Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
30 days of War in Ukraine

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #117, 30 March 2022, Vol.2, No.53
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Padmashree Anandhan

30 days of Ukraine war: Developments, trends and perspective
In the news
On 24 February, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin began the invasion in Ukraine, launching troops into Ukraine. The launch marked the start of the war in Europe since World War II.

On 27 February, the EU announced a ban on airspace to prevent Russian aircrafts from entering its space. The EU and its allies agreed to cut down Russian banks from SWIFT along with the US. It is the most relied financial telecommunication system of Russia used in oil and gas exports.

On 03 March, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation on Russia to look into committed war crimes and violence against humanity in Ukraine. It accused Russia for carrying out crimes against the internal community.

On 13 March, Russian troops advanced into western Ukraine, launching 30 cruise missiles into a military base in Yavoriv. It is considered the closest attack to eastern Europe, 25 kilometres from Poland.

On 21 March, Ukraine rejected the ultimatum from Russia after the residents of Mariupol were encircled by the Russian troops and were asked to surrender. Mariupol became the center of bombardments and a series attacks, pushing thousands of civilians to suffer food and water shortage.

On 24 March, NATO, EU, and G7 leaders, and the US met in Brussels to discuss the next move and strategies against Russia. In the summit, the leaders agreed to intensify the sanctions, securitising eastern Europe and strengthening support for Ukraine.  

Issues at large
First, from east to west, on-ground developments. After recognising the separatist groups, Russia began the invasion by sending its first set of troops into the Donbas and Luhansk region. Russia’s first target was to expand on the sides of eastern Ukraine, targeting Melitopol, Zaphorizhzhia, Dnipro, port cities, Kherson, Mariupol, Kharkiv and Chernihiv. Later Russian troops advanced to the west carrying out specific attacks in Kyiv, Yavoriv and Lviv. Keeping the vulnerable position of Mariupol in mind, Russia, by encircling the city, has turned Mariupol as bait to threaten Ukraine. Apart from Mariupol, it has also been attempting to capture the arc of towns, Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, to enclose and capture the capital city Kyiv to take over the leadership. Ukraine, using its military forces and external support, has pushed back Russian troops from various west and eastern cities, including Kyiv, Mykolaiv and Lviv. Due to this move, Russia is slowly shifting its strategy from taking over the capital to focusing on adjoining east Ukraine with Russia. Regarding Mariupol, the Ukrainian forces have yet to evacuate the civilians and capture back Mariupol. 

Second, military capacity gaining or failing. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Russia currently possesses 280,000 troop forces, 2840 battle tanks, 5220 fighting vehicles, 4684 artillery pieces, more than 1500 air defence surface-to-air batteries and 150 ballistic missiles. When it comes to Ukraine, has 145,000 ground forces, 858 battle tanks, 1,184 fighting vehicles, 1,818 artillery pieces, more than 75 air defence surface-to-air batteries and 90 ballistic missiles. In terms of international support, Ukraine beats Russia with NATO’s supply of arms, which has been critical in slowing and deterring the Russian military. About the US and the UK, the shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, US-made Javelin, and UK-supplied NLAWs have been strategic for the Ukrainian military. Russia’s forces also shifted their war tactics from attacks on the army to civilians and cities using artillery and long-range missiles. But to end the war or win over Russia, Ukraine will need more support than ever from the international, as there are still reservations among the West in supplying Ukraine with a high-range weapon system.

Third, failure of diplomacy. From the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have been constantly trying to resolve the conflict through diplomatic talks, from Normandy format to direct negotiations with President Putin. None of the acts has helped in getting near to ceasefire or positive development. Besides the individual players, there is an emergence of mediators in the conflict, including Belarus, Turkey, Switzerland and China. Although Turkey has succeeded in bringing both parties to the discussion table, the negotiations have shown no breakthrough. 

Fourth, economic repercussions. The sanctions at the financial and individual levels, was extended to import, export and travel levels except energy and humanitarian aids. The parties who began the sanctions game were the US, the EU, Germany Australia and Japan. As the invasion continued, Canada, Iceland, Taiwan, France, Italy, Norway, South Korea and Switzerland joined the list in sanctioning Russia. Some countries that have refrained from sanctioning are China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. The sanctions overall slowed down Russia’s economy from its growth. Still, it has been very well anticipated by Russia, in terms of other economies except for the UK and the US, the dependency on Russia in agriculture, micro and macro industry, energy supplies, and trade commodities has had a dual effect, forcing them to search for an alternative source. Recuperation of Russia’s economy and bigger powers is expected to bounce back with MNCs starting back their operations after the war, the state of Ukraine’s economy will remain a question.

Fifth, the state of Russians and Ukrainians in the war. In the initial stages of the invasion, the challenges faced by the Ukrainian government was evacuating its people through humanitarian corridors. At first, there were six agreed corridors to move people out of Ukraine. But with Russia breaching the corridors by targeting attacks on the civilians and causing blocs to prevent the supply of humanitarian aid, the state of the civilians has only worsened day by day. In terms of Russia’s shift in the war tactics of shelling residential buildings, transferring a mass into Russia and in process of helping in evacuation has displaced more number people across Ukraine. Therefore, the count of deaths, refugees and displaced seem to be on the increasing trend week after week.

In perspective
First, from the point of Ukraine. One could observe that all the promises made by the international powers to support Ukraine in case of an invasion is neither immaterial nor realistic. Keeping the stress on war de-escalation, the external powers seem to have underplayed in bringing the war to end.

Second, from the point of view of Russia. One month of war does not seem to be enough to settle down its negotiations. From the aim of capturing the Kyiv, it has shifted its focus to redrawing the borders of eastern Ukraine and joining with the Russian territory.

Third, from the point of view of external actors. The one month of war seems like a warm-up for a longer struggle invoking a fear of China’s involvement and a larger threat to secure Europe as Russia gets closer.

Also from around the World
By Sejal Sharma, Satyam Dubey and Padmashree Anandhan
Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
China: Beijing to host 'troika plus' meeting with the US, Russia and Pakistan    
On 29 March, The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Beijing would host the Troika Plus meeting to be attended by the US, Russia and Pakistani representatives to discuss the strategies to help Afghanistan despite their grudges. Amidst the Ukraine crisis, the stake-holding parties will meet in the backdrop of the third meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan's neighbouring countries, which is scheduled to be held in Anhui province of China on 30 March. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said: "China, the US and Russia are countries that have an important influence on Afghan issues. We hope this meeting will actively echo the third Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan's Neighbouring Countries on further unifying consensus, promoting regional countries and the international community's support for Afghanistan's peaceful rebuilding and helping the country realize peace, stability and development.''

Thailand: Court convicts 66 migrants of illegal entry, ordered to repatriate them 
On 28 March, a Thailand court convicted 66 barefoot, dishevelled Rohingya migrants of illegal entry into the country and ordered them to send them back to Myanmar despite fears that they would be persecuted after repatriation. The migrants were sentenced to five days in prison after none of them was able to pay a penalty of 1,000 baht (USD30). Hussain, one of the migrants urged the court before the ruling that they'll be killed if repatriated back to Myanmar. The Thailand Foreign Ministry, said: “There is no reasonable ground to believe that these illegal migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted. Thailand faces an enormous burden because of 3 million illegal migrants currently in the country.”     

Philippines: Manila holds biggest military exercise with the US in 7 years   
On 28 March, the Philippines kicked off the biggest joint military drills with its long-time partner, the US, since 2015, which was earlier scaled back by President Rodrigo Duterte to pursue warmer ties with Beijing. The 'Balikatan' (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises that include live-fire operation and training with amphibious assault vehicles were held this year between the militaries of two nations. The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte had distanced himself from the US to seek closer ties with Beijing in exchange for aid and investment and pledges of loans. But recently, Manila has been susceptive and slammed China for its maritime activities in the disputed South China Sea. The Philippine Defence Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, said: "We are sending a message to the world that the alliance between our countries is stronger than ever."

Myanmar: Regime passes law to force Naypyidaw's police to join the war   
On 29 March, the military council in Myanmar, issued a new law last week that enable them to force Naypyidaw's police to join the fight against anti-coup resistance movements across the country. It was one of the five objectives, signed by Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's Junta chief, on 25 March in the 22-page Police Force Law for the Naypyidaw's police to take part in the state’s defence and security affairs when necessary. The junta's move to enact the Police Force Law comes when the anti-coup armed resistance has grown to an extent nationwide and the military is suffering significant casualties fighting with the National Unity Government (NUG)-backed People’s Defence Forces (PDF). The NUG’s information and technology minister, Htin Lin Aung said: “Any law issued or any announcement of orders done without the parliament’s approval is not legal,” dismissing new laws introduced by the military junta.  

Myanmar: Soldiers tortured two civilians to death in Magwe   
On 29 March, the Gangaw People’s Defense Force (PDF) reported that Pyu Saw Htee militia fighters along with Junta soldiers, tortured two civilians to death this month in the Magwe region. A residence informed that a villager of Myauk Khin Yan was first doused up with hot water and then dragged by a vehicle until his death with a chain in his neck. While a resistance fighter, trying to rescue 300 civilians trapped in a village, was killed by an artillery strike. The villagers said that the junta soldiers have not only vandalized but torched their houses also and looted valuables apart from killing civilians in Gangaw. According to the PDF, five junta soldiers were killed and a captain was severely injured in the tussle with the resistance fighters in Gangaw on 21 March.    

Myanmar: Military leader vows to annihilate militia groups fighting with the army 
On 27 March, fed up with the armed struggles against the local militia groups, Aung Hlaing, Myanmar's military leader, vowed to annihilate them. He further announced that the armed forces will intensify actions against these homegrown terrorist groups fighting with the military-run government. Hundreds of local militia groups called the People's Defence Forces (PDF) had taken up arms against the military rule oppressing people with their violence and operations like airstrikes, artillery barrages and the burning of villages. While addressing thousands of military personnel during the parade in Naypyitaw, Aung Hlaing said: ''the Tatmadaw would not negotiate with the terrorist groups and their supporters for killing innocent people and threatening peace and security. the military will annihilate them to (the) end.'' 

Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Afghanistan: UNDP emphasises on reviving the economy 
On 28 March, the administrator of the UNDP Achim Steiner, addressed the need for the international community to invest in Kabul’s economy to prevent 90 per cent of the population from going below the poverty line by the end of the year. While travelling Mazar-e-Sharif, he announced a 1.5 million USD grant to help diversify the work of business women in the northern parts of the country. He emphasised of the urgent need to resuscitate income sources for the people to emerge from the humanitarian and economic crisis. Participation of women in the society and economy was encouraged. 

Afghanistan: UNSC calls for re-opening of girls’ schools 
On 28 March, members of the UNSC called on the Islamic Emirate to respect the right to education for all Afghans and to adhere to their promise of reopening schools for all female students without further delay. The move comes in light of the heavily criticised decision of the Taliban, which restricted girls beyond sixth grade from entering schools. The UNSC highlighted the importance of international efforts in helping Afghanistan emerge from the crisis and the role of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.  

Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Yemen: Conflict in the region takes a grim turn 
On 25 March, after a series of attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels on its oil facilities, Saudi Arabia reported the beginning of a military operation to protect global energy resources and go on the offensive. The attacks targeted oil-giant Aramco’s facilities and vital facilities in Riyadh. In response, the Saudi-led coalition led missile and drone airstrikes at Sanaa and blocked the Hodeidah port. On 27 March, the Houthis declared a three-day truce and permanent ceasefire. However it was followed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition. Subsequently, the Houthis struck an oil depot near Saudi’s Formula One track in Jeddah, which turned into a blazing fire. No casualties on either side have been reported. 

Yemen: Military operation halted 
On 30 March, the Saudi-led coalition announced halting its military operation against the Houthis on account of the month of Ramadan. The call for ceasing the operation came amid UN peacekeeping efforts to de-escalate the crisis. The UN proposal calls for a ceasefire during the holy month to allow movement of ships and commercial flights at the Houthi-held Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport, which have been closed since 2015. The Houthi militia has declined invitation to peace talks with Saudi Arabia and allied factions in the war, stating their requirement to hold the talks in a neutral country. A prisoner swap is also under discussion between both sides, which, if executed would see hundreds of prisoners freed, including 16 Saudis and the President’s brother. 

Syria: Four killed amidst clashes between ISIS and Kurdish fighters 
On 29 March, a fight broke out at the Al-hol camp for displaced people between the ISIS fighters and Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Al-hol camp houses approximately 56,000 displaced people and the family of detained ISIS fighters and has been at the centre of the ongoing tensions.  The clashes killed three people, including a child and an ISIS fighter. Another ten people were reported to be wounded. The fighting involved pistols, automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades. The SDF has called for international support to prevent the resurgence of ISIS.  

Somalia: Militants attack increases to halt presidential election  
On 27 March, the militants in Somalia recently attacked the Af Urur military base in the north of the country, killing four soldiers. The ambush comes after two deadly attacks on 24 March, one on Halane base near the airport and other twin blasts in the city of Beledweyne in which Amina Mohamed Abdi, a prominent opposition politician outspoken government critic, was killed along with 47 other people. Al-Shabab had taken responsibility for the attacks to target politicians contesting in the upcoming elections in Somalia which will pave the way for the lawmakers to pick a president. Earlier, Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi extended his tenure for two years after his term expired in April 2021. Somalian Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said the ambush was aimed at disrupting the elections. 

Nigeria: 7,000 Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters surrendered within a week   
On 24 March, around 7000 members from different fighter groups, including the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram, have surrendered within a week in the northeast region of Nigeria. The Nigerian army will profile the surrendering fighters and their families before they undergo the rehabilitation process. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), until now, 350,000 people have been killed and three million civilians displaced in fighting that has been going on for more than a decade in the country. A top commander in northeast Nigeria informed: “This is evident as thousands of the insurgents comprising combatants, non-combatants, foot soldiers, alongside their families, continued to lay down their arms in different parts of Borno to accept peace.” 

Ethiopia: Tigray rebels agree to a cessation of hostilities 
On 25 March, the Tigrayan rebels have agreed to a cessation of hostilities immediately in northern Ethiopia and urged the government to hasten the delivery of emergency aid to the people facing starvation in the region. The rebel's move comes just after the Abiy Ahmed government's surprise announcement of an indefinite humanitarian truce that would pave the way for resolving the 17-month war in northern Ethiopia. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed has called on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to desist from any act causing further aggression and withdraw from the area of neighbouring regions that the rebels have occupied during the war. 

Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Russia: US, France accused Moscow of causing a 'Global Food Crisis' at the UN 
On 30 March, at the UN Security Council meeting, the US and France accused Moscow of causing a global food crisis and putting people at risk of famine by declaring war on Ukraine. The US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin for waging a war on Ukraine which will cause a global food shortage. French ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere sponsored the US remarks and added that the Russian aggression would increase the risk of famine that may affect the developing countries more. Moscow's UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, countered the argument and said: ''potential turbulence in the global food market was caused by the unbridled sanctions hysteria that the West has unleashed against Russia." 

Ukraine: Russian attacks continue in various cities
On 26 March, the Governor of the Lviv region, Maksym Kozytskyi reported the injury of five people due to the high-precision Onyx cruise missile strike on a fuel storage facility in Lviv. Apart from these Russian forces were seen to be attacking the nuclear research facility in Kharkiv and the workers at the Chernobyl's nuclear power plant were reported to be taken over by the Russians. On 25 March, Russia struck a medical center in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The strike killed four civilians while others were wounded. The local police said: “This morning, following a bombardment on civilian infrastructure from several rocket launchers, seven civilians were injured, four of them died.” The medical center is in the city’s Osnovyansky district.

Ukraine: First prisoner of war exchange with Russia
On 25 March, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that an exchange of prisoners of war took place in the city of Mangush. Ten captured occupiers were exchanged for 10 Ukrainian service members in the exchange. Vereshchuk said: “We managed to release the drivers and rescuers captured by the occupiers two days ago in Mangush.” Mangush is a settlement in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

Colombia: Fighting between armed groups caused tensions on the border 
On 28 March, there has been a dramatic rise in violence caused due to fighting between armed groups at the Colombia-Venezuela border in the early months of this year which led thousands of people to flee, informed Human Rights Watch. On 1 January, the clashes broke out between the Joint Eastern Command, a coalition dissident group of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas for the control of territory and illegal activities in the Arauca state of Colombia and Apure state of Venezuela. Guerilla fighters from both sides run operations causing violent activities and a range of abuses including forced recruitment, the inclusion of children, killings and forced displacement. Acting director at Human Rights Watch said: “Colombian authorities should urgently ramp up their efforts to protect the population and assist displaced people, and the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela should investigate the responsibility of Venezuelan security forces for the guerrillas’ abuses.” 

Panama: The number of people crossing Darien Gap increases intensively this year 
On 29 March, the number of people crossing Darien Gap, Panama's notorious and lawless route to head towards the US, has almost tripled as compared with the same period last year, informed the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). According to UNHCR, 8,456 people crossed the dangerous jungle area lying between Panama and Colombia in the first two months of this year. The number was 2,928 in the first two months of 2021. The Darien Gap is a 160 km long stretch of the mountainous jungle controlled by criminal groups causing acts like sexual abuse and robbery. In a statement by UNHCR: “Many of those who make the crossing – usually young adults and families – arrive in remote Indigenous communities, hungry, dehydrated, exhausted and in need of medical attention.” 

About the authors
Padmashree Anandhan is a Project Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey are postgraduate scholars at Pondicherry University.

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