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ALINA SMUTKO (REUTERS)

Focus Ukraine: Russia is trying to implement its plan to destroy and depopulate Ukraine

Ihor Petrenko, Dmytro Levus, Petro Oleshchuk, Oleksiy Kushch

19 mins - 16 de Abril 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 is taking advantage of Ukraine's lack of air defense capabilities and the apparent hiatus in arms aid from its Western partners. In addition to the actual infrastructure of cities and other settlements, the Russians are making efforts to destroy Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Ukraine, facing an innovation crisis, is trying to restore its military-industrial complex and adopting changes to its mobilization legislation.
On April 11, Russia struck at the Trypillia thermal power plant, which supplied electricity to Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr regions, and the plant was almost destroyed. In general, the destruction of the Trypillia TPP has become very noticeable for Ukrainians because, despite the end of the winter period, it raises questions about the next winter season. The owner of the TPP, Centrenergo, announced the loss of 100% of its generation. It was struck by new Russian cruise missiles X-69, a further development of the X-59 missile. The X-69 is a subsonic cruise missile for Su-34 and Su-35 tactical aircraft. The launch range is about 400 km. And most importantly, the details show that these are fresh missiles made at the end of 2023. Among the parts are those made in Western and Asian countries. That is, the issue of sanctions against Russia is more than relevant. Due to the terror that Russia is unleashing on peaceful frontline and border towns and villages of Ukraine with the help of artillery and aviation, decisions have to be made to evacuate people living near the border and frontline. Thus, in Kharkiv region, the evacuation of 47 frontline settlements was announced. On April 8, Russian aviation dropped 4 guided bombs on the town of Bilopillia, Sumy region, killing a woman and destroying infrastructure in the town. On April 9, Russians conducted an air strike on Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region. The bomb hit a two-story building. The bodies of two people were dug out from the rubble. A Russian missile hit civilian infrastructure in the Poltava community. Residential buildings were damaged, the roof of a building was partially destroyed, and a fire broke out. One person died as a result of the strike. Five people were injured, including three children. It is noteworthy that traditionally, some of the guided bombs of Russian aviation fall on the territory controlled by it, as was the case with missiles that fell on Russian territory. The world saw a video shot in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk Oblast, occupied by Russia since 2014, where a Russian guided aerial bomb weighing one and a half tons fell on a store in the city center, its equipment was visible, it broke the roof and fortunately did not explode. If the bomb had exploded, destroying half a block, and there had been numerous casualties, we would definitely have heard Russian propaganda cries about "the neo-Nazi Kyiv regime shelling peaceful Russian people in Donbas." This has happened repeatedly since 2014, when the occupiers have presented their crimes, including the deliberate shelling of civilians, as shelling by Ukraine. We must always remember this.

Against this backdrop, the International Energy Agency's statement that Ukrainian UAV strikes on Russian oil refineries put the international oil market at risk sounds like a mockery. It is oil and oil products that give Russia the opportunity to pay all those scum who go to kill Ukrainians, and make it possible to produce weapons. Therefore, it is important to cut off the source of money for Russia. Therefore, Russian refineries are a legitimate target for the Ukrainian Defense Forces. By the way, Russian refineries are currently operating at their lowest level since May 2023. As for Russia's claims that the strikes by its killers are some kind of "retribution" or "revenge", they are a traditional Russian lie.  The Russian Federation presents itself as a victim, even though it is an outright aggressor that unleashed the war. So does Putin's alleged humanitarianism, which allegedly did not want to expose Ukrainians to suffering and therefore the strikes are carried out during the warm season. This "humanism" is refuted by the course of the winter of 2022-2023, the state of affairs in Kharkiv, and Russia's deliberate creation of scorched earth on Ukrainian territory along the border and front line. In this context, the suggestion "not to provoke Russia with resistance" is outright nonsense and a clear aid to the aggressor state. Only effective retaliatory strikes and Russia's defeat will end the war. Ukraine declares the need for additional Patriot air defense systems, and both President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba make statements without unnecessary politicking. The minimum required is seven systems, which will allow for the protection of more infrastructure.

On the ground, in its attempts to capture Ukraine, Russia is not only ignoring losses in manpower and equipment, but is also trying to develop new tactics and weapons. There is a video of an attack on Krasnohorivka led by a tank sheathed in steel sheets, bringing back images of the First World War, which is how the Russians are trying to counteract drones. The use of a tank equipped with a huge number of electronic warfare stations was noted, which were supposed to ensure the unit's safety from Ukrainian flying drones by jamming their signal.

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This should be taken into account not only by Ukraine, but also by our allies, as delays in the supply of weapons and ammunition complicate the fight against the Russian occupiers and lead to heavy casualties. Offensives are taking place in many areas, some of them several dozen a day. However, some experts believe that the Russians' attacking momentum has almost exhausted and that the attempts to advance are due to the fact that the invaders are seeking to expand their advance, taking advantage of the obvious shortage of ammunition for artillery, the reduced density of air defense and the lack of personnel in some areas of the Ukrainian Defense Forces (for example, Bakhmut and Novopavlivsk). Under different conditions, it is possible that these advances would have stopped.

At the same time, Ukraine continues to strike at targets on Russian territory and deep in the temporarily occupied territories. On April 13, in the temporarily occupied Luhansk, the Ukrainian Defense Forces allegedly struck with two missiles at the places where the invaders' manpower and equipment were concentrated. In that area of the city, there is an occupant military unit and a machine-building plant where they still hide equipment. In the first half of the week, an air raid was sounded in occupied Sevastopol, the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. Drones attacked Borysoglebsk in Voronezh Oblast, a well-known training center for Russian military aviation, and a plant related to missile production. A few days earlier, drones attacked the Bryansk Chemical Plant named after the 50th anniversary of the USSR, which specializes in the production of industrial explosives and the disposal of ammunition. The guided aerial bombs mentioned above are a dangerous weapon used by Russia, but even they can be successfully countered. In the Donetsk region, Ukrainian border guards shot it down from a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun, although it was very difficult. It fell and did not explode, then sappers blew it up.

Russia expectedly returned to nuclear blackmail with the help of the seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar. On April 7, the IAEA reported the explosion of an unknown drone, as well as three direct hits on Zaporizhzhia NPP facilities. According to the IAEA, this is the first direct attack on the main structures of the containment vessel of the Zaporizhzhia NPP since November 2022. Ukraine is not involved in any provocations on the territory of the temporarily occupied ZNPP. Radiation safety is the highest priority for the defense forces, which was proven in the first days of the full-scale war. It is because of Russian provocative shelling, illegal and negligent management of the plant by Russians that ZNPP is always on the verge of a man-made disaster. The Ukrainian power grid saves the plant from the danger of blackout. Such incidents are a form of Russian nuclear blackmail aimed at both Ukraine and the international community. The solution is simple: Russia must immediately withdraw its troops from all ZNPP facilities. This is the only way to regain control over an important nuclear energy facility and to ensure proper compliance with all international standards established for such facilities.

At the same time, Russia is thinking about expanding its aggression, including from the territory of its satellite, Lukashenka's Belarus, as it already did on February 24, 2022. The Belarusian dictator Lukashenko himself speaks about this. And he complains that nothing will happen because, he says, the border is heavily fortified. A lot of Ukrainian troops are concentrated there. Well, if it doesn't work, then Lukashenka's pseudo-humanistic reflections come into play, saying that he doesn't want the Ukrainian people to suffer and won't attack. Two years ago, the Belarusian authorities did not think about this when they let Russian tanks into Ukraine, when later Russian looters organized auction of loot in Ukraine on the territory of Belarus and used its postal service to send home the loot. Lukashenka is an accomplice to Russian crimes.

It is important that Russia's activation on the front is also related to the fact that communist China has begun to provide it with satellite intelligence data. China has generally stepped up its support for Russia. In particular, the Chinese are providing the aggressor country with microelectronics, machine tools for the production of tanks and shells, optical devices, and rocket fuel. Against this backdrop, it is clear that support for Ukraine should be prompt and methodical, and the sanctions policy against Russia should be comprehensive and uncompromising.

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has finally adopted amendments to the legislation on mobilization
Despite numerous delays and a huge number of amendments, the decision was made after the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and a number of military commanders came to the parliamentary hall and convinced MPs to support the changes. The wording of the adopted legislative changes differs from the initial proposals of the Ukrainian government. Within 60 days of the law's entry into force, all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 will have to update their military registration data. They will then be required to carry their military registration documents with them throughout the duration of martial law and present them at the request of the military registration and enlistment offices or police officers. The legislation introduces the concept of an electronic cabinet for persons liable for military service: every Ukrainian man of military age can voluntarily create one. Men who are not registered for military service will not be able to obtain a passport or (in the case of those abroad) use consular services. In addition, the law restricts the ability of "evaders" to work in the civil service and allows the enlistment offices to initiate the revocation of their driver's licenses through the courts. Methods of influencing potential violators of the mobilization law include a significant increase in fines for such violations - tenfold.

The most controversial issue in Ukrainian society was the removal from the final version of the law of the provisions on demobilization of servicemen after three years of service at the front. This was done on the basis of the appeal of the Commander-in-Chief A. Syrsky. The main explanation is that in the situation when the Russians are planning to mobilize another 300,000 soldiers for another "offensive" by the summer, there is no reason to expect any demobilization. Critics of the absence of demobilization regulations point out that this could have a negative impact on the morale of the military. At the same time, the government assures that demobilization regulations will be developed separately and introduced within a few months.

In any case, it is clear to everyone that Russia has set itself a serious goal of destroying the Ukrainian state as such, and therefore this challenge will have to be met by mobilizing all available resources.

In general, the adoption of mobilization changes marks a new stage in the Ukrainian-Russian war, when the state needs, first and foremost, resources to continue the struggle and preserve its existence.

The loss of the old generation in Ukraine and the loss of technological competencies - is there a common point of contact between these two trends?
In recent years, the average age of employees of Ukrainian defense companies and high-tech industries has been well over fifty years old.

Elderly electricians, turners, plumbers, technologists - young people in Ukraine do not want to learn technical professions.

Before the full-scale war, Ukraine did not pay enough attention to deindustrialization.

The government was dominated by a quasi-liberal view and a rather simplistic distortion of Schumpeter's theory: industrialization was perceived as a "positive industrial mutation" and "creative, constructive destruction."

At international economic forums, Ukraine's economic model was positioned as "grain and brains," i.e., the export of agricultural and digital raw materials.

Industry was sacrificed to this model, and it was believed that Ukraine did not need to produce its own industrial goods, including military-industrial products, as everything it needed could be bought with the revenues from exporting raw materials.

But it turned out that not everything can be bought during a full-scale war.

Now, Ukraine is frantically trying to find the necessary technical resources and establish production of its own goods. It has to rely on pensioners or people of pre-retirement age as technical staff.

But the war and stress are eating away at the elderly in Ukraine - there is a rapid decline in the number of pensioners in Ukraine.

At the beginning of 2024, there were 10.52 million pensioners in Ukraine.

In 2012, there were 13.8 million people. On the eve of the full-scale war, this figure dropped to 10.9 million.

During the two years of the war, the number of pensioners fell by 325 thousand people, and during the two years of the pandemic (2020-2021) - by 494 thousand people. Dynamic processes are taking place in 2024: in January-March 2024, the number of pensioners decreased by 362 thousand people at once, to 10.15 million.

That is, the reduction in the quarter exceeded the same figure for the last two years. The key reason is to take into account the reduction in pensioners due to the new occupation of the territories.

But the factor of increased mortality also has a certain impact - men in Ukraine do not live to retirement (the average life expectancy has fallen from 65 to 57 years), but the number of pensioners is mainly affected by the decline in life expectancy of women (from 75 to 70 years), which is a rather significant segment of pensioners.

In general, if we analyze the last 10 years, the number of pensioners has decreased by 3.65 million people, or 27%.

Let's extrapolate this trend to the total population of Ukraine.

In 2012, 45.56 million people lived in Ukraine (by the way, that year, for the first time in 19 years, the population of Ukraine grew).

The 27% decline rate for the period 2012-2024 means a loss of more than 12 million people. That is, there may be 33 million people in Ukraine today. But this is without taking into account migration abroad.

In addition, the figure of 45 million in 2012 was clearly overestimated because no census was conducted. If we subtract the number of refugees abroad, we get 27 million people.

By the way, according to the UN, there are almost 6 million refugees from Ukraine abroad.

According to this indicator, Ukraine is among the world's terrible three:
  1. Syria - 6.5 million refugees.
  2. Afghanistan - 6.1 million.
  3. Ukraine - 5.9 million.
Thus, certain conclusions can be drawn.

The population of Ukraine is currently about 27 million people. If the war ends in 2025, the balance of refugees will deteriorate by another 1-1.5 million people, and the number of pensioners will be just under 10 million. The total population will reach 25 million people. In the case of a negative scenario, Ukraine will face a new wave of refugees, and the population may even drop to 20 million people.

In parallel with the loss of the old generation and its competencies, there is also a loss of technical skills, technological competencies, and innovation drive.

This is as much a problem for Ukraine as the deep demographic "hole".

Once upon a time, when the Ukrainian SSR accounted for almost 40% of patents during the Soviet era, Ukraine was a leader in innovation activity.

Unfortunately, now, along with the demographic catastrophe, Ukraine is in an innovation crisis.

Let's take 2021 and the report of the World Intellectual Property Organization. A total of 3.4 million applications for inventions were filed worldwide, 67% of which were in Asia. The average annual growth of applications was 3.6%. The highest growth rates were in China and India - +5.5% each. If we take the top ten countries, China accounted for more than 1.5 million applications. The United States is in second place with almost 510 thousand. Japan is in third place with 413 thousand, followed by South Korea with 268 thousand, Germany with 166 thousand, France with 66 thousand, Britain with 54 thousand, Switzerland with 48 thousand, India with 43 thousand, and Italy with 34 thousand.

What about Ukraine? In 2021, 3393 applications for inventions were registered in Ukraine. The share of filed applications in the total world volume is 0.1%, while we occupied 0.5% in terms of population. That is, the gap between the share of innovation activity and the population is almost five times greater, which is not in favor of innovation.

The reason for such a catastrophic decline in the country's intellectual activity is multifaceted. This includes the almost complete elimination of school technical clubs that once existed: electronics, aircraft modeling, chemistry, etc.

And the unsuccessful reform of secondary technical education. And the current crisis in the country's key technical universities.

This is also the situation when technical specialties are being thrown out of the educational state order. During the war, Ukraine could have used the factor of global attention to its problems and created a number of technical training centers to teach students modern technical competencies and skills. This project could be launched under the auspices of the world's largest companies and businessmen, such as Musk and Branson. It would be an interesting marketing ploy for them.

Such centers could reach several tens of thousands of people across the country. But one of the key problems is the complete loss of the relationship between the state educational order and the needs of the real economy.

Soon, engineers and technologists will have to be invited from other countries - this is almost an "African" personnel model. It is clear that waves of migration play a role. Many smart people left the country in the 90s, and a new wave is leaving now.

Unfortunately, without the innovation component, Ukraine will not be able to build a cluster model of the economy. Because clusters are about competition between participants, science and innovation, and skilled allied workers.

The pit of loss of skills and competencies is becoming as deep as the demographic crisis. The situation can be saved by a new educational policy in correlation with industrial policy, a transition to a cluster model of economic development, and the creation of technology parks at the intersection of production, science, and modern technical education centers.

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