Update 10: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Update 10: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

17 April 2022

On 15 April Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its 50th day. It was marked by the sinking of the Russian warship Moskva and continuing Russian attacks that have displaced more than 11 million people, including two-thirds of Ukraine’s children. President Biden described Russia’s actions in Ukraine as “genocide”, prompting the State Department to say that international lawyers would have to determine whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constitute genocide. A Russian attack in the east of Ukraine is imminent as long military convoys moved into the Russian-controlled areas in the Donbas. Aleksandr Dvornikov, a General with a reputation for ruthlessness in Syria, was appointed as the invasion's new commander. Ukraine's forces will employ some of the latest weaponry delivered by Western partners in their efforts to repel the attack.

Putin’s military forces have been repeatedly accused of using indiscriminate weapons in cities throughout the war, a disregard for civilian life that has already almost certainly led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. A preliminary war crimes assessment, conducted on behalf of 45 members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), concluded that Russia had engaged in “a clear pattern” of war crimes, targeting, for example, hospitals, schools and places of shelter during the seven weeks of fighting. The OSCE concluded that “a majority of Russian attacks in populated areas have been conducted with unguided artillery”. Research from other armed conflicts shows that when such explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, nearly 90% of the victims are civilians. However, during the latest international negotiations on a political declaration to address the humanitarian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (potentially as a prelude to ban such weapons), a few delegations—including NATO members Canada, Turkey, UK and USA—sought to water down the draft text, despite condemning Russia’s attacks against civilians in Ukraine.

Putin’s Russia is increasingly seen (in Western circles at least if not always by the wider world) as a pariah state with an antiquated and ineffective concept of power, and a complete disregard for international law and accepted legal foundations of international relations. Some of the reluctance by states in the South to join the condemnation of Russia may be due to similar notions of imperial grandeur and militarism within some Western states. The United States is top of that tree with a 20-year failed Global War on Terror, failed military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 750 military bases in 80 countries and military spending that exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined. Given these geopolitical divisions the vulnerabilities of the regional and global security architecture, inconsistencies of the existing international legal mechanisms, and impotence of the UN and the OSCE have also been laid bare.

The change in the European security landscape is driving Finland and Sweden, two former non-aligned states (in name if not in practice), into the arms of NATO. Both countries abandoned policies of strict neutrality when they joined the EU in 1995, and both became NATO partners, regularly contributing to alliance missions, exercises and meetings. The Finnish government will release a white paper later this month addressing its security policy options, including NATO membership, while the Sweden has deferred the membership question in anticipation of a security policy review due in late May. The momentum for joining NATO is stronger in Finland, where a recent opinion poll showed 68% of Finnish respondents were in favour of joining the alliance, more than double the figure before the invasion, with only 12% against. Polling in Sweden suggests a slim majority of Swedes now also back membership, but this rises to 59% if Finland were also to join. All 30 members of NATO would need to ratify each country's membership — which could take anywhere from a few months to a year (in contrast to Ukraine, which has been trying to join NATO for 15 years).

If Finland and Sweden join NATO it will be a major setback for the idea of developing a European security architecture that includes a more prominent place for militarily non-aligned and neutral states, and that promotes common security (as championed by the OSCE) rather than collective security (as championed by NATO). Moreover, these two key state voices for democracy, diplomacy and disarmament—especially nuclear disarmament—are less likely to be heard within an alliance that relies on nuclear deterrence and has been hostile to the nuclear ban treaty, the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). While Finland and Sweden could still join the TPNW as NATO members, this seems less likely, especially since their membership of NATO would likely lead to an increase in nuclear tensions. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned Russia may deploy nuclear weapons to the Baltic region if Sweden and Finland join NATO.

Putin’s invasion is cementing a transatlantic realignment centred around NATO and nuclear weapons as a deterrent to unprovoked aggression. This is exactly the opposite of what Russia’s military would have intended. It is also the opposite of what those of us committed to a security system based on justice, cooperation and sustainability want to see. Not only is a broader conversation needed in Finland and Sweden about NATO membership, but within the rest of Europe a more nuanced public and political debate should be taking place about what security is and how it is best created.

 

Further reading:

On outcomes and consequences of the war

Daniel Larison, Biden needs to show restraint — in his public comments, Responsible Statecraft, 15 April 2022

Lucas Kello and Monica Kaminska, Cyberspace and War in Ukraine: Prepare for Worse, Lawfare, 14 April 2022

The Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine in the Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group Commentary, 14 April 2022

Ben Armbruster, Biden official admits US refused to address Ukraine and NATO before Russian invasion, Responsible Statecraft, 14 April 2022

Olena Khylko, Interim conclusions on the consequences of the Russian war against Ukraine, Globsec, 13 April 2022 

Jeffrey W. Knopf, Why the Ukraine war does not mean more countries should seek nuclear weapons, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 12 April 2022

Susan D’Agostino, Global hunger crisis looms as war in Ukraine sends food prices soaring, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 12 April 2022

Emily Ferris, The Battle for Odessa and its Railways: Could Transnistria Assist? RUSI Commentary, 11 April 2022

Stephanie Foggett, The Far-Right Idealized the Russian Military. Ukraine Exposes All the Ways They’re Wrong, Lawfare, 10 April 2022

Ivan Gomza, Too Much Ado About Ukrainian Nationalists: the Azov Movement and the War in Ukraine, Krytyka, April 2022

Foreign Fighters, Volunteers, and Mercenaries: Non-State Actors and Narratives in Ukraine, Special Report, Soufan Center, April 2022

On international negotiations to prevent the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Ray Acheson, The political declaration on explosive weapon use must protect civilians, not militaries, Report on the April 2022 consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Reaching Critical Will, 14 April 2022

On neutrality for Ukraine

Mariana Budjeryn, If Ukraine chooses neutrality, what could that look like? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 7 Apr. 2022

On developments within NATO

Rajan Menon, Nato must help wind down this war – and stop stringing Ukraine along, The Guardian, 13 April 2022

Sidharth Kaushal, James Byrne, Joe Byrne, Giangiuseppe Pili and Gary Somerville, The Balance of Power Between Russia and NATO in the Arctic and High North, RUSI Commentary, 12 April 2022

On Finland and Sweden joining NATO

Swedish Peace Activist: Sweden and Finland Joining NATO Would Make the World Less Safe, Democracy Now, 14 April 2022

Russia warns of nuclear weapons in Baltic if Sweden and Finland join Nato, The Guardian, 14 April 2022

Finland and Sweden take major step towards joining Nato, The Guardian, 13 April 2022

Colonel (Ret'd) Per Erik Solli and Øystein Solvang, Finland and Sweden’s Path Towards NATO, RUSI Commentary, 13 April 2022

On implementation of sanctions against Russia

Steve Osborne and Clara Guest, The UK’s Russian Ship Ban and the Need for Effective Solutions for UK Ports, RUSI Commentary, 14 April 2022

Maria Nizzero, From Freeze to Seize: Dealing with Oligarchs’ Assets in the UK, RUSI Commentary, 13 April 2022

 

Kremlin criticises 'anti-Russian hysteria' in UK (16 April)

Russia’s foreign ministry barred entry to the country for Boris Johnson and other British government politicians and members. The move was in response to the UK government’s “hostile action” including sanctions against senior Russian officials, the ministry said in a statement. Russia will expand restrictions against British politicians over what it calls a “wave of anti-Russian hysteria”.

Russian warship sinks (15 April)

It was reported that the captain of the Russian warship Moskva was killed during the attack that sank it on 13th April. Ukraine claimed it was hit by Ukrainian weaponry – the Neptune cruise missile, which Ukraine builds itself. Russia maintained that a fire onboard and then “stormy sea conditions” while it was being towed to port were to blame. Russia has three of this flagship-class of warship, which have crews of almost 500 sailors. Western intelligence corroborated Ukraine’s account that two of its missiles sunk the warship. Russian airstrikes targeted the factory near Kyiv where the Ukrainian missiles used to sink the warship were made.

Russia sent a formal diplomatic note to the United States warning that shipments of the “most sensitive” weapons systems by the US and NATO to Ukraine were “adding fuel” to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and could bring “unpredictable consequences” as a result. The note was delivered to US officials following President Biden’s approval of an $800 million weapons package to Ukraine (see below).

More than 900 civilian bodies were discovered in the region surrounding Kyiv after the withdrawal of Russian forces, local police said. Almost all of them were shot dead, indicating execution during the Russian occupation, it was claimed. Their number was far greater than previously thought. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made a direct appeal to US president, Joe Biden, for Washington to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism”, according to the Washington Post. In Mariupol one of Europe’s biggest metallurgical plants has become the last line of defence.

The Moscow Times’ Russian language service has been blocked in Russia over war coverage. The block after it published “what authorities call a false report on riot police officers refusing to fight in Ukraine,” the newspaper said. Russia designated journalist and YouTuber Yury Dud and political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann as “foreign agents”, a continuation of Moscow’s crackdown on those critical of the government within the country.

Zelensky praises Ukrainian bravery on 50th day of invasion (14 April)

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, praised his people’s bravery and resolve on the 50th day of war, calling Russia’s invasion “absurd” and “suicidal” in his latest national address. “We have withstood 50 days already. Fifty days of Russian invasion, although the occupiers gave us a maximum of five”, he said.

During a speech in Atlanta the CIA director, William Burns, said Putin might resort to using a tactical or low-yield nuclear weapon in light of military setbacks in the invasion of Ukraine. Burns said: “Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership … none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons”. Russia placed its nuclear forces on high alert shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow would take “security and defence measures that we will deem necessary” if Sweden and Finland join NATO. In an interview with the Russian state-owned news agency Tass, the minister said the membership in the military alliance would “seriously worsen the military situation” and lead to “the most undesirable consequences”. Finland and Sweden had earlier taken a major step (see below) towards joining NATO.

In a statement, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia. The ministry said Russia had “engaged in state-organised kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation”. A total of 2,557 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors, including 289 people from Mariupol, where the head of the UN World Food Programme said people were being “starved to death”.

Russia turned to Brazil to ask for support in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Group of 20. Russian officials are reportedly asking for Brazil’s help to counter sanctions imposed by Western countries for its invasion of Ukraine. Russian Finance Minister Anton Silunaov sent a letter to Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes asking for Brazil’s “support to prevent political accusations and discrimination attempts in international financial institutions and multilateral fora". In response to the letter, the Brazilian Economy Ministry's Secretary of International Economic Affairs Erivaldo Gomes expressed some support for Russia’s presence at multilateral organizations saying, “From Brazil's point of view ... keeping open dialogue is essential. Our bridges are the international bodies and our assessment is that these bridges have to be preserved".

Finland and Sweden consider joining NATO (13 April)

Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the country would decide on whether to apply for NATO membership “within weeks”. Speaking at a joint news conference with her Swedish counterpart, Marin said that as a NATO partner – but not a member – Finland was not covered under article 5, which states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all. Public opinion polls in Sweden and Finland have indicated an increasing interest in NATO.

Russia claimed that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines defending the besieged port city of Mariupol have surrendered. Russia’s defence ministry said that 1,026 soldiers from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, including 162 officers, had “voluntarily laid down their arms” near the city’s Ilyich iron and steelworks. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. It was reported that one of Putin’s closest allies in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, was captured by Ukrainian police. Medvedchuk is the leader of the Opposition Platform for Life, Ukraine’s biggest opposition party. Zelenskiy proposed releasing him to Russia in exchange for Ukrainians captured by Russian forces.

The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia travelled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to a spokesperson for Estonian President Alar Karis, the leaders intended to speak with Zelenskyy about ways to provide aid to civilians and the military in Ukraine. The leaders were also due to speak about investigations of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces against Ukrainians.

The UK government imposed sanctions on another 206 Russian individuals in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, including 178 people it said were involved in supporting the self-proclaimed republics in Luhansk and Donetsk. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said the latest sanctions were imposed in a direct response to the “horrific rocket attacks” on a train station in Kramatorsk.

French presidential candidate and leader of the right-wing National Rally party Marine Le Pen said that, if elected, she would take France out of NATO’s military command structure and would seek for the alliance “a strategic rapprochement” with Russia. The move would stop short of France leaving the alliance, but she said “I would place our troops neither under an integrated NATO command nor under a European command”. In the 75-minute press conference, she also criticized Germany, the EU and multilateralism. The run-off against President Macron will take place on 24 April.

US president Joe Biden announced an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine that includes 155 mm howitzers, coastal defence drones, armoured vehicles, portable anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition. The package brings the total military aid since Russian forces invaded in February to more than $2.5bn.

Biden accuses Russia of genocide; while Putin says peace talks are at a “dead end” (12 April)

President Biden referred to atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in Ukraine as genocide. Biden said, “I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian. The evidence is mounting….Literally, the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine -- and we're going to only learn more and more about the devastation. We'll let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether or not it qualifies but it sure seems that way to me". Biden made the remarks to reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington after an event on the economy in Iowa In response, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described Biden’s comments as “unacceptable”.

Putin said Ukraine had deviated from the agreements made at a peace conference in Istanbul, and that talks were at a “dead end”. When asked about the Russian president’s comments, a member of the Ukrainian delegation, Mykhailo Podolyak, said negotiations with Russians were very hard but were continuing. Putin also claimed Russia’s military operation was going as planned, and that Russia’s aim in Ukraine was to meet all its goals and minimise losses. Prominent Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr was detained in Moscow on charges of disobeying police orders.

Zelenskiy voiced concerns that Russian forces were preparing “a new stage of terror” that could involve the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine. Despite claims of such an attack the previous day, there was scepticism that the available evidence pointed towards a chemical weapons attack in Mariupol. The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, said the latest estimate was that around 21,000 civilian residents had been killed in the port city since the start of the Russian invasion. The mayor of the Ukrainian town of Bucha, near Kyiv, said authorities had so far found 403 bodies of people they believed were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area.

The World Bank announced that is planning financial support to Ukraine worth $1.5bn to help keep critical services. The bank said the funds would be used to support the continuation of key government services, including wages for hospital workers, pensions for elderly people and social programmes for vulnerable people. The telecoms equipment maker Nokia announced that it is pulling out of the Russian market. The decision will affect about 2,000 workers.

Austrian Chancellor confronts Putin (11 April)

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Russian President Vladimir Putin - the first EU leader to do so since the invasion – and reported that the two leaders had a “direct” and “tough” conversation. Nehammer said in a statement that he urged Putin to initiate an immediate cease-fire and to establish working humanitarian corridors. Nehammer said, “This is not a friendly visit. I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression”.

The United Nations has increasingly heard accounts of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine and called for an investigation into violence against women and increased protection for Ukrainian children. Sima Bahous, UN Women executive director, told the UN security council: “The combination of mass displacement with the large pressure results of conscripts and mercenaries and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags”. Ukraine’s ombudswoman for human rights, Lyudmyla Denisova, said she had recorded horrific acts of sexual violence by Russian troops in Bucha and elsewhere.