Written by Fiona Sudbury and Website Administrator. Above image courtesy of Pixabay.
Three days ago, on Thursday, February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine. Except, he was not honest enough to even call it a war. In his televised speech, he called this action by Russia a “special military operation”. However, it was in reality the announcement of a major attack on the whole of Ukraine.
The full speech can be seen here:
Putin declares the commencement of this “operation” at minute 20:25.
Initially, on the 20th of February, Putin ordered troops be sent to Donetsk and Luhansk, two separatist regions of Ukraine, shortly after recognizing their independence, (Regan et al). The Kremlin declared this a “peacekeeping” mission—US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated this was an “attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion”. Shortly thereafter, on Thursday the 24th, Russia declared war on Ukraine (Kottasová).
Many people are asking why Vladimir Putin would conduct this completely unprovoked attack on Ukraine and world security. The answer is very different from what Putin has claimed. In his speech broadcast on Thursday, Putin said that Russia’s aim is to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.” However, the claim that Ukraine is a dictatorship filled with Nazis is completely false. There is no evidence to support Putin’s wild claims. In addition, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is himself Jewish.
The reality of Putin’s motives is much more sinister. It seems that Putin believes that NATO is plotting against Russia and that Russia is alone in a sea of hostility. This belief is very similar to that of the Soviets many decades ago. Putin it seems has become very paranoid and wishes to create a buffer between himself and the NATO member states. This “buffer,” he hopes, will be the entirety of Ukraine (Hodge and John). But his other motive might be even more significant. It seems that Putin wishes to actually recreate the Soviet Union.
President Zelensky has also discussed Russian motives: Ukrainian officials believe that the Russians are planning to overthrow the Ukrainian government and replace it with a pro-Russia one (Chance et al).
Explosions have been reported throughout Ukraine, including in the capital of Kyiv. Ukrainian citizens and soldiers prepared to fight; some 18,000 weapons were handed to reservists (CNN). Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, encouraged citizens to fight back against the invasion. President Zelensky further stated that 137 civilians and soldiers of Ukraine had been killed in the invasion so far—as of February 25 (New York Times).
The United States has been very careful to not take any action which could start a direct war between America and Russia, as a conflict of this sort could very quickly escalate into an even more dire situation. During a speech in the afternoon of February 22, before the invasion began, President Joe Biden said that the sanctions and military actions of U.S. forces were “totally defensive moves on our part.” He then went on to say “We have no intention of fighting Russia.” And, according to CNN, Biden told NBC earlier in the month that the US would never consider sending troops to help evacuate the Americans in Ukraine (Wolf). Biden was trying to assure Americans and their allies that American and Russian troops would not be firing shots at each other, because, according to Biden, that would potentially cause a world war (Finn).
This statement was a critical error. Though it is true that the U.S. should avoid direct conflict with Russia at all costs, Biden basically told Putin that Russia can do whatever it wants without fear of retaliation from its greatest rival: America. This may be why Putin chose such a bold course of action. Regardless of the truth, it is very possible that due to this action President Biden may take on some of the blame for the current situation.
The United States and other NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries have also been considering removing Russia from the SWIFT financial messaging service, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. According to the New York Times, this system connects “more than 11,000 financial institutions around the world” (Rappeport). It is the backbone of global banking transactions. If Russia were removed, they would basically lose much of their ability to do business with other countries and would not be very able to transfer money in and out of the country. For a developed nation, this would be catastrophic. The removal of Russia from SWIFT has been nicknamed by some “the nuclear option” of sanctions, an unfortunate and inaccurate word in a world where actual nuclear disarmament has yet to take place.
EDIT: On Saturday, February 26, the United States, the UK, and several EU states decided to remove select Russian banks from SWIFT (Moyer). This is a move in the right direction.
The United States has also put other sanctions on Russian financial institutions and has frozen the assets of several banks. It has also placed sanctions on industries that are key to defense, maritime, and aerospace. However, the energy sector has been purposefully avoided. In spite of this, a White House staffer told reporters that these sanctions are “the most consequential ever levied on Russia and arguably the most consequential ever levied in history” (Herb and Mattingly). The sanctions do not yet seem to have influenced at all Putin’s resolve.
President Biden has also ordered sanctions on President Putin’s personal assets (Cathey). Hopefully, this will have some effect.
Further Global Response
Russia faces wide condemnation for its actions. Further, the European Union sanctioned 351 Russian lawmakers, as well as Vladimir Putin. NATO agreed to send troops to bolster eastern members and deployed the NATO Defense Force for the first time (Cook). Japan and Australia placed sanctions on Russia, alongside the US, European Union, and UK (Yeung, et al). Further, Germany stopped certifying a critical oil pipeline that connected Russia to Germany—the Nord 2 (John, et al). In Russia itself, protestors spoke out – over 1,800 were arrested. Many prominent Russian figures, from TV hosts to the children of politicians to successful musicians, spoke out, amidst blacklisting and retaliation (Roth).
However, China has “refused to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine” and on Friday lifted restrictions on the importation of Russian wheat. This deal was created a few weeks ago but was only just announced. The lifting of these restrictions will help Russia economically, and might even serve to counteract the U.S. and other countries’ sanctions (He). However, it is expected that it will not do much and that the sanctions’ impact will remain severe (Cheng). Then, in a slightly confusing turn of events, Chinese banks (which are almost all owned by the state) have restricted lending to Russia, which is not good for the Russian government (Henney). So, it appears that China is at the same time trying to both harm and support Russia.
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times says that Beijing is currently struggling to decide whether China will support Russia in this matter, or whether they will capitulate to the United States (Friedman). Their decision will most likely become evident in the coming days.
The anti-Russian side of the conflict has had a potentially important win: anonymous hackers have declared “cyberwar” on Russia and have successfully taken down almost all Russian government websites. Government.ru is down as well as the website of the Kremlin and other significant government sites. In addition, RT.com, a media site that has been used as an outlet for Russian propaganda, was shut down briefly before being restored sometime on Saturday (Coker). ABC.net.au has apparently confirmed that distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks the culprits behind the fortunate removal of the Russian government’s internet presence. And, Moex.com, the website of the Moscow stock exchange, is taking two minutes to load. This is a symptom of a potential DDoS attack.
It is possible that the Russians may attempt to retaliate. Several fairly minor digital attacks have taken place which are being blamed on the Russians. However, there is the fear that Russia might mount a massive cyberattack, one that could even harm the US (Cain).
In a completely unnecessary, dangerous, and irresponsible move, Putin placed Russia’s “deterrence forces” on high alert, forces which include nuclear weapons. His only explanation: “Top officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country”. At the conclusion of the video, Russian military officials nod “yes sir”. This is very strange and was probably done only for the benefit of the television audience. This move by President Putin is a further instance of completely unnecessary escalation. There are no words strong enough to condemn this action.
See below President Putin’s announcement.
So far, CNN says that the Ukrainians have been able to hold the Russians off and have, against the odds, slowed the onslaught. Kyiv has not fallen, and remains firmly in Ukrainian hands, despite the Russians’ brutal attacks. Putin made a critical miscalculation when deciding to invade: he did not factor in the strength and patriotism of the Ukrainian people. Civilians are volunteering and fighting, and are even winning against the professional invaders (“Breaking News, Latest News and Videos”).
The Ukrainians will never surrender, and the Russians won’t either, as Putin doesn’t want to look weak. This could be a significant problem, as it means that diplomatic solutions may be hard to find. However, the two countries are going to meet Monday at the Belerussain border (Picheta, et al) and there is always hope that they will come to some solution that no one has thought of yet.
In the current situation, very little is certain. It is impossible to tell how the next few days will play out. But one thing is certain. Ukraine will not give up. As President Zelensky once said, “we will fight for our country. We have tasted freedom and we will not give it up” (Pfluger).
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Finn, Teaganne. “Biden Warns Americans in Ukraine to Leave, Says Sending Troops to Evacuate Would Be ‘World War’.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Feb. 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-warns-americans-leave-ukraine-russia-troops-world-war-rcna15781.
Coker, James. “Anonymous Hacking Group Declares ‘Cyber War’ Against Russia.” Infosecurity Magazine, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/anonymous-hacking-group-cyber-war/.
Purtill, James. “Anonymous Takes down Kremlin, Russian-Controlled Media Site in Cyber Attacks.” ABC News, ABC News, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2022-02-25/hacker-collective-anonymous-declares-cyber-war-against-russia/100861160.
He, Laura. “China Lifts Restrictions on Russian Wheat Imports.” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/25/business/wheat-russia-china-intl-hnk/index.html.
Cheng, Evelyn. “China’s Trade with Russia Won’t Be Enough to Offset Sanctions, U.S. Says.” CNBC, CNBC, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/02/25/chinas-trade-with-russia-wont-offset-sanctions-us-says.html.
Henney, Megan. “Chinese Banks Restrict Lending to Russia, Dealing Blow to Moscow.” Fox Business, Fox Business, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/china-restrict-financing-russia-ukraina-invasion.
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Hodge, Nathan, and Tara John. “Annexations, a Rump State or Puppet Rulers. Here’s What Putin May Be Planning for Ukraine.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/25/europe/ukraine-russia-putin-endgame-intl/index.html.
Moyer, Edward. “US, EU to Kick Some Russian Banks off Swift Banking System.” CNET, CNET, 26 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnet.com/news/us-eu-to-kick-some-russian-banks-off-swift-banking-system/.
“Breaking News, Latest News and Videos.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Feb. 2014, https://www.cnn.com/.
Cain, Áine. “US Banks Are Worried about the Possibility of a Massive Russian Cyberattack, Says Cybersecurity CEO.” Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo!, 25 Feb. 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-banks-worried-possibility-massive-153058156.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAIcD3UnmWDHSi5CUgOYggsIMiT27XkaM5CqhBSYCKh5K1JLghw8BHH1JHm4MNqfcdpCd2Oy2aB_E6qtZAiftlDt9O6qsUN-15oMs7WDIhB6-mbIgooYrh4KPLaghoIDSxN_z3CLSl3L4LFAB4HoLGO8w6sSAHQOSqm23qzq6QvqI.
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Picheta, Rob, et al. “Ukrainian Delegation Agrees to Meet with Russians at Belarus Border, According to President Zelensky’s Office.” CNN, Cable News Network, 27 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-news-02-27-22/h_5f3c8931e81b333dba2be6b83c864dc8.
Herb, Jeremy, and Phil Mattingly. “How Significant Are the US Sanctions on Russia?” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/24/politics/biden-sanctions-russia-ukraine/index.html.
Cathey, Libby. “Biden to Order Personal Sanctions on Putin as Russian Forces Close in on Kyiv.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 25 Feb. 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-order-personal-sanctions-putin-russian-forces-close/story?id=83111481.