The Ukraine War: One Year On

Foreign Policy Brief #171 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | February 25, 2023

Header photo taken from: Financial Times




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Ukrainians fire at Russian forces in Donetsk province, a target of Russia’s current, narrowed offensive. Broad evidence shows Moscow has not narrowed its goals in Ukraine, a point vital to any notion for peace talks.

Photo taken from: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times

We have arrived at the one year mark of the invasion of Ukraine, a war that has caused widespread destruction, displacement, and death as Ukraine still continues to fight back against Russia’s invading army with no end in sight. One year ago Russian forces at the command of Vladimir Putin launched the largest war on the European continent since World War II. 

Energy costs, food prices, and economies worldwide have been negatively impacted. Both Ukraine and Russia have lost more than 100,000 lives in the past year, and millions of innocent people daily continue to suffer the consequences of the war. As the war continues to rage it is worth looking at where we’ve been, what’s been the cost of the war, and where we’re headed.

What’s Happened So Far: Key Moments in the War

Russia had already been waging war on the Crimean peninsula since March 2014, which is technically the true beginning of its war in Ukraine. On February 24, 2022 Russian forces invaded Ukraine with the intention of taking over the country completely and capturing its capital. 

Russia has made claims that the invasion of Ukraine was and continues to be carried out in order to “denazify” Ukraine and prevent it from joining NATO and moving closer into the sphere of the West. The invading forces entered through land, air, and sea, Russian troops quickly reached Kyiv’s outskirts, but their attempts to capture the capital and other cities  met stiff resistance whiuch is still in effect.

Russia later in March took control of the southern city of Kherson and occupied a large part of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility, which remains at risk of causing catastrophic disaster if the powerplant is not kept secure from fighting. 

In April, after two months the Russian pullback from Kyiv revealed hundreds of bodies of civilians in mass graves or left in the streets of the town of Bucha, many of them bearing signs of torture.

A Ukrainian woman holds a drawing showing the heads of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, the latter compared to the Russian leader for invading a sovereign nation under irredentist subtext. Putin is widely seen as twisting history and exploiting the trauma of WWII suffered by Russians to justify “de-nazifying” Ukraine.

Photo taken from: Sergey Dolzhenko / Shutterstock

(click or tap to enlargen)

Later in May, after weeks of intense battle the city of Mariupol’s fell to the Russians and cut Ukraine off from the Azov coast and secured a land corridor for Russia from its border to Crimea. In July Russia and Ukraine, with mediation by Turkey and the UN, agreed to a deal to release tons of grain stuck in Ukrainian Black Sea ports, ending a standoff that threatened global food security. 

In September Putin ordered the mobilization of 300,000 reservists, a widely unpopular move that prompted hundreds of thousands of Russian men to flee the country to avoid recruitment. During the same time, Russia staged “referendums” in Ukraine’s  Eastern Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions on whether to become part of Russia. The votes were widely dismissed as a sham by Ukraine and the West.

In October as winter began to set in, Russia launched a series of missile strikes on Ukraine’s power plants and other key infrastructure. In November Russia announced a pullback from the regional capital city of Kherson after a fierce Ukrainian counteroffensive, in a humiliating retreat for the Kremlin. 

In January, Russia along with help from the private mercenary Wagner Group declared the capture of the salt-mining town of Soledar, hoping to use it as a springboard to capture the Ukrainian stronghold of Bakhmut. Now at the one year mark in February, Ukrainian troops are still fighting to retake the Eastern part of their country. Russia struggles to make gains but remains defiant in spite of condemnation and huge losses, and Western powers are gearing up to send more weapons to Ukraine.

Cost of War

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The EU “stands united to save lives.” Almost immediately, with the war wrecking havoc on Ukraine, the EU spearheads a widespread protection plan for Ukraine refugees seeking safety and a stability.

Infoographic taken from: OSM, UNHCR

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 8,006 civilian deaths during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of February, 2023. Of them, 487 are children, and a further 13,287 people are reported to have been injured. All of these numbers are likely under-estimates. Additionally it is estimated that about 100,000 soldiers have been killed on both sides of the conflict, though exact numbers are difficult to verify. 

Over the course of the war up to 8 million Ukrainians have fled and are displaced in neighboring countries around Europe, making it the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War and  the largest refugee crisis of the 21st century. There have also been disturbing reports such as that by Human Rights Watch which documented that some Ukrainian civilians were being forcibly transferred to Russia. The US Department of State has estimated that at least 900,000 Ukrainian citizens have been forcibly relocated into Russia.

EU block countries have allowed entry and asylum to all Ukrainian refugees, and invoked a Temporary Protection Directive that grants Ukrainians the right to stay, work, and study in any European Union member state for a period of one year.

It is estimated that Russia has spent some $82 billion dollars since the start of its war in Ukraine. Russia’s budget revenue last year amounted to $340 billion, meaning that it has spent roughly a quarter of its total 2021 earnings on a war that has made little gains and isolated Russia from the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s economy shrank by more than 30% in 2022, which is its largest decline since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Where Are We Headed

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address at the Gostiny Dvor conference centre in central Moscow.

Photo taken from: Dmitry Astakhov / Sputnik / AFP via Getty Images

Unfortunately as of the time of writing there is no indication of a possibility of peace talks, Ukraine is committed to reclaiming its lost territory and Russia is doing all it can to increase its territorial gains in order to save face for the disaster the war has been. Additionally tensions between Russia and the West are higher than any other time in the 21st century. 

In his recent State of the Nation speech Vladmimir Putin announced Russia would halt its participation in the New Start treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the US. The New Start treaty provides for limits on the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers, capping strategic nuclear assets at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles. The treaty also allows joint monitoring of each country’s deployed nuclear arsenals which hold 90% of the world nuclear stock, the suspension and possible withdrawal from this treaty is very troubling for the international community as a whole. 

Putin also described the war in Ukraine as having been started by the US and Western powers saying, “The responsibility is on the West and the Ukrainian elite and government, which does not serve the national interest, but rather serves the interest of third countries which use Ukraine as a military base to fight Russia. The only certainty at the moment is that the war will continue on into 2023 and possibly beyond.

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