Update 3 on the Ukraine-Russia-NATO crisis

27 February 2022

Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people in the face of this inexcusable multi-pronged military invasion by Russia. Shelling and missile strikes have been reported in cities across Ukraine, which has also come under an intense cyberattack, prompting condemnation and new sanctions from the US and allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the move early on 24 February as a “special military operation,” coming just days after he recognized two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states. He ordered the invasion just as the United Nations Security Council was meeting in New York to discuss the crisis. There is a looming humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and refugee flows in the region, as well as fears the situation could spiral into an all-out war and the use of nuclear weapons. It is essential to go on talking to negotiate a Russian withdrawal and to construct a more inclusive European security system.

Further reading on the crisis:

Laurence Kotlikoff, Calling Putin's bluff on NATO, The Hill, 22 February 2022 (Proposes NATO immediately invite both Russia and Ukraine to join, but with the invitation to Ukraine conditioned on Russia's acceptance).

Jack Kelly, Despite the Threat it Faces, Ukraine Was Right to Give Up its Nuclear Weapons, GMF Insights, 22 February 2022

Howard W. French, Like Others Before Him, Putin Will Find the U.S. Media Is a Potent Foe, World Politics Review, 23 February 2022 (Explains how the Western media “frames adversaries as being on the wrong side of history, as moral offenders or simply as irredeemable bad guys”)

Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, Putin Can’t Destroy the International Order by Himself, Lawfare, 24 February 2022

Phyllis Bennis, Respond to Putin’s Illegal Invasion of Ukraine with Diplomacy, Not War, IPS Commentary, 25 February 2022

William Hartung, Now is not the time to demand bigger military budgets, Responsible Statecraft, 25 February 2022

Fighting continues across Ukraine (26 February)

Fighting continued across Ukraine, but the capital, Kyiv, remained in Ukrainian hands and under curfew. The death toll was at least 198, according to the Ukrainian health ministry. Poland said 115,000 refugees had crossed from Ukraine since the invasion began. People across the world – including in Manchester, London and Edinburgh in the UK– took to the streets to condemn Russia’s invasion. Ukraine increased pressure on Turkey to close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to Russian warships, which would block some ships advancing towards Ukraine. Germany approved the delivery of 400 RPGs to Ukraine by the Netherlands, marking a shift in policy from its previous position of not shipping weapons. Several countries, including Lithuania, Estonia and Romania blocked airspace for Russian aircraft, and Russia responded by banning Romanian airliners from Russian airspace.

NATO leaders’ statement (25 February)

President Biden joined a virtual emergency NATO summit (which included partners Finland and Sweden) from the White House Situation Room (Read the White House, statement of the President on the NATO Summit and Call with President Zelenskyy, here). The NATO leaders called on Russia “to stop this senseless war, immediately cease its assault, withdraw all its forces from Ukraine, and turn back to the path of dialogue and turn away from aggression”, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He added that NATO will begin deploying forces from the NATO Response Force (NRF) to include members of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to ensure the security of NATO allies. This is the first time the NRF has been used in a defensive manner since its inception in November 2002. Read the Secretary General’s full remarks here; Read the statement by NATO Heads of State and Government on Russia’s attack on Ukraine here;

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the Ukrainian army to overthrow its leadership whom he labelled as a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who have has lodged itself in Kyiv and taken hostage the entire Ukrainian people”. President Zelenskiy pleaded for international help and for western powers to act faster to cut off Russia’s economy and provide Ukraine with military assistance. “When bombs fall on Kyiv, it happens in Europe, not just in Ukraine,” he said. “When missiles kill our people, they kill all Europeans”. NATO announced that it will deploy significant extra troops to member states in Eastern Europe, although UK ministers warned there would be no forces going to Ukraine itself to avoid an “existential” war between Russia and the west.

The Council of Europe suspended Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The 47-nation council announced that Russia was suspended with “immediate effect” from the organisation’s Committee of Ministers and parliamentary assembly “as a result of the Russian Federation’s armed attack on Ukraine”.Russia is also banned from competing in the Eurovision song contest.

The invasion begins (24 February)

In the early morning hours, Russian troops entered Ukraine and engaged in battles resulting in dozens of deaths and triggering warnings from world leaders of the biggest conflict in Europe since 1945. Ukrainian officials confirmed that the capital city of Kyiv faced a “bombardment” of missile strikes. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry urged residents to stay indoors, and “prepare Molotov cocktails” to deter “the occupier”. (Also see full translation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech). Russian forces captured the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Ukrainian territory. The site of the accident remains radioactive and Ukraine warned that the Russian seizure of Chernobyl and the wider attack on Ukraine could possibly result in another dangerous ecological disaster.

Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in a speech delivered while an emergency session of the UN Security Council was underway. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was the first to speak, and at that time, Putin’s intentions were not entirely clear. But Guterres pointed to the reports of troops moving into position and publicly called out the head of a security council permanent member: ““If indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart,” Guterres said. “President Putin - stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died”.

Putin later defended his decision to invade Ukraine claiming that he was “forced” to order military action due to Western “intransigence” over security concerns. Putin went on further to say that “[The West has] left us no chance to act differently”. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, responded to the invasion by declaring martial law and saying Kyiv would issue weapons to every Ukrainian who wanted to defend their country. As Ukrainian diplomats pleaded with the world to stop the Russian aggression, Zelenskiy warned of a bleak return to the past.

President Joe Biden announced new economic sanctions on Russia, cutting off Russia’s largest banks and companies from western financial markets and restricting exports of technology to Russia. Additionally, the US planned to freeze trillions of dollars in Russian assets, including funds controlled by Russian elites. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the deployment of an additional 7,000 troops to Eastern Europe in the hours following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but specified that they will not be sent into Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia’s attack on Ukraine “a brutal act of war” and a “cold-blooded & long-planned invasion”. The North Atlantic Council issued a formal statement “condemn[ing] in the strongest possible terms Russia’s horrifying attack on Ukraine” as unjustified and unprovoked. It labelled the attack as “a grave violation of international law, including the UN charter, ... the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, the Budapest Memorandum, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act”. The NAC also promised a “very heavy economic and political price” and close coordination with stakeholders and international organizations. Additionally, the alliance’s governing body announced that it had held Article 4 consultations and has decided “in line with our defensive planning to protect all Allies, to take additional steps to further strengthen deterrence and defence across the Alliance”. It also promised that its “measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory”. Also see the press briefing by Jens Stoltenberg following the extraordinary meeting of the NAC.

A joint statement by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) chair and secretary general stated: “We strongly condemn Russia’s military action against Ukraine. This attack on Ukraine puts the lives of millions of people at grave risk and is a gross breach of international law and Russia’s commitments”. The OSCE convened a reinforced meeting of the permanent council. Nearly all of the 57 member states condemned Russia’s operations as blatant violations of international law. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said “By this act of military aggression Russia broke virtually all international treaties, rules and commitments, including the fundamentals of this Organization - the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris”.

The Group of 7 (G-7) leaders released a statement that condemned “the large-scale military aggression by the Russian Federation against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.” The statement described the attack as “unprovoked and completely unjustified” as well as a “serious violation of international law and a grave breach of the United Nations Charter and all commitments Russia entered in the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris and its commitments in the Budapest Memorandum.”

Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent markets into turmoil. Oil prices, European natural gas futures and global stock market prices were all unstable on the first day of the invasion. The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson announced its “largest ever” set of economic sanctions on Russia.

For positions and statements of national governments in Europe and globally, see  The World Reacts to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Lawfare, 24 February 2022

Ukraine declares a state of emergency (23 February)

Ukraine declared a state of emergency and urged all its citizens to leave Russia, where as many as 3 million Ukrainians live. The 30-day state of emergency allowed officials to impose restrictions on transportation and gave local authorities the power to enact curfews and other security measures. Ukrainian authorities reported that government websites, foreign ministry and state security service were shut down as a result of a “massive” denial of service cyberattack. Ukraine previously blamed Russia for the string of cyberattacks that occurred in recent weeks. Russia denied any involvement.

Germany halts Nord Stream 2 (22 February)

Germany announced a halt to the Nord Stream 2 certification process. First announced in 2015, the $11bn (£8.3bn) pipeline owned by Russia’s state-backed energy company Gazprom has been built to carry gas from western Siberia to Lubmin in Germany’s north-east, doubling the existing capacity of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and keeping 26m German homes warm at an affordable price.

President Biden announced significant sanctions against Russia including cutting it off from US financing of its sovereign debt and sanctions against Russian bank VEB as a “first tranche”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled talks scheduled for 23 February with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The United States also announced plans to move 800 US soldiers to the Baltics, along with eight F-35 strike fighters and 20 Apache attack helicopters. Another 12 US Apache attack helicopters are heading to Poland.

At a press briefing following an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, called it “the most dangerous moment in European security for a generation”. In the last weeks, he noted, NATO allies have deployed thousands of more troops to the eastern part of the Alliance and placed more on standby. “We have over 100 jets at high alert and there are more than 120 allied ships at sea, from the High North to the Mediterranean,” he said.

NATO member and Black Sea neighbour Turkey criticised Russia, but stopped short of announcing any punitive measures. Turkey has good ties with both Ukraine and Russia, but also opposes sanctions in principle. The crisis leaves President Tayyip Erdogan balancing those diplomatic relations along with his duties within NATO, as well as protection of the Turkish economy. (See here for more on Turkey’s position on the crisis).

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on all parties to “exercise restraint” and “resolve differences through dialogue and negotiation”. (See here for more on China’s position on the crisis).

Russia recognises Donetsk and Luhansk (21 February)

After a televised “meeting” with members of his National Security and Defence Council, President Putin gave a long, dramatic televised speech declaring the independence of so-called “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics” and to carry out what he referred to as a “peacekeeping mission”. But the UN Secretary-General António Guterres later criticized Russia’s rationale: “When troops of one country enter the territory of another country without its consent, they are not impartial peacekeepers. They are not peacekeepers at all”. A few hours after Putin’s speech, the Kremlin announced that Russian forces were being deployed to these two “republics”. In a statement  the NATO Secretary General condemned Russia’s decision to extend the recognition to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, saying that it “further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party”.