A month after Ukraine invasion, a story of stealthy resolve and Putin's ambition gone wrong
March 24 marks one month of Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war, so far, has killed thousands of people, displaced many more, destroyed cities, but fierce Ukrainian resistance has kept Russian ambitions at bay.
Here is a quick look at how Ukraine has kept the fight for survival alive and what went wrong with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “fight against new-nazis”.
Nato support to Ukraine
The US and Europe have stood strongly behind Ukraine throughout the crisis. Putin was probably under the impression that the Nato will not rush in to support Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with such full force. He thought the Europe is too dependent on Russia for its oil needs while the US is fresh out of a long and tiring war in Afghanistan and hence they won’t meddle much with Russia’s ambitions in the neighbouring Ukraine. However, all of Putin’s doubts about Nato unity have proven wrong.
Nato has deftly supported Ukraine with latest armours, weaponry and logistics without directly confronting Russia.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently said the member nations will add on more forces on Ukraine’s eastern side in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia.
Putin’s impression of US President Joe Biden as a risk-averse leader who would not be able to lead the world against Russia too has proven wrong. Biden not only succeeded in getting the whole of US (including opposition) to rally behind Ukraine, but also convinced most world leaders to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia and isolate it globally.
As a first measure, important Russian banks were removed from the international SWIFT payment system.
Many of Russian foreign reserves have been frozen; several multinationals have already quit the country or are on the verge of leaving or scaling down their operations. All these economic restrictions have come as a big blow for the Russian economy.
The G7 – a group of seven most developed countries – is contemplating stripping Russia of its “most favoured nation” status. As a consequence, Russia will lose many trading benefits. The G20 too is considering kicking out Russia out of the group though Beijing is standing with Moscow.
The US has already declared it won’t buy oil from Russia. Several European countries, like the UK and Germany, which are heavily dependent on Russian oil are readying to look for new buyers. Currently, about 40% of Europe’s oil needs are fulfilled by Russia. Europe’s gas imports from Russia have varied between 200 million and 800 million euros ($880 million) a day so far this year.
While the European leaders were initially hesitant to speak or act tough against the war, the strengthening public perception against the invasion is putting indirect pressure on their respective governments to clamp down on Russia.
Additionally, the European Union and the US have imposed economic restrictions on Russian oligarchs, who are considered close to the Kremlin.
No buyers for Russia’s narrative
Since the beginning of the invasion on February 24, Putin has justified the attack as a “special operation” to liberate Russia’s neighbors from the clutches of a criminal regime beholden to “neo-Nazis.”
Russia accused the West of turning a blind eye to “war crimes in Ukraine”, saying their silence “encouraged the onset of neo-Nazism and Russophobia.”
Putin’s “neo-Nazis” theory suffered a backlash from countries, international analysts and an overwhelming number of social media users the world over. Russia’s hypocrisy was highlighted when its forces hit a memorial to Babyn Yar — the site where Nazis killed tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.
The Ukraine government latched on to the opportunity and posted a cartoon of Putin and Adolf Hitler gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. The Twitter post read: “This is not a ‘meme,’ but our and your reality right now.” Moreover, Ukrainian President Zelensky himself is a Ukrainian Jew whose family survived the Holocaust. He has been actively and successfully creating a narrative that has painted the Russian invasion as unjust and undemocratic.
Ukrainian forces fight back
On the basis of numbers and military strength, Russia clearly looked poised to unsurp Ukraine in the shortest possible time. After all, Russia had over 9 lakh active troops against Ukraine’s meagre force of 2 lakh! But that has not happened even a month after the attack.
The port city of Mariupol has been the worst affected by Russian attacks. An estimate puts the casualties in the city at over 2,000 with most of the city now in a shamble. Over one lakh residents of Mariupol are still trapped inside with short supplies of food, water and essentials. However, the Ukrainian forces continue to fight.
As on Thursday (March 24), only one major city, Kherson, has fallen to the Russians. Capital Kyiv is still far from getting into the hands of Russian forces.
Zelensky says his forces have killed 14,000 Russian soldiers and destroyed hundreds of tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and aircraft. Even a US assessment puts the number of Russian casualties at 7,000.
Civilian casualties, however, have been overwhelming. Ukraine admits thousands of its citizens have been killed. The United Nations says more than 3.6 million Ukrainians have now fled the country, and a further 6.5 million have been displaced within Ukraine. The war has impacted global economy and the geopolitical order.
Putin refuses to budge
On Wednesday, Russia announced that it will seek payment in rubles for gas sales from “unfriendly” countries. As a consequence, oil prices in Europe went up significantly over speculations of an impending energy shortage. Putin’s message is clear: if you want our gas, buy our currency. He is clearly taking advantage of divided view in Europe on imposing sanctions on Russian oil.
All the sanctions and world condemnation seem to have little impact on Putin’s ambition so far. Last week, the Russian President said that his country would achieve its goals in Ukraine and would not give in to pressure from the West “to achieve global dominance and dismember Russia”. He, however, said Russia was willing to discuss neutral status for Ukraine.