Russian forces are poised to overwhelm the nation as they close in on the capital Kyiv—in a “military operation” that has rocked stock markets and potentially the world order. Here’s everything you need to know.
Editor’s note: We have extensively tracked the Russia vs Ukraine conflict since December. If you need more context, we highly recommend reading our Big Story on the historical roots of the conflict and this timely explainer on the effectiveness of economic sanctions.
Researched by: Sara Varghese
First, a quick timeline: Here’s where we are now:
Chernobyl goes down: The Russians targeted and took over the nuclear power plant. A Russian security source told Reuters that it is a warning to NATO in case it is considering a military intervention. US experts say the location is important as it offers the most direct route to Kyiv. FYI: The reactor has been shut down since 2000—and has even become a tourist attraction.
The damage: BBC News has a photo gallery of the destruction wreaked inside Ukraine. Also see clips of the air assault on Kyiv. Below is a Russian missile hitting Ivano-Frankivsk airport in western Ukraine:
Ukrainian resistance: Zelenskyy urged all citizens to come forward and defend the country—and promised to issue weapons to everyone who wants them. As this chart shows, the Ukraine military is greatly outmatched:
But, as The Guardian points out, it also has half a million combat-experienced veterans after a decade of war. Also important point to note: Ukraine is a huge country—the second largest republic in the Soviet Union, and the second biggest in Europe. And while the Russians may win the immediate battle, they find themselves mired in a bloody occupation:
“Look at the experience of Afghanistan. It could not be held by the Soviet Union, by the USA, by the United Kingdom. They could not beat the Taliban because they were well motivated. Their strongest weapon was their partisans, civilians by day, then at night they took up weapons to shoot or bury a bomb in the road.”
The exodus: Meanwhile, civilians poured out of Kyiv—creating massive traffic jams—many moving to the western parts of the country. And thousands others have crossed the border into Poland—where they are being welcomed with open arms. Also ready to offer humanitarian assistance: Hungary and the Czech Republic. Most families have already sent women, children and the elderly away. Watch a father saying a heart-wrenching goodbye to his daughter below:
Meme to note: Soon after the invasion began, Ukraine’s verified handle tweeted this image out—saying it is not a meme but “our reality”:
Stock markets crashed around the world—while oil prices climbed past $105 a barrel—and then swung wildly again. By the end of the day, the S&P 500 in New York actually closed with a 1.5% gain. Energy prices also fell after President Biden said the United States and other nations planned to release oil from strategic reserves.
Indian stock markets: have not yet recovered—and the first hour of trading after Putin’s announcement wiped $177 billion from the market. The Nifty 50 index closed 4.78% lower, while Sensex slid by 4.72%. India was the worst performer in the Asian markets. One big reason: India imports more than 80% of its oil and is the third largest buyer in the world. High oil prices will be devastating at a time when we are already struggling with rising inflation.
Key point to note: Asian markets have also shown signs of recovery today—following Wall Street’s lead. And India may follow suit when trading opens. But any bounce back may be temporary if the battle is drawn out—and gas prices stay high. As The Atlantic notes, they may even work to Putin’s advantage:
“One gas-industry insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly, predicted that if gas prices stay high, European economies will shrink—and Russia’s could grow—to the point where Putin’s economy will overtake at least Italy’s and perhaps France’s to stand second in Europe only to Germany’s.”
And if Russia cuts back its oil exports, the shockwaves will be felt around the world. According to Axios, the only way the US can get gas prices under control is to persuade Saudi Arabia—and kiss and make up with Iran.
But, but, but: The Russian stock exchange was the biggest loser yesterday—nosediving 45% in the early hours—and still closing 33% lower: “The losses wiped tens of billions off Russian stocks in one of the biggest crashes in equity market history.”
Europe: The head of the EU delivered speeches promising “strongest, the harshest package” of sanctions. At an emergency EU summit, leaders vowed that Putin “must and will fail”—and agreed to freeze Russian assets and halt its banks’ access to European financial markets: “This package includes financial sanctions, targeting 70% of the Russian banking market and key state owned companies, including in defence.”
Point to note: The details of these EU sanctions still have not been revealed—making it hard to assess their effect.
The UK: A 10-point sanctions package announced by PM Boris Johnson took aim at the fabulously wealthy Russians who store their money in Britain’s banks—a reason why London is often referred to either as ‘Londongrad’ or Moscow-on-Thames. The most notable sanctions are:
The US: imposed the harshest penalties so far—targeting nearly 80% of all banking assets in Russia. In the crosshairs: Moscow’s first and second largest lenders, Sberbank and VTB Bank:
“Sberbank, will be barred from processing any transactions in dollars, and will be cut off from the US financial system. The White House went one step further in targeting VTB, vowing to freeze any of its assets touching the US financial system and barring Americans from dealing with the bank.”
US experts claim, “These sanctions are completely unprecedented in their strength… It really is taking a hatchet to Russian financial markets and the ability to move money around.”
Point to note: The Russian banks insist that none of the sanctions affect their ability to carry on with business as usual. Coming days will determine whether this is just bluster.
Also blocked: Key technologies required to sustain Russia’s defence, aerospace and maritime sectors. Along with the EU and UK sanctions, “the effort is designed to atrophy Russia’s industrial base by robbing it of key components needed to carry out everyday business.”
But here’s what’s missing: None of the sanctions included Ukraine’s key demand—to kick Russia off SWIFT—a system of financial payments that moves money among thousands of banks around the world. If excluded, Moscow will find it extremely difficult to conduct international transactions. Also missing: Any sanction that targets Russia’s biggest asset: energy.
Here’s why: Biden openly acknowledged that the EU was not willing to pull the plug on SWIFT—which is a Brussels-based entity and requires EU sanctions. The reason: European countries rely on SWIFT to pay for Russian gas and oil. This again explains why there were no sanctions targeting the bulk of Putin's energy exports and revenues. Also this: Biden will not win any popularity contests if he hikes oil prices at home.
Editor’s note: The context for these sanctions and their effectiveness is discussed in detail in our previous explainer.
Prime Minister Modi spoke to Putin and “appealed for an immediate cessation of violence” between Russia and the NATO group—and said the conflict can “only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue.” Asked about India, Biden said “we are in consultations (with India) today, we haven’t resolved that yet.”
The significant shift: For the first time, India has framed the problem not as a regional conflict between Russia and Ukraine—and actually namechecked NATO. Also interesting is this bit in the Indian Express:
“Sources said the fact that the ‘call’ and the ‘appeal’ for ‘cessation of violence’ was first made to Putin rather than a Western leader also signals that it’s the Russian side that has initiated the war and it’s up to Putin to find a way out.”
Modi, however, has not spoken to Zelenskyy—and the Ukrainian ambassador says Kyiv is “deeply dissatisfied” with India’s stance.
A little different from China: Beijing has vaguely called for a diplomatic solution—but did not mention Russia by name:
“The situation in Ukraine is at a critical moment and China is highly concerned about it … All parties concerned must exercise restraint and avoid further escalation of tensions. We believe that the door to a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian issue is not completely closed and should not be closed.”
China, however, was clear in stating its opposition to “all illegal unilateral sanctions”—and labelled the US as the “culprit” in the Ukraine crisis—for “heightening tensions, creating panic and even hyping up the possibility of warfare”.
Related reporting to note: According to the Financial Times, China may be willing to step in and soften the blow of Western sanctions—using its big policy banks to lend money. Key data point: Russia is by far Beijing’s biggest recipient of loans, totalling as much as $151 billion between 2000 and 2017.
But no one can top Pakistan: PM Imran Khan arrived in Moscow just hours before Putin announced the invasion. It was the first visit to Russia by a Pakistani leader in 20 years. Apart from the bizarre visuals of him meeting Putin in the midst of a war, the clip that went viral was of Khan laughing with “excitement” as he landed at the airport. It’s quite astonishing:
About those Indian students: There are nearly 20,000 Indians still stuck in Ukraine—most of whom are students. Many of them couldn’t afford the ticket home, while others were taken by surprise. They are either holed up in their flats or bomb shelters. An Air India flight sent to rescue them was forced to turn back after Ukraine shut down its air space. The Ministry of External Affairs is now sending teams to the borders in Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic and Romania—to see if they can be evacuated over land.
The bottomline: US estimates predict that a full-blown invasion could leave as many as 50,000 civilians dead or wounded. Our hearts and prayers are with the Ukrainian people.
BBC News and Al Jazeera have good timelines. CNN has a good analysis of the US sanctions, while BBC News reports on the Johnson package. The Atlantic looks at whether Russia can actually control a country as large as Ukraine. The Guardian looks at whether Russia can use energy to hurt Europe. Indian Express looks at India’s tightrope walk. New York Times has more on anti-war protests within Russia—and looks ahead to what happens next. And there are longer reading lists for the conflict in our previous explainers on the roots of the conflict and the effectiveness of economic sanctions.
A Trinamool Congress strongman is accused of sexually exploiting an entire village in Bengal.Read More