Russia’s War in Ukraine: The Military, Humanitarian, & Economic Situation

On 8 April 2022, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels and the European Policy Centre organised the Policy Dialogue “Russia’s War in Ukraine: The Military, Humanitarian, & Economic Situation”.

Amanda Paul, Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre, opened the dialogue and presented speakers. She asked the speakers to assess the military situation in Ukraine, the updates on the situation around Odesa, insights on the economic impact of the war and the support which should be given to the civil society in Ukraine by the EU.

Paul: “It seems that we are now entering the second phase of this war. It is going to be predominantly focused on Eastern Ukraine. The Russian invaders seem to be continuing to focus on the capture of Mariupol.”

Yaroslav Zhelezniak, a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, started his speech by presenting the part of the bomb, which was shelled on the hospital in Mariupol, the native city of the speaker. He underlined that despite Ukraine was fighting against one of the biggest armies in the world, Ukraine was not afraid of Putin, not afraid of war itself, and ready to defend its land as long as needed. Mr. Zhelezniak stressed that Ukraine needed more support from the West on different fronts: more sanctions on the economic front, as the current amount of sanctions, was still not enough. He urges the European countries to stop buying Russian gas and oil, which enriches the Russian budget and allows it to produce more weaponry to eliminate Ukrainians. He also claimed that sanctions on the Russian banking system and goods’ shipment were weak as well. The speaker underlined that Ukraine still needed more military support. And this support should come as soon as possible, and not in several weeks, because if Ukraine fails, war will come to the NATO countries too. That is why he urges European countries not to be afraid to close the sky over Ukraine or to provoke Putin. Speaking about the second phase of the war Ukraine is going to face soon, he predicts the consequences will be worse, with more deaths and more attacks on big cities of Ukraine, and more destroyed infrastructure. He again pointed out, that Ukraine needs more action from the EU states to stop Putin, otherwise, the war might come to their homes too.

Zhelezniak: “Now we are counting on European Union to take real action to stop Russia.”

Hanna Shelest, Director for Security Programmes, Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”, gave an overview of the military situation in Odesa, the city in the South of Ukraine. She underlined, that Odesa started to feel the effects of Russia’s military escalation earlier than other parts of the country, at the beginning of February, when Russia blocked the seaports of the region and Odesa was one of the first cities which experienced airstrikes at the beginning of the war. And although Odesa has not experienced serious fighting on the land, as Mykolayiv city has, it still experiences daily attacks, and airstrikes both from the airplanes, ships, and missile stations in Crimea. Ms Shelest emphasised, that Russia changed its tactics to shell the Ukrainian territory with long-range missiles strikes after it failed to seize it on the land in order to distract the attention of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which need to be concentrated in these bombed places, and that are not able to move forces closer to other places. In addition, Russia is striking the Odesa region not just on critical infrastructure, but also fuel infrastructure, which is important both for the army and for the farmers who started the seeding campaign. Another reason for the airstrikes is bringing panic among the population. Russia did not expect to face the oppression of the local population and reckoned for a peaceful transition of the city to Russia. The speaker also mentioned that Odesa was dependent on the defence of Mykolayiv, as Russian forces needed supplies from Crimea through Mykolayiv to seize Odesa. There are also different forecasts among the experts: some of them consider that nothing will stop Putin from invading Odesa, while others expect many Russians have emotional attachments to Odesa, which will prevent heavy shelling of the city. Ms Shelest also covered Transnistria’s role in the security of Odesa. Firstly, the majority of the military unit there consists of the local population, which is not very eager to fight and to get a military response from Ukrainian forces. Secondly, the military equipment is outdated, because since 2014 Transnistria was not receiving modern machinery as Ukraine has closed its railway connection between Transnistria and Russia. But in case of serious escalation, Ukraine should be ready for the attack from there, as they still have airbases and Russian soldiers. The speaker highlighted that another threat to security in the region is the throwing of maritime mines into the sea by the Russian forces. This is done to undermine the commercial routes connecting Ukraine to the EU countries and to prevent the other ships from operating in the Black sea, which drastically undermines Ukraine’s economy. That is why Ukraine is currently insisting on maritime sanctions against Russia as well.

Shelest: “For the Russian Federation, it is important to cut Ukraine from the sea… how successful it can be will depend on how the situation is developing in Eastern Ukraine, especially around Mariupol.”

Veronika Movchan, Research Director, Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, introduced the most significant insights into the economic impact of the war on Ukraine. The expert stressed the fact that the economy of Ukraine was devastated, half of the enterprises stopped or almost stopped working. Moreover, there are losses in the infrastructure and labour force in the country. Logistics of the country is remaining in a bad situation, because of the destroyed facilities and constant shelling. However, the country is remaining operational as we can observe the stable situation in the bank sector and the energy sector. The expert introduced the main points of what the EU can do to help Ukraine: Ukraine needs more (heavy) weapons, strong sanctions against Russia, financial support, and EU membership.

Movchan: “Ukraine applies for the EU membership and I think it is extremely important to provide Ukraine with the candidate status, quickly, as a sign of solidarity.”

Olena Carbou, Executive Director, Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, focused on the most important issues for Ukraine today. She started with an acknowledgement of the heroism of the Ukrainian army and other military forces which stopped the Russian invasion and the stoicism of the Ukrainian nation. This war has demonstrated the maturity of the nation. For the first time, Ukraine receives international support, from a historical point of view. During previous wars against Russia Ukraine did not get any support.  However, the expert stresses that Ukraine needs more support. Winning against Russia is only possible through Russia’s military defeat and the impact of economic sanctions on its economy. The war is not over, despite the stalemate, and Russia is not defeated. We need to continue our fight and we need to use the time to prepare and weaponise Ukraine. Moreover, the expert underlined that a peace agreement was not possible at the moment, since, first of all, Russia was not going to implement any agreement, and secondly, if the agreement contained concessions from the Ukrainian side, it would break national unity, which we need.  We also should be aware and not allow any non-democratic developments under the coverage of war inside the country. Expert says that we all need to be prepared and the societies of the free world would need to be more alert to the situation. She echoed her colleagues in supporting a fast track for Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Support for the civil society of Ukraine is needed, as we need to save its institutions.

Carbou: “Ukraine now has got a chance to finally win against Russia and become free. Help us in achieving this goal. Defend Ukraine now to prevent your countries from entering into this war.”

During the Q&A session, the participants discussed what they would like the EU to make for Ukraine without discussions.  Experts stressed that Ukraine needs more support, a more consolidated position of the EU politicians, more weapons, more financial support, and help with infrastructure. Moreover,  experts mentioned that the EU should stop thinking that they can provoke Russia by helping Ukraine. It was also discussed that societies should be more aware of hybrid attacks inside the EU.

Video recording