Reports of artillery blasts are heard in Kyiv as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warns of the impending Russian assault on the capital.

Ukraine continues to fight against the Russian invasion as the military operation announced by President Vladimir Putin entered day four. On Sunday morning, massive explosions rocked south of Kyiv, with the Ukrainian government saying that one such blast was near the Zhuliany airport and another one at an oil depot.

Nearly 200 civilians in Ukraine have died so far, and more than 150,000 civilians have fled to neighbouring countries, including Poland and Moldova.

A defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted, “We will fight for as long as needed to liberate our country.” Zelenskyy has refused to leave Ukraine and has asked citizens to stand against the Russian siege.

According to a report by Interfax-Ukraine, it put out a statement asking people to stay in shelters and stay away from windows if they were at home.

But Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Oleksiy Danilov told Ukrainian news site Lb.ua that the army was “in control” of the situation.

Meanwhile, the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), and the European Union (EU) have declared to impose sanction on the Russian central bank and would block the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). US officials said on Saturday that previously announced sanctions on Russia already had an impact, bringing the currency to its lowest level against the dollar in history and giving its stock market the worst week on record.

The French government too, announced that it will ramp up sanctions against Russia on Sunday. According to a government statement, these sanctions would include freezing the financial assets of Russian figures and taking news measures concerning SWIFT.

Australian, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday, “We are already providing significant support in terms of non-lethal aid but I’ve just spoken to the Defence Minister [Peter Dutton] and we’ll be seeking to provide whatever support we can for lethal aid through our NATO partners, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom,” Morrison said as quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian prime minister explained that the NATO channels are the most effective way to expand the military support that his country initially announced on Friday.

The White House, along with several EU nations, also announced they would expel certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network connecting thousands of financial institutions around the world.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on Sunday that he was grateful to the United States and its allies for imposing sanctions against Russia. 

“Thanks to our friends … for the commitment to remove several Russian banks from SWIFT and for the paralysis of the assets of the central bank of Russia,” Shmygal tweeted. 

For the last four days, Russian armed forces have launched an invasion by land, air, and sea and have entered deep inside Ukraine. This invasion has caused widespread destruction and havoc in several cities. Russian tanks are moving towards the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but its progress has been halted near Ivankov, halfway from the border to the capital.

People worldwide watched in horror visuals of ballistic missiles being rained by the Russian army on the Ukrainian capital and other cities. The Russian military carried out rocket strikes on the capital on Friday dawn, which the Ukrainian foreign minister described as “horrific”. He said the last time such attacks took place in Kyiv was in 1941 when the German Nazi army had attacked the capital during the Second World War.

Fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Trostyanets and Akhtyrka in Sumy region, and in Kharkiv. It was reported that the Russian army has captured Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

 Russian air force carried out airstrikes on Vilkovo and Tiraspol, while in western Ukraine, the Russian army carried out heavy shelling in Starobilsk, causing widespread damage. In the face of gunfire and rocket attacks, lakhs of residents have started fleeing the cities of Ukraine.

On the first day of the Russian invasion, Russia claimed its army destroyed 83 specific targets inside Ukraine. In contrast, Ukraine claimed its army destroyed four Russian tanks near Kharkiv, killed 50 Russian soldiers in Luhansk, and downed six Russian planes in the eastern part. In addition, Russian-backed separatists claimed they downed two Ukrainian aircraft.

The United States has decided not to send its armed forces into Ukraine. On Thursday night, US President Joe Biden said, “our forces will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine. …The US will defend every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power”. In addition, Biden announced the freezing of all Russian assets in the US and imposed sanctions on four more Russian banks.

Describing the Russian invasion as “premeditated”, Biden alleged that the Russian President has been planning this invasion for the last several months. He said the US would limit the Russia’s ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds, and yen, to be part of global economy. Biden said, “Putin is the aggressor, Putin chose this war and now, he and his country will bear the consequences”.

On Thursday, the Ukrainian ambassador in Delhi sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s help in defusing the crisis. After a top-level meeting Cabinet Committee on Security, Modi had a telephonic talk with President Putin on Thursday night, during which he appealed for an immediate “cessation of violence” and called for concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue”.

Modi also told Putin that India was concerned about the safety of its citizens in Ukraine, especially students, and said India attaches the highest priority to their safe exit and return to India. On his part, Putin explained the “fundamental assessments” of Ukraine’s “aggressive actions against the civilian population of Donbass”. Putin told Modi that “given these circumstances and also the US and NATO allies’ military developments on Ukraine territory, unacceptable to Russia, he decided to launch the military operation.”

On Thursday night, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had separate telephonic talks with Indian foreign minister S. Jayashankar. The Indian foreign minister told them that “dialogue and diplomacy are the best way forward” to resolve the crisis.

On the ground, the situation is now crystal clear. The US and its NATO allies have been issuing statements warning Russia. Still, on the ground, the West, led by the US, has refrained from sending its troops to help Ukraine from protecting its territory from Russian invasion. The only tangible steps taken have been severe economic sanctions against Russia by the US and its allies. US President Biden has called a virtual meet of all NATO countries, but it is unlikely that NATO forces will enter Ukraine to take on the Russians.

As far as military strength is concerned, Russia is a giant compared to Ukraine. Ukraine has nearly 2 lakh soldiers, while the Russian army has 8.5 lakh soldiers. Russia has 544 attack helicopters, while Ukraine has only 34 attack helicopters. Already, the Russian air force has gained air superiority over the Ukrainian sky. Russia has 12,420 tanks, while Ukraine has nearly 2,500 tanks. Russia has 772 warships, while Ukraine has 73. Russia has one aircraft carrier, 15 destroyers and 70 submarines, while Ukraine has none.

China has openly taken sides with Russia in the Ukrainian crisis. It has blamed the US for this crisis. It has alleged that the US is trying to build up tension by arming Ukraine. China has refused to call it a Russian invasion.

Chances of the United Nations Security Council are slim, because both Russia and China have veto power. On the other hand, Ukraine has sought India’s help, which is indicative of India’s growing clout due to Narendra Modi’s strong leadership. For India, choosing sides between the US and Russia is difficult. Russia is India’s old and time-tested friend. The US is India’s strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region. US-Indian relations have reached a new height.

India will now have to strike a balance between both world powers. India’s present focus is on the safe exit of nearly 20 thousand Indians trapped inside Ukraine. 

Indian embassies in eastern Europe have opened helplines to assist Indian students trapped in Ukraine. Our students should have trust in the Indian government. I remember how Prime Minister Modi sent his minister retd General V K Singh to Yemen for the safe return of Indians at a time there was firing and shelling from both sides.

As per the BBC News, the Ukraine war has caused an enormous impact on world stock markets, including India, while the price of Brent crude has gone up. This will have severe implications in India, and there are signs that fuel prices in India may increase by the first week of March.

Strategically, what is happening in Ukraine is only a trailer of Russia’s military prowess. In a war, Ukraine stands nowhere against Russia, which has the capability to occupy the entire country within 24 hours, but Putin refrained from doing that. He named it as “special military operation”. By doing so, Putin has conveyed the message to the US and the West, that it does not bother the least about sanctions. Putin does not want the NATO forces to be deployed near the Russian border if Ukraine is made a member of NATO.

Putin is insistent on his demand that the government in Kiev must announce that it will never become a member of NATO. Putin’s military pressure is aimed at achieving this limited objective. Putin is also taking advantage of the differences of opinion between France and Germany on this issue. Putin also knows that Russia has limited economic power, which can withstand the severe sanctions imposed by the we and its allies.

From economic point of view, Putin cannot carry on the Ukraine war for long. The expected corollary is this: Putin may now seek a bargain, for bringing the invasion to a halt. He may demand that NATO forces withdraw from the Russian borders. But when a war begins, there are possibilities of escalation. A minor error can spread the flames of war. It is better to wait and watch. To jump to an early conclusion will not be correct.

 

                

Ukrainian service members are seen atop of armoured personal carriers in Kyiv, Ukraine. (REUTERS)

             

Smoke and flames rise during the shelling near Kyiv as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]