On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military assault against Ukraine, according to an article by the Council on Foreign Relations. AP News reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan with this attack is to “dismantle the [Ukrainian] government and replace it with his own regime.” 

AP reported that Russia’s attack began early on Thursday with a series of airstrikes, missile attacks, and sending troops and tanks in a three pronged invasion from the north, south, and east. Russia attacked government and military institutions, with a clear goal of reaching the capital, Kyiv. By the end of the day on Thursday, Russian troops had control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the north of Ukraine. 

Russian troops have neared Kyiv and attacked many important sites in the city. On March 1, Russia struck Kyiv's main television tower and Babi Yar, the city’s Holocaust memorial, according to The Times of Israel. Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. After the bombing, he tweeted, “To the world: what is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating.”

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has experienced the most “intensive bombardment,” and the city center “has been turned into a bombed-out wasteland of ruined buildings and debris,” reports Reuters. Reuters continued to explain that the city of Mariupol, in the south, has also experienced intense shelling. On March 3, CNN reported that Russian forces seized control of the city Kherson and surrounded Mariupol.

While Kyiv and Kharkiv are being heavily attacked, Ukrainian forces still hold these locations, said AP. In addition to attacking these major cities, Russia has been attacking residential neighborhoods since the first day of the conflict. 

The human costs of the conflict have been severe. AP wrote that “bombings have damanged pipes, electricy lines, and basic services in Ukraine and hundreds of thousands of Ukranian families are without drinking water.” With continuous bombings in Kyiv, many Ukranians are taking shelter in Kyiv’s subway stations. Subway stations are also being used as bomb shelters to treat sick children, pregnant women, and newborn children. In Mariupol, Russian troops have blocked the supply of electricity, water, heat, and food as well as destroyed railways, bridges, and trains, reports CNN. 

Ukranians are attempting to leave major cities and the country. On March 3, the UN Refugee Agency reported that over 1 million people fled to neighboring countries, and this number is predicted to reach 4 million in the following weeks. Ukrainian refugees are going to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Germany, reported AP. 

Although the Ukrainian military is substantially smaller than Russia’s, reports the Guardian, Ukrainian nationalism has led them to see significant success against the far larger invasion force. In a lecture on March 1, Prof. Rosenberger (IGS) highlighted the fierce nationalism of Ukranians and their willingness to take extraordinary risks to protect their country — a factor that Putin didn’t necessarily consider when attacking. Across the country, civilians are volunteering their services to join the military resistance against Russian troops, and Ukranians across Europe are returning to their home country to join the fight, reported the Wall Street Journal. Ukrainian nationalism is not only being seen in the typical military front, but across the country, citizens are training to fight with molotov cocktails according to Reuters. 

Many are now calling Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky a “convincing war leader,” says BBC. BBC explained that he has been a source of motivation and leadership for his people; he has “rallied the nation with his addresses and video selfies and given voice to Ukrainian anger and defiance of Russian aggression.”

The CFR article explained that the conflict initially began in 2014 when Russian troops took control of the Crimean peninsula in the south of Ukraine. Since then, there have been “regular shelling and skirmishes occurring along the front line that separates Russian- and Ukrainian - controlled border regions in the east,” in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. These smaller, less severe, military operations escalated in Dec. 2021 when Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed tens of thousands of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border, as reported in a U.S. News & World Report article. In addition to the deployment of troops, Russia demanded NATO’s pull back of troops and weapons from Ukraine and a legally-binding assurance that Ukraine does not join the alliance, said a Reuters article. In a March 2 interview with Prof. von Mering (ENVS), she said that everyone in the West underestimated how much the Russian government feels threatened by NATO enlargement in the East. 

In a March 2 interview with Prof. Wilson (POL), the Justice asked Wilson if there are actions that the U.S. and NATO countries could have taken in the last decade to prevent the current situation. He explained that Putin has been vocal about rebuilding Russian power and “very few of us saw this mass war as being what he would do,” said Wilson. Wilson explained that he doesn't believe there were many concrete actions that could have been taken because if Ukraine had been let into the EU and NATO, it simply would have forced a military confrontation between the powers.

These military actions and security demands at the end of 2021 escalated to Russia recognizing the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent on Feb. 21, when Putin declared that Russia would protect its citizens in the two regions. Simultaneously, Russian troops moved onto the borders of Ukraine –– to the Belarussian border in the north, Crimea in the south, and Donetsk and Luhansk in the east. CFR explained that Russia’s intention to invade Ukraine was clear from Russia’s “growing military presence at the Russia-Ukraine border.” This recognition of independence of Donetsk and Luhansk was used as the pretext for the full scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, explained U.S. News & World Report. 

Putin has “grievances with how the Soviet Union broke up,” said Prof. Rosenberger. Putin’s speech on Feb. 21 showed that “he is angry about the existence of Ukraine as a sovereign country… He is not interested in taking a little piece of eastern Ukraine — he wants to abolish the idea of Ukraine. He thinks Ukraine is entirely an artificial creation,” Rosenberger explained. In regards to Putin's motivation for the attack, Rosenberger explained that Putin has been extremely isolated during COVID-19, pushing out advisors who disagreed with him and allowing himself to “steep in the ideology of the great Tsarist Russia.” 

In his lecture, Rosenberger also discussed how other countries are reacting to the conflict. The UN Security Council, which is meant to protect territorial integrity and national sovereignty as well as defend smaller countries against imperial aggression, has not passed a resolution to support Ukraine. The five permanent members of the Council include Russia and the current president of the UN Security Council, who is Russian, has vetoed proposed resolutions to support Ukraine, explained Rosenberger. This being said, von Mering explained that we are witnessing a strong show of European unity with Ukraine. Putin may have thought this would push a wedge through European countries but it has done the opposite, explained von Mering.

One of the most prominent responses from Western countries in support of Europe has been levying severe economic sanctions against Russia. A White House Briefing Room report from the first day of the conflict stated that “the United States, along with Allies and partners, is imposing severe and immediate economic costs on Russia in response to Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine,” with the goal of isolating Russia from the global financial system. The report detailed that the sanctions have targeted Russia’s largest financial institutions. Wilson explained that the economic sanctions being imposed due to this invasion are completely unprecedented for a country of this size in the world economy and go far beyond any previous conception of sanctions. Western sanctions on Russia include banning certain Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications — the network that facilitates payments in the global economy — and restricting Russian financial institutions like the Russian Central Bank, explains CNN. CNN reported that the U.S. has imposed sanctions on the state-owned Russian Direct Investment Fund, technology exports, numerous Russian oligarchs and their families, and multiple state-owned financial companies. Some of the largest sanctions from private companies have been Nike and Apple closing their online stores in Russia, MSC and Maersk suspending container shipping to and from Russian, and Boeing and Airbus stopping supply to Russian airlines. Cultural figures and companies are also imposing restrictions. For example, Disney, Warner Bros., and Paramount have paused releases of new films in Russia and many musical artists have canceled their shows and concerts in the country, says CNN.

On the effect of economic sanctions, Wilson explained the goal of Western countries –– a lot of these sanctions are not aimed at Putin directly changing his mind because he is not economically driven, said Wilson. The goal of these sanctions is to target oligarchs and get them into the mindset that because Putin is not on their side financially, in order to maintain their financial status, they must remove Putin and withdraw from Ukraine. Wilson added that economic sanctions like these take a long time to affect those in power; therefore they won’t change Russia’s ability to fight this war in the next few months, but they do hurt the average Russian citizen. Pain on normal Russians can eventually lead to pressure on the government to do something because while Putin is a dictator, there are limits to what he can demand from his people before they begin to revolt, explained Wilson. 

The Justice asked Wilson if the Western response of primarily economic sanctions will be enough to help Ukraine. His response was that Putin's threat of nuclear war is preventing the West from intervening more militarily and this is a difficult position to be in. “Putin has repeatedly said if there is direct Western intervention he will use nuclear weapons,” said Wilson. With the threat of nuclear war on the radar, the West has intervened as much as possible in taking proactive steps without crossing the red line of direct military interventions, which include shipping tank weapons, supplying drones, and active real time intelligence for the Ukrainian military, Wilson explained. Most recently, President Zelensky has asked surrounding countries to announce a “no-fly” zone over Ukraine, reported ABC News. 

In addition to intergovernmental aid, individuals all across the world are protesting in support of Ukraine –– “there has never been so much unanimity with regards to Ukraine,” said von Mering. “Ukraine is a democracy. A flawed democracy but still a democracy,” said Wilson, and this creates an almost-unanimous support for Ukranians to be “the makers of their own destiny,” he explained. Major protests have been seen across the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, Russia, and more, reported NPR. 

At a peace rally that von Mering attended in Berlin, hundreds of thousands of people showed up to protest. “The TV here shows nothing else than the war in Ukraine. The information screens and advertisements in Hamburg’s subway had Ukrainian colors. Yellow and blue colors are ubiquitous everywhere you go,” von Mering explained. 

In a March 2 interview with Prof. Dubinina (RUS), she discussed the protests against the war in Russia, which have been largely missed by Western media. There have been anti-war demonstrations in major cities like Moscow and St.Petersburg since the first day of the war, said Dubinina. She emphasized the risk that Russian protesters are putting themselves in by coming out on the streets –– they risk their jobs, wellbeing, health, and freedom with the choice to protest against Putin’s actions. 

In Russia, the words “attack,” “invasion,” and “war” are banned in reference to the events in Ukraine; only the phrase “special military operation” is allowed. Dubinina gave an example of the detainment of a girl simply for having a bag with the words “no war” written on it. Using these banned words in reference to Ukraine or coming out to protest against the war has led to detainments, which incur significant fees and potential jail time for Russian individuals and their families, continued Dubinina. The detainments are counted as an administrative offense under the pretense of violating COVID-19 restrictions, but this reasoning has been exposed as untrue due to the lack of enforcement of so called COVID-19 restrictions in pro-Donbas protests and the highly packed Russian metro. “There is no way to have a free protest in Russia now,” said Dubinina. Male protesters risk physical abuse and female protesters are typically threatened with physical abuse when detained.

Looking towards the future, von Mering believes “we need every effort at the UN level, EU level, even NATO level. They have to be smart and think long term.” Von Mering described our world as a “global family”: our economies, supply chains, and health are linked. Wilson expressed a similar sentiment of a massive unification of all Western countries. 

The Justice asked Dubinina how she views the future of Russian contributions to culture, to which she responded that Russian educators will be “knocking on the doors of our German colleagues” for advice on how to separate the government actions from culture and people. She expressed how lucky she feels with the support of her colleagues, friends, and students in understanding that this is a difficult time for Russians as well. There have been incidents of anti-Russianism bordering on Russophobia, which, to Dubinina, is painful and frightening but unfortunately not surprising. As a Russian educator of Russian language, literature, and culture, Dubinina said this time is “incredibly difficult both personally and professionally” for her and all educators of Russian language, literature, and studies. 

Dubinina expressed the “emotional pain, almost physical pain to be a Russian at this moment” because of the distress and outrage at the human tragedy that Putin and his government have caused. “I feel extreme anger that they stole my right to be proud of my country,” Dubinina said, adding that Russian protests in support of Ukraine give her a little bit of relief from that very heavy feeling. 

When asked about what this war means for the future of Russia, the West, and geopolitical order, Wilson responded that this is “Ukraine’s European moment.” This war is redrawing the lines of post-Cold War definitions of Western Europe, and Ukraine is moving towards the West while Russia’s place in the world is changing very quickly. Wilson explained that there is a potential of Russia fully turning east and a “sad trajectory of [Russia] becoming a Chinese client state in all but name.” In regards to the geopolitical balance of power, Wilson is seeing that European people and leadership no longer trust the U.S. and are taking this into their own hands as a sort of “unified federal state.”

On March 3, Russia and Ukraine met for their second round of peace talks in the Brest region of Belarus, reported ABC News. The article continued, stating that Ukrainian officials say the goal of the peace talks is an “immediate cease-fire,” but this second round of negotiations was unsuccessful. In a CNN interview with President Zelensky, who is staying in an undisclosed location in Kyiv, Zelensky explained that unless Russia agrees to stop the fighting, the peace talks are a waste of time.