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Update on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Written by Akshar Patel

Edited by Eliza Dorton and Annika Lilja


Image under Public Domain

On February 24, 2022, Russian forces escalated the ongoing war in the Donbas region of Ukraine to a full-scale invasion of Ukraine itself. While gains seemed promising for Russia during the early weeks of the war as their troops quickly advanced on the northern and southern fronts, Ukrainian resistance fighters stopped them from seizing Kyiv, Mariupol, and other major cities. With considerable assistance from Western nations, Ukrainian forces were subsequently able to reclaim all territory captured by Russia in the north of Ukraine by October of 2022. In the south, Russia took several villages and cities east of the Dnipro River, though they made few gains across the great river. At the same time Ukrainian fighters retook the north, Russia officially annexed the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics—anti-Western breakaway states from Ukraine—in a bold move that stirred controversy.


International condemnation of the invasion and annexation was swift, leading to large sanctions imposed upon the Putin government by democratic nations. These sanctions have dramatically decreased the standard of living for Russian citizens, destroyed the wealth of numerous Russian oligarchs, and forced Russia to rely on fewer allies. By the summer of 2023, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, planned a major counteroffensive with the support of Western democratic governments to retake all the territory Ukraine is internationally recognized to have.


However, in the latter half of 2023, other national and international events such as the upcoming American elections and the war in Gaza took away the media spotlight from the war in Ukraine. Additionally, as America’s priorities begin to split between Israel, Ukraine, and the southern border in 2024, the United States’ support to the Ukrainian government has started to waver. Worse for Ukraine, their counteroffensive did not fulfill expectations. According to the Institute for the Study of War, Ukrainian forces could only retake approximately 10 kilometers south on the frontline due to the high levels of entrenchment of the Russian army.


By this point in the war, trench warfare eerily similar to World War I had taken root on the battlefield. As the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, reported in an interview with The Economist, “We have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate.” Faced with this harsh reality, by November of 2023, Ukraine planned to bunker down into a long, drawn-out conflict—one that Russia is more suited to withstand. Still, Zelenskyy denied any notion of a stalemate. Unrelenting, he stated in an interview with TIME that “Nobody believes in our victory like I do. Nobody.” The Ukrainian leader has made comments about his frustration with Western powers getting fatigued with all of the support to Ukraine, admitting on November 4, 2023, in a briefing alongside the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen that the Israel-Gaza conflict was “taking away the focus.” However, on a lighter note, Ukraine has made significant progress toward control over the Black Sea by using naval drones and Western-supplied missiles. Russia, with increasingly fewer countries to look towards for support, has been forced to resort to regimes in nations like Iran and North Korea to replenish its dwindling supplies. After the death of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in August of 2023 following his brief mutiny, Wagner mercenaries have largely been integrated into the Russian military or put out of service.


Drone warfare has been used extensively throughout the later stages of this conflict by both sides. The BBC highlighted that Zelenskyy reported that over 500 air attacks from Russia occurred from December 29 to January 2—leading to the deaths of 32 civilians in Kyiv. Ukraine has also been carrying out drone attacks inside Russia to try and disrupt the homefront. Strikes on Russian border cities with Ukraine such as Belgorod have reportedly forced the Putin government to evacuate civilians away from the border. To stop the Russian war machine, Ukrainian forces have used explosive drones to target key strategic buildings such as oil refineries and manufacturing plants. Recently, drones have been used to attack the largest oil plant in southern Russia on the 3rd of February.


With the frontlines halting to a standstill, the future of the war for either side seems uncertain. Since head Ukrainian general Valerii Zaluzhnyi has expressed doubt about whether Ukraine can truly retake all of its territory, Zelenskyy has reportedly been looking into the prospects of replacing him, signaling a large shift in Ukrainian tactics and leadership. On the Russian side, some analysts such as those at the Institute for the Study of War have noted that it appears that Russian forces are possibly planning to launch another offensive in late February once weather conditions become favorable. Nevertheless, in this war of attrition, it is yet to be seen if Russia or Ukraine can break each other’s ironclad entrenchments. 


 

Sources:


Balmforth, Tom. “Ukraine Hits Russia’s Volgograd Oil Refinery in Latest Drone Attack, Source Says.” Reuters, 3 Feb. 2024, www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraines-sbu-hits-russias-volgograd-oil-refinery-drone-attack-source-2024-02-03/.


Berman, Noah, and Anshu Siripurapu. “One Year of War in Ukraine: Are Sanctions against Russia Making a Difference?” Council on Foreign Relations, 21 Feb. 2023, www.cfr.org/in-brief/one-year-war-ukraine-are-sanctions-against-russia-making-difference.


Blinken, Antony J. “Imposing Further Sanctions in Response to Russia’s Illegal War against Ukraine.” United States Department of State, 14 Sept. 2023, www.state.gov/imposing-further-sanctions-in-response-to-russias-illegal-war-against-ukraine-2/.


Brown, David. “Ukraine Invasion: Russia’s Attack in Maps.” BBC News, 24 Feb. 2022, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682.


Lister, Tim. “Exhausted and Disappointed with Allies, Ukraine’s President and Military Chief Warn of Long Attritional War.” CNN, 3 Nov. 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/11/03/world/ukraine-president-warns-long-attritional-war/index.html.


Lukiv, Jaroslav. “Ukraine War: Zelensky Says Israel-Gaza Conflict Taking Focus Away from Fighting.” BBC News, 4 Nov. 2023, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-67321777.


“Russia-Ukraine War at a Glance: What We Know on Day 709.” The Guardian, 2 Feb. 2024, www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/02/russia-ukraine-war-at-a-glance-what-we-know-on-day-709


Sabbagh, Dan. “As Its Counteroffensive Stalls, Ukraine Signals Readiness for a Long War.” The Guardian, 11 Nov. 2023, www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/11/as-its-counteroffensive-stalls-ukraine-signals-readiness-for-a-long-war


Talmazan, Yuliya. “Ukrainian General’s Uncertain Future Adds to Doubts over Its Fight with Russia.” NBC News, 2 Feb. 2024, www.nbcnews.com/news/world/zelenskyy-fire-zaluzhny-ukraine-general-russia-war-rcna136707


Tobin, James. “Ukraine Update: January 2024.” Lords Library, UK Parliament, 18 Jan. 2024, lordslibrary.parliament.uk/ukraine-update-january-2024/.


Walker, Nigel. “Conflict in Ukraine: A Timeline.” House of Commons Library, 18 Oct. 2023, Https://Researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/Documents/CBP-9847/CBP-9847.Pdf.

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