Thousands of people have been killed, entire towns have been left to ruin, and millions have been forced to abandon their homes as a result of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. The greatest military confrontation in Europe since World War II has also thrown the worldwide security order into disarray and wreaked havoc on the global economy.
A buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine in early 2021 sparked worries of an assault. In April, Moscow withdrew part of its soldiers, clearing the door for President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in June. However, their meeting failed to significantly reduce tensions between Russia and the United States.
Late October saw the start of a major buildup of Russian forces around Ukraine’s borders, which grew to an estimated 150,000 troops by the end of the year. Moscow has denied any plans to attack Ukraine since the military increase began, claiming that such Western worries are part of an effort to discredit Russia. Simultaneously, Moscow pushed the US and its allies to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and to withdraw NATO soldiers from Eastern Europe, requests that the West dismissed as unrealistic.
Then, on February 21, Putin upped the ante by declaring pro-Russian rebel districts in eastern Ukraine independent. Since 2014, when Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was forced from power by widespread demonstrations and Russia retaliated by annexing the Crimean Peninsula, insurgents have been battling Ukrainian forces there.
On February 24, Putin proclaimed the start of a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine and remove accused “neo-Nazi nationalists” in a televised address. The Russian military launched a series of air attacks and missile strikes against Ukraine’s military bases and critical infrastructure while he spoke. Russian forces poured into Ukraine from Crimea in the south, all the way up the eastern border, and from Moscow’s ally Belarus to the north.
After Washington and its allies refused Russia’s demand for security guarantees, Putin said that Russia had no choice but to act. The assertions were regarded by Western officials as a bogus justification for the assault.
The Russian military marched on Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, which is only 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of the Belarusian border, closed in on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the east, and pushed south along the Sea of Azov and Black Sea beaches.
Air attacks and artillery strikes targeted residential neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals across Ukraine, despite Russia’s claims that it was only targeting military targets.
The invasion was met with extraordinary economic and financial sanctions by Western allies.
Several waves of crippling sanctions froze an estimated half of Russia’s $640 billion in hard-currency reserves, cut key Russian banks off from the SWIFT financial messaging system, prevented Moscow from receiving cash in dollars and euros, and imposed trade restrictions on broad sectors of the Russian economy. Major foreign corporations exited the Russian market fast.
The harsh penalties, which were previously exclusively imposed on Iran and North Korea, caused the ruble to plummet, a run on deposits, and consumer panic.
The Russian government retaliated by imposing harsh controls on hard currency transactions and stock markets.
While applauding Western sanctions and arms supplies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed the US and other Western partners to go even more to halt Russia.
He has repeatedly asked the United States and NATO to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a proposal that the allies have resisted out of concern of provoking a direct confrontation with Russia and perhaps triggering a global crisis.
Zelenskyy has also begged with Western allies to provide jets and long-range air defense systems to Ukraine. As the West tries to prevent a disastrous escalation, Russia has issued a strong warning to the West. Discussions on probable deployments of Soviet-era fighter planes and air defense systems from Eastern Europe to Ukraine have stopped.
Ukraine has also requested the United States and the European Union to tighten sanctions, including a ban on Russian oil and gas exports, a move that many EU countries reject because Russia supplies a big portion of their energy.
The invasion hasn’t gone according to Putin’s plans from the start. Russian soldiers became bogged down in the suburbs after swiftly moving to the outskirts of Kyiv in the early days of the assault.
Rather of surrendering as the Kremlin had intended, Ukrainian military fought back vehemently in every area, defeating Russian plans to rapidly roll into other major towns such as Kharkiv and Chernihiv. Despite heavy strikes on Ukraine’s air force and air defense systems, Russia was unable to gain complete control of the skies over the country.
Russian military convoys have spanned dozens of kilometers (miles) along a highway flowing from Belarus, making them an easy target for ambushes and attacks by Ukrainian forces. In the east, Russian soldiers have been up against strengthened Ukrainian fortifications in rebel-held areas and have only achieved minor gains.
Despite holding Mariupol and capturing the ports of Berdyansk and Kherson quickly, the Russians have failed to conquer Mykolaiv, a crucial shipbuilding center, and push the attack west into Odesa.
Russian forces have been handicapped by repeated supply shortages throughout the campaign, according to Western diplomats, who say they have struggled to procure food and gasoline and have lacked suitable cold weather clothing.
The Russian military announced the death of 498 men in early March, but did not update the figure again. NATO, on the other hand, reported on Wednesday that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops had been killed in four weeks of action. In comparison, during the Afghanistan war, the Soviet Union lost around 15,000 troops over a ten-year period.
Putin shows no signs of backing down, even as his attack stumbles and the Russian economy trembles under the weight of Western sanctions.
Despite the falling ruble and rising consumer prices, Putin enjoys strong support in Russian polls. Observers blame the Kremlin’s enormous propaganda effort and crackdown on opposition for the results.
Putin asks that Ukraine adopt a neutral position, abandon its NATO membership bid, demilitarize, accept Russian authority over Crimea, and recognize the independence of the Donbas rebel republics.
Earlier this week, Zelenskyy stated that Ukraine is willing to consider a neutral position in exchange for security guarantees that would prevent additional aggression. However, he stated that the status of Crimea and the rebel territories could only be debated when a cease-fire and Russian soldiers were withdrawn.
Putin may now try to gain further ground by negotiating from a position of strength in order to push Zelenskyy to make compromises. Negotiators from Russia and Ukraine said they are still working on a potential arrangement that Putin and Zelenskyy may consider.