The Russia-Ukraine conflict | By Akbar Jan Marwat


The Russia-Ukraine conflict

AFTER the end of World War-II, for decades the countries in Europe managed to avoid a conflict of this magnitude.

It seems the sufferings and atrocities suffered by the people of Europe, kept them away from another major kinetic conflict for all these years.

The current hostilities between Russia and Ukraine started, when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

On that date the President of Russia ordered a major attack on Ukraine. The scope of the assault seemed very ambitious.

It looked as if Moscow’s goals were to quickly seize Kiev and occupy large swathes of the eastern part of the country.

The Russian forces made some initial gains, but it was unable to take Kiev. By late March, the momentum of Russian attack broke down, and some Russian forces were already retreating, especially in the north of Ukraine.

The Russian invasion was not unexpected, as things had already started moving towards a conflict.

The major bone of contention was the gradual eastward push of NATO, with one former Soviet Republic after another joining the Alliance.

Ukraine was also ripe and willing to fall into the NATO’s lap. This was one insult too much for Putin to digest. Ukraine had been part of Russia, and was deemed to be the red line for NATO to cross.

In anticipation of Ukraine’s membership of NATO, Putin made a preemptive move and took over the peninsula of Crimea, which was populated by a majority of Russian speaking people.

Controversial pro -Moscow referenda were also carried out in Russian speaking areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, thus paving the way of for their eventual take over by Russia.

Moscow then started to execute its new strategy of occupying the entire regime of Doabs consisting of the Oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk, about 35% of which had already been occupied by Russian backed forces in 2014-2015.

After about three months of fighting, Russian forces took almost the whole of the Luhansk region, but little headway was made in the Donetsk region.

In September last, Ukrainian forces launched two counter offensives. Thus, it expelled Russian forces out of Kharkov Oblast and also drove them out of Kherson city and surrounding regions by November.

In recent weeks, the Russian forces are facing difficulty in making territorial gains, they have withdrawn from strategic locations in the east and south of the country.

These retreats have led some military analysts to believe that Russia’s initial objective of gaining control of all or most of Ukraine was perhaps too ambitious.

The tremendous financial and logistic help and the provision of sophisticated weapons to Ukraine by NATO countries, especially the US, was perhaps, also underestimated by Moscow.

Russia now seems to be consolidating its control on the territory already seized rather than expanding its conquest.

While the Russian military has not been able to take Kiev, the Capital of Ukraine. The Ukrainian forces, have on the other hand, regained some territories which it lost in recent months.

There seems to be a distinct possibility, that the war may continue as a drawn-out affair, with neither side able to achieve a decisive victory in the near future.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has lasted longer than perhaps, both Russia and the US anticipated.

Data from the Institute of War Studies suggests that Russia has not gained more than 1,000 square miles in a single week since April, despite aggressive advances at the initial stages.

Both sides have taken heavy losses. The civilian population of Ukraine has taken a particularly heavy toll.

Ukraine has been inflicted with heavy civilian and military casualties by the fighting. Widespread damage to the infrastructure and contraction of the economy has taken place.

The Russian military has also suffered heavy losses, in terms of both personal and military equipment.

The economic sanctions imposed by the US; the UK and EU has pushed the Russian economy, into recession.

The conflict has ruined Russia’s reputation militarily, disrupted its economy and altered the geopolitical landscape of Europe.

This conflict has also made any near term normalization of relations with the US next to impossible.

The war has had its cultural implications also. Authorities in the Ukrainian city of Odessa have started dismantling a monument to Catherine the great.

The move has been met with protests from Russian officials. Russia claims that the statue is a symbol of the city’s Russian history.

Russia, in spite of its reverses on the war front, is adamant to carry on with its war effort. It has rejected out of hand, President Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan, insisting that any peace plan should be made with today’s realities in mind.

In September, Putin announced the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhian and Kherson Oblast, even though Russian forces do not fully control these areas and have lost some ground in them, since September.

The outcome of the war is still uncertain. It pretty much looks like Ukraine as an independent and sovereign country, will remain on the map.

But it is still not very clear whether Ukraine will be able to push Russian troops, totally off its soil and to the pre-invasion period.

The war has had its impact on the world, including Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since WW-II, with nearly eight million Ukrainians getting refugee in East European countries.

The war also led to rise in oil price and caused a worldwide grain shortage, because Russia had blocked three Ukrainian ports.

A solution was fortunately found due to Turkish mediation, with nearly 20 million tons of grain released for export.

In response to Western sanctions, Russia shut off the Nord Stream-I pipeline, thus cutting down Russia’s share of gas supply to Europe from the pre-war 40 percent to nine per cent.

Also, a matter of concern for the international community was the possibility of nuclear leakage and radiation, as battles were taking place near the Ukrainian nuclear facility of Zaporizhian.

Although it is heartbreaking to see the end of an era of global peace. The West’s futile attempt to make a moral case for its stand on Ukraine is hypocritical.

Its powerful media tried to mobilize world sympathy by highlighting Russian atrocities – an unfortunate part of any war.

Many third world Muslim countries couldn’t but note Western hypocracy “why were the NATO powers, keeping their mouth shut on the plight of the Palestinian people and the massacre of civilians in Gaza? ” they ask?

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.