RUSSIA MOVES TO EXERT CONTROL: As Russia has allowed a small number of civilians to evacuate the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Russian forces appear to be trying to lock in some gains ahead of the annual May 9 Victory Day celebration in Moscow, marking the surrender of the Nazis in World War II.
“Russian forces are setting conditions to establish permanent control over the areas of southern Ukraine they currently occupy, either as nominally independent ‘People’s Republics’ or by annexing them to Russia,” says the latest analysis from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “Russian sources reported that stores in occupied Melitopol and Volnovakha are beginning to transition to using the Russian ruble.”
“Since seizing the southern city of Kherson in early March, Russia has sought to legitimize its control of the city and surrounding areas through installing a pro-Russian administration,” tweeted the British Defense Ministry over the weekend. “Recent statements from this administration include declaring a return to Ukrainian control ‘impossible’ and announcing a four-month currency transition from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the Russian ruble. The Russian ruble is due to be used in Kherson from today.”
Russian forces have also reportedly instituted an internet and mobile phone blackout in Kherson in an attempt to solidify political control.
“These statements are likely indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term,” according to the British intelligence assessment. “Enduring control over Kherson and its transport links will increase Russia’s ability to sustain its advance to the north and west and improve the security of Russia’s control over Crimea.”
THE MARIUPOL EVACUATION: The first civilians allowed to leave the bombed-out Azovstal steel complex are due to arrive in Ukrainian-controlled Zaporizhzhia today under a U.N.-brokered “safe passage” agreement that seems to be holding.