Credit: Max Kukurudziak via Unsplash

International Spotlight: Ukraine

By Joseph Elgar

Central and Eastern European Studies student Joseph Elgar provides an explanation of what is happening in Ukraine, and the ramifications it will have on international politics.

After months of military intensification on the Ukrainian border, Vladimir Putin announced his intention to launch military operations against Ukraine at 6am local time on Thursday 24 February 2022, firstly to protect Russian citizens and secondly to begin a process of “denazification”. But why now?

Ever since the Euromaidan protests, the annexation of Crimea, as well as the rebellion in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014, Ukraine has been in a state of war with the Russian Federation. Indeed, rather infamously, Putin recently remarked that Ukraine was a product of the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin, thus undermining centuries of history for political gain. Indeed, Russia has made its disdain for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) explicit, and the military build-up witnessed over the past few months represents a direct effort to coerce Ukraine into dropping its perceived ambitions to accede Nato. 

Belarus, meanwhile, declared its intention to support Russia and integrate its military with the Russians. Indeed, over the past few months, Alexander Lukashenko had offered Russia his territory, from which a military build-up can be staged. Although the extent to which the Belarusian military is involved with the current invasion is unclear, it is clear that Lukashenko has never been a friend of Ukraine. 

As Ukraine has sought to fortify, and the West has intervened to host numerous talks and conferences on the clear escalation, Russia has been forced to resort to the recognition of the breakaway regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic and prepare for military action. The operation has been launched with aerial and ground bombardment of the cities of Odessa and Kharkiv. Pushing from the north, Russian VDV (paratroopers) entered the country through checkpoints and were swiftly followed by tanks and armoured fighting vehicles filled with reinforcements. 

From Crimea, destruction followed, with numerous bridges hit in airstrikes and civilian casualties reported as the Russian armoured columns advanced to secure Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, which in turn allowed greater access to energy producing infrastructure. From Donetsk and Luhansk (the Donbas), heavy shelling was reported, but given the long-standing nature of the conflict, the Ukrainian military has fortified the area and are in a strong position to defend the current status quo.

However, in an ambitious move, the Russian military ordered the deployment of Russian paratroopers to be sent into Hostomel Airport, the home of the world’s largest aircraft. This was to establish an air bridge through which Russia, despite being behind enemy lines, could fly in reinforcements in order to make the push to Kyiv, an hour’s drive away. This ended in failure however, as a Ukrainian counter-attack saw the Russian paratroopers isolated and eventually defeated with some survivors running into the nearby woods for refuge. With airstrikes and a coordinated operation conducted by the 45th (Ukrainian) Spetsnaz Brigade, it appears that the Russian foray into Hostomel cost dozens of lives and an equal amount captured, with the added loss of 6-7 helicopters, including two of the feared KA-52 attack gunships. 

As the day progressed, it became clear that Russia was by no means able to secure its first-day objectives. With heavy resistance in Sumy, significant losses in the outskirts of Kharkiv, and an overall loss of momentum, it has become clear that Ukraine is not going to be in the same position as Russia’s previous victim, Georgia, in 2008. But what of the international reaction?

In response to the invasion, Nato has activated Article 4 at the behest of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (who share a border with Russia). Article 4 essentially increases the military readiness of Nato states where a member nation feels threatened or their security is under threat from a terror organisation or an aggressive state. Currently, several NATO battle groups are on standby, with high readiness across all member air forces and navies should the situation escalate. The European Union, along with the United States, and Canada, have announced a comprehensive sanctions package aimed at undermining a flagging Russian economy with the intention of compounding Russia’s ability to effectively wage war in the long term. Closer to home, meanwhile, Boris Johnson has announced further sanctions and the deployment of military assets to the Baltic states as a means of countering any threat that Russia may pose towards the Nato alliance. 

In Russia, a small glimmer of hope has been witnessed as thousands took to the streets to protest the war in St Petersburg and Moscow. Naturally, the Kremlin has arrested many who took part and announced that any protest is a betrayal of the fatherland and tantamount to treason. But what now? It is becoming clear that Russia is not inclined to give up. Already there have been reports of small numbers of Russian units disguised as Ukrainian infiltrating Kiev as saboteurs. They were swiftly dealt with. Meanwhile, bombardments saw the movement of thousands to the underground metro stations across Kiev. To counter the mass exodus of refugees from the country, Ukraine has enacted a ban on any man between the ages of 18-60 from leaving the country. 

Russian demands for Ukraine are simple but brutal. The first is disarmament, while the second is for them to remain neutral and not seek to join Nato. Whether or not Ukraine will accept these demands remains unclear, but as both sides lose significant amounts of material and men, it is only a matter of time before one caves and the other emerges from the ashes.

Make no mistake, war has returned to the European continent. But this does not mean we will all be wiped out in a nuclear blast. This is a regional war that has only escalated in its scope from 2014. We stand with Ukraine, now and always.


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