The Ukraine Crisis: Situation Update # 8
Foreign Policy Brief #125 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | May 10, 2022
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On May 8, 2022, it was reported by the governor of the Luhansk region in Ukraine that a Russian missile killed 60 people sheltering inside a school. The Luhansk region has seen fierce combat as Russian troops and separatist fighters seek to surround government forces in their eastward offensive. Thus far the UN estimates 3,280 civilians have been killed in the war, though this is likely a large underestimate. After the recent implementation of a humanitarian corridor Ukrainian President Zelensky has announced that all civilians have evacuated from the besieged steel plant in Mariupol. Yet as civilians make their way out Ukrainian fighters at the steelwork plant have said they would not surrender to Russian forces which have issued them an ultimatum “Surrender or die”.
Russian forces control large swathes of the south and have caused a humanitarian catastrophe due to their long siege of the port city of Mariupol located in Ukraine’s Donbas region. The mayor of the city has said that more than 10,000 civilians were killed in the Russian siege, but ongoing fighting has meant there has yet to be a confirmation of the true number. Seizing Mariupol would give Russia the opportunity to create a landbridge between Mariupol and Crimea. If Mariupol is completely seized, Russia would also end up with full control of more than 80% of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline essentially cutting off maritime trade and further isolating it from the world.
Just before he launched the war, Putin recognized all of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul commented on May 3, 2022, on Twitter, saying “Putin has given up on his more ambitious goals completely and it is very striking how they have changed the name of their war to ‘special military operation in defense of Donbas”. Once Russia’s military invasion failed to capture Kyiv it diverted its attention to “achieving a new main goal, the “liberation” of Donbas to secure both regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The objective now is a face-saving measure for Putin, to capture these areas to use as leverage in any peace negotiations and remove the possibility of Ukraine ever regaining control of the territories. The shift is an effort to make gains in the war appear worth it to a Russian public hit by sanctions and travel restrictions that will affect them for years to come.
The geo-economic war between the West and Russia continues to be waged. On May 4, the European Union proposed plans to phase out the purchase of Russian oil. From the launch of its invasion on February 24 and the time of this writing, Russia has earned $21 billion from oil sales to the EU. The Kremlin is likely to cut off other EU countries and companies from energy sales as it already has with Poland and Bulgaria. Germany, which has been reluctant for some time to agree to ban energy imports from Russia, now wants to reduce and eventually cut off Russian energy imports. Last week Germany’s finance Minister Christian Linder, in an interview with CNN said, “I can assure you that Germany is ready to reduce oil imports, we know others are considering this question carefully”
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In addition to Western states, other countries have backed moves to punish Russia economically. A $300 million superyacht owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov was recently seized by Fijian authorities. The move was part of a partnership between Fijian officials and US authorities under the Biden administration’s new task force, dubbed KleptoCapture, to enforce sweeping sanctions imposed on Russian elites who have helped to finance the war in Ukraine. In addition, legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on April 27 that would allow the U.S. to sell seized Russian properties worth more than $2 million in order to help fund the Ukrainian war effort. “We’re going to seize their yachts, their luxury homes, and other ill-begotten gains,” Biden said on April 28 at the White House.
Two countries near Russia that have yet to join NATO, Finland, and Sweden have begun discussing applying for membership into the military alliance. Their membership would mark a major policy shift for the Nordic region. The Swedish parliament is conducting a security policy review of the pros and cons of joining the alliance, with the results due in on May 13. There is already a majority in the Swedish parliament that support NATO membership. Still, ratification can take a year as parliaments of all 30 NATO countries need to approve new members. The US and UK have promised Sweden “increased military presence, more in-depth military exercises and ‘strong political’ support from NATO countries”. These developments indicate that one of Putin’s main objectives in decreasing NATO’s relevance and influence in the region has already failed miserably.