A big explosion in a suburb of Kyiv
A big explosion in a suburb of Kyiv

Vladimir Putin’s bru­tal war on Ukraine may be one of first con­flicts to be waged in the era of smart­phones and hyper­con­nec­tiv­i­ty, but get­ting a clear pic­ture of what’s hap­pen­ing in east­ern Europe is nev­er­the­less dif­fi­cult, both due to the fog of war and the cir­cu­la­tion of mis­in­for­ma­tion and disinformation.

For exam­ple, snip­pets from video games and real-life inci­dents that occurred years ago are spread­ing on social net­works pur­port­ing to depict events in this con­flict. These include imag­i­nary images from the games Dig­i­tal Com­bat Sim­u­la­tor and first-per­son tac­ti­cal mil­i­tary shoot­er ARMA.

It’s impor­tant to be aware of how much bad info is out there. NPI will try to err on the side of cau­tion when evi­dence behind claims or state­ments are lacking.

As of this evening, the fight­ing in Ukraine con­tin­ues on many fronts.

Under­stand­ing War is an excel­lent resource for a sum­ma­ry of devel­op­ments of the con­flict between Rus­sia and Ukraine, with Mil­i­tary Land a close sec­ond, and the Wikipedia arti­cle on the con­flict is a respectable third.

The Rus­sians have appar­ent­ly not achieved air supe­ri­or­i­ty in the skies over Ukraine, accord­ing to a senior Pen­ta­gon official.

The Ukraini­ans appear to have crip­pled the Russ­ian mil­i­tary most effec­tive­ly by attack­ing any con­cen­tra­tions of Russ­ian logis­ti­cal forces.

The Rus­sians have appar­ent­ly decid­ed to respond in kind against defense instal­la­tions, caus­ing severe envi­ron­men­tal dam­age in the process.

Appar­ent­ly, the Rus­sians thought that advance notice of Chechen mil­i­tary forces com­ing to Ukraine to fight would ter­ri­fy Ukrainians.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, with many Chechen offi­cers con­cerned that they would suf­fer defec­tions, and in fact the action may have led to pro­vid­ing Amer­i­can sig­nals intel­li­gence units with advance notice of enough specifics to aid the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary in their final war prepa­ra­tions before being attacked.

Ger­many, mean­while, has changed its mind about pro­vid­ing muni­tions to Ukraine and has joined oth­er NATO mem­bers in com­mit­ting to aid in its defense.

On the evening of Fri­day, Feb­ru­ary 25th, East­ern Time, the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil con­sid­ered a U.S. spon­sored res­o­lu­tion demand­ing that the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion end its attack on Ukraine and with­draw its forces.

Eleven coun­tries vot­ed for the res­o­lu­tion; Rus­sia vot­ed against it.

Brazil, which had been reluc­tant to sup­port actions against Rus­sia, vot­ed for the res­o­lu­tion, while Chi­na, India and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates abstained.

Rus­sia, which is iron­i­cal­ly this month’s head of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, vetoed the res­o­lu­tion, using its veto pow­er. A sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tion is now expect­ed to be brought for­ward to the Gen­er­al Assem­bly for its con­sid­er­a­tion. Rus­sia will not be able to veto that res­o­lu­tion, but it won’t have teeth, either.

On that same day, Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelen­skyy asked Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett to serve as a medi­a­tor in pos­si­ble talks with Rus­sia.

“Ukraine has been and remains ready to talk about a cease­fire and peace. This is our con­stant posi­tion,” said Pres­i­dent Zelen­skyy’s spokesper­son Sergii Nyky­forov. Nyky­forov’s com­ments fol­low a Russ­ian pro­pos­al to send rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the Belaru­sian cap­i­tal of Min­sk to talk with Ukraine. Russ­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov ini­tial­ly sig­naled his inter­est in nego­ti­a­tions in a brief­ing with Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu on Feb­ru­ary 26th, though the par­tic­u­lars regard­ing loca­tion and scope were not discussed.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion, also on Fri­day, announced sanc­tions against Russ­ian offi­cials beyond those announced ear­li­er in the week against Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.

The offi­cials include Rus­si­a’s Defense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Gen­er­al Staff of the Russ­ian Armed Forces Valery Gerasi­mov, accord­ing to a US Trea­sury Depart­ment state­ment. The White House had announced ear­li­er Fri­day plans to impose sanc­tions on Putin, mak­ing him the high­est-pro­file tar­get in the effort to impose costs on the Russ­ian econ­o­my and Putin’s inner circle.

As of Sat­ur­day after­noon, Pacif­ic Time, the Euro­pean Union, the Unit­ed King­dom, Cana­da, and the Unit­ed States have agreed to restrict access to the SWIFT finan­cial mes­sag­ing sys­tem for select­ed Russ­ian banks and have declared their inten­tion to thwart the Russ­ian Cen­tral Bank from manip­u­lat­ing their inter­na­tion­al finan­cial reserves to cir­cum­vent the effect of such sanctions.

That came on the heels of a com­mit­ment to adopt finan­cial sanc­tions and strin­gent export con­trols against almost 80% of Russ­ian finan­cial assets, includ­ing the Russ­ian Direct Invest­ment Fund, the For­eign Eco­nom­ic Affairs Vneshe­conom­bank (VEB) and Promsvyazbank Pub­lic Joint Stock Com­pa­ny (PSB).

Rus­sia has an alter­na­tive finan­cial mes­sag­ing sys­tem, the Sys­tem for Trans­fer of Finan­cial Mes­sages (SPFS), which has been large­ly used for domes­tic finan­cial trans­ac­tions, but it has sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tions and will not be able to pre­vent trade dis­rup­tions for at least the imme­di­ate future, espe­cial­ly fur­ther loss in val­ue of the Russ­ian ruble and its con­cur­rent rise in domes­tic inflation.

Rus­sia will attempt to make use of $620 bil­lion in for­eign cur­ren­cy and gold reserves to weath­er the com­ing eco­nom­ic storm, but a large por­tion of the reserves are over­seas and Cyprus, which ben­e­fits sig­nif­i­cant­ly from Russ­ian finan­cial trans­ac­tions, has tak­en no action to counter any of these steps.

There have also been a num­ber of can­cel­la­tions and read­just­ments to sports events orig­i­nal­ly held in Rus­sia or with par­tic­i­pa­tion by Rus­sia and Belarus. Russ­ian-Israeli oli­garch Roman Abramovich on Sat­ur­day declared that he would be ced­ing day-to-day man­age­ment of the Eng­lish Pre­mier League Chelsea foot­ball club to qui­et con­cerns that all of his assets with­in the Unit­ed King­dom be seized.

Nine Euro­pean nations have closed their air­space to Russ­ian flights, and it is like­ly that the rest of Europe will have fol­lowed suit by the end of the weekend.

OVD-Info present­ly reports that over three thou­sand anti-war pro­tes­tors in Rus­sia have been arrest­ed in fifty-five Russ­ian cities and towns as of end of day Sat­ur­day, Moscow time.

As of late Fri­day evening, over one hun­dred and fifty thou­sand refugees have either been received or are wait­ing to be processed by nations bor­der­ing Ukraine, and anoth­er hun­dred thou­sand refugees may have been inter­nal­ly dis­placed with­in Ukraine but have not yet crossed their bor­ders to request refugee sta­tus. Most appear to be head­ed for Poland, where there are already over three hun­dred thou­sand Ukraini­ans that have been liv­ing there under tem­po­rary res­i­dence visas.

One ques­tion that is start­ing to be con­sid­ered is what hap­pens next, as it becomes clear that Pres­i­dent Putin has severe­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed the resolve of the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary, its lead­er­ship, and its peo­ple, espe­cial­ly its eth­ni­cal­ly Russ­ian and cul­tur­al­ly Slav­ic por­tion, which has not been seen in any notice­able num­bers to pub­licly sup­port the inva­sion of Ukraine.

Putin has tried to pro­mote him­self as a redeemer mak­ing use of the ideals of the “Tri­une Russ­ian Nation,” which has been around in one form or anoth­er since the late 1700s, and of “Russ­ian Chris­t­ian Fas­cism” put for­ward by Ivan Illyin in the mid-1920s, try­ing to unite the Russ­ian peo­ple around a com­mon ene­my and for a com­mon cause. While Ukraine has had its share of prob­lems, Rus­sia has done noth­ing with­in the last decade to pro­mote their gov­er­nance or their cul­ture as a valid alter­na­tive and has focused on main­tain­ing an iron grip on the por­tions of the Donet­sk and Luhan­sk oblasts the broke away from Ukraine in 2014.

There have been two “Min­sk Agree­ments” since 2014, cre­at­ed and over­seen by the Orga­ni­za­tion for Secu­ri­ty and Co-oper­a­tion in Europe, which includes Rus­sia as a mem­ber, to attempt to ease ten­sions and re-estab­lish demo­c­ra­t­ic norms, and both have been large­ly ignored by both sides, the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment hav­ing lim­it­ed influ­ence over far-right mil­i­tary groups such as the Azov Bat­tal­ion, which have fought in the area since the just before the estab­lish­ment of the first Min­sk Agree­ment, and its polit­i­cal supporters.

There are fac­tions with­in the elite with­in Rus­sia that are nation­al­ist and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic but also not in favor of the inva­sion of the Ukraine.

They could poten­tial­ly over­throw Putin qui­et­ly, or Putin could step aside offi­cial­ly as Pres­i­dent and con­tin­ue to rule Rus­sia behind the scenes.

Among such poten­tial fig­ure­heads or actu­al new lead­ers would be Prime Min­is­ter Mikhail Mishus­tin, Defense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu or Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er Niko­lai Patru­shev; even, as a long­shot, may­or of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin.

Putin could decide to expand the scope of the war with cyber­at­tacks. How­ev­er, Rus­sia has seemed to be focused at least pub­licly on restrict­ing domes­tic traf­fic, and recent attempts at influ­enc­ing via social media have large­ly fall­en flat.

If Putin isn’t able to achieve his objec­tives soon, the war could become a quag­mire. What then? A much broad­er and more thor­ough secu­ri­ty agree­ment between Ukraine and Rus­sia through the OCSE could be in the off­ing, and more like­ly a region­al secu­ri­ty agree­ment between NATO and Rus­sia, would be needed.

For now, the bru­tal fight­ing drags on.

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