In early 2022, Russia moved to invade Ukraine following massive troop build-ups on the border in the preceding months. It was a huge escalation of tensions that had been simmering since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and started backing separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Western states to which Kyiv looks for support condemned Moscow’s action as a major international crisis developed. Leveraging contacts on all sides and engaging local and foreign actors, including in the West, Crisis Group reports on the war, assesses its human costs, gauges the larger threats to Ukrainian and European security, and encourages actions that can bring fighting to an end. Our advocacy, written products and visual explainer describe the conflict’s evolving dynamics and identify ways to facilitate prospects for peace and a reunified Ukraine.
Crisis Group’s Program Director for Europe and Central Asia, Olga Oliker, speaks about the current situation in Ukraine, why it's more dangerous now than when Russia invaded in February and what can be done to de-escalate it.
Month saw relative calm in Kyiv region as Russian forces withdrew to launch new offensive in east, where fighting could worsen as it edges closer to urban areas. Russian troops by 2 April had vacated stretch of land between Kyiv’s north-western suburbs and Belarusian border, as well as Chernihiv and Sumy regions, north east of Kyiv. Following Russian troops’ departure, authorities said they had recovered over 1,000 bodies of murdered civilians, most notably in Bucha, and alleged war crimes. Russian forces continued attacks in east. Notably, Russia 1 April captured Izium city south east of Kharkiv city; Russian missile 8 April struck train station in Donetsk city of Kramatorsk, killing at least 50. Marking new phase of war, Kremlin 10 April appointed General Alexander Dvornikov to oversee invasion. Russia late-April launched new offensive in Donbas. Notably, Russia 20 April seized eastern town of Kreminna in Luhansk. Ukrainian forces 29 April claimed they regained Ruska Lozova north of Kharkiv; fighting could worsen in east, as it comes closer to urban areas in Severodonetsk and Sloviansk/Kramatorsk area. In south, besieged Donbas port city of Mariupol remained worst affected hotspot with 100,000 people encircled. President Putin 21 April claimed Russian forces took city, although Ukrainian forces remained holed up in Azovstal steel plant; after talks between UN Sec Gen Antonio Guterres and Putin in Moscow on 26 April, UN 30 April reportedly began limited evacuations of civilians from steel plant. Governor of Odessa 13 April announced Ukrainian forces attacked flagship Russian missile cruiser Moskva, which caught fire and sank; large number of 500-member crew remained unaccounted for. On humanitarian front, UN 17 April estimated 7.7mn people internally displaced, 5.3 mn refugees, although exodus reportedly slower than March due to greater security in Kyiv region. On diplomatic front, UN Human Rights Council 7 April suspended Russia. Zelenskyy hosted EU, UK, U.S. officials in capital Kyiv, who promised more sanctions and weapons. Talks between Kyiv and Moscow were limited to humanitarian corridors and exchanges of prisoners, as sides focus on battlefield outcomes in Donbas. Guterres 28 April visited Kyiv and sites of suspected war crimes; Russian airstrikes hit city during visit.
Stalled Ukraine-Russia peace talks and a recent Russian buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border are raising tensions in Europe and with the U.S. Kyiv and its Western partners should send Moscow a strong deterrence message while also proposing mutual de-escalatory measures.
Years of conflict have exacerbated the economic woes of Donbas, once an industrial powerhouse. Authorities in Kyiv should take steps now to aid pensioners and encourage small trade while also planning ahead for the region’s eventual reintegration with the rest of the country.
Ceasefires in Ukraine's Donbas repeatedly fray because no side is fully invested in peace. Until the sides can agree on a long-term political solution, they should focus on protecting civilians through carefully targeted sectoral disengagements. If this facilitates peacemaking, so much the better.
The threat of coronavirus looms large in six self-declared republics that have broken away from post-Soviet states. War and isolation have corroded health care infrastructure, while obstructing the inflow of assistance. International actors should work with local and regional leaders to let life-saving aid through.
To help Ukraine find peace, the EU, NATO, and member states must seek new approaches to arms control discussions with Russia and European security as a whole. They should also consider a more flexible sanctions policy, such that progress in Ukraine may lead to incremental easing.
Russia and the separatists it backs in Ukraine’s east are no longer quite on the same page, especially since the Kremlin abandoned ideas of annexing the breakaway republics or recognising their independence. The rift gives the new Ukrainian president an opportunity for outreach to the east’s embattled population, including by relaxing the trade embargo.
Given the personnel shortages, given the equipment shortages on both sides [to the war in Ukraine], but especially on the Russian side, I do wonder how long they can actually keep it up.
Few if any wars have been launched with as much nuclear posturing as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I think the bottom line is that Russia's doctrine allows nuclear use in case of existential threat to the state.
Having watched how the Russians fight wars over the years, this is nowhere close to all they can do.
[The UN resolution] isn’t going to stop Russian forces in their stride, but it’s a pretty enormous diplomatic win for the Ukrainians and the US, and everyone who has got behind them.
A lot of diplomatic efforts will have to be put in the Ukraine crisis now and has already been put in – to the detriment of other crises here in Africa.
By abandoning the Minsk agreements, Russia has deprived itself of one avenue of potential long-term political leverage over Ukraine and will now be seeking another one.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson talk to Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel about the mass displacement resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as the conflict enters its third month and fighting continues in the east and south.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group Trustee and distinguished French diplomat Gérard Araud about European security, transatlantic politics, the West’s relations with Moscow and France’s election, as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters a new phase.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Elissa Jobson talk to Dr. Cornelius Friesendorf about the OSCE’s future in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Europe’s gravest security crisis in decades – has prompted the EU to take unprecedented decisions on security, defence and EU enlargement. It is also starting to shape the EU’s external action more broadly, opening new questions for Brussels and member states.
The UN General Assembly has now passed two resolutions condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine. But the majority is not as solid as it seems. Allies of Kyiv should pay more attention to the concerns of countries from the Global South.