NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, February 26th, 2022

War rages on in Ukraine as its patriotic defenders struggle to repel Russian invaders

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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