DemDaily: Update on Ukraine

February 23, 2023

President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday in a defiant display of Western solidarity with the war-torn country -- just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of its “brutal and unjust war” at the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 set off Europe's most significant military and humanitarian crisis since World War II, with profound global economic ramifications.

Although Biden's travel to neighboring Poland to meet with allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had been announced ten days earlier, the stealth trip to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was made under a veil of secrecy. The 10-hour trip from Poland to Ukraine was undertaken by train with limited staff, security and just one reporter and photographer.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it was “unprecedented in modern times to have the president of the United States visit the capital of the country of war where the United States military does not control the critical infrastructure.” Sullivan said the Russians were notified of Biden's trip immediately prior "for deconfliction purposes."

The Casualties: The true human toll is impossible to measure amidst the ongoing conflict. As of February 17, the UK Defense Ministry estimated that Russian military forces had incurred as many as 200,000 serious casualties, including up to 60,000 deaths. The Norwegian Chief of Defence estimates Ukrainian military killed and wounded in excess of 100,000, along with approximately 30,000 civilian deaths.
The verified numbers from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stand at just 7,199 civilian deaths, including 438 of whom were children, and 11,756 injured.

The Map
Ukraine is one of 15 republics that seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991, but the battle for its independence, and struggle as a neutral state between the West and East, has been ongoing for the last three decades.

The Russo-Ukrainian War war actually began in 2014 with Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Soon after, with the protection of 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border, pro-Russian separatists in the region of Donbas declared independence in a conflict that continued through the current invasion, at the cost of more than 14,000 lives.

On February 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia recognized the independence of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) -- launching a military attack on Ukraine three days later, ostensibly to protect residents of the Donbas region from the Ukrainian government.

Russia initially made advancements, inflicting mass destruction on Ukraine's major cities and infrastructure, while killing and injuring thousands of Ukrainians. Their early attempts to capture Kyiv, however, ended with the withdrawal of forces from the capital and, eventually, from all of Northern Ukraine West of Kharkiv.

Last September, Russia unilaterally declared its annexation of areas in and around four Ukrainian oblasts -- Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, where they had made inroads. Ukraine, however, has since been able to regain full control of most of the territory, including Kherson City.

Throughout, Russia's military has suffered significant failures in command, control, and logistics. The lack of trust between Russia's political and military class has also resulted in further problems from the strategic to the tactical level.

Sanctions and Support
Putin also grossly underestimated the strength of Ukrainians' resistance and the unity of their Western allies in coming to their aid.

Since Russia's annexation of Crimea, the United States and at least 100 countries and territories have imposed sweeping and unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia. Belarus has also been sanctioned for its cooperation with and assistance to Russian armed forces.

In addition, over 1,000 companies worldwide have curtailed or withdrawn their operations in Russia.

“Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided…I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.” - President Joe Biden

In Kyiv on Monday, Biden announced that the US will be sending an additional half-billion dollars in assistance -- on top of the more than $50 billion already provided -- for shells for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars and other aid, although no new advanced weaponry has been promised.

The following day, in his much-delayed annual state of the nation address to Russia’s National Assembly, Putin announced he is suspending his country’s participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States. It was last extended in 2021 for five years.

The treaty puts limits on the number of deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons that both the US and Russia can own.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the decision was “reversible,” but called on the US to "show political will" and "refrain from steps that could prevent the resumption of the New START in the event that the necessary conditions for this mature.”

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: AP, Kiel Institute, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, PBS, NPR, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, CNN

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