War in Ukraine – Year I

Image: Julia Antipina
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By CAIO BUGIATO*

The dynamics of war after a year of armed conflict

The war in Ukraine turns one year old this February 2023. The confrontation, which apparently pits only two States against each other, during this period can be divided into two phases: the Russian counter-offensive and the NATO reaction. But before dealing with these phases, it is necessary to understand why we give them such nomenclatures. First, as we argued in the article published on the website the earth is round “War in Ukraine: background and character of the conflict” the government of Vladimir Putin is waging a defensive anti-imperialist war against the NATO offensive.

Since this organization and the capitalist States it represents do not admit the non-integration or non-subordination of the Russian State to Western capitalism. Vladimir Putin's government has a project of autonomous capitalism in Russia and NATO has been surrounding and intimidating it with its expansion.

Second, a Western mobilization in favor of the Ukrainians results, albeit informally, in a coalition of support that brings together the Western capitalist powers. It is against this coalition that the Russian forces are fighting. Let's look at the data from Ukraine Support Tracker, from the Kiel Institute in Germany. Data cover the period from January 24 to November 20, 2022.

Graph – Military, humanitarian and financial aid from countries to Ukraine (in billions of Euros). Source: Kiel – Institute for World Economy, 2022.

The United States tops the list with 22,9 billion Euros in military aid; 9,9 billion in humanitarian aid and 15,1 billion in financial aid. The European Union comes next, with 3,3 billion in military aid; 1,57 billion in humanitarian aid and financial aid that surpasses that of the United States, of 30,3 billion Euros. In third and fourth place are the United Kingdom and Germany, two European Union countries that contribute individually. United Kingdom: military aid of 4,1 billion Euros; humanitarian aid of 0,4 billion and financial aid of 2,55 billion. Germany: 2,94 billion in military aid; 1,95 billion in humanitarian aid and 1,15 billion in financial aid. In fifth place is another G7 country, Canada with 1,36 billion in military aid; 0,29 billion in humanitarian aid and 2,14 billion in financial aid.

Of the 11 countries listed (thus excluding the European Union), 10 are part of NATO and one, Sweden, is in the process of joining. Western capitalist powers have every interest in forming this coalition, as the data show, regardless of the tour as a traveling salesman for the Ukrainian president and cases of corruption in his government. The Russians, on the other hand, seem to be fighting alone.

 

The dynamics of war

The first phase of the war was marked by the Russian advance, as shown in the March 08th map below.

Map 1 – Russian counter-offensive Source: BBC Brasil and Institute for Study of War, 2022.

In the first weeks of the war the Russians advanced east, south and north. They arrived at the gates of Kiev, which was not taken. However, they took the important city of Kherson to the south, capital of the homonymous province. The Kherson region covers 28,5 square kilometers, an area almost the size of Belgium, and an outlet for the Azov and Black Seas. The most important thing is to be connected by land with Crimea, Russian territory even before the war. The seizure of this region, which is at the mouth of the Dnipro River, could solve the Crimean water supply problem, in addition to blocking Ukrainian access to the Black Sea.

The retaking of territories by the Ukrainians marks the second phase of the war. About six months after the start of the confrontation, that is, the time for NATO's military and financial aid to become an operational apparatus of war, the Russians retreated, as shown in the August 21 map below.

Map 2 – NATO’s reaction Source: BBC Brasil and Institute for Study of War, 2022.

In August 2022 the Russians no longer controlled northern Ukraine, but occupied a territorial strip that stretched from the Kherson region, through the Zaporizhzhia region (between Kherson and Donetsk), to the breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. On September 30, 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the incorporation of these four provinces, which represent about 15% of the Ukrainian territory.

In January 2023, almost a year after the start of the war, according to the Institute for the Study of War  the situation is as follows:

Map 3 – Result of the Russian counteroffensive and the NATO reaction Source: Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project, 2023.

The Russians lost control of part of the Kherson region, including the capital. With NATO's reaction, they had already lost the city of Kharkiv (the second largest Ukrainian city) and its homonymous province, northwest of Luhansk, a situation that remained. However, they maintain control over a large territorial extension that links the Crimea to the breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. It should be noted that, despite the incorporation of the four aforementioned provinces, their territories are not fully controlled by Russian forces.

On January 13, 2023, the Ministry of Defense of Russia announced the conquest of the city of Soledar, in the province of Donetsk. It would be the first city taken in the region since the middle of last year. Conquest would open up routes to the west, especially to Bakhmut, the administrative center of the province, and to retake Kharkiv. On the other hand, NATO states and their allies have formed a tank coalition: USA, UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Finland and Poland will send about 80 war tanks to Ukraine in the coming days, which could escalate the war to a new phase.

*Caio Bugiato Professor of Political Science and International Relations at UFRRJ and at the Graduate Program in International Relations at UFABC.

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