In a post-pandemic scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a major offensive against Ukraine, bringing the first full-scale war since World War II to Europe

Mapping a failed invasion

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Una combinación de imágenes creadas el 9 de febrero de 2024 muestra a ucranianos fotografiados entre edificios y casas destruidos durante los dos años de la invasión rusa de Ucrania - PHOTO/AFP
photo_camera A combination of images created on 9 February 2024 shows Ukrainians photographed among buildings and houses destroyed during the two-year Russian invasion of Ukraine - PHOTO/AFP

The sun had not yet risen in Ukraine when the Russian president in Moscow had already announced a "special military operation" in Ukraine's eastern Donbas in an angry and furious speech with a fiery message based on protecting the residents of the Donbas region, the most pro-Russian influenced territory, from accusations of genocide in order to "denazify Ukraine". 

  1. Start of the conflict
  2. Chronology of the war
  3. Russia, the International Criminal Court and NATO
  4. The numbers of the war and the Ukrainian exodus
  5. International consequences
  6. The speech that changed history

Two years later, however, on the front line, the EU has offered little movement and support to Ukraine, and the US is beginning to panic as Kiev redoubles its efforts to keep aid flowing. Since the Donetsk and Luhansk republics were officially recognised, it was only a matter of time before Russian troops entered Ukraine. 

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin asiste a un concierto que conmemora el octavo aniversario de la anexión rusa de Crimea en el estadio Luzhniki de Moscú el 18 de marzo de 2022 - AFP/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert commemorating the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on 18 March 2022 - AFP/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV

Start of the conflict

The start of a war, in the purest German Blitzkrieg style, was met with the tenacity of the Ukrainian people who, against all odds, withstood the Russian attacks throughout, demonstrating the shortcomings of the Russian army.

Although the invasion began in 2022, it was in 2014 with the Russian incursion into the Crimean peninsula that the war bells began to ring. As early as 2020, the Kremlin had issued a presidential decree clarifying for the first time Russia's nuclear doctrine and setting out a number of assumptions about its willingness to use nuclear weapons.

Given Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Putin's rhetoric, one of the main pillars of Vladimir Putin's plan was to recognise the independence of the two separatist regions and create a 'legal framework' that would allow the Donbas leadership to request military support from Moscow, as was done in Georgia in 2008. 

Chronology of the war 

The first year of the war is summarised by the failure of the seizure of Kiev, the Kharkov offensive, the seizure of the Zaporilla power station, the liberation of Kherson, the fall of Bakhmut, Mariupol and Odessa, the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the hope after recovering Robotine, the stalemate of the war and the battles in the Black Sea. 

Los artilleros antiaéreos ucranianos de la 93.a Brigada Mecanizada Separada Kholodny Yar monitorean el cielo desde sus posiciones en dirección a Bakhmut en la región de Donetsk, en medio de la invasión rusa - AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV
Ukrainian anti-aircraft gunners from the 93rd Separate Mechanised Brigade Kholodny Yar monitor the sky from their positions in the direction of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region amid the Russian invasion - AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV

The Battle of Bakhmut 

In 2023 Moscow burned all its bridges in the battle for Bakhmut, which has so far been the heaviest battle of the war. More than 100,000 casualties were counted on the Russian side. The heavy losses suffered by Russian and Wagner troops at Bajmut can be explained by the "infantry drop" tactics used by the Russian command. 

Un hombre enciende una vela en un monumento improvisado al jefe del grupo mercenario privado Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin - AFP/ NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA
A man lights a candle at a makeshift memorial to the head of the private mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin - AFP/ NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA

The operation, led by Wagner's former boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, was dubbed "Bakhmut Meat Grinder" and involved dropping fighter aircraft in succession to identify weak points in the Ukrainian defences. 

The Kakhovka disaster 

On 6 June 2023, the Kakhovka dam burst into the Dnieper River, submerging 120 square kilometres of land in the first hour. The destruction of the infrastructure forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate nearby. 

Desde la ciudad se ven la presa destruida de Nova Kakhovka, la ciudad de Beryslav y la orilla del río Dnipro, secas después de que el nivel del agua cayera bruscamente tras el colapso de la presa durante el conflicto entre Rusia y Ucrania - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
The destroyed Nova Kakhovka dam, the town of Beryslav and the bank of the Dnipro river, dry after the water level dropped sharply following the collapse of the dam during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, are seen from the town - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

There are many factors that raise suspicions of Russian involvement in the dam collapse, but there is nothing to draw a firm conclusion about Russian responsibility. By flooding one of the areas considered part of Kiev's offensive plans, Moscow could be trying to thwart Ukraine's plans. 

Una imagen publicada por ImageSat International (ISI) el 30 de septiembre de 2022 muestra una imagen de un informe de inteligencia que muestra una liberación de gas que emana de una fuga en el gasoducto Nord Stream 1, en la zona económica sueca en el Mar Báltico - AFP/HO /ImageSat International (ISI)
An image released by ImageSat International (ISI) on 30 September 2022 shows an image from an intelligence report showing a gas release emanating from a leak in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea - AFP/HO /ImageSat International (ISI)

Nord Stream sabotage 

On 26 September 2022, an explosion occurred near the Danish islands and off the coast of Sweden, when three of the four lines of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines were crossing the Baltic Sea. It was the culmination of the war in Ukraine, with Russia invading its western neighbour. 

Esta fotografía publicada el 27 de septiembre de 2022 y tomada desde un avión de la Guardia Costera Sueca (Kustbevakningen) muestra la liberación de gas que emana de una fuga en el gasoducto Nord Stream 1 - AFP/ GUARDIA COSTERA SUECA
This photograph released on 27 September 2022 and taken from a Swedish Coast Guard aircraft (Kustbevakningen) shows the release of gas emanating from a leak in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline - AFP/ GUARDIA COSTERA SUECA

According to Russia's Gazprom, approximately 800 million cubic metres of gas leaked. The explosion occurred a day before Poland and Norway opened a new gas pipeline, the Baltic Pipeline. Russia accused European countries of protecting those responsible for the destruction of Nord Stream, while the international community accused Russia of a false flag attack. 

Russia, the International Criminal Court and NATO 

Against all odds, Vladimir Putin, in order to justify his actions, played the victim and claimed that Russia was not in danger. His political discourse sought to keep Europe and NATO members between a rock and a hard place in order to prevent Russian interference in Ukraine as much as possible. 

While the Russian military, under the command of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, continued to commit human rights violations and war crimes, President Vladimir Putin was not found guilty by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, with a firm sentence of an international arrest warrant, until 17 March. 

Meanwhile, all Western countries, without exception, condemned Moscow's actions in a clear and forceful manner, stating that they were at war with Russia, despite the fact that Ukraine was not, and is not today, a member of NATO. 

Los manifestantes marchan durante una manifestación en solidaridad con Ucrania, en Burdeos, suroeste de Francia, el 25 de febrero de 2023 - AFP/PHILIPPE LOPEZ
Demonstrators march during a demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine, in Bordeaux, southwestern France, 25 February 2023 - AFP/PHILIPPE LOPEZ

Sweden and Finland end historic neutrality  

For decades, Sweden and Finland have remained neutral in the hidden rivalry between the two political blocs represented by Washington and Moscow. The Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to NATO presented their formal applications to join the alliance at a ceremony in Brussels.

El ministro de Defensa de Finlandia, Antti Hakkanen (L), habla con el Presidente del Comité Militar de la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte (OTAN), Rob Bauer, durante la reunión de ministros de Defensa del Consejo del Atlántico Norte en la sede de la OTAN en Bruselas - AFP/ JOHN THYS
Finnish Defence Minister Antti Hakkanen (L) speaks with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Military Committee Chairman Rob Bauer during the North Atlantic Council defence ministers' meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels - AFP/ JOHN THYS

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it a "historic step". "If NATO expansion were to become a reality, it would bring dramatic changes to the international geopolitical situation, with far-reaching consequences," he added. 

El secretario General de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg - AFP/JOHANNA GERON
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg - AFP/JOHANNA GERON

The numbers of the war and the Ukrainian exodus 

Two years later, on the front line, the European Union has offered little movement and support to Ukraine, and the United States is beginning to panic as the country redoubles its efforts to keep aid flowing. 

The first result of the war was a mass exodus of civilians westwards to the Old World. The first months of the war saw the largest influx of refugees in history.

In total, 28.6 million people crossed the Ukrainian border into Europe since 24 February 2022, and 20.7 million were registered in the other direction, according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Two years after the invasion, UNHCR estimates that there are more than 6.4 million Ukrainian refugees worldwide, six of them in European countries. 

Personas cruzan un puente destruido mientras evacuan la ciudad de Irpin, al noroeste de Kiev, durante fuertes bombardeos y bombardeos el 5 de marzo de 2022 - AFP/ARIS MESSINIS
People cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the town of Irpin, northwest of Kiev, during heavy shelling and bombardment on 5 March 2022 - AFP/ARIS MESSINIS

International consequences 

One year on, the war in Ukraine changed the world in a way that no one could have foreseen. Beyond the front lines, the ripple effects of the Russian invasion transformed lives and destabilised the economy. Inflation was the main consequence, causing major headaches for the major EU economies. 

Food  

Because of the importance of Russia and Ukraine as exporters of food, including wheat, the war drove grain prices to record levels. The United Nations has warned that millions of people are at risk of starvation, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. 

El grano de trigo se carga en el buque de carga Mezhdurechensk antes de su partida hacia la ciudad rusa de Rostov del Don en el curso del conflicto entre Rusia y Ucrania en el puerto de Mariupol - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
Wheat grain is loaded onto the cargo ship Mezhdurechensk before its departure for the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in the course of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine at the port of Mariupol - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Moscow and Kiev agreed to release millions of tonnes of grain trapped in Ukrainian Black Sea ports due to Russia's de facto naval blockade. Moscow temporarily suspended its participation in the deal, but the agreement has remained largely intact. 

Un trabajador observa cómo se carga el grano de trigo en el buque de carga Mezhdurechensk antes de su partida hacia la ciudad rusa de Rostov del Don en el curso del conflicto entre Rusia y Ucrania en el puerto de Mariupol - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
A worker watches wheat grain being loaded onto the cargo ship Mezhdurechensk prior to its departure for the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in the course of the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the port of Mariupol - REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Energy 

The war triggered the world's worst energy crisis since the 1970s. Energy prices have risen in many parts of the world as countries cut back or stopped buying fossil fuels from Russia. In Europe, gas prices have almost doubled in the first six months of the year and electricity prices have risen by almost 70%. 

Trabajadores son vistos en el sitio de construcción del gasoducto Nord Stream 2, cerca de la ciudad de Kingisepp, región de Leningrado, Rusia, 5 de junio - REUTERS/ANTON VAGANOV
Workers are seen at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia, 5 June - REUTERS/ANTON VAGANOV

In another attempt to steer Moscow away from war profiteering, EU diplomats agreed in December to limit Russian oil sales. But as global supplies dried up, Russia stood firm. While the global economy is barely emerging from the pandemic, the energy crisis and slowing growth have led to rising inflation. 

China 

During the war, China did a good job of appealing for peace while avoiding criticism of its important partner, Russia. The Biden administration has watched closely and warned of signs that China might cross that line and provide direct military support to Russia. 

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin y al presidente chino Xi Jinping dándose la mano durante una reunión en Beijing el 18 de octubre de 2023 -AFP/SERGEI GUNEYEV
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a meeting in Beijing on 18 October 2023 - AFP/SERGEI GUNEYEV

EU Sanctions 

The main objective of the sanctions was to undermine the Russian economy by increasing the military cost of the war to the Kremlin. These were based on three pillars: individual sanctions, massive sanctions on Russian entities and massive sanctions on exports, imports and the SWIFT transfer system. During the two years of the Russian invasion, 13 packages of measures have been adopted.

El logotipo de la OTAN se ve en una reunión del Consejo del Atlántico Norte en la sesión de ministros de defensa de la OTAN junto con Suecia como invitada, en la sede de la Alianza en Bruselas, Bélgica, el 15 de febrero de 2024 - REUTERS/JOHANNA GERON
The NATO logo is seen at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the NATO Defence Ministers' meeting with Sweden as a guest, at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 15 February 2024 - REUTERS/JOHANNA GERON

Individual sanctions were based on putting pressure on Russian political leaders, aristocracy and opinion leaders. All their assets and bank accounts, including those of Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, were seized and blocked. More than 1,900 people were sanctioned. 

Úrsula Von Der Leyen, presidenta de la Comisión Europea durante la sesión de aprobación del primer paquete de sanciones contra Rusia - PHOTO/ATALAYAR
Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission during the session approving the first package of sanctions against Russia - PHOTO/ARCHIVO

Economic sanctions mainly targeted the assets and reserves of the Russian Central Bank and the Sovereign Wealth Fund. Where the EU sanctions hit hardest was in the purchase of Russian debt by foreign investors and banks. 

The real blow to the Russian economy was the restriction of Russian gas exports to Europe. Although they were able to continue selling gas to countries such as China and Belarus, the sanctions reduced revenues from the sale of natural resources by 50%.

The speech that changed history 

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said he was Russia's main target and lamented little or no help from the West. 

El presidente de Ucrania, Volodímir Zelenski, en un mensaje a la nación durante la invasión rusa - PHOTO/ARCHVO
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky in a message to the nation during the Russian invasion - PHOTO/ARCHVO

"I will stay in the capital. I was designated the number one target. Only we will protect our country. Who is willing to fight against us? No one is visible. Who is willing to guarantee Ukraine's NATO membership? 

There is information that an enemy sabotage group entered Kiev. Therefore, we ask the residents to respect the curfew schedule carefully. I stayed here to help the work of the central government. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by removing the head of state. No one will force us to give up our freedom, independence or identity. We will not allow the enemy to advance. Please help the Ukrainians. If you don't help us, there will be war in your country". 

Two years on, the war has no end in sight as Ukrainian hopes fade. However, unless there is a moral collapse on both sides, the towns and cities devastated in the past two years will continue to struggle in the years to come. Ukraine will still have the means to survive, but victory does not seem a possible scenario. 

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