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Russia tightens noose on Ukraine as U.S., EU bark with sanctions 

By Ngozi Egenuka
27 February 2022   |   4:06 am
There is no doubt that the ultimate mission of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is to take over Ukrainian capital, Kyiv and install his puppet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo by ANATOLY MALTSEV / POOL / AFP)

There is no doubt that the ultimate mission of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is to take over Ukrainian capital, Kyiv and install his puppet.

Although Ukrainian soldiers have fiercely resisted the clampdown, overrunning the city seems to be a matter of time, considering the quantum of weapons in the hands of the invaders, with no corresponding military help from the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU), who are merely barking with sanctions to deter Putin. There are growing concerns that the Russian invasion might topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government.

But the Ukrainian military is fighting back. In a Facebook post, yesterday, it said one of its unit managed to repel Russian forces near its base on a major city street. In a new video, President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “We won’t lay down our arms. We will defend our state.” But for how long can he hold on to this ferocious onslaught?”

Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, in an effort to dispel rumours that he called the army to surrender, told a Ukrainian news site that the army was ‘in control’ of the situation. “We are stopping the horde using all means available. The army servicemen and citizens are in control of Kyiv,” said Mr. Danilov.

In his self-shot video, Zelensky, who was seen walking around Kyiv’s government district, said: “There is a lot of fake information online that I’m calling on our army to lay down arms, and that there is evacuation. I’m here. We won’t lay down our arms. We will defend our state,” he declared.

Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, said a missile had hit a block of flats in the city, while Ukraine’s air force command reported heavy fighting near the Vasylkiv air base, southwest of Kyiv, adding that it was under attack by Russian paratroopers.

President Zelensky had earlier warned that Russia would try to “storm” Kyiv on Friday night. “Tonight the enemy will be using all available means to break our resistance. Tonight they will launch an assault. Tonight we must persevere. The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now. Our main goal is to finish this bloodbath,” he said.

Reacting to the attack on Ukraine, many countries across the world have announced sanctions against Russia. UK has frozen all major Russian banks in the UK should have their assets frozen and be excluded from the UK financial system, laws to stop major Russian companies and the state raising finance or borrowing money on UK markets, asset freezes on new individuals or entities, Russia’s Aeroflot airline will be banned from the UK, export licences suspended for dual-use items, which can be used for military purposes, a stop to exports of high-tech items and oil refinery equipment and a limit on deposits Russians can make to UK bank accounts.

EU nations sanctions include: targeting 70 per cent of the Russian banking market and key state owned firms, including defence firms; targeting the energy sector with an export ban on materials Russia uses for oil refineries, banning the sale of aircraft and equipment to Russian airlines and limiting Russia’s access to high-tech, such as semiconductors and software.

On his part, U.S. President, Joe Biden, has announced that four major Russian banks will have their assets frozen and be cut off from U.S. dollar transactions, sanctions on wealthy Russian individuals with close links to the Kremlin and that U.S. and allies will cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports to stop it from developing its military capabilities.

Though the U.S. announced the repositioning of forces around the Baltics, Biden has said he will not send in troops to fight Russia. Germany has put on hold permission for the Nord Stream two gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Australia has imposed sanctions on wealthy Russians and over 300 members of the Russian parliament who voted to authorise sending Russian troops into Ukraine.

Japan is sanctioning Russian financial institutions and individuals as well as halting exports of goods such as semiconductors.

The Russian government might have to bail out the banking system, at great expense. However, it has built up reserves of over $630billion (£464bn) to deal with economic shocks.

Zelensky has urged Europe to impose harder sanctions on Moscow. He wants leaders to cut off Russia from Swift, the system used for global business transactions.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has also urged the West to block Russia from the payments system to “inflict maximum pain on President Putin and his regime”.

But the EU has so far opted not to cut off Russia from Swift, reportedly due to objections from some member states, including Germany and Italy.

However, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said later on Friday that it would not veto proposals to ban Russia.

Russia on the other hand has responded with tit-for-tat measures against Western sanctions, banning British flights to and over its territory in retaliation to a UK ban on the Russian airline Aeroflot.

With the adamant actions of Russia, even amid the imposed sanctions and the inability of European nations and the West to provide military aid to Ukraine, these countries have been rendered helpless, resulting only in barking.

Putin, who justified the action in a televised address, said the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, a claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees, and credulously claimed that Russia doesn’t intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to ‘demilitarise’ it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin had issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle, saying, “whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history.”

He added that Russia is ‘one of the most potent nuclear powers and also has a certain edge in a range of state-of-the-art weapons,’ urging Ukrainian servicemen to “immediately put down arms and go home.”

Putin announced the military operation after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression,” an announcement that the White House said was a “false flag” operation by Moscow to offer up a pretext for an invasion.

Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an emotional overnight address, in a direct appeal to Russian citizens. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Photo by CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP)

Zelensky said he asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the action as a ‘full-scale invasion of Ukraine’ and a ‘war of aggression,’ adding, “Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian air bases and other military assets and hasn’t targeted populated areas. The Russian Defence Ministry statement said the military is using precision weapons to target Ukrainian air bases, air defence assets and other military infrastructure. It claimed that “there is no threat to civilian population.”

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, confirmed on Facebook that the Russian military has launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

Executive Director, Nigeria Network Of NGOs (NNNGO), Oyebisi Oluseyi, said the ongoing provocation by Russia will test the ability of the United Nations in using diplomacy to solve the issues, while also activating a military offensive if need be.

The issues though, would, to some extent, require a political solution, one that requires all parties coming to the table. He stated that, while there have been strong condemnations and sanctions, governments from developing economies except Kenya have issued a strong statement, adding that the level of international solidarity and sanctions needed to force Russia to cease fire must now be scaled up.

Oluseyi however noted that Nigeria’s role in mediating is not yet clear. “As with every country with ties to Russia, it is anticipated that they will be measured in their interventions and guided by the volume of trade that exists between them. It will be too early to say what impact this would have on us as a country,” he declared.

After the initial explosions in Kyiv, people could be heard shouting in the streets. But then a sense of normality returned, with cars circulating and people walking in the streets as a pre-dawn commute appeared to be starting in relative calm.

NATO in response to the attack, held an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council and decided to activate NATO’s defence plans to protect Allied nations during this crisis. “We will continue to do whatever is necessary to shield the Alliance from aggression,” Mr Stoltenberg stated.

Stoltenberg issued a statement saying he strongly condemns “Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives. Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country.”

Ukraine’s government has pivoted toward the West in recent years, aspiring to join the EU and NATO and to move away from its post-Soviet orbit of Russia.

Putin, meanwhile, has decried the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a catastrophe and over his 22-year rule in Russia he has sought to rebuild Russia’s power base and sphere of influence over former Soviet states, like Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine, something of the jewel in the crown in the USSR, and a natural buffer state against Europe.

Putin has often extolled the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine and did so again Monday when he ordered troops into the Donbas.

Ukraine’s drift toward the West aggravates Moscow because it does not want to see NATO, or the EU, expand eastward to incorporate Ukraine despite there being no imminent prospect of Ukraine becoming a member of either body.

Responding to the attacks,  Head, Security and Strategic Studies Division, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa, said the attack on Ukraine was a move to protect the economic, strategic and political interest of Russia. Ukraine joining NATO is the primary reason Russia has invaded the country because it’s a case of ‘the friend of my enemy is my enemy’.

For economic reasons, he stated that Russia is the biggest gas supplier in the world. Majority of gas pipes that supplies to Europe, part of Asia and other places pass through the Crimea region through the black sea and upwards.

“If Ukraine joins NATO, it’s like taking the prosperity of Russia into the enemy’s camp,” he stated. He said that strategically, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and a lot of military, defence secrets are in Ukraine’s hands.

“The nuclear base of the old Soviet Union was located in Ukraine, so they have a lot of nuclear experience and knowledge of its use. So they also stand as a threat to Russia. If Ukraine  carries such deposits of the secrets of the former Soviet Union, which can be transferred to the current Russia federation, if such is taken to NATO, it means Russia is finished,” Bolarinwa said.

For political reasons, he explained that Russia, the headquarters of the Soviet Union and a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations carrying Veto Power is the second most powerful military nation in the world, after the U.S.

“So, the issue of territory is critical. In international relations, it’s called Raison d’être. Also, problems of land borders make nations go to war,” he said. Bolarinwa noted that the attack has implications on the global scene and on Africa.

“Since the tensions mounted up for over a week, we saw how the international oil prices were affected. With the invasion, the price would still shoot up, and that has a direct impact on Nigeria being an oil nation.

He added that the attack has an effect on security, especially in the Sahel, as the past two years has seen notable Russia presence in Africa and they have been playing the underdog by selling weapons to machineries and terrorist groups.

“With supply of weapons, there has been increasing number of terrorist groups in Africa, as they keep breaking away and to form smaller groups, with their access to weapons. That’s why there are a lot of insurgencies especially in Sahel states. If Africa is not careful, more than 10 states will come under military rule,” he said.

It should be recalled however that at the end of the second world war, the world was generally accepted to be a multipolar world where the USA and USSR(now Russia) were equitably matched. This allowed for the eastern bloc led by the USSR and the western bloc led by the USA, vying and posturing for influence and gaining new members in what was called the Cold War. The USSR formed the Warsaw Pact, while the Americans formed NATO. Suffice to say that the USA won that cold war and the USSR collapsed.

But before and after the collapse, there have been multiple treaties and agreements between the United States and Russia regarding expanding too close to each other’s borders and causing a significant security threat. These overtures got into full swing after the world nearly saw a nuclear war after America threatened to bomb Cuba because Russia stationed nuclear weapons in Cuba. So the understanding between the USA and Russia has been that they will not militarily expand too close to each other and destroy the other’s security blanket.

In 1990s, most analysts believed that Russia was no longer a credible global power and was merely a regional power like China, so the world was now a unipolar world. And it appears the Americans believed the same given their posturing with NATO expansion. They did have a great deal of reasons to believe so. After the Soviet Union collapsed, small states emerged from it and left the successor state to the union, Russia, barely a threat to the western alliance.

Things however started to change after Vladimir Putin, a KGB (Russia’s version of the CIA) agent took over the country. Now, agreements between the USA and Russia stipulated that NATO will not expand into the Russians’ backyard too much. But given weak leadership and economic troubles in Russia, NATO crept ever close to Moscow with multiple NATO member states now bordering Russia or one small country away from the Russian heartland.

According to International law analyst, Putin has always reminded the United States of their previous promises not to creep too close with NATO expansion. But the Americans always play the ground game where they ensure that realities change on the ground and then shift the parameters of the negotiations to reflect those new realities. They simply encourage countries to join behind the scenes and when these countries supposedly independently vote to join NATO, the Americans tell Russia that they can’t compel countries (wanting to ensure their security) not to join NATO of their own volition. But as Putin put it, you cannot get your security at the expense of another, especially not a world power armed with nuclear weapons.

Now, Putin always said that the Americans don’t take Russian red lines seriously because the Russians always held back and have not acted with the hysteria America acted with when Russia placed nuclear weapons in Cuba.

For Russia, this is a life or death situation as a super power. America still punishes Cuba for daring to allow Russia to station nuclear weapons near its borders. No world power comes anywhere near North or Central America. The Americans call it their backyard and no one dares encroach. But of course they do not think that Russia, who they consider a regional power, deserves the same.

Over 80 per cent of Russian population lives near Moscow in the south western part of Russia. The terrain or environment is called an open plain. Now NATO has all but taken over much of the open plains, making it easy to cripple Russia militarily if they so choose.

Ukraine poses an even bigger threat as its border is less than 600km to Moscow. Allowing it to join NATO means that NATO will be within a few minutes striking distance from Russia’s capital.