Focus Ukraine: Russia Continues the War to Destroy Ukraine, Prepares for Possible Aggression against Other European Countries

Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk, Oleksiy Kushch

17 mins - 12 de Marzo de 2024, 07:00

Agenda Pública and United Ukraine Think Tank present Focus Ukraine, a weekly article series analysing how the military conflict in Ukraine and the political and economic situation in the country will evolve. The articles are written by Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk and Oleksiy Kushch, experts of the United Ukraine Think Tank.

Russia's military actions are the most convincing proof of the correctness of Ukraine's European integration choice. Despite the terrible price that the country is paying and the many problems that will have to be solved for real integration, Ukrainians do not want to return to the oligarchic past or to the imperial future offered by the terrorist state.
The events of the first week of the third spring of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war once again demonstrate that Russia's actions are a war to destroy Ukraine. At the same time, it should be noted that Moscow considers the scenario of expanding the war to other regions in Europe to be quite workable. Active hostilities continue on land, and it is obvious that the Russian command is guided by political expediency and is trying to capture more territory on the eve of the so-called "presidential elections" to demonstrate the success of Russian dictator Putin. The maritime theater of operations also remains active with obvious problems for the aggressor country. We can confidently say that the "drone war" on targets deep in the enemy's territory is no longer a game where Moscow is the leader. Also, recent events have demonstrated that the war can trigger the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself, and in an armed scenario.

Russian attempts to move further after gaining control of the ruins of Avdiivka were not very effective. Ukraine is actively building fortifications along the front line. Ukraine has engaged large resources and forces for this work. Russia's use of chemical weapons against Ukraine's defenders has been recorded throughout the entire period of the full-scale war. Ukraine has been recording these crimes and conducting investigations. It was last February, for the first time since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, that Russian chemical attacks became even more widespread. For comparison. Over the two years of the full-scale war, Russia has carried out 1068 chemical attacks (these are the ones that have been documented). In the past month, the occupiers have carried out more than 250 chemical attacks: 244 cases of bombing with gas grenades, one case of combat use of gas - a gas attack, and five more cases of using other munitions with a chemical substance. Two types of grenades are used. RGR ("irritant hand grenade") and RG-VO ("hand grenade - poisonous substance)". The active ingredient in the latter is chloroacetophenone, which is prohibited by the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, and Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, signed 99 years ago in 1925. It was banned for use in combat by a 1969 UN General Assembly resolution. Russia is a signatory to both documents.

It should be noted that artillery and rocket attacks by Russian troops on the territories adjacent to the front have been chosen by the occupiers as an important element of warfare. Obviously, this creates scorched earth, uninhabitable. Through forced and compulsory evacuations, the Russians are trying to put pressure on the social and economic system of Ukraine. This is confirmed by the consequences of the bombings, which are obviously not intended to hit military targets. For example, over the past week, Myrnohrad, Donetsk region, has been hit several times in this way, causing significant damage to dozens of buildings and social infrastructure. In one of the attacks, 17 high-rise buildings, 16 private houses, 2 educational institutions, 2 shops and a bank were damaged. At the same time, the Russians returned to the tactic of using Shahed UAVs deep in the territory of Ukraine.  The Russians were most active in the South. At the same time, strikes on residential buildings are quite acceptable to the Russian occupiers. In Odesa, a direct hit from a Shahed rocket destroyed the entrance of a nine-story building. As a result of this act of state terrorism committed by Russia, 12 people, including five children, were killed in the city, which is called "Russian" in Russia. The victims ranged in age from four months to 73 years. In nighttime attacks against Ukraine, Russians usually use about 30-40 drones.

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It should be noted that Ukraine's use of long-range drones has moved to a qualitatively new level. Even in quantitative terms, the number of attacks by Ukrainian UAVs on targets far from the front line in the territory of the Russian Federation itself is approaching Russian statistics. According to some reports, there were at least 300 drone attacks on targets in Russia in February. These included both Russia's border regions of Kursk, Bryansk, and Voronezh, as well as regions far from Ukraine, such as Orel, Kaluga, Lipetsk, Tula, Volgograd, and Krasnodar Krai. The attacks were mainly against oil refineries and Russian military-industrial complex enterprises. They also targeted military facilities such as airfields from which Russian military bandits take off. In addition, it is now clear that factories working for the Russian military-industrial complex and owned by oligarchs close to Putin are also a priority, and even their distance from Ukraine, measured in thousands of kilometers, cannot save them. This week, in Cherepovets, Vologda Oblast, a drone attacked the Severstal plant owned by Russian oligarch Mordashov, a member of Putin's inner circle. The distance from Cherepovets to the northernmost point of Ukraine is 800 kilometers, which indicates the remarkable capabilities of the UAV, which not only managed to reach this northern Russian city, but also bypassed several air defense nodes. On the night of March 9, there was a massive drone attack on targets in the Russian city of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov. The city is not only a rear base for Russian troops operating against Ukraine on the eastern direction. It has an airfield and important military enterprises. In particular, the Beriev Aircraft Plant, which manufactures and maintains A-50 reconnaissance aircraft, two of which were recently shot down, significantly limiting the invaders' aerial reconnaissance capabilities. The temporarily occupied territory is at least 135 kilometers from the front line to Taganrog, and the Russian air defense system is saturated, but up to 50 drones still managed to take part in the raid. There were at least five explosions on the ground, including in the area of the aircraft plant.  The week before, a Russian air defense system was operating in St. Petersburg. As a result, an attack drone or its fragments damaged a multi-story residential building. Russian publicists themselves suggest that the target was the Ruchey oil depot, which is located less than a kilometer from the crash site. There were also reports that the explosion severely damaged the Kalininskaya power substation in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, hundreds of kilometers away from Ukraine's border. The substation provided power to three military enterprises that produce weapons for the Russian army.

At sea, the Russians suffered another large-scale loss. And the loss is quite predictable, at least in terms of the weapons used by Ukraine. A Russian corvette-class ship, the Sergei Kotov, was destroyed by a surface drone attack. It is one of the newest ships in the Black Sea Fleet, having been commissioned only in mid-2022. The ship is built using stealth technology, has a helicopter based on it, the ability to install Kalibr missiles, is over ninety meters long, and has a crew of up to 80 people. Naturally, from the moment it joined the fleet, it was actively involved as a patrol ship in the war against Ukraine. Several times there were reports of attacks on it by Ukrainian surface drones and even its damage. The corvette Sergei Kotov was destroyed near the Kerch Strait. Numerous videos show that Ukraine has practiced the tactic of using surface unmanned drones in flocks. This not only represents a paradigm shift in the war at sea for the Russian-Ukrainian war, but also forces a change in many approaches to naval force development in the world in general.

Russia is seeking to expand its aggression. It is quite possible that the Baltic states and Poland are its targets. Moreover, it may use Belarus (part of the "union state of Russia and Belarus" headed by dictator Lukashenko) as a springboard, including the use of Belarusian troops for an attack. After all, the Belarusian military is learning from the experience of a "special military operation," i.e., the war against Ukraine, during exercises in Russia. Russian Iskander missile systems with nuclear warheads are deployed on the territory of Belarus. The military doctrine of Belarus now stipulates that "an attack on its ally," i.e. Russia, is equivalent to an attack on Belarus itself. That is, any provocation created by the Russians on the border with NATO gives Lukashenko a reason to take part in a military conflict. The possible purpose of such an operation could be to demonstrate NATO's failure if the Alliance does not have time to respond adequately, or to create additional pressure points in the negotiations if successful, saying, "we will stop only if Ukraine makes concessions, force it to negotiate."

On the territory of the Russian Federation itself, events took place that show that, despite all the efforts of the FSB, the Kremlin failed to suppress the national liberation movement. On the evening of March 2, in the North Caucasus, in Ingushetia, in the city of Karabulak, a battle broke out between fighters of the national movement and Russian occupiers from the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which lasted several hours. The Russian occupiers report that they managed to kill six resistance fighters. Traditionally, Russian terrorists call those who fight for freedom terrorists and try to slander the dead. The command of the Ingushetia Liberation Army issued a statement regarding the clash in Karabulak. It says that the war of the Ingush people for their freedom has not stopped for a day since the occupation of Ingushetia by Russia two hundred years ago. Today's fighters against Russia in Ingushetia declare themselves heirs to the traditions of their Abrek Mujahid ancestors, they defend their ideals and do not recognize the leadership of the Russian Empire, regardless of its flag. According to this statement, their enemies and legitimate military targets are the so-called "Russian security forces," i.e. anyone who wears the epaulets of the empire.

The Situation on the Polish-Ukrainian Border Demonstrates that Ukraine's Integration into the EU May Be Complicated by a Number of Contradictions that Politicians Can Play
The issue of Ukraine's European integration is coming to the fore, as Ukraine is expected to receive a "negotiating framework" for accession to the European Union in March 2024. Against this backdrop, tensions on the Ukrainian-Polish border and calls by Polish officials for the abolition of preferential conditions for Ukrainian trade with the EU create the impression that neither the negotiations nor the accession itself will be quick or easy.

It seems that the negotiations may be used as a means of blocking Ukraine's accession through various protest instruments in European societies.

The situation of further relations with Ukraine's partners remains rather complicated. Against this backdrop, the issue of Western assistance to Ukraine, as well as mobilization of the Armed Forces, remains important. Ukraine must respond to the challenges it faces. To this end, large-scale construction of new defense lines is underway, and the Ukrainian industry is ramping up production of new drones. With assistance from partners remaining uncertain, we can only rely on our own efforts and capabilities.

The War in Ukraine May Become a Kind of "Graveyard" for the Old Oligarchic Political and Economic System
Over the decades of independence, Ukraine has developed a type of rent-seeking, corrupt, and raw material-based economy. These processes were particularly active during the time of the country's second president, Leonid Kuchma, in the 1990s and early 2000s.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who succeeded him as a result of the Maidan and the Orange Revolution, won on the slogans of the need to fight the oligarchs. But during his term, no efforts were made to eliminate the oligarchic model of governance.

A certain disappointment of the society in the impossibility of positive political changes led to the revenge of the oligarchic forces in 2010, when Viktor Yanukovych was elected president.

The period of his term saw the formation of a new class of "young oligarchs" and the growing influence of Russian business in Ukraine, mostly also oligarchic and with a significant political coloration. 

The Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014, unfortunately, did not lead to de-oligarchization of the country. Suffice it to say that Petro Poroshenko, the owner of a large business in Ukraine, who was also called an oligarch, became president.

According to political analysts, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's coming to power was a kind of electoral "revolution," or even a silent conditional "rebellion" during the presidential election, directed against the old political elites and the oligarchic way of life in the country.

It was with this oligarchic system that Ukrainians associated Russia's external influence, injustice, and social inequality, particularly in the distribution of resource rents and national income.

Even before the war, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy outlined the directions of the fight against the oligarchs: the methodology of these actions was to be determined by a special "anti-oligarchic" law, which, among other things, regulated the ownership of the media by oligarchs and their financing of political parties, effectively blocking these opportunities.

A "register of oligarchs" was to be created.

But these processes were interrupted by the war.

Currently, we are witnessing a significant reduction in the economic base of Ukrainian oligarchs as a result of the hostilities. 

This is a rather tragic coincidence of de-oligarchization (a phenomenon that would otherwise be positive) and the destruction of real economic assets as a result of the war, which benefited not only the oligarchs but the country as a whole: for example, the destruction by the Russians of two steel plants in Mariupol that belonged to the largest Ukrainian oligarch, Akhmetov.

In addition, Ukrainian oligarchs have tended to concentrate their interests in Ukraine in the raw materials sector of the economy, which suffered the most during the war (due to the blockade and occupation of Ukraine's seaports and logistical problems).

In addition, during the war, the state began to actively transfer oligarchic assets under its control. This can be called "hybrid nationalization".

For example, one of the most prominent Ukrainian oligarchs, Dmytro Firtash, who is under house arrest in Vienna, lost his most valuable assets - a network of regional gas distribution companies (through which he controlled the natural gas supply network to retail consumers) and the United Mining and Chemical Company, which was a leader in the production of strategic raw materials - titanium, which was supplied even to Russia before the full-scale war. The company is now under the control of the State Property Fund of Ukraine.

But the biggest loss was suffered by one of Ukraine's most famous oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoisky, who is currently under arrest in Kyiv and participating in a trial as a defendant.

He lost control of the crown jewel of his business empire, Ukrnafta.

This state-owned company was supposed to be one of the most profitable, as it specialized in the sale of petroleum products.

But over the 19 years of "oligarchic management," the company received only UAH 21.4 billion in profit.

At the same time, in just one full year of Ukrnafta's stay in state management (2023), the company has already received UAH 28 billion in profit, which is more than in previous years.

The example of Ukrnafta clearly demonstrates how oligarchs turned high-quality state assets into a kind of cash cow: for example, for every unit of retiring oil and gas production capacity, there were only 0.3 units of new fields - the oligarchs used old wells and did not want to invest in the development of new ones. 

Now, under public administration, such companies are starting to work for the benefit of the state, and this potential is quite significant.

For example, regarding the resource potential of Ukrnafta, its current CEO, Sergiy Koretsky, who was appointed by the state, says that "proven and probable reserves are more than 12 million tons of oil and more than 31 billion cubic meters of gas."

But the issue of de-oligarchization cannot be resolved without significant political changes in the country.

After the war, the assets seized from the oligarchs will have to be re-privatized (as Ukraine's creditors, including the IMF, insist).

In addition, there is a risk that new "young oligarchs" will emerge, making their fortunes on business deals during the war.

Therefore, without the creation of powerful institutions, including anti-corruption and anti-monopoly, the situation can quickly return to the old oligarchic way.

Institutional development requires the emergence of fair courts in Ukraine, and the separation of powers - not just a perceived one, but a real one.

The main temptation that Ukraine will face is how to find new owners for the liberated assets.   

Skeptics say that 80% of the state's assets used to be controlled by five oligarchs, and if these assets are taken away and distributed among new owners, then after a while they will be owned by five people again, only with new names.

But a large part of society that has been through the war is no longer ready to put up with injustice and growing inequality.

Only time will tell which path Ukraine will take.

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