When, at 5 a.m. on February 24, Russia still fulfilled the United States’ predictions and invaded Ukraine, the whole country was enveloped in darkness, and huge clouds of battle could be seen from space.
Almost a hundred days later (the 100th is ongoing), the Kremlin wants the darkness to be informational: the state media should not emphasize how long the war lasts. Authorities, according to sources in the Riga-based edition of Medusa, fear that the Russians may notice how long it has dragged on. At the moment, the war in Russia can only be described in “official sources”.
The “military special operation” according to Russia (and war – according to Europe, the United States, and their allies) began with assurances that the rulers will be overthrown because they do not have the support of the people in their actions (in fact, Moscow claimed EU members like Bulgaria). and the capital will fall quickly. Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the Ukrainian military to carry out a coup on the second day.
Instead, Russia, even as it seizes territory south of the coast and east of the Donbas, is advancing slowly, failing to break through Ukrainian defenses in some places, and has found that Kyiv’s army is not to be underestimated.
Russia has not declared war but has effectively imposed wartime censorship with the law against “fake news” discrediting the armed forces. Some media outlets, such as the government-critical Novaya Gazeta (with a Nobel laureate editor-in-chief), stopped publishing; others such as the Echo of Moscow were closed; others complied, and others continued from abroad. As a result, the Russian media can only repeat what the state wants people to hear.
However, the Kremlin’s silence cannot change the outcome of the battlefield or the fact that the “operation” is not going according to plan. Ukraine is becoming more confident, ministers are leaving for meetings with allies to seek help, and President Volodymyr Zelensky has even left Kyiv and approached the front line.
After three months, however, the tension turned to exhaustion. Ukraine is losing some battles to the east and south, but Russia is progressing very slowly. Every small victory on the battlefield can be important for who will win what at the negotiating table, and how long it will take to sit on it: in months or years.
What happened, how did it change Europe and what will happen next?
On the battlefield: the beginning
First were air and missile strikes on several cities – the capital Kyiv, the second-largest Kharkiv, the centers of Chernihiv and Sumy in the north, the Azov and parts of the Black Sea coast in the south. The Russian military was less than 36 hours from the center of Kyiv 36 hours after the start of the war.
Four days after the war, the first negotiations came, but without much success. The big breakthrough came a month later, when Turkey, mediated by Turkey, made a concrete proposal that could end the war. It was not enough for Russia. However, on the day of the March 29 talks, Moscow withdrew its forces from Kyiv after a month of unsuccessful sieges, setting the tone for a change in its approach to the war after failing to achieve major goals.
Russia, meanwhile, had managed to seize its first major city, Kherson, and gradually take over almost the entire Azov coast over the next three months. Kherson fell on March 3, and two weeks later the battle for industrial Mariupol flared up in full force under Russian siege. Hundreds of thousands were left without electricity and water, key buildings were bombed.
Moscow has also begun attacking the West to show that it will not allow European arms supplies to continue. At the end of March, however, he announced that he was focusing on specific goals: Donbas or its two main regions, Donetsk and Luhansk regions (the former includes Mariupol).
On April 3, as Russian troops withdrew, Ukrainians found dozens of bodies on the streets of Kyiv’s suburb of Bucha, and later elsewhere. Accusations of genocide and war crimes came from some Western countries (but not all), and Russia insisted that the incident had been fabricated. Reports of killed civilians have increased.
Over the next six weeks, Ukraine had several successes, including the attack that sank the cruiser Moscow (the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet) and the expulsion of Russian forces from Kharkiv. The United States, meanwhile, has announced a huge ($ 40 billion) package of the military, economic and humanitarian aid, and Europe a plan to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction (but also pensions and administrative salaries).
In the same period, however, Mariupol fell entirely into Russian hands after fighters from the Azov Battalion and soldiers hiding at the Azovstal plant surrendered and the city was virtually destroyed. Thus, Russia has secured a land corridor between Crimea and its territory. Ukraine’s counter-offensive in Donbas has slowed, Russia has almost completely taken over the Luhansk region and will turn its attention to the rest of Donetsk, the second region of Donbas (including Mariupol).
Currently, according to Zelensky, Russia owns 20% of Ukrainian territory. The president acknowledged that Kyiv would not be able to reclaim it all by military means. Neither side is showing signs of retreat. Russia and its loyal separatists hold the Kherson region, most of Zaporizhia (both to the south) and almost all of Luhansk and most of the Donetsk region to the east.
Europe: what is changing
The consequences of the war outside Ukraine – whose economy will shrink by 45% – will not be limited to global inflation, energy shortages, and severe crises in Europe, North America, and elsewhere, nor just the risk of famine in that part of the world ( for example, North Africa), dependent on Russian or Ukrainian grain.
Europe surprised the world. Europe responded surprisingly quickly to the war: in a matter of days, it imposed unprecedented financial and economic sanctions on Russia. Also unparalleled was the decision to provide it with military aid – for the first time, a special armament fund for a third country was set up on behalf of the EU, which has nothing to do with the arms trade. Close your airspace to Russian planes. The world’s largest country has found itself isolated from controversial and cultural events. Here are some examples of restrictions imposed since the end of February:
leading banks have been sanctioned
Russian and Belarusian carriers are banned from working in the EU, and Russian-flagged vessels do not have access to ports in the bloc
many goods cannot be imported from or exported to Russia, the euro cannot be delivered to the country
banning some Russian media in the EU
on the “black list” are politicians (among them – President Vladimir Putin) and business representatives, and interaction with the central bank is prohibited
ban on imports of coal as well as oil by sea.
Underneath the unity reflected in the sanctions documents are the cracks in disagreements: Hungary gave the latest example yesterday by blocking sanctions it had approved after months of controversy, demanding that Russian Patriarch Kirill be expelled. However, the EU has adopted the latest sanctions, which only expose it to an energy conundrum: new energy sources are urgently needed, and the transition to renewables is proving even more important.
It took many months before such unity was achieved. So Europe surprised Russia and the world.
Germany, too. Russia has managed to cause a turnaround in Europe’s leading economic power, which could turn it into a leading military power, something unthinkable only three and a half months ago because of its past. However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the forthcoming 100 billion-euro rearmament and agreed to export arms to Ukraine – also unthinkable for a country for which maintaining healthy relations with Russia has been a priority for generations.
Europe looked at security with different eyes. If even in Bulgaria attitudes changed so that the approval of President Vladimir Putin fell sharply (in the Bulgarian case by 20 points per day), then in some countries, such as Scandinavia Sweden, and Finland, a long tradition of neutrality was abandoned (two centuries in Sweden case) because of growing public concerns about Russia, and they want to join NATO. Denmark voted in a referendum to join the Common European Security Policy, which it rejected more than three decades ago. Whether Turkey will stop vetoing Sweden and Finland remains to be seen.
Russia is isolated. Indeed, much of the world is not behind Ukraine: countries in Africa and Asia, for example. However, Europe has been Russia’s leading market and partner, and any attempt to change that will take time. Moscow marked its first economic downturn this month and defaulted. Hundreds of foreign companies have left Russia, and not all of China’s “allies” want to work with it.
How (and whether) everything will end
After Russia rejected Ukraine’s offer, the two countries focused on the battlefield and accused each other of not wanting to negotiate.
Zelenski says that in the end, everyone will have to sit down at the negotiating table, but before that, both sides have shown that they want to conquer (or conquer) as much territory as possible. The Kremlin has reacted with restraint to proposals for referendums on the annexation of the model of Crimea: according to the latest comments of the press secretary Dmitry Peskov, the conditions are not appropriate at the moment.
In these circumstances, different scenarios for the end of the conflict emerge. Here are a few of them.
According to Michael Horowitz, a geopolitical analyst at security consultancy Le Beck, for example, there are five options:
Putin is winning, but he will need to mobilize recruits and reservists
Putin enters negotiations after an intensified offensive (such is underway in Donbas), which will allow him to negotiate a favorable agreement for Russia – for example, the neutrality of Ukraine and Russian control in parts of it
loss, perhaps even heavy, for Russia – if the success of the victory in Donbas does not seem big enough and Moscow continues the offensive
Russia is turning the war into a “frozen” conflict – this, according to the historian, would be a sensible move, because digging into positions and waging a war of attrition has been known to Moscow from places like Syria and Ukraine since 2014.
Ukraine wins – hypotheses about the future exhaustion of Russian forces or the hypothesis of loss of control over the regions make this scenario possible, and Kyiv, which was involved in a frozen conflict from 2014 to 2022 (in Donbas), is unlikely to want to go the same way and will give up easily.
In any case, Horowitz notes, mobilization is a process that can take weeks or months and does not guarantee victory, given that the reserve and conscripts are not specially trained for Ukraine.
Russia started the war, thinking it would win quickly, but found that carefully crafted plans were often the first victims of the war.
In other forecasts, “frozen conflict” is the designation of all three developed hypotheses (by the way, Crimea was a frozen conflict in the eight years before the war). One of them, the Atlantic Council, describes the following options:
Russia is slowly suffocating Ukraine – a situation in which Putin declares a truce in early 2023, NATO makes concessions, sanctions against Russia remain, a global food crisis unfolds, the EU and the US enter a recession, but send more aid to Ukraine
Russia is not making progress – Putin is under increasing pressure to negotiate peace, and countries such as France and China are looking for formats to engage the two countries. is called Beijing
Ukraine regains almost all of its territory, but Russia is responding by making the use of nuclear weapons increasingly possible; Putin is being overthrown by the military, and Europe is trying to lift sanctions.
“What happens next on the battlefield will determine whether the current, largely frozen conflict will ultimately benefit Russia or Ukraine,” the authors write.
The unpredictability of both publications is linked to Putin’s awkward situation: Russia has the resources to put pressure on Ukraine, but it is costly, and it is uncertain whether full mobilization will turn in 2022. in a revolutionary way: Putinism was based on the presumption that people should not interfere in politics. The mobilization would change the deal he made with society and destabilize his regime, Foreign Affairs writes.
There are also more unequivocal opinions: for example, that of Mathieu Boulègue from Chatham House, according to whom “in the coming weeks Moscow will be forced to switch from a war of movement to battles in fixed positions.”
The Kremlin had declared the “liberation” of Donbas a top priority, but is it possible to stop the Ukrainian offensive at all once it does? Russia will not stop until it holds Donbas in its hands, and then a truce is possible, say in an analysis of the ZDF website by Christian Moling and András Ratz. According to them, a peace treaty is unlikely due to unresolved issues over the annexed Crimea and the “republics” in Donbas, which Moscow recognizes as an independent. However, it is also unrealistic to expect Kyiv to regain all its pre-war territory.
Whatever the scenario, an analogy with protracted conflicts such as Afghanistan and Syria is already a fact: after months of destroying parts of Ukraine, talks have begun about who will rebuild it and how even if the end is far away.
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