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.
“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.