Update 6: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

20 March 2022

President Putin’s war in Ukraine has entered its fourth week. Thousands have been killed and more than 3.3 million people have fled the country, while nearly twice as many people, 6.5 million, have been displaced within the country. The use of explosive weapons in cities and towns by Russian military forces is the leading cause of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. Western governments are supporting Kyiv to resist the Russian invasion, while also seeking to minimise risks of the war spilling over into a wider (and possibly nuclear) confrontation between Russia and NATO. As the human toll grows higher it is becoming harder to create a negotiated solution. A return to the pre-2014 status quo, Putin’s departure and war crimes investigations, may need to be forfeited to reach an agreement that both sides can accept and that will end the war. Putin may be more willing to negotiate because his military effort has met fierce resistance and sanctions are having an impact on the Russian economy.

Further reading:

Ian Davis, From Aleppo to Mariupol: Stopping the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Rethinking Security, 18 March 2022

Avoiding an Even Worse Catastrophe in Ukraine, International Crisis Group Statement, 18 March 2022

Elizabeth Buchanan, The Ukraine War and the Future of the Arctic, RUSI Commentary,18 March 2022

Jane Kinninmont, A tale of two wars: Yemen and Ukraine, ELN Commentary, 18 March 2022

Richard D. Hooker, Jr., A no-fly zone over Ukraine? The case for NATO doing it, Atlantic Council, 18 March 2022

Juliette Faure, The US-Russia military hotline in Europe: Key principles for risk reduction from the US-Russia deconfliction measures in Syria, ELN Commentary, 17 March 2022

Tom Nichols, Only NATO Can Save Putin, The Atlantic, 17 March 2022

Aaditya Dave, India’s Diplomatic Tightrope on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, RUSI Commentary, 17 March 2022

David A. Deptula, Marc R. DeVore, Emma Salisbury and Michael Hunzeker, 6 Things NATO Can Do to Help Ukraine Right Now, Foreign Policy, 16 March 2022

Oleksandr Danylyuk, Why Putin is Turning Russia into a Chinese Client State, and How to Stop It, RUSI Commentary, 16 March 2022

Simon Schlegel, Mitigating the Gendered Effects of Ukraine’s Refugee Crisis, International Crisis Group, 16 March 2022

Rebecca R Moore, No, Ukraine is Not a NATO Member – Does it Really Matter? RUSI Commentary, 16 March 2022

Anna Stavrianakis, Missing in Action: UK arms export controls during war and armed conflict, Rethinking Security, 15 March 2022

Zachary Kallenborn, Russia may have used a killer robot in Ukraine. Now what? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 15 March 2022

Ahmet Üzümcü, Will Chemical Weapons Be Used in Ukraine?, Project Syndicate, 15 March 2022


The “terror” siege of Mariupol (19 March)

Several thousand Mariupol residents have been “forcibly” taken to Russia, where they have been “redirected” to cities in the country, the Mariupol city council reported. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia’s siege of Mariupol is “a terror that will be remembered for centuries to come. He added that peace talks with Russia were needed although they were “not easy and pleasant”. Addressing an anti-war protest in Bern, he appealed to Switzerland to crack down on Russian oligarchs who he said are helping to wage war on Ukraine from the safety of “beautiful Swiss towns”.

Russia said it had used hypersonic weapons, which travel fast enough to evade detection by missile defence systems, to destroy an underground military depot in western Ukraine. Russia’s defence ministry said it hit the depot for missiles and aircraft ammunition in the Ivano-Fehrankivsk region, and that it had also destroyed Ukrainian military radio and reconnaissance centres near the port city of Odesa using a coastal missile system. According to analysis from US-based Institute of the Study of War, Ukrainian forces have defeated Russia in its initial campaign of the war, ultimately leading to a stalemate between the two countries.

The World Food Programme said aid agencies are being prevented from reaching people trapped in Ukrainian cities surrounded by Russian forces. It warned that Ukraine’s food supply chains are breaking down, with many grocery stores and warehouses now empty. A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleh Ustenko, said the country may not produce enough crops to export if this year’s sowing season is disrupted by Russia’s invasion. Ukraine is the world’s fifth-largest wheat exporter.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said his country is “on the right side of history” as it continued to criticise sanctions imposed on Russia and denied that it was considering supplying weapons to Moscow. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged China to join in global condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and said he believed some in Xi Jinping’s administration were having “second thoughts” about Beijing’s neutral stance. In his speech to the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool, Johnson was criticised for comparing the Ukrainian struggle to the British public voting for Brexit. Johnson said it is the “instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom”, with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example”.

Poland proposed that the EU implement a total ban on trade with Russia. Prime minister Mateus Morawiecki said “Poland is proposing to add a trade blockade to this package of sanctions as soon as possible, (including) both of its seaports ... but also a ban on land trade”.

Missiles strikes on Lyiv (18 March)

Lviv—a city in western Ukraine—was struck by Russian missiles that hit an aircraft repair plant at Lviv’s airport complex and destroyed buildings in the area. Lviv is approximately 50 miles from the Polish border and has served as a safe-haven for Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian attacks. There were reports of mass casualties after a Russian missile attack on a Ukrainian army barracks in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

Fighting reached the centre of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where 350,000 civilians have been stranded with little food or water. The Russian defence ministry said its forces were “tightening the noose” around the port city, and that “fighting against nationalists” was taking place in the city centre. More than 130 people were rescued following a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol theatre on 16 March (see below) that was sheltering hundreds of civilians. Ukraine’s defence ministry said it had “temporarily” lost access to the Azov Sea, which opens to the Black Sea.

The UN Human Rights Office estimated that there had been at least 816 civilian deaths from the war, although the real toll is thought to be considerably higher. Kyiv officials said 222 people had been killed in the capital, including 60 civilians and four children. According to the Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske, Russian forces are “holding captive” a Ukrainian journalist, Victoria Roshchyna.

Vladimir Putin praised Russian “unity” over what the Kremlin is calling its special operation in Ukraine during a rare public speech at the national stadium in Moscow. As Putin was finishing his speech, the broadcast was suddenly cut off and state television showed patriotic songs. The Kremlin blamed a “technical failure” for the cutoff.

Pope Francis denounced the “perverse abuse of power” on display in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for aid to Ukrainians, whom he said had been attacked in their “identity, history and tradition” and were “defending their land”.

US President Joe Biden warned China’s President Xi Jinping that there will be “implications and consequences” if Beijing provides material support to Russia as it attacks Ukrainian cities, Biden did not make any direct requests to Xi to persuade Putin to end the attack during the two hour telephone call. Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are known to have a close partnership, which has caused tension in US-China relations.

Poland is to ask NATO if it can send a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine in an attempt to step up the alliance's involvement in crisis following Russia's invasion. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw would make a formal submission to send a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine at an extraordinary NATO summit scheduled for 24 March (see below). The EU is considering creating a solidarity fund for Ukraine to meet basic humanitarian necessities.

US believes Russia is planning a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine (17 March)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters he believed Russia was planning a chemical weapons attack on Ukrainian military personnel and civilians. The US House of Representatives voted to suspend normal trade operations with Russia. In a vote of 424-t0-8, the House voted to strip Russia of its preferential trade status with the US and would allow the US to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The eight lawmakers who voted in opposition of the bill were all members of the Republican Party.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine and said he would resist calls to condemn Russia, in comments that cast doubt over whether he would be accepted by Ukraine or the West as a mediator.

International Court orders Russia to ‘immediately suspend’ military operations in Ukraine (16 March)

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Russia to “immediately suspend” military operations in Ukraine. In a 13-2 vote with a Russian representative and a Chinese representative dissenting, the ICJ ruled that Russia “shall immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February”. The court issued the 22-page ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by Ukraine on27 February that accused Russia of unlawfully using the concept of genocide to justify its invasion of the country. Despite the binding nature of the ICJ’s decision, it is unlikely that Russia will abide by the ruling.

Ukrainian and Russian delegates discussed a 15-point peace plan under which Russia would withdraw troops in exchange for Ukraine renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and agreeing not to host foreign military bases or weapons — to remain neutral.

The Ukrainian military launched multiple counteroffensive operations to deter Russian forces from attacking the capital city of Kyiv and other key cities. Ukrainian forces reportedly counterattacked Russian forces in the Kyiv suburbs such as Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel. Ukrainian military personnel were also advancing toward the city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russia since the start of the invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an address to the US Congress from Kyiv to ask the US for further assistance in his country’s fight against Russia. Zelenksyy said “I call on you to do more”, and pleaded for American leaders to consider enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace, saying “I have a dream. I have a need to protect the sky”. The Ukrainian president also offered an alternative request if a no-fly zone was “too much to ask”; he asked for the US to supply Ukraine with more advanced air defence systems and combat aircraft to fight Russian forces so that Ukrainian forces could enforce a no-fly zone themselves.

A few hours later, the Biden administration agreed to supply the Ukrainian military with advanced portable weapons to use against Russian military tanks, vehicles and aircraft, as well as an additional $800 in military aid for Ukraine. This aid includes: 800 Stinger antiaircraft missiles, 9,000 antitank weapons, 100 tactical drones and other small arms like machine guns and grenade launchers. US and European officials reportedly want to focus on supplying the Ukrainian military with advanced equipment that is easy to use by small teams rather than weapons that require significant logistical support like tanks and combat aircraft.

At an emergency meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, the United States and other NATO members said they would keep helping Ukraine fight off Russia's invasion, while also adapting the alliance's own security to the "new reality" triggered by the war. "We remain united in our support of Ukraine," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. The defence ministers were joined by NATO partners Finland, Sweden, Georgia and the EU, and received a briefing from Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov on the situation in Ukraine.

NATO announces an extraordinary summit to discuss consequences of the war (15 March)

NATO announced that an extraordinary meeting of Heads of State and Government would take place on 24 March 2022 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium to address “the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence in response to a new reality for our security”. US President Joe Biden will attend.

The US Senate unanimously voted to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. The bipartisan resolution was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham and urged the International Criminal Court and other countries to focus investigations of war crimes committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Russian military.

The Russian government announced sanctions on President Biden and multiple other senior officials and figureheads. In addition to Biden, Moscow sanctioned Secretary Antony Blinken, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Hillary Clinton and Secretary Lloyd Austin, among others. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the sanctions on Democratic officials were in retaliation for “extremely Russophobic” actions taken by the Biden administration by issuing an onslaught of sanctions on Russia.

A Fox News cameraman and Ukrainian journalist were killed amidst fighting in Ukraine. Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra Kuvshynova were killed by gunfire just outside of Kyiv. The director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization condemned the attack that killed the journalists, saying “Journalists have a critical role in providing information during a conflict, and should never be targeted. I call for the respect of international humanitarian standards, to ensure that journalists and media workers are protected. Another American journalist, Brent Renaud, was also shot and killed last weekend while reporting in a Kyiv suburb.