freedom of aerial operation over the country. For now the Russian armed forces appear to be trying to minimise civilian casualties, but those troops that have reached Kharkiv are now engaging in battles outside the city.
“But as was the case when Russia last invaded in 2015, seemingly inaccurate targeting of the Ukrainian military has already led to strikes in residential areas of most cities, killing at least several dozen civilians.”
With Russian forces moving to encircle major cities and incapacitate the Ukrainian military, President Putin’s strategy appeared to be to force the Ukrainian government to capitulate rapidly, Mr Wilkinson suggested.
He added: “President Zelensky still seems to be in the country, and has urged calm and for citizens to shelter at home. There are sporadic and unconfirmed reports, including from the Russian defence ministry so we are sceptical at best, of Ukrainian troops surrendering.
“But other reports suggest Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian advances near Donbas. With further resistance highly likely, the current intensity of the conflict is likely to last at least over the coming days.”
Mr Wilkinson said: “We have raised our crisis risk level for Ukraine and all cities, including Lviv in the far west, to critical.
“This is to reflect that an acute crisis is now underway. Our conflict risk level is also now at critical.
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“We have also raised our security and safety and our infrastructure risk levels to severe.
“Most cities still seemed to have power but there had been significant disruptions to internet connectivity and landline connections in Kharkiv in the past few hours.”
Ukrainian authorities and most foreign governments have advised citizens throughout the country to evacuate to the nearest bomb shelters, which in Kiev meant the metro system In Kyiv.
Mr Zelensky has implemented martial law in the past few hours in an apparent attempt to make it easier to move military equipment around the country and limit the right to organise demonstrations.
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There was no evidence that the Ukrainian military is obstructing civilian evacuations, Mr Wilkinson stressed.
He also warned an escalating refugee crisis would bring with it a serious risk to life and limb.
He explained: “Land borders in western Ukraine still appear to be open, based on posts from users on social media who have said they are there.
“This includes Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. But there is heavy traffic on major roads towards the West, including the E40 and E50 highways.
“And with martial law now in place, the military are highly likely to set up checkpoints along these routes. Based on Russian airstrikes over the past few hours, any concentrated Ukrainian troop position or critical infrastructure location, including bridges, is a potential target. These therefore pose an indirect risk to anyone in proximity.”
Asked about the possibility of Mr Putin attacking other countries in eastern Europe – for example, the Baltic States – Mr Wilkinson said: “Mr Putin is aware that attacking a NATO member would trigger Article 5, and draw in other NATO powers.
“He is taking a big gamble on Ukraine as it is.
“This invasion is a major step up from previous incursions into neighbours as it is.”
There was also the possibility of widespread civilian resistance, Mr Wilkinson acknowledged.
However, he added: “The real question is what happens to the Ukraine army, particularly its more elite forces, and whether this conflict is resolved quickly or whether it’s a protracted war.
“Insurgencies take time to organise and in Ukraine would probably only emerge after conventional forces have been defeated.
“Any kind of guerrilla campaign would be immensely difficult east of the Dnieper River where most Russian forces are liable to be, as the flat terrain there is not favourable to such warfare.”
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