Moscow does not believe in tears: Putin continues the illegal war in Ukraine

George Marinescu
English Section / 26 februarie

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Versiunea în limba română

Moscow does not believe in the tears shed by the families of the victims of the illegal aggression launched by the Russian Federation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and Vladimir Putin continues the war considering that he has not achieved the goal of denazification of the neighboring country, the goal set at the beginning of the so-called special operation.

At the end of two years of war, the UN Office for Human Rights (OHCHR) counted 30,041 civilian casualties, of which 10,382 people lost their lives and 19,659 were injured, officials of the international organization stated that the real number is probably much higher higher, especially since according to Rosemary DiCarlo, a senior UN official, between December 2023 and February 2024, the number of civilian casualties increased compared to previous months, reversing the downward trend in civilian casualties since the beginning of last year. The high number of casualties is confirmed by data published by the Global Conflict Tracker, which shows that the war in Ukraine has so far accounted for 500,000 casualties among the combatant forces. The fighting and airstrikes have caused nearly 22,000 civilian casualties, while 5.1 million people are internally displaced and 6.2 million have fled Ukraine. The above data are continuously dynamic, if we take into account the fact that according to the press release issued by the Border Police at the end of last week, 7.3 million Ukrainians entered our country from the beginning of the war until now , of which around 150,000 people remained in our country.

Regarding military casualties, in August 2023 The New York Times, citing US officials, estimated military losses at 70,000 dead and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded in the Ukrainian camp, and at 120,000 dead and 170,000 to 180,000 of wounded in the Russian camp. On 29 January 2024, in a written reply to an MP, British Defense Secretary James Heappey estimated Russian losses at over 350,000 dead and wounded, and in early February, the Ukrainian military estimated that it had killed or wounded over 392,000 Russian soldiers in two years of war.

Almost two years after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an updated joint assessment of damage and needs published on February 15, 2024 by the Government of Ukraine, the World Bank, the European Commission and the United Nations estimates that on December 31, 2023, the total cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine amounted to 452.8 billion euros, up from 383 billion euros - the estimated value at the end of 2022.

The document "Third Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA3) February 2022 - December 2023" finds that direct damages in Ukraine have now reached almost 141.6 billion euros, the most affected sectors being: housing, transport, trade and industry, energy and agriculture. The damage is concentrated in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Zaporozhye, Kherson and Kyiv regions. Across the country, 10 percent of housing stock was damaged or destroyed, prolonging the displacement of Ukrainians from their communities. According to last year's data from the government of Ukraine, 931.7 million euros were paid for the recovery of the housing sector, most of which was dedicated to the repair and reconstruction of damaged buildings. In the transport sector, emergency repairs were carried out on highways and other national roads, totaling over 2,000 kilometers. In the education sector, local authorities have rebuilt approximately 500 educational institutions and as of January 2023, the share of educational institutions with bomb shelters has increased from 68% to 80%. More than 3,790 education centers (schools, kindergartens) have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the invasion as a result of airstrikes, artillery bombardments, rocket strikes or, in some cases, cluster munition attacks, the report "Tanks on the Playground," published by Human Rights Watch in November 2023.

341 sites of cultural importance have been damaged in the two years of war in Ukraine, according to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statistic, which estimates the total damage to the culture and tourism sector at 3.5 billion dollars, according to the Spanish news agency EFE. The damage list includes items from two Ukrainian World Heritage sites, both listed by UNESCO as sites in danger from 2023: the historic center of the port city of Odesa and the historic center of Lviv.

The first year of the war: the massacres at Bucha, Izyium and Mariupol shock the West

The Russian invasion began on February 24, 2022, after, in a televised statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a special military operation in Ukraine to defend separatists in the east of the country, from the ukrainian's regions Luhansk and Donetsk. Previously, Vladimir Putin recognized on February 21, 2022, the independence of the pro-Russian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, by signing two decrees, and ordered Russian troops to enter these territories. The decision was condemned by the international community as a violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

On the first day of the war, Russia launched an offensive with missile attacks on Ukrainian military infrastructure, followed by a ground offensive on several fronts, including from Belarus, where, according to reports from Kiev at the end of the day, four more were fired ballistic missiles.

The first year of the war saw two major periods: the first is the Russian initiative that took place from February to July 2022, while the second is marked by the Ukrainian operations that took place strongly from July to December 2022. Between December 2022 and February 2023 saw a war of attrition between the two camps.

In terms of military actions in the first part of 2022, Russian forces attacked the cities of Kiev, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kherson, Nikolayev, Odesa and Bahmut. According to the website, the highest number of deaths among Ukrainian civilians was recorded in March 2022, approximately over 3,200 people. Moreover, during this period the Russian forces had the most considerable territorial advance inside Ukraine, with intense attacks on Kiev. They bombarded the port city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine, captured Kherson, took control of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, kept cities like Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernikov and the capital Kiev under siege, bombed the Ukrainian military base at Yavoriv, near the border with Poland, in the Lviv region of western Ukraine. On 20 May 2022, Russia announced the complete surrender of the defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and the complete evacuation of civilians, including women and children.

With the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kiev, the Bucha and Izyium massacres came to light, generating a new shock wave around the world. The mayor of Bucha, located on the outskirts of Kiev, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said on April 6 that the number of dead civilians was 320, most of them shot dead, and some bodies had their hands tied and were dumped in mass graves, according to Associated Press reports . Moreover, the Bucha massacre triggered the criminal prosecution of Vladimir Putin and other important people from the Kremlin a year later, in 2023, who are accused of war crimes in a criminal case pending before the International Criminal Court. Moreover, an international arrest warrant was issued in the name of Vladimir Putin, a warrant that drastically reduced the Kremlin leader's freedom of movement around the world.

Bolstered by supplies of long-range artillery from the West, Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in July 2022, and on 1 August 2022, Ukrainian forces announced that they had recaptured 46 towns in the strategic Kherson region in the northern part of the region, at the border with Dnipropetrovsk, and in the southern part at the border with the Nikolaev region. In mid-September 2022, the Ukrainian president indicated that his army had liberated nearly 6,000 square kilometers.

As a result of the defeats suffered by Russian troops, especially in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, where the Ukrainian army recovered more than 450 localities, on September 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization. Moreover, after the organization of referendums, which the UN qualified as "illegitimate", regarding the accession to Russia of regions controlled by Russia and pro-Moscow forces (approximately 15% of Ukrainian territory), on September 30, 2022, Russia annexed officially the four regions, and Putin stated that they will be part of Russia "forever".

In his first international trip since the invasion of his country by Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in Washington on December 21, 2022, where he expressed his "deep gratitude" for the support received.

We note that the first international effect of the war in Ukraine consisted in the request submitted by Sweden and Finland to become members of NATO, which was approved at the Madrid Summit in June 2022. Unfortunately, so far only Finland is a full member of the Alliance, with Sweden's full NATO membership still blocked by Hungary.

Moreover, in order to deter Russia's challenges to the countries on NATO's Eastern Flank, at the 2022 Summit it was decided to establish four battle groups, one of which is in Romania, groups which, following the decisions of the Vilnius Summit, from July 2023, they became operational. The NATO battle group in our country is led by France.

The second year of war: Prigozhin's revolt and the destruction of the Kahovka dam put the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the background

In the first half of 2023, fighting centered around the city of Bahmut. In response to peace efforts by some states in the Global South, President Zelenski attended the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19, 2023. He then traveled to Japan, where he met with the leaders of India and Indonesia - important voices in the Global South - on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima.

At the end of the G7 summit (May 19-21, 2023), the Ukrainian president stated that Russian troops are in Bahmut and compared the destruction caused by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The fighting in Bahmut had already been going on for a year, so that the city which before the war had 70,000 inhabitants was largely destroyed.

In May 2023, Poland began training Ukrainian pilots on US F-16 fighter jets, and several countries in the European Union announced the provision of aircraft to Ukraine, however, providing aircraft to Kiev proved to be a complicated process.

In early June 2023, Ukrainian forces launched a new counteroffensive against Russian forces, with the long-term goal of breaking through the front line. At that time, Russia controlled almost entirely Donetsk and Luhansk regions (east), as well as parts of Zaporizhia and Kherson regions (south). However, the operation was only a modest success nearly two months after launch due to strong Russian defenses consisting of trenches and minefields.

In order to strengthen its front line and stop the advance of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, on June 6, 2023, Russian forces destroyed the Kahovka dam on the Dnieper River, located in the Russian-occupied areas of the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine, which affected more many localities located on the banks of the Dnieper, the flood reaching the river's discharge into the Black Sea. According to data provided by Ukrainian Interior Minister Igor Klimenko, the destruction of the Kahovka dam led to the evacuation of more than 2,700 people from the Kherson region and another 982 from the neighboring Mykolaiv province. At least 14 people died as a result of these floods in the territories under the control of Kiev. 77 localities were flooded, 14 of them in the occupied territories, Klimenko said. In areas under Russian control, Moscow-appointed officials reported more than 7,000 people evacuated in the week following the disaster, as well as eight dead and 13 missing. The waters swallowed at least three cemeteries, oil storage terminals and landfills. Also, nearly 450 tons of turbine oil spilled into the Dnieper and then into the Black Sea.

During June 2023, Vladimir Putin faced the first and only mutiny among the armed forces since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Displeased that a company of Wagner's forces was accidentally bombed by Russian forces, Yevgeny Prigozhin ordered his mercenaries to head for Moscow to rub shoulders with Putin. Despite the rapid advance towards the Kremlin, Prigozhin, after a discussion with Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, decided to stop 100 kilometers from Moscow and ordered his troops to return to the Ukrainian front. Lukashenko negotiated with Putin the amnesty of Prigozhin, on the condition that the latter would never return to Russia, a condition that the Wagner leader did not respect and met his end in an "air crash" that took place on August 23, 2023.

Lack of the necessary equipment stopped the Ukrainian counteroffensive

According to The New York Times, in the first two weeks of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian army lost about 20 percent of its heavy weapons, with the loss rate falling later after Ukrainian commanders made tactical changes, relying more on artillery-backed attacks to wear down troops. Russian, the latter benefiting from a quantitative superiority of artillery. The US has pledged $325 million worth of materials, armored vehicles and ammunition to Ukraine. Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Italy have also announced military contributions.

In all this context, President Vladimir Putin decided to deploy in Belarus part of the nuclear weapons owned by the Russian Federation, a fact that led the US to provide Ukraine with new military aid, including cluster munitions, in July, crossing a new threshold in the type of weaponry supplied to Kiev. These highly controversial weapons are banned in many countries, especially European, signatories to the 2008 Oslo Convention, to which neither the United States, nor Ukraine, nor Russia are parties.

During the NATO Summit held in Vilnius on July 11-12, 2023, the Allies decided that Ukraine would be part of the Alliance, but only when it fulfills the "conditions" of accession". At the same time, at the summit, it was decided to implement the forward defense concept on the entire Eastern Flank of NATO, as well as the establishment of a rapid intervention force that could be mobilized immediately at any point on the Eastern Flank where there could be an aggression against a state member. The day after the summit, on July 13, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine confirmed that several Russian servicemen had lost their lives in a Ukrainian attack on the Duna Hotel in the Ukrainian city of Berdeansk, located on the shores of the Sea of Azov in the south eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces on February 27, 2022.

At the end of July, Russian troops were mostly on the defensive in the southern part of the front in Ukraine, but in the other sectors of the front they were able to carry out offensive actions, especially in the Luhansk region. During this time, the Ukrainian military was prioritizing its resources and efforts in the south. Kiev's first objective was to break through the front to the south and reach the Sea of Azov, to separate Russian troops and cut off their land corridor to Crimea.

While the Russian army used its attack planes and helicopters, the Ukrainian army had recovered at the end of July only about 200 square kilometers of territory, at the cost of significant losses, including Western equipment (tanks, armored vehicles, howitzers, etc.) . Russian troops made territorial gains in the northeastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, where they had been driven out by the Ukrainian military following a blitzkrieg offensive in the fall of 2022. On August 19, Russian forces attacked the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, 100 kilometers from the Russian border, killing and injuring around 145 people.

In this context, President Zelenski concluded with the Netherlands and Denmark, on August 20 and 21, 2023, an agreement on the supply of 61 F-16 fighter jets to prepare Ukraine for "winter" and for the counter-offensive that would take place in during the year 2024.

Ukraine's military effort has taken its toll on military support from allies - including Romania, which Kiev officials say has sent 15 military aid packages. That's why last year's counteroffensive stalled in the fall and early winter of 2023-2024, and Ukraine requested more military equipment and resources. In this context, the European Union managed to adopt a support package of 50 billion euros, after previously facing the vehement opposition of the government in Budapest led by Viktor Orban, but the US has not yet approved the promised 60 billion dollars of support by Joe Biden to Zelenskiy in December 2023.

Until this support was approved, the Ukrainian leader had to reorient himself, so on February 16, 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a long-term bilateral security agreement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which provides for military support for Kiev in the year 2023 of 7 billion euros, to which another 1.1 billion euros is added, this last amount representing the value of 36 shells for tanks, 120 thousand artillery shells, two Skynex air defense systems, missiles for the system of IRIS-T air-to-air missiles, 66 armored personnel carriers (APC), several demining vehicles and various models of reconnaissance drones that will enter the equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces. Later, Volodymyr Zelensky met with French President Emmanuel Macron with whom he signed a bilateral security agreement, whereby France provides 3 billion euros of military assistance to Ukraine during 2024.

These agreements are necessary in light of the offensive launched on December 23, 2023 by Russia, which included missile and drone bombing of the cities of Lviv, Odesa, Dnipro, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv, attacks that resulted in Russian forces capturing the city of Mariinka , from eastern Ukraine.

In response, on December 30, 2023, Ukrainian forces bombed several targets in the Russian city of Belgorod, located 80 kilometers north of the Ukrainian stronghold of Kharkiv.

We also point out that following the blocking of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, on February 8, 2024, Volodymyr Zelensky announced the replacement of General Valery Zalujnyi at the head of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with Colonel-General Oleksandr Sîrski, and that following the withdrawal, starting from February 16, 2024, of the Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka, that locality fell into the hands of Russian military forces. Last week hostilities between the combatant forces took place in Poltava, Chernihiv, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions.

Russia withdrew from the agreement on the transport of Ukrainian grain

Russia's illegal war led in June 2022 to a threat of a crisis ofglobal food supply, as millions of tons of grain were stuck in Ukraine's silos, as Russian naval forces in the Black Sea prevented the passage of merchant ships to and from Ukrainian ports.

That is why it was necessary to negotiate and conclude an agreement on the resumption of grain exports on the Black Sea, a document that was signed on July 22, 2022, in Istanbul.

Following the Ukrainian counter-offensive and the increase in Western military support for the Kiev authorities, on 17 July 2023 Russia announced the decision to end the Black Sea Grain Export Initiative. More than 1,000 ships full of grain and other food products left three Ukrainian ports (Cyornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhny/Pivdeni) during the implementation of the initiative (July 2022 - July 2023), according to data on the Council's website European. On 2 August 2023, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had brokered the deal, appealed to his Russian counterpart, saying the suspension did not benefit anyone and would especially harm low-income countries that need to import grain. He also added that he will continue the intense diplomatic efforts to resume the agreement.

Vladimir Putin responded that the extension of the grain export pact does not make sense due to the "complete lack of progress" in implementing the pro-Russian measures included in the agreement, according to a Kremlin statement. The Russian president asked for Erdogan's support for the export of Russian grain and assured him that he is ready to return to the agreement as soon as the West honors its obligations to Russia. Since the termination of the agreement, Russia has carried out repeated missile attacks on the Odesa region and Ukrainian port infrastructure on the Danube.

After the suspension of the agreement, the Danube river ports of Ismail and Reni in Ukraine were heavily bombed by means of drones received by Russia from Iran, part of the respective drones crashing, without the explosive charge, on Romanian territory, in the area of some towns in the Danube Delta, but also in the Republic of Moldova. Following these incidents, the Allies decided to create transport lanes through the territorial waters of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey in the Black Sea, so that Ukrainian grain and products from Ukraine could continue to be exported.

Those corridors are carefully monitored by the NATO air police forces stationed in our country at the Mihail Kogălniceanu and Borcea air bases, but also by the ships of the Romanian Naval Forces.

Military support given to the authorities in Kiev - essential for the resistance of Ukraine

In the military field, the data published by the Kiel Institute for World Economy also reveals a big difference between the aid promised and actually allocated. Germany remains the largest European military donor, with a total of euro17.7 billion in military commitments as of February 2022, of which euro9.4 billion has been allocated to specific military packages sent to Ukraine. The UK recently announced euro2.9 billion in new military aid, bringing its total military commitments to euro9.1 billion. Of this amount, 4.8 billion euros have been allocated until mid-January 2024.

Denmark has also increased its military commitments to the Danish Fund for Ukraine, becoming one of the largest military donors as a percentage of donors' Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So far, Denmark has committed euro8.4 billion in military aid, of which euro4.5 has been earmarked. Denmark announced on 18 February 2024 that it would urgently transfer to Ukraine all the artillery shells it has in stock, following talks at the Munich Security Conference, after the European Union informed Ukraine that it would not could deliver only half a million of the promised shells by March. The US has allocated a total of 43 billion euros in military aid from February 2022 until January 2023.

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