On Wednesday, April 13th, Russian officials claimed that over 1000 Ukrainian soldiers have been captured in the city of Mariupol by Russian forces, a statement yet to be verified by the Ukrainian government. If the claim is true it would represent a crushing blow to the defenses of the strategically important city, the last Ukrainian stronghold on the Sea of Azov. Mariupol has been besieged for weeks and is a hotly contested territory.
After Russian advances in the western part of the country ground to a standstill, Russian forces pulled back from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, as of April 7th, to focus attention on the conquering the nation’s eastern half; the eastern city of Kharkiv, for example, remains in Ukrainian hands but has faced an escalated bombing campaign in recent days.
Thus far more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country — mostly women, children and the elderly, as the Ukrainian government has banned the departure of fighting-age men. An additional 6.5 million more citizens have been internally displaced, with the UN estimating that almost 2000 civilians have been killed since the start of the conflict.
In a sign of escalating rheotoric and as a potential prelude to greater involvement, on April 12th President Biden referred to the ongoing Russian campaign as a “genocide.” This new condemnation from the White House, which has for weeks referred to Putin as a “war criminal,” has drawn the ire of Biden critics and supporters alike, with critics arguing that such rhetoric narrows the path to a negotiated end to the conflict and proponents arguing that the condemnations do not go far enough.
Western nations have condemned the Russian invasion and imposed significant sanctions on the regime, though non-Western powers like India have been more circumspect in their Russia policies. Trade loopholes, surging prices on oil and gas and European dependence on fossil fuels have blunted much of the sanction’s effects, providing Russia with significant funding for its war efforts. Falling short of condemning Western leaders for their hypocrisy, Ukraine’s President Zelensky has instead focused on requesting lethal aid from North Atlantic Treaty Organization members.
The war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24th, several days after Russia recognized the independence of the contested Donbass Region. Fighting in the Donbass region (the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk) between Russian-aligned separatists and Ukrainian loyalists has been ongoing since 2014, when Ukranians ousted its pro-Russian president, Victor Yanukovych, during the Maidan Revolution. When Russian-supported “independence,” was declared the separatists controlled roughly ⅓ of the two provinces; despite the ongoing Russian advance much of the territory still remains in Ukrainian hands.
Shortly after Yanukovych’s departure, Russia unilaterally annexed the Crimean Peninsula ensuring their continued control of their naval base at Sevastopol and granting them a foothold on the southern tip of the country, from which they staged a substantial part of the 2022 invasion.
Russia considers Ukraine its geopolitical backyard, with Russian civilization originating in the Kievan Rus, a Kyiv-centered polity from the 9th to 13th centuries. Ukraine has often been entangled with Russia since, becoming a member state of the Soviet Union and disproportionately suffering from the Holodomor famine of the 1930s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine surrendered its sizable nuclear arsenal in exchange for legal guarantees that the Russians and the West would not use economic or military coercion against the nation.