Ukraine: Over Two Years of War

Foreign Policy Brief #131 | By: Ibrahim Castro| March 25, 2024
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February 24, 2024 marked the two year anniversary of Russia’s invasion and assault on Ukraine. Now going on the third year the war still has no appearance of ending. During a G7 meeting that took place during the second anniversary of the war, G7 leaders produced a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to supporting a comprehensive and lasting peace in Ukraine, tightening sanctions on Russia and continuing to send Ukraine military and economic aid.  President Zelensky has continued his plea for arms deliveries, pledging that Kyiv would not use weapons from Western allies to strike Russian territory. Ukrainian troops are currently trying to hold back Russian advances despite an escalating ammunition shortage.

The Russian presidential elections were held last week over three days and coincided with the 10 year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. On March 18, 2024, President Vladimir Putin extended his reign over Russia in what was a landslide election victory, though it as one international observers said was neither free nor fair. In his post election speech, Putin declared his determination to advance deeper into Ukraine and renewed threats against Western states should they interfere. Thus, with the knowledge that the war will continue in the near and medium term future, and the recent unfortunate anniversary that came and went once again, it is worth reflecting on what has happened so far in this war that has brought us to this point in time.

Civilian and Troop Deaths

Last month Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the two years since Russia launched its invasion. It’s the first time that Kyiv has confirmed the number of its losses since the start of war in early 2022. OHCHR has estimated the number of deaths of civilians in Ukraine at 10,582 up to this point, with many more expected to be discovered in high intensity areas of fighting once the war ends and a more accurate number can be reached. An estimated 3.7 million people are internally displaced and nearly 6.5 million people have fled into neighboring countries in the region including Poland, Hungary, other EU member states and other countries globally. Poland has welcomed the greatest number of Ukrainian refugees, taking in nearly 60 percent.

Over 45,000 Russian troops are estimated to have been killed since the start of the war. The Kremlin does not release its figures on military casualties and so an accurate number is difficult to determine. Instead the numbers on Russian casualties are based on journalists’ research on data from sources such as obituaries in the media, messages on social networks by relatives of the victims, reports from local administrations, and      data from cemeteries. The war was launched with 190,000 Russian troops, as of 2024 the number of troops fighting has risen to an estimated 450,000. The Kremlin also issued a decree raising the maximum number of members of the armed forces to 2.2 million, using mercenary groups, ethnic minorities and even immigrants to aid in its war.

International Responses to the War

Russia’s war in Ukraine has received international condemnation, though the international community does not see eye to eye on how to handle relations and attempt to bring an end to the war. The UN General Assembly with a majority of the world’s nations has on multiple occasions condemned Russia’s invasion into Ukrainian territory. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2023 issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, leaving him unable to travel to member states of the ICC under threat of arrest. Additionally much of Europe has been extremely critical of the war, with the EU and US arming Ukraine. Since the start of the war, the EU and its member states have made available over $101 billion in financial, military, humanitarian, and refugee assistance, with another $54 billion promised for the next four years. The US has allocated 113 billion in funding to Ukraine since the start of the war. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized last week that the US “will not let Ukraine fail,” even as Congress has stalled funding for Ukraine that would allocate $60 billion to continue its fight against Russia.

Outside of Western states support for Ukraine and disavowal of Russia is not so clear cut. There have been unprecedented economic sanctions enacted against Russia, but have failed to lead to economic turmoil because China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries from the Global South have continued to trade with Russia. Countries like China and Brazil have offered to mediate peace talks and have steered away from sending weapons or imposing sanctions. In 2022, the first year of the war, Russia’s economy shrank by 2.1%. However, it is estimated that its economy grew by 2.2% in 2023 and will achieve slight growth of 1.1% in 2024. Oil imports from Russia to Europe have been banned, 70% of the assets of Russian banks have been frozen, Western companies have fled, and Russia was removed from the global banking system SWIFT.

Russia has made a concerted effort in attempting to strengthen ties with countries in the Global South in order to offset resource cuts from Europe and the US. During the Cold War, the West’s embargoes worked because its economic strength forced adversarial countries to have fewer trading partners. Today that pressure has lessened with the larger number of partners available in an increasingly multipolar world.

NATO and Russia

NATO member states walk a tight-rope in attempting to aid their non-member ally Ukraine while avoiding direct confrontation with Russia which would spark regional war and very likely a third world war. Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that NATO enlargement and encroachment near Russian territory is one of the main reasons for the incursion into Ukraine. Putin has claimed that Moscow views any attempt to expand NATO to its borders as a “direct threat”. One of Russia’s demands in proposed negotiations is the promise that Ukraine will never be a member of the alliance. Yet although Putin sought to weaken NATO through the invasion, the alliance instead reaffirmed its commitments and added both Finland and Sweden to its ranks.

What’s Next?

The only thing that is certain to happen with this war in the near future is its continuation. Russia is very unlikely to back down at this stage with such a high cost having been taken from the Russian public and its international reputation. Ukraine has already vowed numerous times to not end the war without reclaiming all of its territory, and its allies, the EU and US have proposed funding packages that would provide arms to Ukraine for the next few years. Additionally, new conflicts such as the war in Gaza, and tensions with China in the Asia pacific has seen the opposing sides of this conflict stretch over to the others as well, further polarizing the international community and straining international relations. The war in Ukraine is part of a larger global conflict, a New Cold War between global powers and Ukraine is stuck fighting a war of attrition against a much larger opponent. We can only hope not to have many more anniversaries or milestones of war.

For more articles and in-depth analysis on the Ukraine War, click here.  Stay informed with the latest insights from our dedicated reporters by subscribing to the US Renew Democracy Weekly Newsletter. Your support is crucial in safeguarding fearless, independent journalism. If you appreciate our content, please consider donating today to continue in helping to protect democracy and empower citizenship. 

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