Ukraine Situation Report: Zelensky To Meet With Blinken, Austin In Kyiv

In a press conference deep in a Kyiv subway station, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters that U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin would meet with him on Sunday. 

The three will reportedly discuss Ukraine’s “longer-term security.” The White House reportedly declined to comment on Blinken and Austin’s planned visit. 

The planned visits, two weeks after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Zelensky and toured the Ukrainian capital, will be the highest-ranking visits by American diplomatic and military officials to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. If the meeting goes through as described, it would also underline how dramatically the security situation in Kyiv has changed in just a matter of weeks.

Before heading into the latest updates from the war in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on the latest developments in our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest:

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced the country closed its airspace to Russian military and civilian planes flying to Syria on Saturday. 

Turkey is the last NATO country to close the sky to Russian planes since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Observers already noted Russian jets taking the longer Caspian Sea route home on Saturday.

The British Ministry of Defense’s most recent intelligence update reported that Russian forces have not made major gains in the last 24 hours thanks to Ukrainian counterattacks. Ukrainian “air and sea defenses” are reportedly limiting Russia’s ability to make progress on the ground.

Those Ukrainian air defenses went to work Saturday as Russian cruise missiles struck the port city of Odesa once again, reportedly killing at least 8 people in the city. 

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command reported Russian Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers launched the missiles from over the Caspian Sea, with air defenses shooting down two of the missiles.

Those air defenses are equally impacting the frontlines in eastern Ukraine. Video shows Russian Su-25SM “Frogfoot” attack aircraft flying barely above treetop height. The high-speed, low-altitude flight patterns give pilots very little time to spot and engage the target, not to mention the ever-present threat from short-range defenses and crashing into terrain.

The jets are still vulnerable to man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) at such low altitudes. Ukrainian forces have used these to deadly effect against Russian aircraft, helicopters, and more recently drones. We wrote about the Norwegians giving French-made Mistral MANPADS to Ukraine earlier this week.

Footage reportedly shows a Russian Ka-52 “Hokum B” being shot down by an unknown MANPADS in eastern Ukraine two days ago.

That downed Ka-52 isn’t the first and likely won’t be the last of its kind. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said one of these systems, the British Starstreak, has already shot down a dozen Russian helicopters. 

We wrote about the Starstreak system when Ukrainian forces first received them from the British Army in late March, and you can read about them here.

We will update this post if necessary until we state otherwise. 

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