Russia-Ukraine War: What to know as Ukraine resists advance
Published 8:48 am Monday, February 28, 2022
Ukrainian troops slowed Russia’s advance on key cities, at least for now, while a Ukrainian delegation arrived at the border with Belarus on Monday for talks with Russian officials, though prospects looked uncertain at best.
European Union defense ministers were also to meet, to discuss how to get weaponry they have pledged into Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Western sanctions triggered by the invasion sent the ruble plummeting, leading Russians to line up at banks and ATMs.
Email newsletter signup
The Russian military assault on Ukraine went into its fifth day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nuclear forces put on increased alert, ratcheting up tensions yet further.
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND?
Kyiv’s outgunned but determined troops slowed Russia’s advance and held onto the capital and other key cities — at least for the time being.
Explosions and gunfire that have disrupted life since the invasion began last week appeared to subside around Kyiv overnight. Long lines formed outside supermarkets Monday as residents were allowed out of bomb shelters and homes for the first time since a curfew imposed Saturday
Exact death tolls are unclear, but Ukraine’s president says at least 16 children have been killed and another 45 wounded, among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other casualties. Millions have fled homes or the country.
U.S. officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts. The British Defense Ministry said Monday that the bulk of Putin’s forces are about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Kyiv, their advance having been slowed by Ukrainian forces.
U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet says her office has confirmed that 102 civilians, including seven children, have been killed, and 304 others injured in violence in Ukraine since Thursday. She cautioned that the tally was likely a vast undercount.
IS THERE ANY CHANCE FOR DIPLOMACY?
That’s hard to tell. Ukrainian and Russian delegations met Monday on Ukraine’s border with Belarus but it was unclear what, if anything, those talks would yield.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said Kyiv’s delegation would demand an immediate cease-fire.
While Ukraine sent its defense minister and other top officials, the Russian delegation is led by Putin’s adviser on culture — an unlikely envoy for ending the war and a sign of how Moscow views the talks. It wasn’t immediately clear what Putin is seeking in the talks or from the war itself.
Western officials believe Putin wants to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
His comments Sunday raised fears that the invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear war, whether by design or mistake.
The U.N.’s two major bodies — the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council — are holding separate meetings Monday.
The Security Council gave a green light Sunday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades. It will give all U.N. members an opportunity to speak about the war Monday and vote on a resolution later in the week.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH RUSSIA’S NUCLEAR DETERRENT?
The Russian military said its nuclear deterrent forces have been put on high alert in line with Putin’s order.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that command posts of all components of Russia’s nuclear forces have been beefed up with additional personnel.
The Defense Ministry said that the high alert status applies to all components of Russian nuclear forces — the Strategic Missile Forces that oversee land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Northern and Pacific Fleets that have submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles; and long-range aviation, which has a fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers.
Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on high alert Sunday, citing Western sanctions and “aggressive statements” by NATO powers.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE FLED?
The head of the United Nations refugee agency said that more than 500,000 people had fled Ukraine for neighboring countries since Russia’s invasion started on Thursday.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, gave the updated figure in a tweet. A day earlier, he had said that 368,000 people had crossed into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and other countries.
Shabia Mantoo, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said the latest and still growing count had 281,000 in Poland, more than 84,500 in Hungary, about 36,400 in Moldova, over 32,500 in Romania and about 30,000 in Slovakia.
The rest were scattered in unidentified other countries, she said.
WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN UNION DOING?
European Union defense ministers were to meet Monday to discuss how to get weaponry they have pledged into Ukraine.
Germany’s defense minister said without elaborating that her country has “channels and possibilities” to do that, and a trainload of Czech equipment arrived Sunday. Blocking off those shipments will clearly be a key Russian priority.
That action comes on top of a raft of Western economic sanctions in which the EU has been a leading player, and the 27-nation bloc has agreed to close its airspace to Russian airlines.
WHAT ABOUT THE ECONOMIC FALLOUT?
The Russian currency plunged about 30% against the U.S. dollar on Monday after Western nations moved to block some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system and to restrict Russia’s use of its massive foreign currency reserves. The ruble later recovered ground after swift action by Russia’s central bank. The Moscow stock exchange was closed all day.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday announced new sanctions targeting the Russian central bank and state investment funds. It said the move effectively immobilizes any assets of the central bank in the United States or held by Americans.
People wary that sanctions would deal a crippling blow to the economy have been flocking to banks and ATMs for days, with reports on social media of long lines and machines running out.
Economists and analysts said that a sharp devaluation of the ruble would mean a drop in the standard of living for the average Russian. Russians are still reliant on a multitude of imported goods and the prices for those items are likely to skyrocket.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new sanctions as “heavy,” but argued Monday that “Russia has the necessary potential to compensate the damage.”
Speaking at a meeting with top officials that focused on Western sanctions, Putin himself denounced the U.S. and its allies as an “empire of lies.” He described Western allies as U.S. “satellites which humbly fawn on it, kowtow to it, copy its conduct and joyfully accept the rules it offers to follow.”
AND THE CONSEQUENCES FOR TRAVEL?
Russia has closed its airspace to carriers from 36 nations, including European countries and Canada, responding in kind to their moves.
The decision, announced by the state aviation agency, follows a decision by the European Union and Canada to close their skies to Russian planes.
The agency said that planes from those countries could only enter Russian airspace with special permission.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s planned visit to Geneva was canceled because of the airspace restrictions. Lavrov had been expected to attend high-level meetings at the Human Rights Council and the Conference on Disarmament, followed by a planned news conference.
Switzerland is all but surrounded by EU countries, but is not a member itself.