Russian Society Disfigured and Degraded by the ‘Long War’

Russians still do not call the full-scale invasion of Ukraine what it actually is — a war. Now in its third year, the war continues to be referred to in Russia by its awkward abbreviation SVO, short for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called “special military operation.”

Citizens stroll along the city streets, passing by a woman beggar in St. Petersburg, Feb 2024. Photo: Artem Priakhin / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Russian war propaganda pushing this narrative is everywhere.

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Russia’s Post-Putin Future Becomes Darker

This year’s Munich Security Conference recently took place on February 16 but was soon overshadowed by other events, which is becoming a tradition for the annual conference. In early February 2022, most high-level participants did not believe a Russian attack on Ukraine was imminent. In 2023, many expected decisive success in Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive. This year, the primary dealings were the signing of the French-Ukrainian and German-Ukrainian security pacts, specifying Europe’s commitments to Ukraine (RBC.ru, February 16; NV.ua, February 16).

Flowers, candles, and a portrait of Alexei Navalny, are placed near the walls of the Russian Embassy in Warsaw during the rally dedicated to the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine. Photo: Volha Shukaila/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The sudden death of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, however, overshadowed these ceremonies. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, held Russian President Vladimir Putin personally responsible in her address in Munich (Moscow times, February 16).

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Russian Economy Feels Bite of Attrition

On February 1, the European Council unanimously approved the 50 billion euro aid package to Ukraine. Although this package will not alter the course of the battles for Avdiivka or Kupyansk as it does not include funding for armor or ammunition, it will deliver a boost to Ukraine’s struggling economy.

Wartime destruction. Building damaged by a massive Russian missile strike in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 7, 2024. Photo: Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a long war of attrition, economic performance has a decisive impact. Russia’s economy got a boost last year from the massive increase in military expenditures. However, even if this volume of funding is sustained this year, the economy’s limits of growth have already been reached.

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Five Shifts in the Balance of War in Ukraine’s Favour

At the start of 2024, the deadlocked European war reached the balance point where Russia was at the peak performance, while Ukraine arrived at the dangerous minimum of its capabilities.

A monument of the city founder Duke de Richelieu is seen covered with sand bags for protection, amid Russian attacks on Ukraine, in central Odessa, Ukraine on March 12, 2022. Photo: Maksym Voitenko/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Massive budget allocations ensured that Russian defense-industrial complex expanded production to the maximum possible level, while North Korea supplied wagon-loads of artillery shells and Iran delivered hundreds of Shahed-135 drones. On the other side of the equation, Western military and economic aid to Ukraine contracted to a patently insufficient volume, feeding a stream of prophecies on the consequences of another lost war.

By the end of January, however, two major shifts in favour of Ukraine had happened, and three more are in the making.Read More

Forgotten Victims: Gaza’s Journalists & UN Workers

The war in Gaza is the most deadly in modern times for journalists and UN personnel. Despite the seriousness of the situation, these killings are under-reported.

Funeral of Al-Quds TV journalist Cebr Abu Hedrus’, who died in Israeli attacks in Gaza. December 30, 2023. Photo: Doaa Albaz/Anadolu via Getty Images

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The Ambivalent Juridification of Humanitarian Space

While humanitarians remain sceptical of legal regulation, litigation, and lawyers, the sector is going through a process of juridification.

This blog post takes stock of the ambivalence to law and emergent shifts in the sector and calls for international law scholars to pay more attention.

Illustration: Getty images

‘We have a toxic relationship with the law’ the aid worker at the end of the table exclaimed. It was mid-January 2024, and we were seated in a meeting room at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg.

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Assessing Russia’s Maneuvers in the Middle East Amidst Escalating Tensions

On Friday, February 2, the United States conducted a massive airstrike, targeting terrorist militia bases in Iraq and Syria but reverberating across Russian geopolitical designs.

Putin visits Saudi Arabia in December 2023. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images

In Russia’s grand strategy, the escalation of tensions in the broader Middle East triggered by the shocking attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel on October 7, 2023, is of much greater importance than just an unexpected means to redirect international attention away from its aggression against Ukraine.

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Refugee Protection Is Being Eroded

The pledges of USD 2.2 billion for refugees that were secured by Global Refugee Forum in December are a mere drop in the ocean.

It can seem that we have reduced refugees to pawns in a political game; a game in which they are unwelcome both in their neighbouring countries and also in Europe.

Children at Sendiyan Refugee Camp, Idlib, Syria on February 05, 2023. Photo: Muhammed Said/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Conflict, poverty, persecution and human rights violations are causing ever more people to flee their home countries. The figure reached a record high in September 2023, with 114 million displaced people worldwide, of whom 36 million are registered as refugees, according to statistics released at the Global Refugee Forum, which concluded in December.Read More

Breaking the Russian-Ukrainian Stalemate: Lessons from Military History

Today it is still the case that neither side seems to possess the military capability needed to end the war to its advantage, but there is also no prospect of peace negotiations anytime soon. Ukraine’s summer offensive did not alter the overall state of the war. From the perspective of military history, there is nothing unique about this situation, says lieutenant-general Arne Bård Dalhaug in this reflection.

“While the whole of the Crimean Peninsula is of interest in this context, the bridge over the Kerch Strait is of particular importance”. In this picture, people in Kyiv take selfies in front of an image of a stamp showing explosions on the Kerch Bridge on October 11, 2022. Photo: Ed Ram / Getty Images

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Russian Siren Song of Peace and Baltic Warnings of War

Russian propaganda on the war against Ukraine illogically, but deliberately, combines three different narratives.

During his official visit to the Republic of Estonia, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas in January 2024. Photo: President of Ukraine official website

First, President Vladimir Putin insists that his goals for the “special military operation” remain unchanged. Ukraine must be “neutralized,” and a pro-Russian government will be installed in Kyiv (Interfax, December 14).

Second, Putin repeatedly confirms his readiness to engage in peace talks, accusing Kyiv of sabotaging the process and clarifying that such conversations could only be had under the conditions of Ukraine’s surrender (Vedomosti, December 23).

Third, and perhaps most ambiguously, the Kremlin sends deniable signals about possibly “freezing” hostilities while asserting that Russia would never give up its imperial “conquests” (RBC.ru, January 25; NV.ua, January 26).Read More