Update 11: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Update 11: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

24 April 2022

Russia now says its main goals in attacking Ukraine are to seize control of the eastern part of the country known as Donbas, as well as full control of southern Ukraine, with increased attacks on cities there and fighting along a 300-mile frontline. Thousands of civilians are reportedly trapped. Russia has backed a separatist movement in the Donbas since 2014, although before the start of the war over 60 per cent of the Donbas (made up of two regions, Luhansk and Donetsk) was under the control of the Ukrainian Government. The governor of Luhansk said Russia now controls 80 per cent of that region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a blockade of a massive steel complex in the Mariupol, where many Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are hiding. Russia had been considering storming the complex but for now has opted to blockade it. This came as Putin claimed that Russia had “liberated” the rest of the city, which has been devastated by weeks of Russian attacks. It is a pyrrhic victory, however, with the city a wasteland. Nearly 5.2 million people have now fled Ukraine due to the war.

Putin also continued to warn the United States and other countries about supplying Ukraine’s army with weapons. He also appeared on Russian television to announce the launch of a new intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of delivering nuclear warheads around the world.

In the early phase of the war there were at least some negotiations that attempted to set out the terms of a potential settlement. Now, however, there is less focus on what could produce peace, as all parties focus on the emergency of the war itself. Thought to be outnumbered five to one in the Donbas, perhaps the best that Ukraine can hope for is a stalemate. However, a protracted war seems more likely to end with Ukraine partitioned east from west, like Germany in 1945—in which case a reunified Ukraine would probably need to wait for regime change in Moscow. If this is indeed the outcome, it is to be hoped that Ukrainians do not have to wait 45 years for their Unity Day.

In other developments, the prime ministers of Spain and Denmark visited Kyiv for talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. The group said it found extensive evidence of summary executions, enforced disappearances and torture. And anxious Finland and Sweden continued on the path to NATO membership. In Sweden, a March opinion poll for the first time showed a majority in favour of joining NATO. Sweden's government is reviewing its security policy with a report due before the end of May and the ruling Social Democrats are holding an internal debate on whether to drop their long-standing objection to NATO.

Further reading:

On outcomes and consequences of the war

Russia investigates media report on presence of British SAS special forces in Ukraine, Reuters, 23 April 2022

Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, Operation Z: The Death Throes of an Imperial Delusion, RUSI Special Report, 22 April 2022

Ivo Daalder, Let Ukraine In, The Atlantic, 21 April 2022

John Feffer, The universality of Ukraine: The West is focused on Russia's war in Ukraine. Here's why the rest of the world should care as well, 20 April 2022

William D. Hartung and Julia Gledhill, The New Gold Rush: How Pentagon Contractors Are Cashing in on the Ukraine Crisis, TomDispatch, 17 April 2022

Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, Statement of the Ukrainian pacifist movement against perpetuation of war, World Beyond War, 17 April 2022

On peace negotiations

Antti Ruokonen, Why Finlandization Is a Terrible Model For Ukraine, Lawfare, 21 April 2022

Alfred Mccoy, How to End the War in Ukraine: A Solution Beyond Sanctions, TomDispatch, 19 April 2022

Philipp Kastner, How can Russia’s invasion of Ukraine end? Here’s how peace negotiations have worked in past wars, The Conversation, 14 April 2022

Investigations of war crimes in Ukraine and other legal processes

Jaime Lopez and Brady Worthington, What’s the Status of Ukraine’s Case Against Russia at the ICJ? Lawfare, 21 April 2022

Farrah Hassen, How the US can help get justice for Ukrainians, Foreign Policy in Focus, 20 April 2022

Tom Nachbar, The U.S. Can Prosecute Russian Leaders for War Crimes, Lawfare, 19 April 2022

Susan D’Agostino, Russia committed war crimes. But are they genocide? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 April 2022

On the growing risk of nuclear war

Jonathan D. Moreno, NATO should start preparing troops for a nuclear battlefield, Defense One, 20 April 2022

Ray Acheson, Don’t normalise nuclear weapons and war—abolish them, WILPF, 19 April 2022

Lauren Sukin and Alexander Lanoszka, Poll: Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling is rattling neighbors’ nerves, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 15 April 2022

On developments within NATO

Scholz says top priority is avoiding NATO confrontation with Russia, Reuters, 22 April 2022

Was NATO Enlargement a Mistake? Foreign Affairs, 19 April 2022

Paul Mason, Ukraine, NATO, and a Zeitenwende, IPS, 18 April 2022

Simon Tisdall, Nato should talk less and do more, or Ukraine will be torn apart, bit by bit, The Guardian, 17 April 2022

W. Robert Pearson, NATO must decide European security beyond the Ukraine war, The Hill, 17 April 2022

Jonathan D. Caverley and Lucas F. Hellemeier, German Conventional Deterrence or Allied Integrated Deterrence: Pick One, Lawfare, 17 April 2022

On Finland and Sweden joining NATO

Doug Bandow, Nine reasons why NATO should close the door to Sweden and Finland, Responsible Statecraft, 22 April 2022

Sweden’s NATO debate enters decisive phase, Politico, 22 April 2022

Prospect of Russia using nuclear arms in Ukraine fuels Finland’s Nato debate, The Guardian, 21 April 2022

Sweden speeds up NATO review amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, Global News, 21 April 2022

Growing majority of Swedes back joining NATO, opinion poll shows, Reuters, 20 April 2022

Caroline Kennedy-Pipe and Azal Ashraf, Finland and Sweden joining NATO is a greater security dilemma than solution, CNA, 18 Apr 2022


US Secretary of State and Defence Secretary travel to Kyiv (24 April)

US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and defence secretary, Lloyd Austin travelled to Kyiv to meet the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in the first high-level US visit to the city since the war began on 24 February. The previous day, Zelenskiy said Ukraine will ask the US for more heavy weapons to defeat Russia. “As soon as we have [more weapons], as soon as there are enough of them, believe me, we will immediately retake this or that territory, which is temporarily occupied,” Zelenskiy said. Ukraine’s president also spoke about possible peace negotiations with Russia, saying if Moscow kills any Mariupol defenders – or goes forward with the independence referendum in the partly occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – Ukraine would suspend peace negotiations with Moscow.

A Russian military official outlines new war aims (23 April)

Russian military official, Rustam Minnekayev, said Russia plans to take full control of Donbas and southern Ukraine as part of the second phase of its military operation. Russia intends to forge a land corridor between Crimea and Donbas, he said, adding that control of Ukraine’s south will give Russia another gateway to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria. To these ends, Russian forces attacked cities and towns in southern and eastern Ukraine. Within Mariupol, civilians continued to be holed up in a besieged Azovstal steel mill complex, while another attempt to evacuate civilians from the city failed. A three-month-old baby was among eight people reported killed when Russia fired cruise missiles at the Black Sea port city of Odesa.

Two Russian generals were killed near Kherson, the Ukrainian ministry of defence said in a statement. The previous day, the Ukrainian military hit the command post of Russia’s 49th army near the occupied regional capital, the ministry said.

In its latest analysis, the US-based Institute for the Study of warned that Russian forces would likely increase the scale of ground offensive operations in the coming days. It predicted that Russia would likely continue attacking south-east from Izyum, west from Kreminna and Popasna, and north from Donetsk via Avdiivka or another axis. Russian forces were expected to attempt to starve out the remaining defenders of the steel plant in Mariupol and would not allow trapped civilians to evacuate, it added.

Diplomacy to end the war remains stalled (22 April)

Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, confirmed reports that “several long conversations” had been held with Ukraine but he gave no details. Separately, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said diplomatic efforts to end the war remained stalled. The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, held a call with Vladimir Putin and urged the Russian leader to engage directly with Ukraine’s president. Moscow’s readout of the conversation said Putin accused the Ukrainian side of being “inconsistent” in negotiations. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he was planning to hold phone calls with Zelenskiy and Putin in the coming days. Finally, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, will visit Moscow on 26 April to meet with President Putin, where he “hopes to talk about what can be done to bring peace to Ukraine urgently”, his spokesperson said.

The UN human rights office said it has seen growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, describing the war as a “horror story of violations against civilians”. The UN human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said “almost every resident” of the town of Bucha had a story about the death of a relative, a neighbour or even a stranger. New satellite images showed what appeared to be two recently excavated mass grave sites next to cemeteries in two towns near Mariupol, and local officials accused Russia of burying thousands of civilians to conceal the slaughter taking place there. Russia did not comment on the images.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, said he will visit Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear plant next week. Grossi will head an IAEA mission “to deliver vital equipment and conduct radiological and other assessments at the site”, which was held by Russian forces for five weeks, the agency said in a statement.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will close loopholes to ensure UK exports to India cannot end up being used in Russian weapons. Speaking in Delhi at the end of a two-day visit, the UK prime minister conceded that the war in Ukraine could go on until the end of next year and that Russia could win. Johnson also announced that Britain is to reopen its Kyiv embassy.

Russia imposed “indefinite’ travel bans on US vice president Kamala Harris and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg as well as dozens of prominent Americans and Canadians in retaliation for sanctions imposed over Ukraine. The Russian foreign ministry said the travel restrictions on 29 Americans and 61 Canadians - which also includes defence officials, business leaders and journalists from both countries - would remain in effect indefinitely. Russia opened a criminal case against a prominent opposition activist on suspicion of spreading false information about Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine, his lawyer said. Vladimir Kara-Murza was detained outside his home in Moscow on 11 April, hours after CNN aired an interview in which he criticised Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

More US and European arms to Ukraine (21 April)

US President Joe Biden announced that the US will provide another $800 million military assistance package to Ukraine to “further augment Ukraine’s ability to fight in the east, in the Donbas region”, as well as $500 million in economic assistance. The new US weapon deliveries will include 72 howitzers and their towing vehicles along with 144,000 artillery rounds and more than 120 drones tailored for Ukraine’s needs. Biden also announced that the US will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees under a new programme.

Spain sent a new batch of 200 tonnes of military equipment to Ukraine, including heavy transport vehicles and ammunition, the country’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said during a visit to Kyiv. His Danish counterpart, Mette Frederiksen, said her country would increase its contribution of weapons to Ukraine by 600 million Danish crowns. UK prime minister Boris Johnson revealed that dozens of Ukrainian soldiers are training in the UK, learning how to use 120 British armoured vehicles before returning with them to fight in the war against Russia. British forces are also training Ukrainian counterparts in Poland on how to use anti-aircraft missiles, the prime minister said. Norway will donate 100 Mistral air defence missiles to Ukraine, its defence ministry said in a statement.

The UK added 26 new designations to its list of sanctions against Russia, including on military figures who have committed “atrocities” on the frontline in Ukraine. Among those sanctioned are Lt Col Azatbek Omurbekov, the commanding officer of the unit that occupied the Ukrainian town of Bucha, where there have been reports of war crimes with the death toll reaching almost 350.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the United States is working with Ukraine to collect evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces. During a press briefing, Garland told reporters that he was in contact with the Ukrainian prosecutor general and that the United States is working with a group of international allies to gather and preserve evidence of potential war crimes committed in Ukraine. The parliaments of Estonia and Latvia have recognised Russia’s actions in Ukraine as “genocide”. In a statement, the Estonian parliament said Russian troops in temporarily occupied territories had committed “acts of genocide” against the civilian population including “murders, enforced disappearances, deportations, imprisonment, torture, rape and desecration of corpses”.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said Russia rejected a proposed Easter truce but that he remains hopeful of prospects for peace. Earlier in the week Russia rejected the same request from the UN, claiming it was not “sincere” and would give Ukrainian fighters more time to arm themselves. World Bank president David Malpass said the physical damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure has reached $60bn.

Russia successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile with the ability to carry a large nuclear payload. In a speech about the launch, Russian President Vladimir Putin implied that the launch was intended to be a warning to western countries that oppose the invasion of Ukraine. The missile—named “Satan 2”—is a RS-28 Sarmat and is reportedly Russia’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile. US defence officials reported that the successful test launch of the missile did not pose a significant national security threat.

Russia increases military attacks while UN Secretary-General calls for a humanitarian pause (19 April)

Moscow announced that its forces had carried out one of the largest barrages of strikes since the beginning of the invasion. A total of 1,260 military targets were hit by rockets and artillery overnight along the 300-mile frontline in the Donbas and Kharkiv regions, according to Russian officials. Russian forces seized the city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and Ukrainian troops withdrew from the city, the regional governor said. Kreminna, a city of more than 18,000 people appears to be the first city captured in a Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. Russia has deployed up to 20,000 mercenaries from Syria, Libya and elsewhere in Ukraine’s Donbas region, according to reports.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called for a four-day Orthodox Easter humanitarian pause in fighting in Ukraine. Guterres said the UN was ready to send humanitarian aid convoys to Mariupol, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk beginning on Holy Thursday and running through Sunday 24 April, the date of Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated by most Ukrainians and Russians.

New photos and a video of the damaged Russian cruiser Moskva appeared to show that it was probably struck by anti-ship missiles and then abandoned before the ship sank in the Black Sea. The Russian Defence Ministry has sought to suppress information about what happened to the ship or its estimated 510-strong crew. The total number of dead, wounded and missing remains a state secret. Several families have gone public saying they cannot find their sons who were serving onboard.

Russia initiates battle for the Donbas (18 April)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported that Russia had initiated its battle for the Donbas region weeks after its troops withdrew from the area surrounding Kyiv, Ukraine to regroup and reassess its military strategy. In an address to the Ukrainian people, Zelenksyy said, “It can now be stated that Russian troops have begun the battle for Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time. A very large part of the entire Russian army is now focused on this offensive. No matter how many Russian soldiers are driven there, we will fight. We will defend ourselves”. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry also reported on Twitter that Russia’s “genocidal army” is concentrating in eastern Ukraine and is launching rocket attacks, bombings and artillery shelling. Russia has 76 battalion tactical groups in the Donbas region of Ukraine and in the country’s southeast with 11 of those added over the last several days, a senior US defence department official said in a statement.

A least 1,000 civilians were reportedly hiding in underground shelters beneath the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, according to the city council. About 40,000 civilians in the city have been forcibly moved to Russia or Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine, the mayor added.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin has stalled after mass killings were discovered in Ukraine. “Since the massacres we have discovered in Bucha and in other towns, the war has taken a different turn, so I did not speak to him again directly since, but I don’t rule out doing so in the future”, Macron told France 5 television.

Ukraine is hoping to receive candidate country status to join the EU within weeks, Zelenskiy said. The EU’s ambassador in Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, said he received a completed questionnaire from Zelenskiy just 10 days after the document was provided to Kyiv. “Extraordinary times take extraordinary steps and extraordinary speed,” he tweeted.

Russia’s invasion has reportedly damaged up to 30% of Ukraine’s infrastructure, costing the country up to $100bn.