MOSCOW, March 24. /TASS/. March 24, 2022 marks one month since the start of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine aimed at its demilitarization and denazification.
Tensions mount in autumn 2021
In autumn 2021, Western and Ukrainian mass media started echoing reports about a looming Russian incursion into Ukraine on the horizon. Similar rhetoric came from officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, EU member states and Ukraine. In response, Russia said that Kiev and the West were fueling tensions. Meanwhile, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not rule out the possibility of provocations in the conflict zone in Donbass in order to justify such statements and warned that any attempts to resolve the crisis in Ukraine’s southeast by the use of force could trigger the most serious consequences.
The situation around Ukraine was discussed at a number of talks between Russia and the West.
Moscow as well as Washington and Brussels exchanged mutual proposals on security guarantees. However, no significant decisions were made. In particular, Russia called on NATO to refrain from creating situations posing a threat to security of both sides, to give up any military activity in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia and also to stop the US-led military bloc’s further eastward expansion. Washington rejected some Russian proposals as unacceptable. In its turn, Moscow said it would not make any unilateral concessions.
West floods Ukraine with military assistance
In January 2022, Western states started ramping up military assistance to Kiev, which included lethal arms supplies. Thus, the US handed over to Ukraine several hundred tonnes of weapons, including the Javelin portable anti-tank missile systems. Kiev also received NLAW anti-tank systems from the UK, Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles from Turkey, Stinger man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) from Lithuania and the Netherlands, and Airbus H125 helicopters from France. The Ukrainian authorities received military assistance from Poland, Estonia, Sweden, Canada and other countries, including Germany, which initially refused to supply weapons to Kiev. In addition, Ukraine received free-of-charge financial assistance and loans from the West.
The US-led North Atlantic bloc announced the expansion of its military presence in Eastern Europe amid mounting tensions. Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced that NATO troops would not take part in potential combat actions in Ukraine.
Escalation of conflict in Donbass in early 2022
In 2022, tensions were running high in Donbass, and the situation on the contact line deteriorated. On February 18, in the light of the growing threat of looming combat actions, the heads of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, Leonid Pasechnik and Denis Pushilin, announced the evacuation of citizens to Russia. Pushilin said according to him Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky was going to soon order the military to implement a plan to invade the territory of the DPR and LPR. With that in mind, the people’s republics declared general mobilization.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told the February 21 meeting of the Russian Security Council that on February 19-20 alone, the Ukrainian military shelled Donetsk over 107 times, using heavy weapons in more than 70 cases. As a result of actions by Ukrainian saboteurs and artillery units, Donetsk’s water supply was cut off.
Recognizing DPR and LPR’ independence, severing diplomatic ties with Ukraine
Amid the escalation in Donbass on February 15, 2022, the Russian State Duma (lower house) unanimously passed a draft appeal to the Russian president, initiated by the faction of the Communist Party (CPRF) on the need to recognize the independence of the DPR and LPR and submitted it to the head of state for consideration. On February 21, the heads of the DPR and LPR, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, asked the Russian president to recognize the republics’ independence. On the same day, after the expanded meeting with the Security Council members, Putin announced in a televised address to the citizens a decision on recognizing the sovereignty of the DPR and LPR. The president urged the Ukrainian authorities to immediately stop combat operations in Donbass, stressing that otherwise Kiev would be responsible for any possible continuation of bloodshed. Putin described the recognition of the republics’ independence as "a long overdue decision" and recalled that Russia "had made every effort to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity," including when it struggled to implement the Minsk peace deal, but to no avail.
On February 22, Putin said Russia recognized the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics within the existing boundaries. However, all disputable issues should be solved at talks between the Kiev authorities and the republics’ heads.
On the same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a request to President Vladimir Zelensky on breaking diplomatic relations with Russia, and a respective draft law was submitted to the parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. On February 24, Kiev handed over to the Russian Foreign Ministry a note on cutting diplomatic ties with Russia.
Decision on conducting Russia’s special operation
On February 22, 2022, the Federation Council (upper house) authorized the president to use Russia’s Armed Forces outside Russia in connection with the situation in Donbass. Late on February 23, the DPR and LPR’s missions reported the shellings carried out by the Kiev forces with the use of heavy artillery, mortars and grenade launchers, including small arms. The heads of the DPR and LPR asked Russia to help repel Ukraine’s aggression. At 6:00 a.m. on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a special military operation in Ukraine in response to the request by the Donbass republics’ leaders. He stressed that Moscow was not planning to occupy the Ukrainian territory and that its goal was the country’s demilitarization and denazification. The president also noted that Russia could not let Kiev obtain nuclear weapons and emphasized that NATO’s eastward expansion was unacceptable for Moscow.
Special military operation in Ukraine
On February 24, after the special military operation in Ukraine was launched, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that on that same morning, the DPR and LPR militias, after lengthy battles to repel the Kiev regime’s military, set up force groupings that launched a counteroffensive with fire support from Russian troops. The ministry stressed that Russia was not hitting Ukrainian cities but was only targeting Ukraine’s military infrastructure with surgical strikes. This pinpoint operation involved Kalibr cruise missiles and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. During the first days of the special operation, the Russian forces managed to advance to Kherson and fully block Ukrainian cities of Chernigov, Sumy and Konotop, as well as surround Kiev from the west. The Russian military also took control of the territory near the Zaporozhskaya and Chernobyl nuclear power plants. On February 26, the Russian troops destroyed a dam that blocked the North Crimean Canal, restoring water supplies to Crimea.
In early March, the Kiev regime’s forces were fully cut off from the coast of the Sea of Azov and were surrounded in Mariupol. Since March 5, humanitarian routes from the zones of combat were opened.
During the special operation, Russia’s forces uncovered documents on biolabs, which operated in Ukraine with the Pentagon’s financial support. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, these US-run labs were working on and developing bioweapon components. At first, Washington rejected these findings as misinformation, but on March 8, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told the Senate that Ukraine had biological research facilities and the US tried to prevent Russian forces from seizing them.
On March 9, the Russian Defense Ministry published a secret order by Ukrainian National Guard Commander Nikolay Balan, confirming that since January 2022 there had been preparations for an offensive in Donbass. Russia’s top brass noted that Moscow’s special operation thwarted a large-scale offensive by Ukraine’s battle groups against the LPR and DPR, which had been planned for March.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, as of March 24, Russia’s forces have destroyed more than 4,000 military facilities in Ukraine, 1,572 tanks and armored vehicles, 441 aircraft, including 184 planes and 257 unmanned aerial vehicles.
Amid the special operation, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky asked NATO on numerous occasions to enforce a no-fly zone over his country. However, member-states of the US-led North Atlantic military bloc opposed the move as they are unwilling to worsen the conflict. Russia has warned that such a move could trigger serious consequences.
Casualties, refugees, aid
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as of March 22 at least 953 civilians (including 78 children) had been killed in Ukraine since February 24. Another 1,557 (105 children) were injured in the same period. Among them 271 were killed and 807 injured in Donbass: 216 people were killed and 611 wounded on Ukrainian government-controlled territory and 55 were killed and 196 others injured in the areas controlled by the DPR and LPR. According to the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, since February 17 more than 760 shelling attacks by the Ukrainian army with the use of heavy weapons have been recorded in the LPR, and almost 1,300 in the DPR. On March 14, the Ukrainian military fired a Tochka-U missile carrying a cluster-type ammunition at the center of Donetsk, killing more than 20 people and injuring at least 18 others. All in all, according to the DPR authorities, 61 civilians were killed and about 400 injured, including more than 30 children as of March 23.
On March 22, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that more than 10 million people had fled their homes in Ukraine since February 24. About 6.5 million became internally displaced persons and 3.6 million arrived in neighboring countries, with most of them pouring into Poland (2.1 million).
As of March 24, Russian forces evacuated 402,000 people, including more than 84,000 children to Russia from the zones of the special military operation. About 342,000 evacuees were from Donbass, about 60,000 from Ukraine proper. Humanitarian convoys have been formed to provide assistance to the population of Ukraine. More than 21,800 tonnes of relief aid has been prepared. As of March 23, Russia delivered to Ukraine 4,554 tonnes of humanitarian cargos.
Western sanctions and Russia’s retaliation
On February 22, 2022, Western countries announced their decision to impose new sanctions on Russia following Moscow’s recognition of the DPR and LPR. The next package of restrictions followed when Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine. In addition, the West has launched an all-out media crusade against Russia, fueled by an unprecedented frenzy of Russophobia and intolerance towards everything Russian, including cultural and humanitarian ties.
Large Russian banks and companies, Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, members of the government and parliament, diplomats, security officials, businessmen, bankers, media representatives and others came under Western sanctions. By and large, the restrictions target the financial, energy and transportation industries, supplies of goods, technology and equipment, visa policies and so on. Some major Russian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT interbank payment system, and the MasterCard and Visa payment systems were suspended in Russia. The Central Bank's assets in the Western countries were frozen, and some Russian properties seized. Many foreign companies suspended operations in Russia. EU countries, the US, Britain, Canada, Norway, Switzerland and others banned Russian airlines from their airspace. The United States and some of its partners have refused to import energy from Russia, and severed normal trading relations, thus stripping Russia of the most-favored-nation status in bilateral trade and enabling foreign states to revise tariffs on Russian imports. In addition, the West has launched an all-out media crusade against Russia, accompanied by unprecedented frenzy of Russophobia and intolerance towards everything Russian, including cultural and humanitarian ties.
The West has also imposed a series of sanctions on Belarus and its officials because Minsk backed Russia's actions.
Western nations felt the sting of the sanctions boomerang on themselves in virtually no time. The architects of these restrictive measures concurred that the restrictions are damaging the economies of their own countries, with skyrocketing fuel prices and inflation being the most visible effects of all. The UN and the IMF have warned of the risks of a global food crisis, too. Speaking in Philadelphia on March 11, US President Joe Biden acknowledged that inflation was breaking records, but ducked responsibility by shifting the blame for this on Russia. According to his logic, "the Democrats didn’t cause this problem, Vladimir Putin did."
In response to the West’s inimical actions, Russia has prohibited airlines from those countries that have closed their skies to Russian air carriers from flying over its territory. The space corporation Roscosmos has announced the suspension of cooperation with the EU and the US on space programs. Certain measures have been taken in the field of currency, economic and trade regulation, including a ban on the export of a number of raw materials and products. On March 23, at a meeting with the government, Putin handed down instructions to accept Russian rubles as payment for natural gas supplies to unfriendly countries, thus abandoning the dollar and the euro as a means of payment. The list of unfriendly countries, previously approved by the Russian government, includes the United States, Canada, European Union countries, Britain (including Jersey, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Gibraltar), Ukraine, Montenegro, Switzerland, Albania, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, North Macedonia, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Micronesia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan (considered as the territory of China, but since 1949 governed by its own administration).
In addition, on March 15, Russia imposed personal sanctions on 13 US officials, including President Joseph Biden, and 313 Canadian citizens, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On the same day, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe was handed a letter notifying the Council of Europe of Russia's withdrawal from the organization. On March 16, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided that on that day to expel Russia with immediate effect.
Starting from the very beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, a number of countries have declared their readiness to offer a platform for negotiations between Moscow and Kiev. In particular, the leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, promised to furnish all conditions for a Russian-Ukrainian meeting on the territory of his country. Russia agreed to hold talks in Belarus, but Kiev began to procrastinate. It argued that Minsk in fact supported "Russian aggression."
On February 27, it became known that the parties had agreed to meet in Belarus. On the same day, a Russian delegation led by Russian Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky had arrived in Belarus. However, once again Ukraine refused to participate in the talks. Only after a telephone conversation between Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Zelensky did Kiev agree to send its delegation. In all, there have been three rounds of face-to-face Russian-Ukrainian talks: on February 28, March 3, and March 7. None of them yielded any tangible results. On March 12, it was announced that the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian representatives would continue by video link. Medinsky explained such a decision was made to save time, effort and costs.
Also, the first negotiations were held at the level of foreign ministers on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in Antalya (Turkey) on March 10. The meeting of Russian and Ukrainian top diplomats, Sergei Lavrov and Dmitry Kuleba, was attended by their Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Russian delegates have repeatedly stressed that Moscow expected Kiev to make decisions to confirm the neutral status of Ukraine, carry out demilitarization and denazification, recognize the status of Crimea and the Donbass republics, and respect the rights of the Russian-speaking population and other ethnic groups. The Ukrainian delegation argued that the parties would be able to reach a compromise on almost all issues, except for the recognition of the independence of the DPR and LPR and Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and Sevastopol.
On March 16, Russian Presidential Aide Vladimir Medinsky said that Kiev had suggested creating an "Austrian or Swedish equivalent of a neutral demilitarized state" in Ukraine. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to journalists that such an option was being discussed and might be considered as a compromise.
On March 20, in an interview with CNN, Vladimir Zelensky said that Kiev needed a model that would let Ukraine retain its sovereignty and territorial integrity. On March 21, Ukrainian Public Television published excerpts from interviews that Zelensky gave to a number of European and Ukrainian television broadcasters, in which he said that possible compromise agreements with Russia, including security guarantees, should be voted on in a referendum in Ukraine. Zelensky added that he believed it would be a "normal compromise" for Ukraine to agree not join NATO in exchange for security guarantees from individual members of the North Atlantic Alliance.