The Russian-Ukraine War: Where are We Now?

Foreign Policy Brief #96 | By: Ibrahim Castro | October 30, 2023

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The last few weeks have seen two new wars spring up in our increasingly volatile international arena. First in late September the war for Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia and more recently the war between Israel and Hamas which has captured global attention and shifted away from the war in Ukraine. Yet even though attention has waned as it nears the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion, the war remains very much deadly as it was just before additional conflicts were added to our increasingly unstable international community.

What’s happening on the battlefield right now?

Last week Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces claimed that a nighttime surprise attack on targets in eastern and southern Ukraine destroyed nine Russian helicopters, other military equipment, and killed multiple Russian soldiers at two airfields in Russian-occupied areas. The weapons used were long-range ballistic missiles delivered quietly by the United States after requests from Ukraine saying it urgently needed them to make any impactful territorial gains against the Russian army. The arrival of these weapons on the warfront gives Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets that are farther away and inflict more damage, but also further deepens the US’ involvement in the war and runs the risk of wider conflict if the weapons are used to strike inside of Russia’s borders.

The Ukrainian military has ramped up strikes on Russian forces in the Black Sea and Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Moscow in 2014, as Ukrainian forces press on with their nearly five month-old counteroffensive. Ukrainian attacks in Crimea have included strikes on a Russian air base, a Black Sea Fleet command post in Sevastopol, and the bridge linking Crimea to Russia. The attacks have highlighted Kiev’s growing capabilities, which also include naval drones, as Moscow continues bombarding Ukraine from afar with long-range missiles and assault drones.

Throughout the war Russia has frequently conducted missile strikes on civilian infrastructure, the latest strike hit a postal terminal in the Kharkiv region on October 22, 2023 killing six people and injuring 16, officials have said. The strike came from Russian forces in the Belgorod region, near the Ukrainian border. Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, was retaken from Russian occupation by Ukrainian troops last year, but has remained the target of frequent aerial assaults.

As a result of the fighting he UK’s Ministry of Defence reports that Russia has suffered 150,000-190,000 permanent casualties (killed or permanently wounded) since the war began. According to US stats Ukrainian deaths are close to 70,000, with 100,000 to 120,000 wounded.

Russia and Ukraines economy

The sanctions imposed by the US and its EU partners on Russia’s financial system were placed in an effort to reduce Russia’s ability to finance the war. In all, about 70% of assets of the Russian banking system are currently under sanctions. It is estimated that in 2022, Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 2.1% much less than the predicted 10-15% contraction. This is mostly due to Russia seeking out new non-Western trade partners and increasing trade with those it already has. Still its GDP is forecast to decline by 2.5% in the worst-case scenario (OECD). Since the invasion in February 2022, Ukraine GDP dropped by almost 30 percent in what the World Bank characterized as a “staggering contraction”. Ukraine’s 10 most economically important regions are in the eastern and southern parts of the country where the heaviest fighting has taken place. Poverty in Ukraine soared from 5.5% of the population to 24.2% in 2022. Though Ukraine’s allies have already pledged to help it recover whenever the war finally comes to an end. Ukraine’s large size and strategic location mean that recovery and future growth outcomes will profoundly shape the geopolitical landscape of Europe in the future.

The wars’ global impact

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin stated hopes for the invasion was the opportunity to split the West and NATO. Instead, the military alliance strengthened and increased its membership. Two new members in Finland and Sweden, which reversed decades of nonalignment and asked to join NATO as protection against possible future Russian invasion or interference.

The conflict has also hit food security around the world. Before the war, Ukraine and Russia together were the world’s largest exporter of wheat. They were responsible for over 36% of global wheat exports, and also exported more than half of the world’s sunflower oil. The Food Security Information Network highlights the war as a key force, alongside the pandemic, other conflicts and extreme weather, behind a staggering rise in the number of people who are food-insecure. Nearly 258 million people in 58 countries/territories were in a food crisis or moderate-to-severe acute food insecurity in 2022, up from 193 million in 53 countries/territories in 2021. This is the highest figure on record since the organization began reporting these data in 2017.

At least 5.9 million Ukrainians who have been forced to flee homes and country for new lives in communities across Europe and beyond. To date, there are almost 1 million Ukrainian refugees in Poland while other nearby countries Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova have each given safety to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

How will the war end?

Unfortunately it does not appear that the war will end anytime soon or with any clear direction. Both Russia and Ukraine’s armies remain locked in heavy fighting. Though we can still speculate what outcomes are possible based on what we have detailed thus far. With a Ukrainian  victory, Kyiv has clearly defined what it would look like, it means a restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity within the pre-2014 borders and no Russia in Crimea, future security guarantees, criminal consequences for Russian war crimes and reparations for the material damage caused. Ukrainian membership in NATO and the European Union should also be on the agenda.

At first, Moscow’s aim in invading Ukraine was to take over the whole of the country and remove its legitimate, democratically elected government. After multiple fiascos and setbacks in the spring of 2022, the goal became simply taking control of as much of Ukraine as possible. It is unlikely either side will give in to the other, Russia will continue fighting because of the need to save face on the international stage. Ukraine will not want to seem to be giving up or giving in. The two sides have been and are likely to remain at a stalemate as neither side can fully beat back the other. So in order to avoid a prolonged war, as with all conflicts, the war must be brought to an end through diplomacy not continued aggression.

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