Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy is addressing the United Nations Security Council this morning for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The appearance, via video link, comes after Zelenskiy visited Bucha on Monday. Bucha is a town where the bodies of many Ukrainian citizens were discovered. Zelenskiy accuses Russia of committing war crimes. Zelenskiy was also critical of UN failures to defend the peace and security.
Latvia has ordered the closure of two Russian consulates and told the staffs to leave the country. This action comes on the heels of Lithuania having downgraded diplomatic ties with Russia and expelling Moscow’s ambassador. These actions were made following revelation of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops.
Conflicting reports on the status of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol continue to filter out of the region. Reports that the Ukrainian Marine units inside the besieged city have surrendered were contradicted this morning by the Ukrainian military, which claims the 503rd Marine Battalion has not surrendered en masse and continues to fight.
With the horrors of Bucha now coming to light there are many other reported atrocities being reported in other Ukrainian towns that have been occupied by Russian troops for some time. How accurate these reports are remain to be seen. Yet given what has been discovered in Bucha, there is likely some truth to these latest reports. France has even reportedly launched an investigation into war crimes committed against French citizens in Ukraine.
-Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a telephone discussion with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this evening, said the next twenty-four hours will be critical for Ukraine. With more Russian columns moving towards Kiev, an assault on the city is edging closer to becoming reality. Great Britain and other European nations are doing all they can to move as much military equipment into Ukraine as possible. The EU is even pushing to start the delivery of combat aircraft from member-states to Ukraine within a matter of hours. These moves come as the tempo of Russian operations has increased over the last twenty-four hours. Ukraine’s general staff even admitted that Sunday was a difficult day for its forces, but failed to go into detail except to point out that friendly forces at Vasylkiv Airbase southeast of Kiev are enduring heavy artillery and rocket attacks.
-Negotiations between delegations of Russian and Ukrainian officials are set to take place at the Belarussian border Monday morning around 10 AM local time. Expectations are low for these talks and the overall perception is that Vladimir Putin will use their failure to increase the pressure on Kiev dramatically in the aftermath of the meeting.
-The UN Security Council voted today to convene an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on Monday to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Eleven of the fifteen UNSC members voted in favor and only Russia voted against. However, since this was a procedural motion, Russia could not exercise its veto power. China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained.
Whatever hope there was attached to last night’s emergency meeting of the UN Security Council rapidly evaporated as the meeting went on. It was a typical security council meeting punctuated by uniform condemnation of Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government had requested the meeting yesterday after Russia announced its recognition of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists. It was a purely symbolic gesture though. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and holds veto power, guaranteeing no resolution aimed at condemnation of Russia’s actions has even a remote chance of seeing the light of day.
Europe is taking the lead on applying sanctions to Russia for its actions yesterday. Germany has cast aside its reluctance of past weeks and suspended the certification process of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline while Great Britain has targeted five Russian banks for its first round of sanctions. France has not yet taken action, however, the threat of “targeted sanctions” was introduced by Paris minus specifics. The French government has a good amount of egg on its face after working relentlessly to set up a summit between US and Russian leaders this past weekend, only to see it turn to dust following Russia’s recognition of the breakaway republics yesterday. Perhaps this slap to the face will teach French leadership a lesson about trusting Vladimir Putin.
Despite the recognition of the LPR and DPR’s independence, the fact remains that two-thirds of the territory in both breakaway republics is controlled by the Ukrainian military…albeit tacitly in some instances. Russian ‘peacekeeping forces’ are reportedly advancing towards Mariupol, a vital port that sits in Ukrainian controlled territory. There has been contact between government forces and separatists and/or Russian peacekeepers at the Novoazovsk border crossing east of Mariupol. The port city is important to both Ukraine and Russia for a variety of reasons. It’s certainly worth discussing a bit at length later on in the day.
With the focus of the world locked directly on Ukraine for the last forty-eight hours, awaiting the start of a Russian invasion labeled ‘imminent’ unheeded warnings and frustrations are starting to appear. The United States is attempting to plug the dikes with fresh batches of information intermingled with predictions. Today it was President Biden’s turn to keep the heat maintained. He said indications continue to point towards a Russian invasion in the next few days and claims Russia is preparing a pretext to justify military action. Biden’s remarks came after Ukrainian forces and separatists exchanged fire in eastern Ukraine earlier Thursday. The Kremlin responded by accusing the US of ignoring Russia’s security concerns and threatened unspecified “military-technical measures.” The Russian Foreign Ministry followed up by expelling the US Deputy Chief of Mission from Moscow.
The latest fighting in eastern Ukraine is raising alarm bells, as it could very well be the first sign of Russia’s justification for military action starting to take form. Intent to offset a pretext or justification from gaining steam, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. He outlined a number of scenarios where Russia could construct to justify military action. Russia’s response was unusually sharp. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin distributed a letter to the Security Council accusing Ukrainian authorities of “exterminating” civilians in the east. This comes on the heels of Vladimir Putin’s comments earlier in the week about alleged genocide taking place in Donbass. Vershinin also called Blinken’s remarks ‘regrettable’ and repeated the Russian government’s claims that military units are beginning to withdraw from the border areas, something the US and other countries dispute.
Author’s Note: I’ve been out of the loop for much of the day and will try and post a second update this evening.
This morning’s meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York resembled a boxing match more than a gathering of diplomats. As soon as the meeting began, Russia’s ambassador Vasily Nebenzia objected to the meeting even being held. He labeled US accusations as unfounded and claimed the Russian government had addressed and refuted them already. US warnings of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine were dismissed as theatrics and fear-mongering. The US response was more measured. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield defended the need for a Security Council meeting after a series of private discussions on the Russian military buildup between US and Russian diplomats failed to make progress. Through the course of the meeting, Thomas-Greenfield and Nebenzia traded blows as they laid out the positions of their respective governments, yet there is no real prospect of formal action being taken by the UN Security Council since Russia holds veto power.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to have a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, twenty-four hours before Johnson is set to visit Ukraine. Great Britain is defuse the current crisis through both diplomacy and deterrence. Defensive weapons are already being supplied to Ukraine and London has offered to increase the number of troops and aircraft it already has deployed on NATO’s Eastern Flank. Concurrent to this offer, legislation is being prepared which will levy a wide range of economic sanctions on Russia should Moscow choose to launch an invasion of Ukraine. Johnson’s own political future remains in doubt as reports of the prime minister having thrown parties during the COVID-19 lockdown have led to a government investigation into those reports. The findings are set to be released on Tuesday.