Russian armored vehicles in Chernobyl
Russian armored vehicles in Chernobyl

Ukraine is clos­ing its embassy in Moscow and is with­draw­ing its diplo­mat­ic per­son­nel from the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion fol­low­ing the Russ­ian attack on Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin, Ukrain­ian offi­cials announced ear­ly Thursday.

Ukrain­ian forces are putting up the fiercest resis­tance they can muster against the Russ­ian assault, but Putin’s forces are bet­ter equipped. Ukrain­ian offi­cials have said their great­est need is equip­ment as opposed to personnel.

It is unclear how effec­tive the ini­tial Russ­ian oper­a­tions have been and whether Russ­ian com­man­ders are achiev­ing Putin’s objec­tives. Videos and pho­tographs com­ing out of Ukraine indi­cate that the first phase of the Russ­ian attack focused pri­mar­i­ly on avi­a­tion infra­struc­ture, specif­i­cal­ly air­ports and radar and air defense facil­i­ties, which often are adja­cent to com­mand-and-con­trol infrastructure.

Giv­en that the gov­ern­ment of Ukraine has imposed mar­tial law on the nation for at least the next thir­ty days (and pos­si­bly longer), and giv­en Rus­si­a’s hos­til­i­ty to the free­dom of the press, inde­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of claims being made by both sides dur­ing Putin’s war of aggres­sion may come slow­ly, or not at all.

In addi­tion to airstrikes, there appear to have been a num­ber of air assaults and at least one amphibi­ous assault by Russ­ian forces.

Some have been tac­ti­cal, to out­flank and poten­tial­ly sur­round Ukrain­ian forces.

An air assault on the Antonov Inter­na­tion­al air­port in Hos­tomel, just west of the main ring road net­work of Kiyv (Kiev), has result­ed in Russ­ian air­borne forces in con­trol of at least a por­tion of the facil­i­ty. (Ukran­ian forces have report­ed­ly been bom­bard­ing the area in an attempt to retake the airport.)

More such air assaults may be tak­ing place in order to con­trol the cru­cial Dnieper riv­er net­work in gen­er­al and in par­tic­u­lar the dam at the North Crimean Canal. Russ­ian amphibi­ous com­man­dos alleged­ly made a decap­i­ta­tion strike in Odessa in coor­di­na­tion with air units, killing eigh­teen Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary officials.

Fight­ing appears to be focused along the fol­low­ing axes of approach:

  • Russ­ian forces that had advanced into break­away regions of Ukraine on Mon­day, Feb­ru­ary 21st, have been involved in heavy fight­ing, appar­ent­ly to retake each of the entire orig­i­nal Ukrain­ian regions or oblasts. There are con­cerns that the fight­ing may extend to Kharkiv, to their north­west, as part of a larg­er flank­ing maneu­ver of Ukrain­ian forces, but there have been no reports of fight­ing there as yet.
  • Fight­ing is known to be in progress near the Cher­nobyl Exclu­sion Zone and to its west in Cherni­hiv, north of Kiyv, the like­ly end goal of such an advance. (The area around and includ­ing the Cher­nobyl nuclear pow­er plant has just been cap­tured by Russ­ian mil­i­tary forces.)
  • There have been con­flict­ing reports regard­ing Russ­ian forces attack­ing from the Crimea – at the moment it appears that the Rus­sians are prepar­ing to shell posi­tions in the Ukrain­ian city of Kher­son and that there may be bat­tles in progress between there and Meli­topol. There are con­cerns that the coastal city of Mar­i­upol, just south of the Donet­sk oblast and east of Meli­topol, is about to be attacked.

Ukraine’s neigh­bors are prepar­ing for as many as five mil­lion poten­tial Ukrain­ian refugees. Large num­bers of peo­ple were seen evac­u­at­ing from the cap­i­tal, Kyiv, by vehi­cle last night, and a few refugees have already arrived in Poland.

Oth­er civil­ians in Kyiv have decid­ed to stay in place and already moved to bomb shel­ters and under­ground metro stations.

In a joint state­ment fol­low­ing a vir­tu­al meet­ing, the lead­ers of France, Ger­many, Japan, Italy, the Unit­ed King­dom, the Unit­ed States, Cana­da as well as Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Ursu­la von der Leyen, Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent Charles Michel and NATO sec­re­tary gen­er­al Jens Stoltenberg strong­ly con­demned Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine. The lead­er­ship of numer­ous nations have also con­demned the inva­sion of Ukraine, with a few that have not explic­it­ly done so ask­ing for restraint or offer­ing aid to poten­tial refugees.

Hun­gary, which has been on more friend­ly terms with Rus­sia in recent years, is falling in line behind ear­li­er Euro­pean Union sanc­tions with an offi­cial con­dem­na­tion of the inva­sion. Chi­na has refused to con­demn Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, not even being will­ing to declare the attack an inva­sion, urg­ing restraint on all par­ties involved, crit­i­ciz­ing the Unit­ed States for accel­er­at­ing the poten­tial for war, and ban­ning online crit­i­cism of Rus­sia with­in China.

Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Lukashenko was quot­ed by the state-oper­at­ed Belarus Tele­graph Agency (BelTA) claim­ing that the Belaru­sian armed forces were not tak­ing part in Russia’s war against Ukraine – “Our troops are tak­ing no part in this oper­a­tion” — but has reserved the right to sup­port Russ­ian mil­i­tary forces if request­ed to do so. That state­ment has been skep­ti­cal­ly received in the West.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi of India is sched­uled to meet with Pres­i­dent Putin of Rus­sia this evening to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in the Ukraine, but it may also be to counter a recent vis­it by Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Imran Khan to fur­ther trade and ener­gy coop­er­a­tion with Russia.

There has been no deci­sion by the Euro­pean Union to cut Rus­sia off from the SWIFT glob­al inter­bank pay­ments sys­tem, which could cause severe eco­nom­ic hard­ship for Rus­sia. Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son of the Unit­ed King­dom is def­i­nite­ly in favor of such a move, but Olaf Scholz, Chan­cel­lor of Ger­many, is not on board. NATO’s Baltic con­tin­gent is also press­ing to cut Rus­sia off from SWIFT.

The Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil was in emer­gency ses­sion when the inva­sion of Ukraine took place. A res­o­lu­tion is present­ly being drawn up where Rus­sia would be accused of vio­lat­ing the UN Char­ter, inter­na­tion­al law and a pre­vi­ous 2015 Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion on Ukraine.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is that Rus­sia is present­ly the Chair of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil for the month of Feb­ru­ary 2022, allow­ing it to pre­vent any res­o­lu­tion form mov­ing for­ward to a vote. Rus­sia is also a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, which gives it the abil­i­ty to veto any res­o­lu­tion passed by the Secu­ri­ty Council.

Par­ties in a dis­pute under review by the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil are expect­ed to abstain from vot­ing on any res­o­lu­tions regard­ing the dis­pute, but whether that pol­i­cy will be enforced is open to ques­tion.

Russ­ian police have detained at least 167 peo­ple at anti-war protests held in cities through­out the coun­try, accord­ing to the Russ­ian protest mon­i­tor­ing group OVD-Info. More than 180 munic­i­pal deputies from cities across Rus­sia, includ­ing Moscow, Saint Peters­burg, Sama­ra and Vol­gograd, have signed an open let­ter strong­ly con­demn­ing Putin’s deci­sion to attack Ukraine.

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