Photo : Annegret Hilse/Reuters
19 March 2022, Saturday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #153
War in Ukraine: Day 24
By Padmashree Anandhan and Ashwin Dhanabalan
War on the ground:
14,000 Russian troops killed
On 19 March, Ukraine’s general staff claimed to have killed over 14,000 Russian troops since Moscow’s invasion. This comes as Ukrainian forces also claimed to have killed a fifth Russian general who commanded the 8th guards combined army. Lieutenant General Andrei Mordvichev is said to have been killed by Ukrainian forces in the southern part of Ukraine. However, BBC suggested that the claims could not be independently verified.
Access to the Sea of Azov temporarily lost
On 19 March, Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said it had lost temporary access to the sea of Azov as Russian forces had tightened their grip around the port of Mariupol. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry stated: “The occupiers have partially succeeded in the Donetsk operational district, temporarily depriving Ukraine of access to the Sea of Azov.” Mariupol is a strategic point for advancing Russian forces as it is located near Crimea on the west and the Donetsk region on the east. Nevertheless, the Ministry has not mentioned if it has regained access to the sea.
Russian saboteurs detained
On 19 March, Ukrainian forces said they detained 127 saboteurs and 14 infiltration groups in Kyiv trying to infiltrate the capital. The Ukrainian forces were successful as they set up roadblocks and checkpoints to capture the pro-Russian members. As reported by BBC: “They are the basis of fortifications, engineering barriers, checkpoints for vehicles and people, and of the construction of other systems, including those for live-fire..”
Impact of the war
On 19 March, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky talked about the mines placed by the Russian forces in Ukraine. He said: “We won’t be able to remove the mines from all that territory, so I asked our international partners and colleagues from the European Union and the United States to prepare groups of experts to determine the areas of combat and facilities that came under shelling.” Denys Monastyrsky further mentioned that it would take years to defuse all of the unexploded Russian ordinances.
Russian strike on Mykolaiv base
On 18 March, Russia launched missiles from the Kherson region to the Mykolaiv base. Russian forces recently occupied Kherson. The death toll was not confirmed, but at least 80 bodies were pulled out of the rubble. As reported by BBC: “Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich has said there was no time to sound air raid sirens before the raid as missiles were launched from the nearby Kherson region, to the south-east.”
Zelenskyy’s call for peace talks
On 19 March, on a video, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for talks with the Kremlin. Zelenskyy said: “This is the time to meet, to talk, time for renewing territorial integrity and fairness for Ukraine…Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be such that several generations will not recover.” Zelenskyy’s remarks came as Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine and intense fighting continued in Mariupol.
The Moscow view:
Claims by Russia
On 19 March, Russia’s Defence Ministry stated that it had entered the city of Mariupol, this was followed by Zelenskyy appealing for a new round of talks with Russia. The Ministry released a statement: “In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People’s Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city centre.” This came as a breakthrough for the Russian forces as they had been shelling the city for days.
Use of hypersonic missiles
On 19 March, Russia used its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine. The missiles were targeted to destroy a weapons storage site. Russia had never admitted using high-precision weapons in combat until now. The Russian Defence Ministry said: “The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse containing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.” The Kinzhal or dagger is a missile that flies at ten times the speed of sound, deterring it from being targeted by Ukraine’s air defence systems.
Progress in talks
On 19 March, Russia claimed that the talks recently held showed progress in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. The two countries discussed a proposal for Ukraine to become a neutral state. Earlier, the Kremlin talked about Ukraine becoming a neutral state like Sweden or Austria. Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said: “The topic of neutral status and Ukraine’s non-accession to NATO is one of the key points of the talks, this is the point on which the parties brought their positions as close as possible.” However, there were issues when Ukraine discussed security guarantees.
On the same day, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of restraining Kyiv from agreeing to Russia’s demands. He said: “It is constantly felt that the Ukrainian delegation is being held by the hand, most likely by the Americans, not allowing them to agree to the demands that I think are absolutely minimal.” However, Lavrov did not provide any evidence to back these statements.
Responding to Biden’s comments
On 18 March, Russian Presidential Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov mentioned US President Joe Biden’s remarks about Putin. Peskov said: “Bearing in mind Mr. Biden’s irritability, fatigue and forgetfulness, which eventually results in aggressive statements, we will possibly prefer to refrain from making any strong comments so as not to trigger more aggression.” This came after Biden had claimed Putin was a murderous dictator, pure thug, and he waged an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.
West’s information war
On 18 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mentioned the West’s strategy to wage an information war against Russia. He said: “Substitution of notions often takes place.… It’s a war. It’s a war that involves methods of information terrorism. There is no doubt about this.” Lavrov further added that the US and UK media controlled the global information field. He further claimed that there was nothing called independent Western media and that censorship continued in these countries on a large scale.
The West view:
Responses from the US and Europe
On 19 March, a well-known think tank in the US, the Institute for the Study of War has provided an analysis on the Russian invasion. It stated how Russia uses force to lay a strict administration along with the police regime, but also through distribution of food to the public, to portray a good image. In terms of Ukraine, the think found that the Ukrainian forces through counterattacks have safeguarded the southern city of Mykolaiv and have stopped the advancing of troops in Kharkiv. Another think tank, the Center for Global Development warned that the hike in the price of global food and oil will push more than 40 million in the world into “extreme poverty.”
On 19 March, Poland Prime Minister Mateus Morawiecki stressed on the EU to impose a full ban blocking both sea and land trade with Russia. He said: “Fully cutting off Russia's trade would further force Russia to consider whether it would be better to stop this cruel war.” Although the EU has sanctioned Russia in luxury goods, steel and energy sectors, Poland has been on the front in pressurising the EU to levy stricter sanctions.
On 19 March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pointed out strongly that Russia had launched the war out of fear of Ukraine gaining freedom and fear of having a democratic nation as its neighbour. He said that Putin will not stop with Ukraine invasion and winning Ukraine would mean the end of freedom to Georgia and Moldova. Johnson recommended bold steps against Russia and recommended cutting down the dependency on oil and gas.
On 19 March, the UK Ministry of Defense reported the change in Russia’s strategy in war. It said that due to staunch resistance from Ukraine, Russia has been pushed to differ from its “operational approach” and has opted for the “strategy of attrition.” The change has led to more civilian deaths, damage of Ukraine infrastructure and deepened the humanitarian crisis.
On 19 March, with the ICC in process of investigating Putin for the accused war crimes, the Former British Prime Minister signed a petition calling for new international tribunal to interrogate Putin based on “Nuremberg trials.” He said through the formation of a tribunal, any loophole in international law will be closed for Putin, he also pointed out the crimes carried out by Russia against International law. The crimes were, the breaking of humanitarian ceasefire promises and “nuclear blackmail.”
On 19 March, Ireland’s Foreign Minister said that bringing back Iran into the nuclear deal will help ease the oil prices. With rising oil prices due to sanctions on Russia, Iran entering the deal would mean an alternative to supply oil to the global market. As the UK and the EU look out to cut down dependency on Russian oil, Iran can be a better exchange.
The Global Fallouts:
International implications of the Ukraine war
On 19 March, Bosch, one of Europe’s top car-parts manufacturers announced the decision to stop production in Russia. The withdrawal comes as the company faces similar challenges like other MNCs, the problem of supply chain disruption. The main reason behind the choice is Ukraine’s claim on products supplied by Bosch being used in Russian infantry vehicles. Although Germany has reasoned it as long-existing business between Europe and Russia, an investigation has been launched to check whether it is violating the sanctions imposed by the EU.
On 19 March, the UN reported the count of total civilians killed so far in the war. It estimated 847 civilians, which included 64 children to be killed since 24 February. Apart from the deaths, close to 1400 have been injured due to shelling and airstrikes as said by the UN human rights office (OHCHR). According to OHCHR: “Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.”
On 19 March, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the UN failed to reach the people stuck in the city of Mariupol. It is due to Russian troops which have surrounded the city and the truck drivers have refused to drive risking their lives. WFPs emergency coordinator, Jakob Kern commented that Russia’s block to the entry of food supplies is: “unacceptable in the 21st century.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, he remarked that the foundations of the international order has shuffled due to the Russian invasion. So far Japan has levied many sanctions on Russian individuals and organizations, while India is yet to condemn Russia. Kishida said: “We (Kishida and Modi) confirmed any unilateral change to the status quo by force cannot be forgiven in any region, and it is necessary to seek peaceful resolutions of disputes based on international law.”
On 19 March, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng commented on the sanctions levied by the West on Russia as “Outrageous.” He also asked the NATO not to advance further in the east of Europe to prevent triggering Russia. China has opposed sanctions put on Russia but has not condemned the invasion, it has opposed the sanctions strongly till now. Le Yucheng said: “History has proven time and again that sanctions cannot solve problems. Sanctions will only harm ordinary people, impact the economic and financial system... and worsen the global economy.”
“Ukraine 'temporarily' loses access to Sea of Azov, Defence Ministry says,” Reuters, 19 March 2022
“It will likely take years to defuse all of the unexploded Russian ordinances, the Associated Press reports,” The Guardian, 19 March 2022
“Here's what you need to know,” BBC, 19 March 2022
“Victims pulled out of rubble after Russian strike on Mykolaiv base,” BBC, 19 March 2022
“Russia Claims Progress in Talks With Kyiv on a Neutral Ukraine,” The Moscow Times, 19 March 2022
“Russia Uses Advanced Hypersonic Missiles in Ukraine for the First Time,” The Moscow Times, 19 March 2022
Emmanuel Duparcq and Dmytro Gorshkov, “Zelenskiy Calls for Fresh Talks, Russia Says Entered Mariupol Centre,” The Moscow Times, 19 March 2022
“West wages information war against Russia, uses information terrorism — Lavrov,” TASS, 18 March 2022
“Biden uttered "personal insults" addressed to Putin — Kremlin spokesman,” TASS, 18 March 2022
“BBC Live,” BBC, 19 March 2022
By Emmanuel Royan
War in Ukraine increases Macron’s probability of re-election
On 18 March, a report by BBC mentioned how the war in Ukraine had boosted incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy in the upcoming elections. Macron’s diplomatic visits and the role in mediating between Ukraine and Russia improved his poll rating and has made his re-election seem inevitable. Veteran commentator Pierre Haski examined that Macron has two factors working for him. One is the opposition's disarray. The other factor is the global political climate, which is working almost effortlessly in his favour. It's shaping up to be the most tedious presidential election in living memory. Apart from that, since France took up the EU’s Presidency this year, it has highlighted Macron on the international stage. (Hugh Schofield, “French elections: Putin’s war gives Macron boost in presidential race,” BBC, 18 March 2022)
Foreign Minister Baerbock outlines the key elements of national security strategy
On 18 March, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced to start the deliberations on Germany’s new national security plan. Baerbock's plans for a national security strategy that are based upon the need to secure freedoms and the foundation for people's livelihoods. She emphasised the importance of a comprehensive approach to national security that includes international partners, stating that security policy is more than just the military and diplomacy. Reflecting on the past, the Foreign Minister stated that Germany bears a "special responsibility" due to its history and guilt for atrocities committed during World War II. She lastly advocated for a new security strategy that was forward-thinking, focusing on cybersecurity, which has become an integral part of modern warfare.(Alex Berry, “German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presents Germany’s national security strategy,” Deutsche Welle, 18 March 2022)
Spain: Moroccan plan of autonomy for Western Sahara accepted
On 18 March, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez recognized the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco in 2007. Morocco has claimed Western Sahara as its own since annexing it in 1975 after Spain abandoned its former colony. Under the new plan, Spain would accept autonomy in the Western Sahara. A major diplomatic incident in 2021 led to the recent policy shift . Madrid permitted Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to fly to Spain for medical treatment. Morocco reacted by allowing up to 10,000 individuals to cross into the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. (“Morocco says Spain backs its designs on Western Sahara,” Deutsche Welle, 18 March 2022)
Climate change’s impact on farmers and farming
On 18 March, Deutsche Welle reported the adverse effects of climate change and its impact on crops in Europe. Europe has been experiencing hotter summers, severe storms, and prolonged dry spells. Climate change would also induce frequent events of flash floods, water shortages, and hailstorms; this has caused a shift in growing conditions for several crops in Europe. However, the European Environment Agency (EEA) report stated that climate change could benefit northern Europe. This comes as northern Europe would face shorter frost periods and open up the opportunities to cultivate newer crops and varieties. (Martin Kuebler, “In Europe, climate change brings new crops, new ideas,” Deutsche Welle, 18 March 2022)