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.