At the same time, the war started by Putin shattered Europe’s sense of security, broke the geopolitical map and shook the global economy. The shockwaves have made life more expensive in homes across Europe, exacerbated the global migrant crisis and complicated the world’s response to climate change.
“What are we hearing today? It’s not just rocket explosions, battles, the roar of airplanes. It’s the sound of a new Iron Curtain coming down and closing Russia away from the civilized world,” declared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on February 24.
Russia’s attack, before sunrise, on February 24, shattered the European peace and shocked the world. The war also thwarted almost unanimous expectations that Russian forces would win quickly. Ukraine put up a fierce resistance, and the Russian troops got stuck on their way to the capital. Russia withdrew from the area around Kiev in April, leaving behind destroyed buildings, traumatized people and hundreds of bodies that Ukraine and its allies say are evidence of war crimes. Fighting has also wreaked havoc in southern and eastern Ukraine, where Russia has attacked in a bid to expand territory pro-Moscow separatists have controlled since 2014. The port of Mariupol fell after a brutal three-month siege that reduced the city to ruins, the Associated Press recalls.
The war revived Cold War-era hostility between Russia and the West, prompting Sweden and Finland to seek NATO membership and prompting other NATO states to send troops and weapons to Eastern Europe.
As winter approached, the Ukrainian military – backed with weapons, ammunition and training by the US and other allies – pushed Russian forces out of the southern city of Kherson, a victory that boosted Ukrainian morale amid a brutal war that has signs that it will end, but, on the contrary, that it will intensify in the months to come.
The hardest winter
As winter approached, Russia launched waves of missile attacks targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure, temporarily cutting power to parts of the country and leaving millions in the cold and darkness.
On the other hand, the war led to an increase in global energy prices, as Moscow reduced its supplies to the West in retaliation for the sanctions imposed and for the support given to Ukraine.
Italy, Germany and other countries that relied on Russian oil and natural gas rushed to find alternative sources of energy. With millions of people suddenly having difficulty paying their energy bills, governments were under intense pressure to intervene to help the population, according to News.ro.
On the other hand, on the global market, Ukraine and Russia are key suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and – in the case of Russia – fertilizers, and the war has led to an increase in food prices and raised fears about a global shortage. A UN-brokered deal to allow grain ships to leave Ukrainian Black Sea ports was struck in July and, though fragile, has held, removing the prospect of a more serious crisis.
The refugee problem
The war added millions to the grim tally of displaced people around the world. According to the UN, over 14 million Ukrainians have left their homes, and 7 million have taken refuge in other countries.
Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean in overcrowded and sometimes unseaworthy boats as the European countries they want to reach wrangle over their destination. More than 2,000 people died during the voyage or were reported missing at sea.
The English Channel became another hotspot as smuggling gangs filled dinghies and other small craft with people from around the world traveling to northern France in the hope of reaching the UK. More than 40,000 have made it in 2022. In response, the British Conservative government has signed a deal with Rwanda to send people arriving via this route on a round trip to the East African country. Critics called this inhumane and dysfunctional and launched a legal challenge.
And many contrasted the hostile attitude towards the migrants on the boats with the reception given to the Ukrainian refugees.
Saving the planet is delayed
The war also brought bad news for the environment. The energy crisis made countries rethink their plans to stop burning fossil fuels. France restarted a closed coal mine, the Czech Republic backtracked on a plan to stop coal mining in a key region, Britain approved more oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. Under these conditions, environmentalists have warned that Europe is backing down in the fight to limit climate change.
On the other hand, some have seen a positive side to the crisis, suggesting that an increased awareness of the fragility of fossil fuel supplies will cause nations to move more quickly to renewable energy sources.
The extreme weather phenomena reminded the stakes. Winter storms in northern Europe were followed by a dry summer across much of the continent. In Great Britain, an unusual heat wave has caused the temperature to exceed 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. Autumn brought more heavy rains. On the mountainous Italian island of Ischia, torrential rains in November triggered a massive landslide that pushed cars and buildings into the sea and killed at least 12 people.
Political convulsions in Europe
In Great Britain, the year 2022 will be remembered as the year of the three prime ministers, a period of political agitation that the world watched with fascination, sometimes even having fun.
Months of scandal finally caught up with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was ousted by his own Conservative Party in July. To replace him, the party chose Liz Truss, whose package of reckless and unsustainable tax cuts spooked the financial markets and rocked the economy.
Truss resigned after six weeks and Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first black leader, took office on October 25, leading an unpopular party and a fractured country. For Ukraine, it could be bad news.
If Boris Johnson was perhaps Kiev’s strongest Western supporter, Rishi Sunak ordered an audit to see to what extent London’s military aid helped the course of the war. There are fears that his approach could be much more cautious, and this would pair with a caution shown by Joe Biden, the BBC wrote the other day.
Elsewhere in Europe, the war in Ukraine gave way to nationalism and blew the wind out of the tail of the extreme right, which has registered successes in elections in several countries. However, just like across the ocean, it was more of an insidious wave than a tsunami.
In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Assembly managed a breakthrough in June’s legislative election, while the Sweden Democrats won 20 percent of the vote in September’s election. In the same month, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took over the leadership of Italy’s first far-right government since the end of World War II.
The Ukrainian miracle
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Vadim Hlupianets, a 26-year-old dancer from the National Operetta Theater in Kyiv, enlisted in the army. Nine months later, he was killed by a sniper on the Eastern Front.
Olga Kucer, director of the Regional Children’s Shelter in Zaporizhia, also found herself in an unexpected role. In March, she led 215 orphaned children on a 24-hour train journey to save their lives.
The Ukrainians stunned the world – and themselves – in 2022, resisting an all-out military assault from a superpower that expected to crush them within days, writes Reuters.
Millions of Ukrainians managed to flee to safety. Many more millions endure the bombing in basements and bomb shelters. Tens of thousands perished in the cities devastated by the invaders. And millions of other people in Europe joined the cause of this nation, taking up arms, volunteering on ambulances, carrying food to frontline villages, looking after each other’s children or simply welcoming refugees.
Russia says it has launched its “special military operation” to protect itself from an alleged Western invasion. Ukrainians, who have heard President Vladimir Putin proclaim that their national identity does not exist and have seen their land brutally confiscated by Russia, see the war as an existential struggle – both national and personal.
This is how it happens that on the battlefield, David dealt blow after blow to Goliath. In the first hours of the war, Ukrainian defenders annihilated elite Russian paratroopers trying to capture an airfield on the outskirts of Kiev. In April, they sank Russia’s flagship cruiser. Last month, they were greeted by jubilant residents as they entered Kherson, a city that Putin had proclaimed to be Russia’s forever.
Now, as the first winter of the war sets in, it is Russia that is on the defensive, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists to protect the rest of the occupied territory, which is about a fifth of Ukraine.
Military experts who once debated whether Kiev could hold out for more than a few days are now debating whether Ukraine can win the war outright. Kiev says it will not stop until it expels all Russian forces, including from territories occupied in 2014.
What is in store for 2023?
Both sides face new challenges. Russian withdrawals, including across the Dnieper River, have left the front line much shorter and better fortified, making it harder for Ukraine to find new weak points to repeat the advances that turned the tide of the war in the fall.
But the harsh winter can also bring advantages to Ukrainians defending their own country against conscripted reservists that Russia must feed and supply thousands of kilometers from home.
Ukraine “has so far been masterful in attacking and defeating Russian forces,” wrote Mark Hertling, a former commander of US ground forces in Europe, on Twitter. But his next objectives – to breach Russia’s fortified defenses in the east and cross the Dnieper River in the south – are among the most difficult any military can face, he said. “They will succeed, but not quickly,” believes the former American commander.
Meanwhile, there are no talks to end the war or even a temporary truce. Kiev says this would give Russia a chance to regroup and consolidate its control over the occupied territories.
As 2022 drew to a close, Russia stepped up its missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, plunging millions of Ukrainians into darkness and cold. Moscow claims there is a military justification for this, and Ukraine says it has no other purpose than to harm civilians.
“Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as frightening and deadly to us as your ‘friendship and brotherhood’. No gas or without you? Without you. No light or without you? Without you. No water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said to the Russians in a message he sent in September.
Tags: Russia, Ukraine, war in Ukraine,
Publication date: 26-12-2022 10:55