Ukraine and Russia are still fighting for control of the skies 5 days into the war, US defense official says

Business Insider

Ukraine and Russia are still fighting for control of the skies 5 days into the war, US defense official says

Julie Coleman – February 28, 2022

Ukraine and Russia are still fighting for control of the skies 5 days into the war, US defense official says
Sukhoi Su-25 jet aircraft
Sukhoi Su-25 jet aircraft, like the ones that Russia positioned near Ukraine and has reportedly used in its offensive against the country. Photo by Marina Lystseva\TASS via Getty Images
  • A senior US official said Ukraine’s airspace remains contested, contradicting Moscow’s claims.
  • Russia was expected to swiftly knock out Ukraine’s air defense capabilities, but that has not happened.
  • Ukraine has claimed to have shot down Russian fighter jets, helicopters, and even troop transport planes.

Despite Russian claims to the contrary, Ukraine’s airspace remains contested as the country’s forces fight to repel Russian aggression, a senior US defense official said on Monday during an off-camera press briefing.

“The Russians have not achieved air superiority over the whole country,” the official told reporters. “Ukrainian air defenses remain intact and viable in terms of aircraft and missile defense systems, and they’re engaged.”

“It’s a contested airspace, and it’s a very dynamic airspace,” the official continued, contradicting Moscow’s claims this morning that Russia has “total air superiority” over Ukraine.

Fight of planes in the sky over the Kiev region, as a result a plane of the Russian army was hit.
Planes apparently in the sky over the Kiev region. As a result, a plane of the Russian army was hit.Photo by Aleksandr Gusev/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It has been five days since Russia launched a large-scale attack on Ukraine, attacking the country from several directions and pushing towards Kyiv, the capital city. Russian forces have conducted bombardments of positions in and around Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, forcing numerous civilians to take shelter in basements and metro stations.

One video uploaded to Twitter on Monday shows incoming and outgoing fire over Kyiv, which appears consistent with an engagement between aviation assets and air-defense systems.

Another video posted on social media Monday appeared to show surface-to-air missiles targeting air assets, purportedly over Kyiv.

In recent days, Ukraine has claimed to have shot down fighters, helicopters, and even transport planes. Early in the fighting against Russia, for instance, Ukraine’s armed forces said that they had downed five Russian aircraft and a helicopter, CNN reported, but the Russian military denied these claims.

Russia only recently acknowledged taking losses in the conflict with Ukraine, but it insists that Ukrainian losses are significantly worse than its own.

A video that was released by Ukraine’s military last Thursday seemed to show one helicopter being shot down over Hostomel, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, and Ukraine’s Armed Forces posted a video of what was said to be a damaged Russian helicopter in that area.

Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhiny claimed Friday that the country’s armed forces shot down a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 plane near Kyiv, the Kyiv Independent reported.

The Il-76 is mainly used for heavy transport and paratrooper operations and could carry up to 150 soldiers, according to the Kyiv Independent.

The Ukrainian military, according to The War Zone, also said it shot down a helicopter and a Su-25 close-air support aircraft with an S-300 missile system.

Russia was expected to quickly eliminate Ukraine’s air defense capabilities earlier in the conflict, but so far that does not appear to have happened.

Trump, Who Wanted to Withdraw the U.S. from NATO, Now Claims Credit for Its Existence

Rolling Stone

Trump, Who Wanted to Withdraw the U.S. from NATO, Now Claims Credit for Its Existence

Peter Wade – February 28, 2022

Donald Trump - Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
Donald Trump – Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

Former President Donald Trump, who has a long history of denigrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and who, as president, discussed removing the U.S. from the alliance, has now claimed credit for its existence. He’s also patting himself on the back for supplying Ukraine with weapons, despite once threatening to withhold security assistance from the country unless it helped smear Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election.

“I hope everyone is able to remember that it was me, as President of the United States, that got delinquent NATO members to start paying their dues, which amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars,” Trump wrote in a statement released Monday. “There would be no NATO if I didn’t act strongly and swiftly.”

“It was me that got Ukraine the very effective anti-tank busters (Javelins) when the previous Administration was sending blankets. Let History so note!” Trump added, conveniently ignoring that he was impeached for withholding $400 million worth of congressionally approved military aid from the nation in an attempt to extort President Volodymyr Zelensky into manufacturing dirt on Biden and his family.

The statement is yet another attempt by Trump to rewrite “History” by painting himself as NATO’s greatest ally. In one of the former president’s books, The America We Deserve, which was published in 2000, he claimed that money the U.S. sent to NATO was wasted. “America has no vital interest in choosing between warring factions whose animosities go back centuries in Eastern Europe,” he wrote, according to The Daily Beast. “Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.”

Trump’s acrimony toward NATO continued into his presidential campaign and throughout his administration. In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Trump described NATO as “obsolete” and “unfair, economically, to … the United States.” As president, Trump berated other NATO nations for not meeting certain fundraising benchmarks and toyed with the idea of leaving the alliance. According to the TimesTrump in 2018 “told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.”

Reacting to the news Trump wanted to withdraw from NATO, Michèle A. Flournoy, who served as under secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama, told the Times that to do so “would be one of the most damaging things that any president could do to U.S. interests.”

While he is now trying to portray himself as Ukraine’s savior and on Saturday called Russia’s attack “appalling,” Trump only days before praised Putin for the invasion, saying on a podcast, “Putin declared a big portion of … Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … I said, ‘How smart is that?’”

Putin’s war is gambling with Russia’s future. He’s going to lose this bet.

Sun Herald

Putin’s war is gambling with Russia’s future. He’s going to lose this bet.

Brian LaPierre – February 26, 2022

Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is a cynical, brutal and inhumane example of the discredited and obsolete principle that “might makes right.”

Singlehandedly, Putin has plunged Europe into the worst military crisis since WWII and sank American-Russian relations to the worst depths of the Cold War period. With this obscene and grotesque invasion, Putin is gambling with the future of the country he has misruled and dominated for over two decades. Putin will lose this bet because his war is more than an exercise in ethical and legal nihilism. It is self-defeating.

Through his aggression, Putin has brought about the very outcomes against which he claims to be fighting. Instead of restoring its power, he has isolated Russia diplomatically and smeared its international reputation. Apart from his autocratic allies in China and Mar-a-Lago, Putin has united the world against him and reinforced its commitment to contain Russian expansionism. In contrast to the disunity and ambiguities of the Trump era, Putin has revitalized and given new urgency to both NATO and the Euro-Atlantic alliance of liberal democracies. Rather than rolling back America’s military presence in the former Soviet space, Putin’s hostile policies have led to increased military deployments on Russia’s western frontier.

Putin’s war has also exposed the Russian nation to potentially crippling economic warfare. Sanctions and countersanctions will hurt everyone. They will hit Russia harder and damage it more deeply given his country’s lack of economic depth, diversification and dynamism. If the sanctions regime is robust, unified, and lengthy, Russia will not be able to escape this economic noose through cryptocurrency transactions, Chinese support and internal currency reserves. As the ruble tanks and Russians watch the accumulated purchasing power of their hard-earned savings, pensions, and scholarships disappear, many Russians will wonder whether Putin’s military adventure abroad is worth the price of their lowered living standards and livelihoods.

Militarily, Russia has the force to overwhelm Ukraine in this opening phase of conventional military operations. Russia does not have the force, however, to occupy and control Ukraine in the long term through violence alone. Nor can it do so in the face of widespread Ukrainian opposition, resistance, and prolonged insurgency. While it will be easy to invade Ukraine, Putin will find that it is difficult to pacify it, impossible to Russify it, and dangerous to withdraw from it.

Lastly, I do not (and cannot) believe that the Russian public supports this war. For all his false flag operations, disinformation, and posturing, Putin has not prepared Russia to support a war of aggression and territorial aggrandizement in Ukraine. If this conflict is bloody and protracted, it will be deeply distressing and increasingly unpopular with the average Russian. It will also be deeply destructive to Putin’s political image and domestic reputation as a competent and rational technocrat.

Tragically, it is the ordinary people who will suffer the most from Putin’s hubris and mistakes. Undoubtedly, however, this war will produce many more collateral casualties. One of them—unbeknownst to all the cronies and sycophants in the Kremlin—may be Vladimir Putin’s domestic popularity, legitimacy, and power.

By Dr. Brian LaPierre is an associate professor of history at The University of Southern Mississippi School of Humanities. You can reach him at

The digestible Ukraine explainer you’ve been waiting for

Morning Brew – International

The digestible Ukraine explainer you’ve been waiting for

A geopolitical expert answers your burning questions around the Russia–Ukraine conflict.

By Neal Freyman – February 22, 2022

article cover
Photo Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall; Source: Anadolu Agency, Naeblys, Matthew Stockman via Getty Images

The Russia–Ukraine conflict has officially replaced NFTs as the topic people love to talk about but don’t fully understand. That’s not a knock on anyone—look, even those of us who follow the news for our jobs haven’t spent the last decade immersed in Eastern European politics.

But we know someone who has: Alex Kliment, a geopolitical analyst who helps write and edit the excellent Signal, a global affairs newsletter published by GZERO Media (you can find it here). We asked Alex some high-level questions about the situation to get a better grasp on what exactly is going on and why we should care.

Can you give us a brief history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine?

To start with, the “brief” history goes back a thousand years, because Russian civilization more or less began in what is today’s Ukraine: Medieval Kyiv was bumping while Moscow was still a backwater. This sounds irrelevant but Putin alludes to this all the time as part of his reasons for wanting to bring Ukraine under Russian control.

After the middle ages, the lands of today’s Ukraine were part of various European empires, including, of course, the Tsarist and Soviet ones, both of which worried about Ukrainian nationalism and wanted to Russify the population and culture. (The Ukrainian language is related to Russian but different, think of Italian and Spanish.)

  • There have been some particularly dark moments in their history: Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to death in the 1930s. There’s a reason that Ukraine’s national anthem begins with, “Ukraine is not dead yet.”

Since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been an independent state, but it’s been caught in a tug of war between Russia and the West. There are a lot of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, particularly in the east and south, and those are areas where you find more sympathy for Moscow. Central and western Ukraine have tended to show more pro-Western sentiment, but it’s very, very hard to generalize. There are also a lot of family ties between the two countries—just about everyone in Ukraine has relatives somewhere in Russia.

The Kremlin, for its part, sees Ukraine as a nonnegotiable part of its sphere of influence. The idea of Ukraine ever joining NATO (which has been floated in various ways) is an existential red line for Russia. But there’s also this other thing going on where Putin openly doesn’t believe Ukraine is a legit independent country. For him it’s basically just a part of a greater Russian empire that it’s his destiny to resurrect. Most people in Ukraine obviously don’t love this view.

On Monday Putin recognized the independence of two Ukrainian separatist regions: Donetsk and Luhansk. What the heck are “separatist” regions and why was this viewed as such a provocative move?

In 2014, after a popular uprising ousted the pro-Russian president of Ukraine and led to a new, Western-backed government that featured some strident Ukrainian nationalists, Russia did two things:

  1. It annexed the Crimean peninsula, the only part of Ukraine where ethnic Russians were the majority.
  2. It also backed militants in two eastern provinces who set up breakaway statelets of their own. Russia said it was protecting Russian speakers—whose language rights were in fact under threat at the time—from genocide.

The result was a civil war between those separatists and Ukrainian forces which has so far killed about 14,000 people and displaced close to 1 million.

Since 2015 there’s been a peace deal on paper: the “Minsk agreements.” It was a pretty good deal for Russia, actually. The separatist regions would remain part of Ukraine, but with significant autonomy and an effective veto over Kyiv’s foreign policy. They’ve basically been cat’s paws for Moscow to keep Ukraine from ever moving Westward.

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But that agreement was never implemented, in part because neither side could agree on who should move first. Now, by unilaterally recognizing the independence of the separatist entities, Russia is giving up on that peace agreement entirely, and (again, as with Crimea) forcibly changing the borders of a European country.

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said this would be the biggest war in Europe since World War II. But there have been other European conflicts since, so what makes this one so much more significant?

Well for one thing, it’s the sheer size of the players. Yugoslavia’s horrific 1990s civil war—the worst European conflict since WWII—took place in a disintegrating country of 23.5 million people. Ukraine has more than 40 million people and, mind you, one of the combatants is a nuclear power.

Second, a central idea of postwar Europe is that you don’t redraw European boundaries by force, because that always ends very badly. And yet here is Russia, a major world power, doing just that. So Russia’s challenge isn’t only to a specific country (Ukraine) but to a whole order.

Third, there’s obviously a huge economic dimension here. We’re talking about a war involving a country—Russia—that is Europe’s largest source of natural gas and is a major global oil exporter. No European war has involved anything close to this level of economic and financial risk to Europe since 1945.

On that note, if Western leaders think Russia’s actions are so harmful to European security, why isn’t the US sending troops?

The US public has little appetite for foreign military adventures—and after the past 20 years, frankly, who could blame them?

There’s also an understandable reluctance to get into a direct conflict with a nuclear power over a country that is not, in fact, a NATO member. So the West is using different tools to try to manage the situation: arming the Ukrainians better, bolstering defenses in the NATO countries that border Ukraine, and hitting Russia with sanctions.

What is the most likely outcome of the war? Is Russia guaranteed to capture as much territory as it wants? Will Ukrainian forces put up a fight?

The Ukrainians are certainly no pushovers. They’ve been well-armed and trained by the West since 2014. That said, the Russian forces are just much, much larger, and in the event of a full-scale invasion, most military analysts think that the Russians could get to key cities quite fast.

The interesting question, though, is what happens next. Invading a country is one thing, but actually occupying it—if that’s Putin’s intention—is another. The Russians would not, in most cases, be “greeted as liberators,” as the saying goes. I’m not a military analyst but I’m told that things could get very nasty in the event of urban warfare or a popular insurgency. And the West would almost certainly support efforts to make life hell for the occupying Russians.

Serious question: Is Putin simply out of his gourd? Is there any world in which the benefits of an invasion outweigh the costs, or is he behaving like Tony Montana near the end of Scarface?

A lot of people have wondered if Putin is nuts with this Ukraine stuff. I think it’s probably the wrong question. The right question is: Is he consistent? Certainly from a Western point of view it seems crazy to risk Russia’s economic stability and global standing over whether a neighbor wants to join NATO or not.

But Putin is operating on a different standard. He and those around him truly believe—and have long believed—that Ukraine moving into the West’s orbit would be an existential threat to his regime and the security of his country in a way that Western sanctions just aren’t. Morning Brew’s write-up did a great job explaining why Putin is probably OK risking sanctions to get what he wants here.

So in a way he’s doing a kind of cost-benefit analysis that I’m not sure Tony Montana, in his final moments of inspiration, was similarly capable of.

Putin may end up being wrong, but I don’t think he’s crazy.


tarbabys isn’t so sure Putin isn’t crazy. The entire civilized world told him that invading Ukraine was a crazy idea, that the world would bring a heavy ass-woopin set of sanctions, if he went through with his 19th century ideas of Russian empire.

He of course didn’t believe or listen to anyone, not his flunkies, not his oligarch buddies, not his military advisors (especially not the conscripted soldiers who hadn’t a clue where they were going and what they were supposed to do) and certainly not the Russian people, who have family members at the receiving end of the missiles, rockets, tank shells, cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons.

Now the entire world has turned Russia into an isolated pariah with an economy that is cratering faster that the oligarchs yachts and jets have fled to the Maldives.

Will Putin admit that he made the biggest political and military blunder in Russian history or will he double down on destroying Ukraine and building a massive documented and real time recorded war crime record for all the world to see. His own survival is in the balance.

Facebook, Twitter remove disinformation accounts targeting Ukrainians

CBS News

Facebook, Twitter remove disinformation accounts targeting Ukrainians

The larger of the two disinformation groups operated in Russia, as well as the Russian-dominated Donbas and Crimea regions of Ukraine.

Ben Collins and Jo Ling Kent – February 28, 2022

Facebook and Twitter removed two anti-Ukrainian “covert influence operations” over the weekend, one tied to Russia and another with connections to Belarus, the companies said.

One of the operations, a propaganda campaign featuring a website pushing anti-Ukraine talking points, was an offshoot of a known Russian disinformation operation. A Facebook spokesperson said it used computer-generated faces to bolster the credibility of fake columnists across several platforms, including Instagram.

The other campaign used hacked accounts to push similar anti-Ukraine propaganda and was tied to a known Belarusian hacking group.

Disinformation experts warned that Russia is expected to continue to try to manipulate narratives about Ukraine — most notably around the claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The networks that were removed by Facebook and Twitter pushed narratives that Putin himself mentioned in his speech announcing a military operation, which has since turned into a large-scale invasion.

The announcement also demonstrates that Russia continues to use disinformation strategies first identified years ago around the 2016 election, albeit with some advancements — most notably the use of software that can create realistic and original human faces.

The larger of the two disinformation groups operated in Russia, as well as the Russian-dominated Donbas and Crimea regions of Ukraine, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Meta’s head of security policy, and it is tied to the websites News Front and South Front, which the U.S. government has designated as part of a broader disinformation effort that had connections to Russian intelligence. (Meta is the parent company of Facebook.)

Gleicher said in an interview that the propaganda campaign was able to “seed stories across the internet that Ukraine isn’t doing well” by “pretending to be journalists based in Kyiv.”

“The good news is that neither of these campaigns have been that effective, but we do see these actors trying to target Ukraine at this point,” he said. 

“These actors are trying to undermine trust in the Ukrainian government, suggest that it’s a failed state, suggest that the war is going very poorly in Ukraine or trying to praise Russia.”

Facebook removed profiles related to News Front and South Front in 2020, and the company confirmed to NBC News that the new group shared connections to the accounts that were previously banned. Both websites have pushed misleading articles, questioning the results of the 2020 presidential election and the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. The State Department identified the websites as Russian disinformation outlets in a 2020 report. 

The websites featured articles pushing Russian talking points like “Zelensky is building a neo-Nazi dictatorship in Ukraine” and “Why Ukraine will only get worse.” As of Sunday night, the sites still featured the biographies and computer-generated faces of the columnists and linked out to their accounts on VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook competitor.

Facebook said it took down 40 profiles tied to the disinformation operation, saying the profiles were a small part of a larger persona-building operation that spread across Twitter, Instagram, Telegram and Russian social networks.

Accounts tied to the websites were still active on Telegram, the Russian social networks and YouTube on Sunday night.

Twitter said it banned more than a dozen accounts tied to the News Front and South Front Russian operation, which were pushing links to a new propaganda site called Ukraine Today.

“On Feb. 27, we permanently suspended more than a dozen accounts and blocked sharing of several links in violation of our platform manipulation and spam policy. Our investigation is ongoing; however, our initial findings indicate that the accounts and links originated in Russia and were attempting to disrupt the public conversation around the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.

Later on Monday, Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokesperson, said the company has taken down a series of channels tied to a Russian influence operation, though the channels have very low numbers of subscribers.

Facebook said it took down a separate multipronged disinformation operation by a known hacking group based out of Belarus that targeted Ukrainians. The company said it hacked social media accounts to use them to spread pro-Russian propaganda.

The hackers targeted journalists, military personnel and local public officials in Ukraine, using compromised email accounts and passwords to log into their Facebook profiles. The hacked accounts would then post a video of what they said was a Ukrainian waving a white flag of surrender.

Facebook attributed the efforts to the hacking group Ghostwriter, which previously used hacked accounts to push disinformation that favored the Belarus government. The Ghostwriter hacking group works for the Belarus government, according to the cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

As for who will be targeted next, Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, said it is “unlikely” to be U.S. users.  

“What you would see would most likely be coming out of either existing real influencers who are part of that sphere of influence that Russia has established already or media properties,” she said. “It does take some time to spin up a network of fake accounts.”


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Nordic countries prepare to shut airspace to Russian planes


Nordic countries prepare to shut airspace to Russian planes

Anne Kauranen and Niklas Pollard – February 27, 2022

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Vantaa

(Reuters) -Sweden, Finland and Denmark said they were preparing to close their airspace to Russian planes on Sunday, joining a string of European countries taking this measure after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The moves follow similar closures of airspace of Britain, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania to Russia’s aircraft. Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are also closing their airspace to Russian airliners, while Germany said it was preparing to do so.

Iceland has also decided to shut its airspace to Russian air traffic, Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Gylfadottir tweeted on Sunday.

“It is now absolutely necessary to proceed with further touch measures to isolate Russia,” Swedish EU Minister Hans Dahlgren told public service radio SR.

A European Union-wide ban for Russian flights could be part of a fresh package of sanctions on Moscow to be discussed later on Sunday by the bloc’s foreign ministers, an EU official said separately.

Dahlgren said such a ban would be the most efficient way to pressure Moscow.

Denmark would also support a cross-EU ban to Russian aircraft, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a tweet.

Finnish Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka said in a tweet late on Saturday that Finland, which shares a long land border with Russia, was preparing a similar closure.

Russia’s likely countermeasure will heavily hurt Finland’s state carrier Finnair .

“If Russia in parallel closes its airspace from Finnish aircrafts, it would have significant impact on Finnair as our Asian traffic would in practice come to a standstill”, Finnair spokeswoman told Reuters in an emailed statement on Sunday.

“Going around Russian airspace prolongs flight times so much that it would not be financially possible to operate our Asian flights,” she said.

The flag carrier of Sweden and Denmark is SAS.

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath and Mrinmay Dey in Bengaluru, Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

How Putin’s War Has Spurred the EU into Action

Spiegle International

Europe Wakes Up: How Putin’s War Has Spurred the EU into Action

The EU has long found it difficult to find a common policy on Russia. Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has now brought the bloc together, and Brussels has responded decisively.

An Analysis by Maximilian Popp – February 28, 2022

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU's foreign policy representative Josep Borrell
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s foreign policy representative Josep Borrell Foto: Stephanie Lecocq / dpa

Less than two weeks ago, the German government was blocking the delivery of East German howitzers from Estonia to Ukraine. Italy was refusing to impose sanctions against Russia to avoid a negative impact on Gucci’s bottom line.

And now?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz plans to provide special funding of 100 billion euros to the German military. The EU intends to send fighter jets to Ukraine. BP, the British energy conglomerate, has announced it is selling its 20 percent stake in the Russian oil company Rosneft – worth approximately $14 billion.

Dawning of a New Era

Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has caused bewilderment across the world. In Berlin and elsewhere, it drove several hundred thousand people onto the streets on Sunday. It has also led to one of the most dramatic political reversals in postwar European history.

Regardless of what one thinks of the details of the measures, it’s clear that a new era has dawned in Europe. It is almost impossible to keep track of all the taboos that have evaporated in recent days, of all the principles abandoned by European decision-makers. Politics, economics, diplomacy, military – almost all spheres have been affected by the change.

Ukrainische Soldaten nach Gefechten mit Russland in Kiew: Weltweite Fassungslosigkeit

Ukrainische Soldaten nach Gefechten mit Russland in Kiew: Weltweite Fassungslosigkeit Foto: SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP

For years, EU member states have been at an impasse about whether and how refugees should be distributed across the continent. On Sunday, EU interior ministers unanimously decided to grant Ukrainians blanket protection status for three years without first having to go through an asylum process. Even if it raises questions about why similar solidarity does not exist for refugees from Syria or Afghanistan, it is a huge step for the EU. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also spoke in favor of Ukraine joining the EU.

Brussels Suspends Transactions with the Russian Central Bank

EU states have also overcome their misgivings on sanctions. Germany, Italy and even Hungary, which is ruled by the autocratic Viktor Orbàn, gave up their resistance to the exclusion of Russia from SWIFT, the international payment network, over the weekend. Even more importantly, Brussels has stopped many transactions with the Central Bank of Russia. The Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik are no longer allowed to transmit in the EU.

But the most decisive change has taken place in defense policy. The 100 billion euros that the German government wants to spend on armaments is a sum that, even just a few days ago, seemed unimaginable. The EU is intending to deliver arms worth 450 million euros to Ukraine. And even traditionally pacifist Sweden is sending weapons. German Chancellor Scholz justifiably described it in his Sunday speech before a special session of German parliament as a “watershed.”More on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

In the past, the EU has been accused of being divided and phlegmatic. It often reacts late and half-heartedly to crises like the one this past summer in Afghanistan, often resorting to inconsequential declarations of solidarity. In the conflict with Russia, it is now showing a remarkable power to act.

The question is whether it comes too late. It is likely that the determination shown by the internationally community has made an impression on Putin. The Russian president likely considered sanctions in his planning, but probably not to this extent. It remains unclear, though, if that will lead him to break off his military campaign in Ukraine. Putin’s barely veiled nuclear threat over the weekend combined with events on Monday, which saw the Russian military continue bombarding Kharkiv even as “negotiations” between Russian and Ukrainian delegations were being held, made it look like such hopes remain farfetched.

Reports suggest Belarus prepares to send its troops to Ukraine, joining Putin in war

The Kyiv Independent

Reports suggest Belarus prepares to send its troops to Ukraine, joining Putin in war

Oleksiy Sorokin – February 27, 2022

Belarus’ dictator Alexander Lukashenko greets troops during a military drill outside Brest, on Sept. 12, 2021. (Getty Images)

A message was shared in the diplomatic circles on Feb. 27 that Belarus airborne forces were preparing to invade Ukraine.

Unnamed Belarusian opposition journalists were said to be the source. According to the report, Belarus special forces were boarding planes on Feb. 27, preparing for deployment in or near Kyiv and Zhytomyr.

It’s not entirely possible to verify this report, since most opposition journalists have fled Belarus, escaping repressions by the regime of dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

A Telegram channel that collects eyewitnesses reports about the moving of Russian and Belarusian troops in Belarus recorded the movement of two military transport planes taking off from an airfield in western Belarus.

As of now, Belarus is de facto conducting war against Ukraine by letting Russian troops use its territory, and providing them with access to hospitals and intelligence. Now, according to the report, Belarus is preparing a full-out invasion.

On Feb. 27, President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke over the phone with Lukashenko.

During a phone call with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Zelensky agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, near the Pripyat River.

On the same day, Lukashenko threatened Ukraine with an all-out war.

“Is he pushing me to conduct a special operation so that I can free my people there?” said Lukashenko. He added that he allowed Russian troops to shoot missiles from Belarus territory on Ukraine.

Lukashenko spoke at the ballot during a staged referendum on the constitution amendments that the Belarus autocrat proposed after suppressing protests that began due to electoral fraud committed during the 2020 Belarus presidential elections.

Meanwhile, Zelensky asked the people of Belarus to make the right choice.

“Be Belarus, and not Russia,” he said. “Make the right choice.”

Russia is trying to force Ukraine into negotiations in Belarus, which is actively assisting Kremlin’s forces.

A Russian delegation arrived in Belarus on Feb. 27 for negotiations with Ukraine, despite Ukraine not agreeing to negotiations in Belarus.

On Feb. 27, Zelensky said Ukraine is ready for talks with Russia, but only in a country “from which missiles aren’t flying,” rejecting the idea of meeting in Belarus.

He suggested meeting in Warsaw, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, or Baku instead.

“We want to talk, we want to end the war,” Zelensky said in a video address.

Author: Oleksiy Sorokin is the political editor and chief operating officer of the Kyiv Independent. Following a BA from the University of Toronto, Oleksiy became a political writer at the Kyiv Post. He broke stories on government and judiciary topics and investigated the former president and the current Prosecutor General.

Amid fierce defense, Ukraine foils Russian blitz victory plans

The Kyiv Independent

Amid fierce defense, Ukraine foils Russian blitz victory plans

Illia Ponomarenko – February 28, 2022

A reservist with Ukraine’s 130th Territorial Battalion takes aim during drills in Kyiv on Feb. 12, 2022 (The Kyiv Independent)

More than 72 hours after the start of the all-out invasion on Feb. 24, Russia has failed to inflict a quick defeat to Ukraine’s armed forces or gain a foothold in any of the country’s key cities.

As of Feb. 27, all the biggest cities – Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Mariupol, Kherson – are still under full Ukrainian control, despite Russia’s massive and costly effort to seize or isolate them. 

If Russia aimed to take the Ukrainian capital in a shock and awe operation, it failed.

The situation tends towards hard, dragged-out war rather than a demoralizing blitz run the Kremlin likely counted on, judging from their immediate rush toward Kyiv.

The enemy has made a series of moderate advancements in Ukraine’s north, northeast, south, and in Donbas beyond the largest urban areas.

Fierce and effective Ukrainian resistance seen elsewhere has seriously slowed the Russian military down, and in many locations engaged its main axes in exhausting confined space warfare.

After the first 48 hours of advancement, the Russian military started indicating poor coordination and planning, as well as troublesome fuel supply. 

Ukrainian service members look for and collect unexploded shells after a fight with Russian raiding group in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the morning of February 26, 2022, according to Ukrainian service personnel at the scene (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian resistance, especially when it comes to destroying advancing Russian armored convoys, has so far met optimistic expectations. 

Massive missile strikes and all-out advances decisively failed to demoralize the Ukrainian military in the first hours of the attack or strip it of effective air defense, which has also demonstrated surprisingly high effectiveness since the very start. 

The Ukrainian military stick to offering resistance near key cities, in addition to engaging the Russian reinforcements. 

Meanwhile, the West goes in full swing at derailing Russia’s economic and political stability with severe financial sanctions. More nations, including long-time opponents like Germany, agree on massive weapons supplies to Ukraine and support Russia’s full isolation and denial of resources to continue with the war. 

Assessed control of terrain in Ukraine as of Feb. 26, 2022 (ISW)

“Moving and taking small towns and automobile communications remain the occupying power’s foremost tactics,” the Ukrainian General Staff asserted early on Feb. 27. 

“Thanks to massive civilian and military resistance, attempts the take the large cities have failed. The enemy’s main goal, which is to block Kyiv, remains unsuccessful.” 

In its intelligence update dated Feb. 27, the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry also said Russia was not making the progress it had planned, while Russian forces were suffering from logistical challenges and strong Ukrainian resistance. 

Read also: Russia’s war on Ukraine: Where fighting is on now (Feb. 27 live updates)

Popular involvement in the war effort remains increasingly active. Over 37,000 civilians have joined Territorial Defense formations assuming auxiliary missions in the rear behind the military back. Over Hr 1,16 billion have been transferred in popular donations to the military, as of early Aug. 27.

As of late Feb. 26, Ukraine reported over 3,000 Russian manpower killed in action and over 200 taken prisoner, along with 16 airplanes, 18 aircraft, 102 tanks, 540 personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, a Buk-1 missile system, and over 20 cars, destroyed. 

Ukrainian service members look for unexploded shells after a fight with a Russian raiding group in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in the morning of February 26, 2022, according to Ukrainian service personnel at the scene. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian losses are yet to be assessed and confirmed. 

Among that, despite false claims in media, Russia’s hostilities feature massive civilian harm, including via massive indiscriminate use of multiple launch missile systems like BM-21 Grad in numerous locations, from Kharkiv Oblasts’s Okhtyrka to Mariupol, the northern suburbs of which were desolated in Russian missile attacks. 

In general, multiple pieces of evidence, particularly verifiable pictures and videos posted elsewhere on social media indicate grave destruction and loss of life in affected areas.

As of late Feb. 26, Ukraine’s Health Ministry reported 198 civilian deaths, including three children, due to hostilities. 

Besides, Russia’s increasingly brutal and indiscriminate warfare has triggered or threatened a range of environmental disasters in Ukraine. 

Read also: Kyiv residents calm after heavy night fighting

Late on Feb. 26, a Russian missile strike destroyed an oil terminal in the city of Vasylkiv south of Kyiv. Amid fierce hostilities in the area, the destroyed facility started releasing extremely hazardous chemical emissions. The local authorities called for mass evacuation of civilians, which ended up being not possible due to grueling warfare in the area.

Besides, overnight into Feb. 27, a Russian artillery shell was reported to have targeted a nuclear waste depot in Kyiv, triggering fears of radioactive contamination in the city. However, according to subsequent reports, the Russian barrage did not inflict immediate damage to the storage facilities. 

Upon Ukrainian estimates, the Russian forces have employed in combat nearly 50% of its combined Russian-Belarusian military force of over 150,000 troops. 

A Ukrainian soldier in an armored vehicle waits on the west side of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

After days of fierce fighting, the Russian forces still failed to enter Kyiv via two key axes in the northwest (via the cities of Bucha, Hostomel, and Irpin) and the north via the Obolon district. 

Multiple attempts to break Ukrainian defenses have failed as of early Feb. 27, although the streets of Kyiv have seen fierce clashes with small Russian sabotage groups infiltrating the city. 

As of early Feb. 27, Russia has also failed to establish control of three key airfields near Kyiv: Hostomel in the northwest, the Kyiv airport in the city, and Vasylkiv in the south, despite extremely fierce efforts to ensure a safe landing ground for its airborne groups. 

In Donbas, combined Russian-militant forces starting from Feb. 26 also made serious advancements near Mariupol and in Luhansk Oblast, entering Ukrainian-controlled territories unresisted. 

On Feb. 26, a Russian military group coming from the occupied Crimea in Ukraine’s south continued with its pressure upon Mykolaiv and Kherson but also redirected a part of its power for a march along the Azov Sea coastline toward Mariupol. 

A Russian MTLB vehicle destroyed in Kharkiv on Feb. 26, 2022.

Mariupol, as of Feb. 27, is expected to be encircled and attacked with a massive enemy force. 

“Ukrainian resistance remains remarkably effective and Russian operations,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, said on Feb. 27. 

“Especially on the Kyiv axis have been poorly coordinated and executed, leading to significant Russian failures on that axis and at Kharkiv. Russian forces in northeast Ukraine face growing morale and supply issues, likely due to poor planning and ad hoc command structures.” 

Russian forces will likely increase their use of bombardment in the coming days to overcome heavier-than-anticipated Ukrainian resistance, the ISW also said, adding that “Russia’s surprising failure to accomplish its initial planned objectives around Kyiv has given the Ukrainians an opportunity.” 

However, the think tank said, Russian forces remain much larger and more capable than Ukraine’s conventional military and Russian advances in southern Ukraine may threaten to unhinge the defense of Kyiv and northeastern Ukraine if they continue unchecked.

“Ukrainian leaders may soon face the painful decision of ordering the withdrawal of those forces and the ceding of more of eastern Ukraine or allowing much of Ukraine’s uncommitted conventional combat power to be encircled and destroyed,” the ISW added

Author: Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today’s guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.