Explained in 10 points: How Russia-Ukraine conflict unfolded in last 3 months
NEW DELHI: Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine has entered its fourth month today with Kremlin preparing for a long conflict to achieve its goals
In the last three months, Ukraine has managed to put up a stiff resistance — with Western help — to push back the Russian offensive, which is now largely restricted to the eastern flank.
President Vladimir Putin‘s action in Ukraine has not only upended geopolitical ties but also posed a dilemma for several countries which rely heavily on Moscow for their oil and gas needs.
Here’s a quick 10-point recap on the war that has reshaped the region and triggered a geopolitical flux …
After failing to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the initial weeks, Russia has shifted its war goalposts and is now laser-focused on the eastern Donbas region where the fighting continues.
On Tuesday, the Russian forces stepped up their offensive on the last pocket of resistance around Lugansk in Donbas.
Russia is looking to secure and expand its gains in Donbas and the southern coast of Ukraine, with the ultimate ambition of capturing the breakaway Transnistria region in Moldova.
The governor of Lugansk, in Donbas, said that Russia has sent thousands of troops to capture his entire region and that Severodonetsk was under massive attack, warning residents that it was too late to evacuate.
Sanctions & European conundrum
From sanctions to UN resolutions to public condemnation, the West has left no stone unturned to isolate Putin for ordering a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Economic sanctions against Russia have continued to pile up over the last three months and have gone past the 10,000-mark as of May 24.
But some European nations are struggling to cut down dependence on Russian oil and gas just yet.
Russia is the top supplier of crude and gas to Europe, meeting a major chunk of the region’s energy needs. It is the world’s third-biggest producer of oil, after the US and Saudi Arabia.
Europe had proposed to slash its consumption of Russia’s gas by 66% by the end of this year. However, EU countries are now split on how soon they wind down their dependence on Russian energy supplies.
What has complicated matters further is President Putin’s announcement that Russia will cut supplies to “unfriendly” nations if payments are not made in rubles.
Now, European companies are scrambling to abide by the new payment mechanisms to meet the deadlines for this month.
Last week, EU had to soften its stance over energy supplies from Russia and allowed companies to continue purchases without the risk of being sanctioned.
It is expected to publish a more detailed plan on cutting Russian dependence later this month.
At the start of the war, Kremlin had planned to make short work of comedian-turned-president Zelenskyy in Ukraine, forcing him to flee the capital and make way for a swift Russian capture.
However, Zelenskyy’s forces proved to be a tough match for the Russians.
Over the last three months of the war, the baby-faced President has embodied the gritty Ukrainian resolve of “fighting till the end, come what may”.
From assertively chiding the West for not doing enough to displaying strong leadership, Zelenskyy managed to win many hearts as the war progressed.
The Ukrainian President — acclaimed as a “war-time hero” — has now made it to Time Magazine’s list of most influential people and is often greeted with standing ovations at global platforms.
Despite ambiguity over the war’s outcome, Zelenskyy has already emerged as the heroic face of the conflict.
Pressure on President Putin?
Optics count for a lot when there’s a conflict at hand. And right now, they are not favouring President Putin.
From underestimating Ukraine’s ability in the first weeks of the war to shifting goalposts, President Putin has found himself in the middle of a conflict that is now more about saving face than winning.
Moreover, reports are doing the rounds about Putin’s deteriorating health condition following rumours of him suffering from cancer.
While no one knows the exact status of Putin’s health, these reports, coupled with the protracted conflict, have softened the belligerent image of the Russian President.
Meanwhile, for the US, a protracted war would not only put increased pressure on Putin’s regime but singularly provide the impetus for western and Nato unity and promises of increased defence spending within the alliance.
As far as US is concerned, it is apparently happy to continue increasing sanctions on Russia and trying to bleed Russian forces dry with western weapons provided to Ukrainians.
India’s neutral stand
Despite continued pressure from the West, India has stuck to its path of neutrality on Ukraine.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has advocated a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue, India has refrained from openly speaking out against the Russian offensive. It has also abstained in UN Security Council votes on Russia’s invasion.
Even at the ongoing Quad summit, while US and Japan spoke out against the Russian offensive, PM Modi avoided mentioning the conflict in his remarks.
India was an ally of Moscow during the Cold War but has since sought to maintain ties with both Russia and Western nations.
It is the world’s top buyer of Russian weapons, which it uses to deter aggression from neighbours like Pakistan and China. Between 2016 and 2021, India’s imports from Russia accounted for nearly 50% of its global arms purchase.
India’s carefully balanced stand was summarised by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman last month, wherein she said that New Delhi wants to be strong friends with the West but also needs Moscow’s assistance to defend its borders.
Moreover, despite some words here and there, US has avoided needling India further over its stand on Ukraine. Hence, bilateral ties between the two countries remain unaffected.
Nato in backyard
The genesis of the entire conflict in Ukraine was Russia’s complaint about Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) getting too close for comfort.
President Putin has been clear from the beginning that he doesn’t want Ukraine to be a part of the military alliance. More so because after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many of its former Eastern European allies joined Nato.
It is not clear yet whether Ukraine will or can become a part of Nato. But that doesn’t end Putin’s fears since Finland — which shares a border with Russia — and Sweden have now applied for membership.
Both these countries are former neutral neighours of Russia.
In case they do join Nato, the alliance will have a stronger foothold in the east than ever before, much to the chagrin of Putin.
According to several observers, President Putin, while ordering the invasion, underestimated not just Ukraine’s ability to put up a staunch defence but also the unity of the West.
Many western countries began rallying behind Ukraine as it thwarted Russia’s swift takeover bid.
Over the last three months, Ukraine has been bolstered with advanced arms and ammunition which has helped its forces keep the Russian advance in check. Most of these were supplied by US.
From heavy artillery to tactical drones to armored vehicles, US has already provided billions worth of weapons to Ukraine. These include Howitzers, Javelin missiles, and Switchblade drones.
Recently, the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies also agreed to provide $19.8 billion in economic aid to Ukraine to ensure its finances do not hinder its ability to defend itself from Russia’s invasion.
Separately, the US overwhelmingly approved its own $40 billion infusion of military and economic aid for Ukraine and its allies.
Message for China
For US, an important takeaway of the conflict is the message it has likely delivered to China.
According to observers, China has been flirting with the idea of a Ukraine-like invasion of Taiwan — which it considers as an inalienable part of its territory that should be reunited with the mainland.
But seeing how Russia’s expectations of a walkover failed miserably, China would think twice before launching a full-scale invasion of Taiwan.
Earlier, President Biden broke with convention to say openly that US would use its military to protect Taiwan.
He said later that US policy towards the self-ruled democratic island had not changed after an angry reaction by China.
But Biden’s remarks on Taiwan were seen as a sign of how three months of what Washington and its allies describe as an unprovoked Russian war of aggression in Ukraine have invigorated Western resolve on security issues.
Russia’s changing landscape
When Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, war seemed far away from Russian territory.
Yet within days the conflict came home — not with cruise missiles and mortars but in the form of unprecedented and unexpectedly extensive volleys of sanctions by Western governments and economic punishment by corporations.
Three months after the February 24 invasion, many ordinary Russians are reeling from those blows to their livelihoods and emotions.
Moscow’s vast shopping malls have turned into eerie expanses of shuttered storefronts once occupied by Western retailers.
Recently, McDonald’s — whose opening in Russia in 1990 was a cultural phenomenon, a shiny modern convenience coming to a dreary country ground down by limited choices — pulled out of Russia entirely in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
IKEA, the epitome of affordable modern comforts, suspended operations. Tens of thousands of once-secure jobs are now suddenly in question in a very short time.
Major industrial players including oil giants BP and Shell and automaker Renault walked away, despite their huge investments in Russia.
While the multinationals were leaving, thousands of Russians who had the economic means to do so were also fleeing, frightened by harsh new government moves connected to the war that they saw as a plunge into full totalitarianism. Some young men may have also fled in fear that the Kremlin would impose a mandatory draft to feed its war machine.
If the war drags on, more companies could exit Russia.
Aside from the human cost of war, many countries are grappling with the economic fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The invasion has exacerbated the inflationary pressures of the Covid pandemic due to disruptions in supply chains. The resultant rise in food and energy prices has stoked inflation in most nations around the world, including India and US.
Oil minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday told the World Economic Forum that crude oil price of $110 a barrel was not sustainable as he courted the world’s oil leaders to discuss global energy markets.
International oil prices hit a near 14-year high of $140 a barrel in March after Russia’s invasion. They have retreated but continue to hover above $110 – a rate that is fueling inflation and impacting economic recovery in many parts of the world.
Since India is 85 per cent dependent on imports to meet its oil needs, any spike in global prices has a direct bearing on the economy.
Besides leading to a rise in prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas (which are produced from crude oil), it has an indirect inflationary impact as transportation costs for all goods and services rise.
To insulate the common man from the impact of soaring fuel prices, the Centre recently stepped in to announce steep cuts in excise duty on petrol and diesel.
Even so, experts say that the inflation triggered by the conflict is likely to haunt economies for some time to come.
(With inputs from agencies)