Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Quick Comment - insights from SCEEUS's experts on breaking news and hot topics
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has stretched out for more than two weeks and forced over 2 million people to leave the country in search of safety. The war does not only threaten the sovereignty of Ukraine itself but has undermined the entire geopolitical order since 1945. Peace in Europe is a thing of the past and it will take decades to restore trust between the West and Russia.
In this SCEEUS Quick Comment we focus on the effects on Russian domestic affairs, Ukraine’s resilience and the relations between Russia and the West.
Russia’s domestic affairs
Russia is on a path from autocracy to dictatorship. The country will become more isolated from the outside world. Russian authorities will continue to limit access to non-state sanctioned information flows and increase their control over society. President Vladimir Putin cannot easily retreat from his assault on Ukraine and will feel pressured to continue his military campaigns and increases in political repressions. As a result, Russia will become more unpredictable than at any point since 1991. Changes in political leadership, if they occur, will happen in a manner that is fast and with little forewarning.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have challenged Russia’s invasion more resolutely than many had expected. Russia has had partial successes only in the south of the country, with troops entering from Crimea, capturing Kherson on 3 March, and opening for an assault on Odesa, Ukraine’s major port and naval base. Meanwhile Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s two largest cities, have remained under heavy bombing campaigns with missiles striking civilian areas. Chernihiv, in the northeast, and Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, also remain under Ukrainian control despite being all-but surrounded by Russian forces and coming under heavy bombardment.
Russian troops have suffered severe losses, but so have also the Ukrainians. Although the ground forces of the Ukrainian military can resist the Russian invaders, they remain much weaker in the air and at the sea. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone was declined by NATO.
Ukrainian civilians have created logistical and operational difficulties for the Russian invaders, further slowing down their progress. The Kremlin’s expectations of a quick resolution and surrender by the Ukrainian military have been proven wrong. Zelensky has won the propaganda war against his antagonist Putin. In a few days, he went from contested president in Ukraine to an internationally respected national leader.
Russia will remain isolated by the EU, the UK, the US, and other Western allies for the foreseeable future, regardless of developments in the Ukrainian theatre. Sanctions, countersanctions, and boycotts will not go away without fundamental political changes in Russia. Western dependence on Russian exports of oil and natural gas will decline, exacerbating the pressure on Russia’s economic growth model.
Following the fruitless foreign ministries meeting in Antalya, Turkey, on 10 March 2022, it is obvious that a diplomatic solution is far away. Ukraine’s claims are based on international law and OSCE principles. Any compromise beyond that means that Russia will make profits not only on Ukraine’s expense, but also the whole rule-based international system. Continued Russian terror bombing, such as in the siege of Mariupol, may lead to that Ukraine may have to accept some of the Russian demands, such as recognising Russian illegal annexation of Crimea or even the “people’s republics” of the East. Russia’s initial demands for “de-militarisation” and “de-Nazification”, a euphemism for the establishment of a pro-Kremlin regime, will never be accepted by the Ukrainians. The losses for the European security order will be irreparable for the foreseeable future.
11 March 2022