Update 9: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

10 April 2022

The past week marked an important change in the dynamics and location of the Ukraine war. Russia’s retreat from around Kyiv and the north-east of Ukraine appears mostly complete with a new offensive in the eastern Donbas region expected next week. Although Russian war aims remain ambiguous, capturing the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and possibly seeking to create a land bridge to Crimea, appear to be the redefined priorities. It may be Putin’s aim to present these as a ‘mission accomplished’ moment at Russia’s traditional Victory Day parade on 9 May. However, Ukraine’s military, despite its own challenges in reinforcing its forces in the Donbas, will be looking to continue to stall Moscow's military objectives. With no decisive military victory on the horizon for either side and diplomatic efforts also seemingly stuck it is shaping up to be a protracted conflict.

Russia has also continued and even increased its long-range bombardment of cities and towns causing further widespread destruction of civilian areas and increasing civilian casualties. The latest atrocity involved two Russian ballistic missiles hitting a crowded train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, killing at least 50 people including four children. Around 4,000 people were waiting to be evacuated and Ukrainian authorities had urged residents to leave the region before the expected Russian military assault. Following Russia’s withdrawal from areas around Kyiv, a forensics team began exhuming a mass grave in the town of Bucha. Hundreds of dead civilians were found there (and Irpin, Hostomel and Borodianka) following the Russian withdrawal, and on a visit to the town, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said it had witnessed the “unthinkable”. Earlier UN Secretary-General António Guterres decried the killing of civilians in Bucha and called for an independent investigation. Russia denied attacking civilians and claimed the deaths were staged or carried out by Ukrainian forces after Russia left the city. However, independent evidence suggested that this was highly unlikely.

The UN General Assembly voted 93 to 24 to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, with 58 nations abstaining. The resolution accused Russia of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” in Ukraine. The vote came just days after President Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin should be tried for war crimes over events in Bucha. Amnesty International has provided evidence of extrajudicial killings and also published a report that independently verified Russia has violated international law in carrying out and using banned cluster munitions and other weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians.

NATO Foreign Ministers met in Brussels on 6-7 April and pledged to step up support for Ukraine with further supplies of anti-tank weapons, air-defence systems and other equipment, as well as increased humanitarian assistance and financial aid. While reaching consensus within the alliance for direct military support for Ukraine still seems unlikely, calls for direct intervention to create a safe haven in western Ukraine grow louder. The international responsibility to protect vulnerable populations against mass atrocity crimes was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 2005 by over 150 heads of state and government meeting as a World Summit on the UN’s 60th anniversary. Many of the accepted ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) measures are non-military in nature and are already being applied against Ukraine, including ‘information war’, legal proceedings, economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation and military assistance. Undoubtedly there is still scope for some of these measures to be deepened and extended, but political pressure is growing for another of the previously accepted R2P norms to be applied: namely the direct application of military force for human protection purposes.

However, turning this norm into practice has proved more problematic, with only regional organisations like NATO and the African Union, ‘coalitions of the willing’ or individual states able to undertake UN-authorised R2P-like interventions. The limitations of NATO as an enforcer of R2P became clear with the military intervention in Libya in 2011, which shattered the international consensus on the R2P doctrine. Since that destabilising intervention, China and Russia in particular have used their veto power on the UN Security Council to block other such interventions. As a result, the UN has been unable to take or authorise military action to mitigate some of the world’s most violent conflicts, including the current one in Russia. Hence, military intervention by NATO (or a coalition of the willing) in support of Ukraine without UN authority—as occurred with NATO’s armed intervention in Kosovo in 1999—remains an unlikely prospect.

Instead, economic warfare has become the go-to policy instrument of Western governments. But while economic sanctions are clearly affecting the Russian economy, they appear to be having little impact on Moscow’s decision-making. Moreover, most trade partners have continued to buy oil and gas from Russia, despite the invasion of Ukraine, and Russia is expected to generate $321 billion from energy exports this year, an increase of more than a third from 2021. The EU, for example, has given €35bn to Russia for energy supplies since the start of the war and only €1bn to fund Ukraine’s defence. A Russian tech 'brain drain' has seen up to 70,000 computer specialists leave Russia since the country invaded Ukraine, and a further 100,000 tech workers are predicted to leave in the coming months. But Putin does not seem to care about Russia’s longer term economic and reputational damage. Nonetheless, as part of any future peace agreement sanctions relief could be tied to specific Russian actions and could serve as an incentive to ending the war and its atrocities.


Further reading:

Philip Alpers, Irene Pavesi and Miles Lovell, Ukraine — Gun Facts, Figures and the Law, Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney (GunPolicy.org), 10 April 2022

NATO plans permanent military presence at border, says Stoltenberg, Reuters, 10 April 2022

Ted Snider, Is the US hindering much-needed diplomatic efforts? Responsible Statecraft, 9 April 2022

Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO, prompted by Russian war in Ukraine, CNN, 9 April 2022

Daniel Larison, Military do-somethingism is running amok in Washington, Responsible Statecraft, 8 April 2022

China Fires Back at NATO Over Russia-Ukraine War Criticism, Newsweek, 8 April 2022

Ryan Martínez Mitchell, Why pressuring neutral states to sanction Russia could backfire, Responsible Statecraft, 8 April 2022

Jon Jackson, Why Finland Joining NATO Is Easier Than Ukraine Despite Russia Threats, Newsweek, 7 April 2022

Robert J. Goldston, The day after the Ukraine war, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 Apr. 2022

Simon Tisdall, The United Nations has the power to punish Putin. This is how it can be done, The Guardian, 6 Apr. 2022

The War in Ukraine Raises New Questions for EU Foreign Policy, International Crisis Group Commentary, 5 April 2022

Merkel defends 2008 decision to block Ukraine from NATO, France 24, 4 April 2022

Kazuhiko Togo, Japan’s own scars offer wisdom for Russia-Ukraine ceasefire, Responsible Statecraft, 4 April 2022

Sebastien Roblin, NATO Is Sending Tanks To Ukraine—Here’s Where They Can Find Them, 1945.com, 4 April 2022

Nathaniel Sher, Why isn’t China going all out to help Russia in Ukraine? Responsible Statecraft, 4 April 2022

Vladimir Rauta and Alexandra Stark, What Does Arming an Insurgency in Ukraine Mean? Lawfare, 3 April 2022

Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson, Why Putin Went Straight for the Nuclear Threat, New York Times, 1 April 2022

David Ost, Russia, Ukraine, NATO, And The Left, Foreign Policy in Focus, 31 March 2022

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco, A World Remade? Lessons from the Ukraine War, Geopolitical Monitor, 30 March 2022


Missile strike on a railway station in Kramastork kills at least 50 people (8 April)

Over 50 people—including children—were killed in Kramastork, Ukraine after Russian forces carried out a missile strike on a railway used to evacuate refugees. Over 300 people waiting to evacuate by train were injured in the strike that US officials believe was carried out by Russia using a short range ballistic missile Russia denied responsibility for the attack, which was widely condemned. For example, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as “unconscionable” in a joint press conference with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who agreed that Vladimir Putin “bears the responsibility for these war crimes”. UNICEF’s Ukraine representative, Murat Sahin, condemned the attack and demanded that “the killing of children must stop now”.

US officials believe that some Russian military units have experienced major losses, and the Pentagon estimated Russia’s combat power is between 80% and 85% of pre-invasion levels. Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, Lyudmila Denysova, said that Russian troops have “forcibly deported” more than 600,000 Ukrainians, including about 121,000 children, to Russia.

The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, pledged to offer Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a speedier start to his country’s bid to become a member of the EU. During a joint press conference with Zelenskiy, Von der Leyen said: “It will not as usual be a matter of years to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks”. An update to the UK sanctions list announced asset freezes on Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, who were named in US sanctions the previous day as President Putin’s two adult daughters. The UN said international prices for food commodities, including grains and vegetable oils, reached all time highs in March as a result of the war and threatened millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere with hunger and malnourishment.

Russia’s justice ministry revoked the registration of 15 foreign organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The ministry said in a statement that the Russian units of the organisations “were excluded due to the discovery of violations of the current legislation of the Russian Federation”. Human Rights Watch said the move was proof the Russian government “has no use for any facts regarding the protections of civilians in Ukraine”. The Nobel laureate editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta was attacked with red paint while he was on a train, he said. The investigative newspaper had suspended publishing until the end of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after Russia’s communications regulator warned them to cease their reporting.

NATO steps up support for Ukraine; UN General Assembly suspends Russia from UN Human Rights Council (7 April)

NATO Foreign Ministers (joined by their counterparts from Ukraine, Georgia, Finland, Sweden and the EU, and by NATO’s Asia-Pacific partners, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea) met in Brussels and agreed to sustain and further strengthen support for Ukraine. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called for more heavy weaponry from western allies and “ruinous” sanctions against Moscow, warning: “Either you help us now – and I’m speaking about days, not weeks – or your help will come too late, and many people will die”. “Allies utterly condemned the horrific murders of civilians we have seen in Bucha and other places recently liberated from Russian control”, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said following the meeting. In his remarks US Secretary Antony Blinken said that the US was working in “close coordination with allies and partners to raise the costs on the Russian Government for its aggression”. “The conflict,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has “entered a new and different phase with a more concentrated Russian offensive.” As a result, she added there was support to “supply new and heavier equipment to Ukraine”.

The NATO Foreign Ministers also agreed to step up practical support to other partners at threat of Russian aggression, including Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help strengthen their resilience. NATO will increase its cooperation with Asia-Pacific partners in areas like cyber, new technologies, disinformation, maritime security, climate change, and resilience. The Ministers also agreed that NATO’s next Strategic Concept, which will be finalised at the Madrid Summit in June, must take account of NATO’s future relations with Russia, and China’s growing influence on allied security.

In a joint statement G7 foreign ministers condemned “in the strongest terms” the atrocities committed by Russian troops in Bucha and a number of other Ukrainian towns. The statement described “haunting” photographs of mutilated bodies, alleged executions and reports of sexual assaults by Russian troops.

Russia admitted suffering “significant losses” of troops since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, in a rare admission of how badly the war has gone. The deputy chief of staff of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Hruzevych, said that Russia would probably renew its attack on Kyiv if it succeeded in taking full control of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The mayor of Dnipro, a city in central-eastern Ukraine, urged women, children and elderly people to leave because fighting with Russia was expected to intensify in eastern regions. Earlier the regional governor of Luhansk had urged all residents to evacuate while they still could in relative safety. The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boichenko, said more than 100,000 people still urgently needed to be evacuated from the city, describing the situation as a humanitarian catastrophe. President Zelenskiy called on the Greek parliament to use its influence to rescue the remaining population in Mariupol, which has a large ethnic Greek populations. In his address, Zelenskiy said that the “Russian state and the Russian military are the greatest threat on the planet to freedom, to human security, to the concept of human rights”.  

The UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” by invading Russian troops in Ukraine. Ninety-three countries voted in favour of the US-led motion, while 24 countries voted against and 58 countries abstained. To suspend a country from the 47-member council, two-thirds of the majority of voting members must vote in favour of the suspension resolution.

Soldiers fighting for Ukraine appeared to shoot a Russian prisoner of war outside a village west of Kyiv in a video posted online. The footage was originally shared on social media app Telegram. The New York Times said it had verified the video and the BBC said it had confirmed the location north of the town of Dmytrivka and found satellite images showing bodies on the ground.

Microsoft announced that it prevented Russian cyberattacks on Ukrainian computer systems and other organizations in the United States and Europe. The planned hacks were reportedly executed by a Russian group known as Strontium and were intended to target Ukrainian media organizations and private foreign policy-related institutions within the US and the EU.

US, EU, UK impose new sanctions on Russia (6 April)

The Biden administration issued a second round of sanctions against Russia that target two major Russian banks, both of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adult daughters and the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. According to officials, Russia’s Sberbank is the country’s largest bank and Alfa Bank serves as one of Russia’s top private lenders. The sanctions against Putin’s two daughters—Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova—and Lavrov’s family members are part of a larger strategy to financially target the members of Putin’s inner circle in retaliation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The UK is collaborating with the US on asset freezes against Russian banks and banning all new outward investment to Russia. The EU announced a wide-ranging package of sanctions, including import bans on coal (worth €4bn per year) and transaction bans on banks.

The mayor of the besieged city of Mariupol Vadym Boichenko said more than 5,000 civilians, including 210 children, have been killed in Mariupol since the start of Russia’s invasion, and that 90% of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Russian attacks on the port city have obstructed access to food and supplies and prevented a Red Cross humanitarian convoy from entering the city.

The US Senate unanimously passed legislation to enable President Biden to more efficiently and effectively send weapons and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The revived Lend-Lease legislation is a World War II era programme that was used by the United States to dismiss time-consuming procedures that would have delayed the approval and delivery of lethal and humanitarian aid to US allies. Ukrainian soldiers are being trained in the US to operate armed drones that Washington is supplying to Kyiv, the Pentagon said. US Defence department spokesman John Kirby said it was a “very small” number of Ukrainian troops who were already in the US before Russia invaded their country. Britain is drawing up plans to send armoured vehicles to Ukraine. Options include sending a protected patrol vehicle, such as the Mastiff, or a vehicle like the Jackal, which can be used as a reconnaissance or long-range patrol vehicle, a ministry of defence report said.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief said “We have to continue arming Ukraine. We need less rounds of applause and more assistance”. The EU has pledged €1bn in military aid for Ukraine, he said, which “might seem a lot” but “€1bn is what we pay Putin every day for the energy he provides us. Since the beginning of the war we have given him €35bn. Compare that to the €1bn we have given to Ukraine in arms and weapons”. European Council president Charles Michel said that EU countries should think about ways to offer asylum to Russian soldiers willing to desert Ukraine battlefields. During an address to the European Parliament, Michel expressed his “outrage at crimes against humanity, against innocent civilians in Bucha and in many other cities”, then called on Russian soldiers to disobey orders. Endorsing an idea previously circulated by some EU lawmakers, Michel added that granting asylum to Russian deserters is “a valuable idea that should be pursued”.

The US reported that it secretly removed malware from computer networks around the world in anticipation of Russian cyberattacks. The malware installed by Russian hackers was used to create “botnets” which are networks of private computers tapped with malware controlled by GRU, the Russian intelligence organization. While intelligence analysts are not entirely sure if the malware was installed for surveillance or destruction purposes, officials suspect that hackers were planning to target critical US infrastructure such as financial firms, pipelines and the electric grid.

Zelenskiy addresses UN Security Council (5 April)

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy gave the UN security council a harrowing account of atrocities in his country and demanded Russian leaders “be brought to justice for war crimes”. Zelenskiy called for an international tribunal similar to the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after the second world war, speaking of Russian forces: “There is not a single crime that they would not commit there”, adding that there were many more that the world had yet to learn the full truth about. “Russia wants to turn Ukraine into silent slaves,” he said. However, there seems little chance of justice when Russia can veto any effort by the UN Security Council to prosecute Putin for war crimes. Moreover, Russia is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (and nor are Ukraine and two NATO members, Turkey and the USA).

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the evidence from Bucha shows “a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities” by Russian forces. “The reports are more than credible. The evidence is there for the world to see”, he told reporters. The UN human rights office spokesperson, Liz Throssell, said all the signs from Bucha pointed towards civilians having been directly targeted and killed. US Army Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States should look at the development of more bases in eastern Europe to protect against Russian aggression, but rotate forces through them rather than make permanent deployments. Milley suggested the conflict would extend beyond Ukraine and continue for “at least” years. Russia is likely to launch a new “very concentrated” offensive in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region in the next few weeks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, speaking a day before NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss more financial, military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.

Almost two hundred Russian diplomatic staff were expelled from European countries this week in a direct expression of outrage at the killings of Ukrainian civilians More than 325 Russian diplomats and embassy workers have now been expelled from European cities since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Twitter announced new content moderation policies that will reportedly work to minimise the amplification of Russian government accounts and will also ban some tweets that contain images of prisoners of war in Ukraine. As a result of the updated policy, Russia’s government accounts will no longer be found on Twitter’s home timeline, explore page or search results. While the new policies in practice currently only apply to Russia, they would apply to any country engaged in war that placed restrictions on the internet. 

US president calls for a war crimes trial over atrocities in Bucha (4 April)

Moscow faced global outrage and accusations of war crimes in Ukraine after the withdrawal of Russian forces from some Kyiv suburbs left civilians to find the corpses of hundreds of their neighbours strewn throughout the streets of their towns and cities. Images show injured, lifeless bodies left out in the open or in poorly dug mass graves. The atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in these towns and cities quickly prompted western countries such as Germany and Lithuania to expel Russian diplomats and ambassadors. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy travelled to the town of Bucha to see the “genocide” and “war crimes” committed by the Russians against Ukrainian civilians. Zelenskyy said, “Dead people have been found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that the footage of dead civilians in Bucha was a “stage-managed anti-Russian provocation” ordered by the United States as a plot to place blame on Russia, saying “Who are the masters of provocation? Of course the United States and NATO”. US president Joe Biden called the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, a “war criminal” and said he would call for a war crimes trial. “We have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue to fight, and we have to get all the detail [to] have a war crimes trial. This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” he said. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU was ready to send investigations teams to Ukraine to document alleged Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that a team sent to help evacuate civilians from Mariupol was being held by police in Russian-controlled territory. The team was stopped while carrying out humanitarian efforts to help lead a safe passage corridor for civilians. Despite the establishment of a cease-fire agreement to make way for the convoy to safely make its way to Mariupol, Russian forces have repeatedly stopped and raided the trucks carrying aid. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Mariupol with limited access to food, water and electricity.

Russian forces are sending Ukrainian citizens to “filtration camps” before forcibly relocating them to Russia, according to the accounts of two women who said they were transported to Russian territory from the besieged city of Mariupol last month. In addition, the huge scale of sexual violence endured by women and girls in Ukraine has begun to emerge as victims recount the abuse they have suffered at the hands of Russian soldiers.

The UN Human Rights Office said there had been 3,455 civilian casualties since the war in Ukraine began, up until 2 April, including more than 1,400 deaths and over 2,000 injured people. The actual number is believed to be considerably higher, the UN agency said.