By Colm Quinn – Foreign Policy brife
The Ukrainian capital Kyiv came under heavy missile bombardment from Russian forces early Friday morning as Russia’s all-out assault continues.
Russian ground forces have advanced across Ukraine’s borders from the northeast, close to the city of Kharkiv, from the south, via Crimea and the port city of Odessa, and from the north, where Russian troops are now in control of the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone after they moved across the Belarusian border.
As Russian tanks entered the outskirts of Kyiv, the Ukrainian government instructed citizens to stay home and resist by preparing Molotov cocktails.
Although it’s still early, and Russia still has yet to deploy roughly half of the troops surrounding Ukraine, a surprising factor has been the resilience of Ukrainian forces. A British government statement said that Ukraine’s military had presented “fierce resistance across all axes of Russia’s advance” and that it was unlikely that Russia had “achieved its planned Day 1 military objectives.”
With Ukraine’s forces otherwise overmatched by Russian resources, it’s not clear how long they can hold out. Ukrainian military officials have kept an upbeat posture, charging that it’s the Russians who don’t have the stomach for a fight. The “enemy has an extremely low morale,” a Ukrainian armed forces statement said. Ukraine’s government appears to be throwing everything at its defense, even going so far as to distribute 10,000 assault riflesto civilians in Kyiv on Thursday.
The White House is still weighing whether to arm Ukrainian resistance efforts, amid worries that it could be seen as a co-combatant in the conflict—and targeted as such, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch report.
The United States expanded its financial sanctions efforts on Thursday, effectively blocking Russia’s largest lender, Sberbank, from transacting in U.S. dollars and imposing penalties on “nearly 80 percent of all banking assets in Russia,” according to the U.S. Treasury.
Asked whether removing Russia from the SWIFT bank messaging system was off the table, U.S. President Joe Biden implied that a disagreement between European allies stopped that move for now but that: “The sanctions we imposed exceed SWIFT. The sanctions we imposed exceed anything that’s ever been done.”
But, as Adam Tooze explains in a Chartbook analysis, the carve-out for energy-related transactions—apparently at the request of EU governments—means Russian energy firms can still sell oil and gas as long as it’s not through a Russian bank.
“America has introduced sweeping sanctions against all the major banks of Russia that do everything but block the most important transactions that might actually impose severe costs both on Russia and America’s major European allies,” Tooze wrote. That means the energy sales from Russia to the West—estimated at $600 million per day—can, in theory, continue unabated.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has criticized the moves as insufficient. “We hear in our sky and see on our earth that this was not enough,” he said early Friday, as he pledged to stay in the country.
Dissent in Russia.
Demonstrations against the war took place in at least 47 cities across Russia on Thursday, no idle exercise in a country where space for civil protest is shrinking rapidly. The actions led to more than 1,700 arrests, according to a local rights group.
One hundred prominent journalists and foreign policy experts in Russia, many from the Kommersant newspaper, signed a letter condemning the invasion, saying it has “no justification.”
Despite the dissent, public opinion in Russia appears to lean toward the invasion. A CNN poll published on Feb. 23 found that 50 percent of respondents would support Russia using military force to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, just 25 percent of respondents said Russia shouldn’t.
Although the Western sanctions have yet to bite, the market uncertainty since the invasion has already cost Russia’s billionaire oligarchs $39 billion in losses. They had already lost $32 billion since the beginning of the year.
Russia has already suffered one soft-power defeat, as European soccer governing body UEFA axed St. Petersburg as this year’s host of the Champions League Final.
In a combative press conference on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying refused to confirm whether Chinese authorities believed Russia’s actions constituted an invasion. She also rejected the charge that Chinese President Xi Jinping knew about the invasion in advance, and dodged when called upon to condemn Russia’s actions.
Beijing has thrown Moscow one economic lifeline, announcing the removal of restrictions on Russian wheat imports on Thursday. China’s customs administration said that the agreement with the world’s largest wheat exporter had been made as part of a package of deals signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing earlier this month.
India, which holds strong defense ties with Russia, is also hedging for the time being. Its government has yet to condemn the invasion. President Biden said the United States was still in “consultations” with India. “We haven’t resolved that completely,” Biden added.
The Indian and Chinese stance may become clearer today at the U.N. Security Council, where a resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion and call on its forces to withdraw is expected to come to a vote. China is expected to abstain, Russia is expected to veto, but it remains to be seen whether India will join the other 12 nations in supporting the resolution. (FP’s Michael Kugelman goes deeper on the challenges the war poses to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in this week’s South Asia brief)
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What We’re Following Today
Summits on Ukraine.
NATO leaders will meet virtually today to discuss reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sweden and Finland will also be represented at the meeting.
In Warsaw, Polish President Andrzej Duda hosts fellow Bucharest Nine leaders Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia for discussions on Ukraine.