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Russia & Ukraine

The lingering war: Scope of Russia-Ukraine conflict widens

Print edition : Apr 09, 2022 T+T-
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in Krakow, Poland on March 18, a family fleeing the war in Ukraine wait for the departure of a humanitarian train to relocate them to Berlin.

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Volodymyr zelensky, Ukrainian President, addressing the German lower house of parliament Bundestag via video link from Kyiv on March 17.

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Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank as a convoy of vehicles evacuating civilians leaves Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 9.

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After a rocket strike in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on March 18, a handout image.

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Victoria Nuland, U.S. Under Secretary of State. In a speech to the U.S. Congress she said that Washington was “quite concerned” that Moscow might get hold of the biological facilities and the “research materials” contained in Ukraine.

The scope of the war has widened, with the Russian military announcing that Western arms supplies to the Ukrainian government forces would henceforth be legitimate military targets even as Volodymyr Zelensky makes statements about Ukrainians fighting to the death.

The war in Ukraine does not showsigns of ending anytime soon. Ukrainian nationalists in power in Kyiv, encouraged by their allies in the West, seem determined to hold on to major cities despite being surrounded by Russian forces. Around two million Ukrainians have already left the country. Tens of thousands have become internally displaced. Russian officials blame the Ukrainian government for the growing number of civilian casualties and claim that the Volodymyr Zelensky government has refused to allow civilians in major cities, especially those below the age of 60, to leave. The Russian army has alleged that military equipment is being hidden among the civilian populace.

Over the past few weeks, the Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces have received more than a billion dollars in sophisticated military weaponry. Advanced weaponry, including man portable anti-tank and air defence systems, are pouring into the country. Western military analysts say these weapons have had a significant impact on the ongoing military conflict. According to reports in the Western media, Russian tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters have been hit by these state-of-the-art munitions.

In the second week of March, the Russian military announced that Western arms supplies to the Ukrainian government forces would henceforth be legitimate military targets. A Ukrainian military base at Yavoriv near the border with Poland was targeted by a barrage of 30 Russian cruise missiles the same week. The base, situated near the western city of Lyiv, was used to train foreign fighters who had been streaming into Ukraine to fight against Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, at least 35 soldiers and fighters were killed in the attack.

The Russian Defence Ministry said that the attack destroyed a large number of weapons supplied by foreign countries that were stored at the facility and killed “up to 180 foreign mercenaries”. The 360 square kilometre Yavoriv military base is where the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and United States military professionals train the Ukrainian army and militia. The site in a way symbolises the deep inroads the NATO military alliance has already made into Ukraine and that too in locations near the Russian border. Admiral Rob Bauer, a senior NATO official, recently said that the attacked base embodied “the spirit of military cooperation” between Ukraine and the West.

Also read: Russia's military gambit

“We warned the United States that the orchestrated pumping of weapons from a number of countries is not just a dangerous move, it is a move that turns the convoys into legitimate targets,” said Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister. He said that Moscow had been warning about the dangers posed by the “thoughtless transfers” of dangerous weaponry such as man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) to Ukraine.

U.S. aid package

A senior U.S. military official told the media that the inherent risks were worth taking because the Ukrainians were fighting “skilfully” and “creatively” with the sophisticated weapons provided by the West. On March 16, U.S. President Joseph Biden announced an unprecedented special aid package worth more than $13 billion for the country. A few days before that, the U.S. Congress approved a massive $6.5 billion arms package to Ukraine, which has become part of the overall U.S. aid bonanza for Ukraine.

Washington is going overboard in its attempts to bolster the Ukrainian army’s firepower. An example of this is the ham-handed attempt by the Biden administration to arm-twist Poland into sending 30 Mig-29 fighters in its fleet to Ukraine. The Polish government, which is well aware that the transfer of the planes to Ukraine would be viewed as an act of war by Moscow, deftly put the onus on Washington and announced that it was willing to hand over the planes to the U.S, at a NATO base in Germany. The Biden administration was quick to reject the offer after Moscow warned of serious consequences.

Turkey, however, has supplied Ukraine with military drones that have earned quite a reputation after the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been credited with many of the air strikes carried out on Russian armoured vehicles and command posts. They are also being used for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance missions.

Also read: Western provocation

For the first time, the European Union (E.U.) is financing the purchase and delivery of arms to a non-member country such as Ukraine. E.U. leaders had sanctioned the delivery of weapons worth more than half a billion dollars to Ukraine. Two days after the Russian military operations inside Ukraine began, Germany, abandoning its cherished policy of not supplying arms to conflict zones, announced the sale of 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine.

Biological laboratories

As the fighting rages, the Russian Defence Ministry has alleged that the U.S. is operating more than 30 biological laboratories on Ukrainian soil. According to Russian officials, many of these laboratories are situated near the border with Ukraine. The Russian allegations came following a speech by Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Under Secretary of State, to the U.S. Congress. Victoria Nuland, who played a key role in propping up the right-wing groups that staged the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine, told U.S. lawmakers that Washington was “quite concerned” that Moscow might get hold of the biological facilities and the “research materials” contained therein. She, however, claimed that if a biological attack took place in Ukraine, the Russians would be responsible for it.

The Biden administration evidently wants to turn Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine into another Afghanistan-style quagmire for Moscow. The Soviet army’s inability to defeat the U.S.-backed Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan played a role in the dissolution of the Socialist bloc and the end of communist rule at the end of the last century. The West would like nothing better than to see the Russian Federation fractured, but its short-term goal is regime change in Moscow.

Many U.S. military experts believe that the ground-to-air Stinger missiles played a key role in the Soviet army’s defeat in Afghanistan. Many of the unused Stinger missiles later fell into the hands of radical Islamist groupings. According to the RAND Corporation, 57 non-state actors got possession of the MANPADS left behind by the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Also read: Putin, Biden and Zelensky responsible for crisis

President Vladimir Putin has said that his country would achieve its goals in Ukraine despite all the efforts by the West. In a speech delivered on March 16, Putin said his government would not submit to the U.S. goal of dismembering Russia. He admitted that the draconian sanctions imposed on Russia were hurting but said that the country remained resolute. He said that the West was mistaken if it thought that the Russians would back down. “They don’t know our history,” Putin said.

Russia’s military goals

Many of Russia’s military goals are being achieved, though it is obvious that the drive to take cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa is not going to be an easy task. Russian forces continue to advance from three directions in Ukraine. From the north, they are massing round Kyiv. From the east, the targets are the cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol, and in the south Russian forces have already taken Kherson. The forces have crossed the Dnieper River at two points and encircled the cities of Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia.

One of the reasons why the Russian advance has slowed is that Moscow does not want Ukrainian cities to be damaged beyond repair. Cities such as Odessa and Kyiv are dear to Russians for a variety of reasons. Kyiv is the cradle of the Russian Orthodox faith; it has many medieval Orthodox churches and historic buildings dear to the Russian psyche. Odessa, which was founded by Catherine the Great, has a large Russian speaking population.

With the takeover of the towns near Mariupol, the Russians have secured a large swath of territory that will act as a corridor between the pro-Russian Donetsk region and the Crimean Peninsula. In that area, only a small strip of land around the port city of Odessa is under the control of the government forces. However, many of Russia’s other key strategic objectives are yet to be achieved after more than three weeks of fighting.

As the scope of war has widened, Zelensky is making contradictory statements, saying that the Ukrainians will fight to the death and at the same time stating that that Russian demands in the talks between the two countries “are becoming more realistic”. Zelensky said that Ukrainians “must realise” that their country will not be able to join NATO. Concurrently, he has been appealing to NATO, the E.U. and Washington for the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over Ukrainian air space, knowing fully well that such a move would be tantamount to the declaration of war between the West and Russia.

Also read: The botched-up evacuation of Indian students from Ukraine

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, welcomed Zelensky’s comments on the issue of NATO membership. After the latest round of talks between the Russian and Ukrainian sides, , which was held virtually in the third week of March and lasted an unprecedented three days, both sides expressed optimism about the chances of a negotiated settlement to end the conflict. Previous talks since the conflict began lasted less than a day.

Lavrov said that there was room for a peaceful solution if Ukraine was ready to accept a neutral status. In the latest round of talks between the two sides, the Ukrainian side finally agreed to discuss the issue of remaining neutral more seriously. “Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along with security guarantees,” Lavrov said.

The Kremlin has been suggesting for some time now that Ukraine adopt a policy of neutralism akin to that adopted by Sweden, Finland and Austria. Although politically close to the West, these countries have avoided openly anti-Russia military alliances such as NATO. The Ukrainian side said that it was not ready as yet to adopt the Austrian and Swedish model as it was in a state of war. “Ukraine is now in a direct state of war with Russia. As a result, the model can only be ‘Ukrainian’ and only on legally verified guarantees,” Ukraine’s top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said.

Lavrov conceded that negotiations were not easy but expressed the hope that a compromise would be found. He said that the other key issues discussed during the latest round of talks were on the rights of the people of Eastern Ukraine, the country’s demilitarisation and the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking people. After the 2014 constitutional coup, the Russian language was deprived of its official status despite a significant section of the population speaking the tongue.

The government has decreed that Ukrainian should be the only official language used in the government and the service industry. The Ukrainian parliament passed a law in 2019 making Ukrainian the primary language of the country. Moscow strongly criticised the move saying that the country’s unique “multicultural” model was being put at risk by instilling “an atmosphere of resentment and fear”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson reiterated in the second week of March that the Kremlin’s objectives did not include regime change in Kiev or the destruction of Ukraine’s statehood. The important goal, the spokesperson said, was to defend the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and achieve the “demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine.

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