Update 5 on the Ukraine-Russia-NATO crisis

13 March 2022

Shelling and missile strikes intensified in cities across Ukraine as Russia’s invasion continued into its third week. Conflict-related fatalities – both civilian and combatants – continued to rise. Although Russian officials deny targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure, explosive weapons are being widely used by Russian forces in populated areas. Cluster and thermobaric munitions have also reportedly been used by Russian forces in urban areas. Numerous international human rights groups and international actors have either directly accused or raised concern that Russia’s military action and bombardment of populated urban areas could amount to war crimes. The International Criminal Court has announced plans to investigate these allegations.

The US and NATO have rejected Ukrainian President Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it could lead to a war between the US/NATO and Russia. The EU approved Ukraine’s emergency application to be a candidate to join the union, but will not ‘fast-track’ the application. NATO is moving military equipment and as many as 22,000 more troops into member states bordering Russia and Belarus, to reassure them and enhance deterrence. About 20 European countries — most members of NATO and/or the EU, including former neutral countries like Sweden and Finland — are supplying weapons to Ukraine. However, a proposal for old Soviet-era combat aircraft to be supplied by Poland (via the US in exchange for new combat aircraft) fell through.

There remain fears the situation could spiral into an all-out war and the use of nuclear weapons or a meltdown of one of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors. The invasion has already killed thousands and created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since WWII, with over 2.6 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring states. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have so far failed to reach an agreement on a permanent ceasefire and humanitarian corridors have been partially agreed in some locations while shelling continued in others. 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:

Ed Miliband, While the Tories dawdle over Russian gas, we have a £28bn plan to make energy cheap – and green, The Guardian, 12 March 2022

Richard Reeve, Building from Ukraine: From Solidarity to Systemic Change, Rethinking Security, 11 March 2022

Ahmet Üzümcü, Goran Svilanović and Maximilian Hoell, Nuclear dangers of Russia’s war against Ukraine: Implications for multilateral nuclear diplomacy and recommendations for risk reduction, ELN Commentary, 11 March 2022

Jonathan Freedland, Putin’s war on Ukraine will shake our world as much as 9/11. Let’s not make the same mistakes, The Guardian, 11 March 2022

“I’m Ready to Be Arrested”: Activist in Moscow Says Mass Russian Protests Can Stop Putin’s War, Democracy Now, 10 March 2022

U.S. and NATO’s Unprecedented Weapons Transfers to Ukraine Could Prolong the War, The Intercept, 10 March 2022

Jaime Lopez and Brady Worthington, The ICC Investigates the Situation in Ukraine: Jurisdiction and Potential Implications, Lawfare, 10 March 2022

David Adler, The west v Russia: why the global south isn’t taking sides, The Guardian, 10 March 2022

Cynthia Hooper, Russia’s information war: painful truths vs. comfortable lies, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 9 March 2022

Lawrence Freedman, Giving Peace a Chance: Can Putin and Zelensky agree a way out? Comment is Freed, 9 March 2022

Sam Jones, Fact Sheet: Global Demonstrations Against the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, ACLED, 9 March 2022

George Monbiot, It’s not too late to free ourselves from this idiotic addiction to Russian gas, The Guardian, 9 March 2022

Olga Chyzh, The sanctions strategy is flawed. To defeat Putin, you have to know how the Kremlin works, The Guardian, 8 March 2022

No-Fly Zone in Ukraine: War with Russia by Another Name, International Crisis Group, 7 March 2022

George M. Moore, How international law applies to attacks on nuclear and associated facilities in Ukraine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 March 2022

French and German calls for a ceasefire rebuffed (12 March)

French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone and urged him to order an immediate ceasefire. But a French official said: “We did not detect a willingness on Putin’s part to end the war”.

New satellite imagery of Mariupol revealed the widespread damage suffered since Russian forces surrounded the city 12 days ago. More than 1,500 civilians have been killed in the city, and humanitarian aid groups said those remaining had no access to water or medications in days.

US President Joe Biden authorised $200m in additional military and other assistance for Ukraine. The United States also said it is willing to take diplomatic steps to help the Ukrainian government. A state department spokesperson made the comments after the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the west should be more involved in negotiations to end the war.

EU leaders plan to collectively rearm (11 March)

After their summit meeting at Versailles that described Russia’s war as “a tectonic shift in European history”, EU leaders agreed (see Versailles Declaration) to collectively rearm and become autonomous in food, energy and military hardware. The EU leaders also announced that they would double the amount it is spending on military support to Ukraine to €1billion.

Satellite images showed Russian forces getting closer to Kyiv and appeared to be firing artillery toward residential areas. Russian forces bombarded cities across the country, with the situation in Mariupol especially dire. One of the pregnant women pictured escaping the ruins of the Mariupol maternity ward bombed by Russia gave birth to a daughter. Three cities in central and western Ukraine (Dnipro, Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk) were attacked by Russian forces for the first time. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country had reached a “strategic turning point” in the conflict. Zelenskiy accused Russia of hiring “murderers from Syria” after Moscow increased efforts to bring in reinforcements from the Middle East. The commander-in-chief of Ukraine's armed forces said Russia had launched 328 cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities, towns and villages since the start of the invasion. At a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said there were 16,000 volunteers in the Middle East who were ready to come to fight. Ukraine feared Belarus might launch an invasion of Ukraine after a meeting in Moscow between the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. Ukraine accused Russia of violating international law by abducting the mayor of Melitopol, a Ukrainian city that fell under Russia’s control during the invasion.

Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schröder reportedly met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for talks on ending the war.

The UN security council met to discuss Moscow’s claims that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine. The Russian ambassador to the UN raised the unsubstantiated threat of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe. Both the US and Ukraine categorically denied developing any biological weapons inside the country. In turn, the US and the UK warned of the possibility of chemical or biological weapons being used by Russia, using its accusations of bio-labs as pretext. US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating”. Echoing US language, the UK prime minister said Russian claims about its enemies getting ready to use chemical weapons were “straight out of their playbook”.

The United States announced plans to ban the import of seafood, vodka and diamonds from Russia as part of a move to revoke normal trading relations. The US also imposed sanctions on a group of Russia’s elite including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, three relatives of Putin’s spokesperson, and lawmakers. The G7 group said it would strip Russia of “most favoured nation” status under World Trade Organization rules and impose heavy tariffs on Russian trade.  Deutsche Bank and Sony Pictures joined the exodus of western companies from Russia. US Vice President Kamala Harris travelled to Romania to reaffirm the US commitment to defending NATO allies.

Russia moved to block Instagram after its parent company, Meta, said it would allow calls for violence against Putin and Russian soldiers involved in the invasion of Ukraine to appear on the social media platform. Russian prosecutors demanded that access to Instagram be blocked as authorities moved to recognise Meta as an “extremist organisation”.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) said that it had received “credible reports” of several cases of Russian forces using cluster munitions in populated areas in Ukraine. UN spokesperson Liz Throssell said that indiscriminate use of cluster munitions may amount to war crimes, and reminded the Russian authorities “that directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages and other forms of indiscriminate attacks, are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes”. Cluster bombs explode and release smaller submunitions that scatter over a wide area. Russia is not a party to the 2008 Convention banning cluster munitions although it is bound by international humanitarian law. While a total of 123 States have joined the Convention, 74 states remain outside it. In addition to Russia and Ukraine, this includes the United States and six other NATO members: Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Turkey.

Talks between Russia and Ukraine end without a ceasefire (10 March)

High-level talks in Turkey between Russia and Ukraine – the first of their kind since the Russian invasion two weeks ago – ended without a ceasefire. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said there had been no progress towards achieving a ceasefire with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Kuleba reported that he sought to negotiate a 24-hour ceasefire across the combat zone, and to also work to open a humanitarian corridor out of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol for refugees. Lavrov apparently refused to accept either of Ukraine’s requested provisions, and instead reminded Kuleba of Russia's demands to see what he called a “friendly, demilitarized Ukraine”.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the country will no longer participate in the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organisation founded in response to the humanitarian outrages of the second world war.

EU leaders at their summit in Versailles refused to offer Ukraine a fast track to EU candidate status (as had been requested by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy), but “acknowledged the European aspirations” of Ukraine and agreed to support Ukraine in “pursuing its European path”. A statement also called for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces, and praised Ukraine’s courageous resistance.

A US assessment suggested 5,000 to 6,000 Russian troops had been killed and 2,000 to 4,000 Ukrainian troops, plus many more civilians. Another US assessment estimated that both sides had lost 8% to 10% of the military assets that they had committed to the fighting. US Vice President Kamala Harris met with the Polish president to reinforce US-Poland diplomatic cooperation in supporting Ukraine. After a disagreement between the two countries over how to arm Ukraine with fighter jets (see below), Harris met with Polish President Andrzej Duda to publicly establish a joint commitment to helping Ukraine.

The US Congress finalized a $1.5 trillion spending package that included emergency aid to Ukraine. The spending package will provide “massive funding increases” for several critical health, science, education and defence programmes in the US, as well as an additional $14 billion in humanitarian, military and economic assistance for Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved $1.4 billion in emergency funding to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that the funds are meant to address Ukraine’s military spending needs and also lessen the economic impact of the war on the Ukrainian people.

China’s sensors are reportedly blocking and silencing material posted to social media platforms in support of Ukraine in its war against Russia. The Chinese censors allegedly determine what can and cannot be posted and discussed on various Chinese social media platforms. Comments on these platforms that criticize and challenge Russia and its invasion, or even widely advocate for peace in Eastern Europe are reportedly automatically deleted.

US dismisses Polish plan to provide combat aircraft to Ukraine (9 March)

The Pentagon dismissed Poland’s plan to hand its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, to donate them to Ukraine. The Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said his government was “ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein air base and place them at the disposal of the government of the United States of America”. However, the Pentagon appeared to reject the proposal, saying it was not “tenable”. The US Department of Defense said the prospect of the jets departing from a base in Germany “to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance”. During a speech in Ottawa the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called again for Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, and reiterated that a no-fly zone would require “massive attacks on Russian air defence systems” and risked a “full-fledged war in Europe”.

US Defense Department officials accused Russian forces of dropping “dumb bombs” on and around multiple cities throughout Ukraine. Dumb bombs are reportedly a type of explosive that are known to be imprecise and therefore cannot accurately hit designated targets. The Pentagon reports that the Russian use of dumb bombs—in addition to other explosives and missiles—is “increasing damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties”. (However, the use of so-called ‘smart munitions’ as favoured by Western armed forces does not necessarily mean a reduction in civilian deaths).

The exodus of millions of Ukrainians from their country following the Russian invasion could overwhelm neighbouring countries, UN humanitarians warned, as the head of the UN Children’s Fund, expressed her horror over the reported destruction of a maternity hospital in the coastal city of Mariupol. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the Russian airstrike on the maternity hospital “the ultimate evidence of genocide”. A Russian air strike that reportedly killed 47 civilians as they queued for bread in Chernihiv on 3 March may constitute a war crime, an investigation by Amnesty International found.

The British Defence Secretary said the UK was planning to supply Starstreak anti-aircraft weapons and “a small consignment” of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine, the UK ministry of defence said. The system uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects.

The US announced that the US will ban all Russian oil imports in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. President Joe Biden said that the Russian oil ban will be a “powerful blow” against Russia’s ability to fund the war in Ukraine and that “[The U.S.] will not be part of subsidizing Putin’s war”. Russian oil imports are reportedly a steady source of income for Russia despite the sanctions applied in recent weeks. Biden said of the imminently rising petrol prices, “Defending freedom is going to cost”. EU member states also agreed new sanctions against Russian leaders and oligarchs, while the UK announced a series of new aviation sanctions giving the government power to detain any Russian aircraft in the UK.

More than 40,000 civilians were evacuated from across Ukraine, but authorities struggled to get people away from conflict zones around the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol. Ukrainian authorities said the power supply had been cut to the defunct Chernobyl power plant. The UN’s atomic watchdog. the IAEA, said the spent nuclear fuel stored there had cooled down sufficiently for it not to be an imminent concern. Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenksa spoke out publicly to condemn Russia for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. In an open letter she referred to as her “testimony” from Ukraine, Zelenska called on the rest of the world to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and raised awareness about crimes against children and the elderly amidst the fighting.

Zelenskiy invokes Churchill as he calls on UK to do more to help Ukraine (8 March)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy echoed Winston Churchill and invoked the fight against Nazism as he made a direct plea to British MPs in an impassioned video address to do more to help protect his country in the fight against the Russian invasion. The spokesperson for the Ukrainian foreign ministry reported that Russian forces shelled an evacuation route designated for civilians in Mariupol.

Lumen Technologies, one of the companies that comprises the backbone of the internet, said it was pulling the plug on Russia because of an “increased security risk”. Lumen attempted to downplay the impact of the decision, saying in a brief statement it provides “extremely small and very limited” business services in Russia. McDonald’s became the latest western company to announce it was pausing its operations in Russia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said attacks on Ukrainian hospitals, ambulances and other healthcare facilities had increased “rapidly” in recent days and vital medical supplies were running low.

A Swedish application to join NATO would further destabilise the current security situation in Europe, the country’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson said. Even before the attack on Ukraine, Russia’s military build-up triggered a debate in non-NATO Finland and Sweden on joining NATO.

Ukraine deems the humanitarian corridors organised by Russia as “unacceptable” (7 March)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again accused Russia of attacking fleeing civilians. His government rejected an offerfrom Moscow to create “humanitarian corridors” for the escape of civilians after it emerged that most of the supposedly safe routes led directly to Russia or Belarus. He accused Moscow of “medieval” tactics. Ukraine asked the International Court of Justice for an emergency order for Russia to halt hostilities on Ukrainian territory. Ukraine argued that Russia falsely applied international genocide law to justify its invasion of the country. Legal representatives from Russia did not attend the UN high court proceedings in The Hague.

The EU announced it will formally consider applications from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to join the union.. The three countries submitted applications to the European Commission to join the bloc in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Each country cites the “rapidly changing security landscape” as a reason for the EU to quickly assess their bids for membership. The EU asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to safeguard nuclear plants in Ukraine after two were taken into Russian control. The EU also reportedly asked the UN nuclear watchdog to mobilize international help in the case of a nuclear emergency.

The UK Home Secretary was criticised for the country’s “chaotic policy” towards Ukrainian refugees. Only 300 had been granted asylum so far. Visa, Mastercard and American Express announced they will suspend operations in Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russians will still be able to use their cards within Russia until their expiration dates, but cards issued abroad will no longer work at shops or ATMs within the country, and clients cannot use their cards abroad or for international payments online.

China’s foreign minister called the country’s relationship with Russia “iron clad” as Beijing continued to refuse to condemn the invasion of Ukraine despite growing pressure from the US and EU to use its influence to rein in Moscow.