Update 4 on the Ukraine-Russia-NATO crisis

7 March 2022

Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people in the face of this inexcusable multi-pronged military invasion by Russia. Shelling and missile strikes intensified in cities across Ukraine as Russia’s invasion continued into its second week. Although Russian officials have denied targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure, cluster and thermobaric munitions have reportedly been used by Russian forces in urban areas. The International Criminal Court announced plans to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.

The US and NATO 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. 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

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 1.5 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. Despite Russia announcing temporary ceasefires in Volnovakha and Mariupol it was still not possible to organise humanitarian corridors out of the cities as shelling continued. 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:

Sean Howard, Ukraine and Costa Rica: A tale of two futures? Rethinking Security, 7 March 2022

The Elders call for a criminal tribunal to investigate alleged crime of aggression in Ukraine, 5 March 2022

Anatol Lieven, It’s time to ask: what would a Ukraine-Russia peace deal look like? The Guardian, 4 March 2022

The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis? ICG Commentary, 4 March 2022

ELN Group statement, The Expert Dialogue on NATO-Russia risk reduction: a joint appeal for a ceasefire and risk reduction, 3 March 2022

Jordan Michael Smith, The NATO Critics Who Predicted Russia’s Belligerence, New Republic, 3 March 2022

Carmen Magallón, Weapons will not save us, WILPF Commentary, 3 March 2022

Daniel Byman, Foreign Fighters in Ukraine? Evaluating the Benefits and Risks, Lawfare, 2 March 2022

Tom Pickering, A Russia-Ukraine exit strategy, Responsible Statecraft, 2 March 2022

John Feffer, No Pasaran: Ukraine 2022 - Vladimir Putin is the Franco of today, and Ukraine must become the graveyard of Putinism, Foreign Policy in Focus, 2 March 2022

Ukrainian Pacifist in Kyiv: Reckless Militarization Led to This War. All Sides Must Recommit to Peace, Democracy Now, 1 March 2022

Roane Carey, Don’t Be a Tankie: How the Left Should Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, The Intercept, 1 March 2022

Ray Acheson, End war, build peace, WILPF Commentary, 1 March 2022

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Vladimir Putin has already lost this war, The Guardian, 28 February 2022

Ted Galen Carpenter, Many predicted Nato expansion would lead to war. Those warnings were ignored, The Guardian, 28 February 2022

Lawrence Freedman, A Reckless Gamble: Wars rarely go to plan, especially if you believe your own rhetoric, Blog, 25 February 2022

Evacuation of civilians from besieged Mariupol “halted” (6 March)

Attempts to evacuate an estimated 200,000 people out of Mariupol came to a halt, “underscoring the absence of a detailed and functioning agreement between the parties to the conflict” according to the Red Cross. Ukraine’s national guard accused Russia of continuing to shell the humanitarian corridors. The UN said the exodus from Ukraine was the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. More than 1.5m refugees have fled Ukraine in the past 10 days.

In a phone conversation with Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the conflict will only stop if Ukraine stops fighting and Russia’s demands are met. Putin also said Ukraine’s negotiators should take a more “constructive” approach in talks with Moscow to take into account the reality on the ground. Britain’s deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, said it may take years for Putin to be defeated in Ukraine, while Pope Francis said the Ukraine conflict is “not a military operation but a war” in his weekly address to crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square. However, he did not publicly condemn Russia by name for its invasion.

More than 4,300 people were arrested at anti-war protests across Russia, with about 7,500 people detained since the outbreak of the war.

Ukraine calls for urgent delivery of combat aircraft (5 March)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a “desperate plea” for eastern Europe to provide Russian-made aircraft to Ukraine. In a call with US senators, he is also understood to have called for a no-fly zone, lethal aid, a ban on Russian oil and a suspension of Visa and Mastercard in Russia. In a video published by the presidency Zelenskiy said Nato had given the “green light for further bombing of Ukraine” by ruling out a no-fly zone. He said: “All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity”.

Vladimir Putin said Ukraine’s statehood would be threatened if its leaders continued to resist his military invasion. He also described western sanctions on Russia as being akin to a declaration of war. Russia's Foreign Ministry called on EU and NATO countries to "stop pumping weapons" to Ukraine.

The US government warned American citizens living or travelling in Russia to “depart immediately” in new guidelines published by the US state department. The International Monetary Fund announced that it could approve $1.4bn emergency funding for Ukraineas early as next week as the body warned of war’s “severe impact” on the global economy.

Attack on a Ukrainian nuclear plant (4 March)

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, was seized by Russian forces, after an attack that started a fire close to one of its six reactors. Ukraine’s President Zelensky accused Russia of “nuclear terror”. No release of radiation was reported, but Ukrainian officials said workers had not been able to check all the safety infrastructure in the wake of the attack. An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was called to discuss the attack. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the world narrowly averted a “nuclear catastrophe” and condemned Russia’s actions as “reckless” and “dangerous”.

NATO Foreign Ministers (and the Foreign Ministers of Finland and Sweden and the EU High Representative; both Finland and Sweden are now part of all NATO consultations on Ukraine) discussed imposing a no-fly zone—a militarily enforced airspace that prohibits the entrance of certain aircraft—during an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to address the escalating crisis. The ministers agreed that enforcing a no-fly zone could provoke full-fledged war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia. “The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO fighter planes into Ukraine’s airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes”, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. He also told reporters that a no-fly zone would not be enforced because “We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering”. The NATO ministers agreed to increase supplies of artillery and humanitarian support to Ukraine. NATO also accused Russia of using cluster bombs in its invasion (Amnesty International has also condemned their reported use).

Russia announced a ceasefire in the cities of Volnovakha and the strategic port of Mariupol to allow humanitarian corridors out of the two Ukrainian cities, but the ceasefire was not respected according to Ukrainian sources.

President Putin introduced a series of new laws cracking down on the free press, including jail terms of up to 15 years for people publishing “false information” about the Russian army. As a result, many media outlets ceased their Russian operations or removed coverage, including the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg and CBC. Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper said it would remove material on Russia’s military actions in Ukraine from its website. Russian state media regulators also banned access to Twitter and Facebook. Russian police continued to crack down on antiwar protesters at home, arresting more than 8,000 over the past eight days.

The UN Human Rights Council voted to create a top-level investigation into violations committed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with 32 members of the 47-seat council in favour and only Russia and Eritrea voting against.

Kherson becomes the first major Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces (3 March)

Russian forces took control of both local and regional government buildings in the strategically important Black Sea port of Kherson. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called for direct talks with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, saying it was “the only way to stop this war”. Speaking at a press conference, Zelenskiy called on the west to increase military aid to Ukraine, warning that the rest of Europe would be under threat if Russia was allowed to advance. Vladimir Putin told Emmanuel Macron during a phone call that Kyiv’s “refusal to accept Russia’s conditions” meant he would continue to pursue his war in Ukraine.

The Biden administration requested $32.5 billion in emergency spending from Congress in order to strengthen the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic ($22.5 billion) and to assist Ukraine ($10 billion) with humanitarian and military aid.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he believed some foreign leaders were preparing for war against Russia and that Moscow would press on with its military operation in Ukraine until “the end”. Lavrov also said Russia had no thoughts of nuclear war. In St Petersburg, Yelena Osipova, an activist said to have survived the infamous wartime siege of Leningrad was detained for protesting against the war.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced.

UN General Assembly condemns Russian invasion (2 March)

The UN General Assembly voted at an emergency session (the first since 1997) to adopt  a non-binding resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 141 countries voted in favour of the “Aggression against Ukraine” resolution, 35 countries abstained from the vote, and only five voted against the resolution (Belarus, Eitrea, North Korea, Russia and Syria). The resolution, which was co-sponsored by 94 countries, said the UN “deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. It demanded that “the Russian Federation immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine” and “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces”. Despite widespread support for the resolution, there were notable divisions among UN member states. Three of the so-called BRICS countries – China, India and South Africa – abstained from the vote, while a fourth, Brazil, voted yes, even though President Jair Bolsonaro had been trying to cultivate closer ties with Moscow. The African group split, with 28 members backing the resolution, and 25 either abstaining or not voting at all.

The international criminal court (ICC) confirmed that it is opening an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. After 39 countries called for an inquiry into potential violations of international law, the ICC’s chief prosecutor reported that investigators are collecting evidence on alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. 

China said it would not join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia. The Chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said at a news conference that “As far as financial sanctions are concerned, we do not approve of these, especially the unilaterally launched sanctions because they do not work well and have no legal grounds”. In addition to China’s criticisms of what it claims are “illegal and unilateral” sanctions on Russia, the country’s leaders have also refused to directly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Economic warfare increases (1 March)

Apple said it would pause all product sales in Russia, while Boeing suspended “major operations” in Moscow, as well as “parts, maintenance, and technical support services for Russian airlines”. Ford and the British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover also suspended operations, along with Nike. The US and 30 countries agreed to release 60m barrels of oil from their strategic reserves in an attempt to stabilise global energy markets. Large multinational oil and gas companies also began to cut ties with Russia. BP is reportedly abandoning one of Russia’s largest foreign investments by exiting its 19.75 percent stake in Rosneft, a Russian oil company, while Shell plans to cut its ties with Russian-owned Gazprom and end its involvement with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

A Russian missile strike hit the Ukrainian capital’s TV tower, killing five people and wounding five more near the site of the Babyn Yar memorial to second world war Nazi massacres. The attack on Kyiv’s TV tower took place after Russia’s defence ministry urged Kyiv’s inhabitants to leave, saying it planned to strike communications and intelligence sites in the capital. Russia blocked two independent media organisations, Dozhd TV channel, also known as TVRain, and Ekho Moskvy radio, for spreading “deliberately false information” about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Addressing the European parliament, President Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine is “giving away its best people” for its desire to be treated as equals and for the price of freedom. He urged European leaders to “prove that you are with us” and “light will win over darkness”. Ukraine claimed that Belarusian troops joined Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by entering the country’s northern Chernihiv region.

ICC announces an investigation (28 February)

The office of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it would open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Human rights groups and Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of violating international war crimes laws throughout the invasion. The Presidents of Estonia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia released a joint statement urging the EU to grant Ukraine candidate country status and begin negotiations about its formal acceptance into the union.

High-level talks between Ukraine and Russia that took place on the border with Belarus on Monday morning ended without a breakthrough. The Ukrainian President called for a no-fly zone to be imposed on Ukraine and also signed an official request for Ukraine to join the EU. A senior EU official said leaders would discuss the possibility of Ukrainian membership at an informal summit in March. EU officials were also preparing to grant Ukrainians who flee the war the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years.

Canada agreed to supply upgraded ammunition and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, while Finland agreed to ship 2,500 assault rifles and 1,500 anti-tank weapons. Fifa and Uefa suspended Russia’s national and club teams from all international competitions until further notice. French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke with Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, in a phone call and reiterated demands to halt Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. At a meeting of the NATO Military Committee, the chair Admiral Bauer, noted that “many NATO Allies have offered to provide military support and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Coordination is key”.

The United States escalated its sanctions on Russia by freezing Russian Central Bank assets. The US Treasury Department announced that it would immobilize Russian Central Bank assets held in the US and would also impose sanctions on the Russian Direct Investment fund, which is run by a close ally of the Russian President. Setting aside its tradition of neutrality, Switzerland also announced it would freeze Russian financial assets.

Forty Ukrainian civil society groups came together to call on the West to establish safe zones for refugees inside Ukraine, and provide technology to help document Russian war crimes. The appeal called the Kyiv Declaration was put together by the groups in Kyiv and other cities coordinating via encrypted app’s, and face-to-face in underground shelters. The signatories include Ukrainian Helsinki Group for Human Rights, Come Back Alive, Ukraine Crisis Media Centre and Women’s Perspectives.

NATO support to Ukraine (27 February)

NATO member states have supplied thousands of anti-tank weapons, hundreds of air-defence missiles and thousands of small arms and ammunition stocks to Ukraine, as well as millions of euros worth of financial assistance and humanitarian aid. Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the UK and the United States have already sent or are approving significant deliveries of military equipment to Ukraine. These additional contributions build on many years of NATO assistance to Ukraine. NATO has helped to train, fund and reform Ukraine’s armed forces and defence institutions since 2014. In the current crisis, the NATO is helping to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for assistance and is supporting Allies in the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid.