Temperatures are falling steadily across Ukraine. The UK’s Met Office forecasts light (but pretty cold) rain in Kyiv for the next day or two followed by snow, snow, snow, as the mercury drops steadily into minus numbers next week.
Large areas of Ukraine, including the capital, are now without power much of the time. And still Moscow persists with its strategy of targeting Ukraine’s power supply. It’s hard to argue – as the Kremlin continues to insist – that these are military targets.
Yesterday a two-day old baby was killed when what have been reported to be Russian missiles hit a maternity ward in Zaporizhzhia. The region is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and has come under particularly bombardment recently.
The plant itself has been under Russian occupation since March, but the surrounding area is bitterly contested. It is one of four regions annexed by Russia at the end of September, but significant areas have been wrested back by Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
It is, of course, a war crime to deliberately target civilians or civilian infrastructure. But power facilities are a grey area as they could be seen as legitimate military targets. And, to be fair, this has been a tactic used time and time again during wars in the 20th and 21st century. German Zeppelins targeted electricity supplies in the first world war and the Germans also targeted the Soviet grid in a bid to regain the initiative after Stalingrad in world war two. The US has done the same in both Vietnam and, more recently, Iraq.
But the EU parliament has used Russia’s attacks on power stations, schools and hospitals to justify its decision this week to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism – a distinction hitherto only afforded to Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria.
“Today, the European parliament recognised Russia as a terrorist state,” the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky declared in response, adding; “And then Russia proved that all this is true by using 67 missiles against our infrastructure, our energy grid, and ordinary people.”
Scott Lucas, an expert in international security at University College Dublin, believes that the EU’s move will have few real-world consequences. Russia is already subject to a harsh regime of sanctions, which is one of the penalties that comes with the European parliament’s decision. But the move will lend weight to the arguments of western governments when it comes to continuing to provide huge packages of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in the face of a cost-of-living crisis biting pretty much everywhere.
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Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian infrastructure appears to have become Moscow’s default strategy in the face of significant military setbacks over the past two months or so. We recently reported that Ukraine had reoccupied the city of Kherson, important both strategically and in terms of morale. It’s the capital of one of four regions annexed by Russia in September.
Military strategist, Frank Ledwidge of the University of Portsmouth, says the victory in Kherson opens the way up for an eventual advance on Crimea, which – he writes – is seen by both sides as Russia’s “centre of gravity”, the key to the war.
This will be a far cry from Kyiv’s counteroffensives so far. As Ledwidge notes, unlike the rest of the occupied territories in Ukraine, most Russians agree that Crimea – with its majority Russian population – is legitimately a Russian territory. It has also, over several centuries and various conflicts including the second world war, proved a hard nut to crack.
One aspect of the war we haven’t focused on specifically up to now has been how Ukraine’s economy has held up after nine months of conflict (something gently pointed out to us by a reader a couple of weeks ago). Like pretty much everywhere else, Ukraine found the COVID-19 pandemic very challenging, but bounced back strongly in 2021 recording GDP growth of 3.2%. But the war has dropped the economy off a cliff.
Ukrainian scholar, Dmitriy Sergeyev – a professor of economics at Bocconi University in Milan – highlights the way the war has affected some sectors more than others. Some industries are relatively easy to relocate. For example, Ukraine’s burgeoning IT sector has endured relatively well, but steel production and other heavy industry have taken an enormous hit. For Ukraine’s massively important agricultural sector, the decision to renew the grain deal will bring in welcome export revenues, which – he says – may even be enough to plant for the next season.
The outlook for the Russian economy, meanwhile, “bodes poorly for Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund Russia’s war in Ukraine,” according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, which adds that “mobilisation, sanctions and falling energy prices” are hurting Russia badly.
Alexander Hill, a Canada-based scholar with a particular interest in Russian affairs, reports in The Conversation that mobilisation has hit Russian industry pretty hard, causing labour shortages in key areas.
But, writes Hill, a bumper harvest has allowed Russia to export huge amounts of grain, while the replacement of western companies which pulled out of Russia after the start of the war with new Russian enterprises. (McDonald’s, for example, has been replaced with a burger chain called Vkusno i tochka – “Tasty, full stop”). Inflation is falling and pensions, salaries and the minimum wage are reportedly keeping pace. Hill believes the west may have underestimated Russia’s ability to cope with sanctions.
Banksy in Ukraine
One of the themes that has run through reporting from Ukraine since the invasion began in February is the buoyant morale among Ukrainians, whether civilians or military. On the home front, particularly, this has been underpinned by an explosion of artwork drawing attention to, and reinforcing, the resilience of Ukrainian people and culture.
Now it seems that Banksy, the Scarlet Pimpernel of graffiti artists, has been doing his bit to help. Earlier this month, Banksy posted a picture to his Instagram of a gymnast doing a handstand, painted on the side of a building devastated by shelling in Borodyanka in the Kyiv region.
He later confirmed that he was responsible for six other artworks in Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine, including one which depicted Vladimir Putin being thrown by a child in a judo match. War historian Rachel Kerr of King’s College London has the story.
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