Update 17 March

17 mars, 2022

Despite negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, Russian forces continue to shell and kill civilians at different cities such as Chernihiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, although Kyiv remains the main effort.

In northern Ukraine, shelling of Kyiv on 16 March caused damage to gas pipeline, power outages and fires in civilian homes. The curfew continues in Kyiv and the planned evacuations of civilians have not been carried out. Ukrainian authorities have claimed that the curfew was introduced to prevent the infiltration of Russian agents into Kyiv. In the city of Chernihiv, Russian troops killed 13 people queuing to buy bread on 16 March.

In the west of Ukraine, during the morning hours of 16 March, air raid sirens were recorded throughout the Zhytomyr region. Several intelligence reports have reported that Russian forces located in Belarus near Zhytomyr are prepared to attack the city.
In the eastern Ukraine, Russian military forces launched an attack in Kharkiv in which three people were killed. The Ukrainian authorities reported that evacuation buses from Kharkiv to Voloske were also attacked, with no casualties.

In the south of Ukraine Ukrainian authorities have claimed that Russia attacked the Drama Theatre in Mariupol, where approximately 1,100 people were sheltering on 16 March. In addition, an evacuation convoy from Mariupol was reported near Zaporizhzhia, and Russia shelled the Zaporizhzhia botanical garden. The Ukrainian General Staff has also stated Russian warships shelled four coastal settlements in Odesa Oblast on 16 March.

International reactions

On 16 March, the US announced Ukraine would be supported with 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-tank weapons, 7,000 light weapons, drones and many more. US President Biden called President Putin a ‘war criminal’ and it was the harshest condemnation that Putin has faced so far. Kremlin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov, said that Biden’s remarks are ‘absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable then added ‘Putin is a very wise and far-sighted and Biden has no right to call Putin a war criminal’.

In the UN International Court of justice, the principal judicial body ordered Russia to cease its military operation following Kyiv’s request. During the UN General Assembly meeting on 16 March, the Moldovan President’s requested a ‘complete and unconditional’ withdrawal of Russian forces from pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria. However, Russian stance is still remaining in the region as the presence of Transnistria is a disruptor for Moldova’s efforts to join the EU.

In the latest talks between the US and China, Washington clearly warned Beijing again on not being Russia’s aid. Chinese payment systems are seen as an alternative to economically crippled Russia due to the Western sanctions. China is currently drawing a fine line between maintaining close alliance with Russia and trying not to worsen its relationship with the West.
In southwestern Belarus, several explosions were reported in Baranavichy, Luninets, Stolin, Hantsavichy, Slutsk and Kletsk cities on 16 March. No official statements have been made by Belarus or Russia authorities.

Developments in Russia

While talks on possible resolution have reportedly made some progress, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that Russia views Israeli and Turkish offers for mediation as positive. In the meantime, President Putin announced that Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine is going ‘as it is planned’ and claimed that the West is attempting to divide Russia by provoking civil confrontation in the country.

Since 14 March, Russia has temporarily banned the export of grain to the EEU countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) and the export of white sugar and raw cane sugar to third countries. The restrictions on grain will be in force until 30 June, and on sugar until 31 August 2022. The measures were adopted, according to the Russian government, ’to protect the domestic food market from external restrictions’, indicating that Western sanctions on Russia have taken effect.

On 16 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in which he lashed out at Russians who support the West, indicating that even more totalitarian measures will be taken towards Russians critical of the war in Ukraine and Putin’s regime.

In addtion, Russian media regulator, Roskomnadzor blocked access to several local websites and media outlets on 16 March. The block prevents especially the access to foreign-based media outlets and some investigative journalism groups. Roskomnadzor’s effort is seen as a restriction of the unfavorable coverage of the ongoing military operation in Ukraine. Currently, Russia’s inflation rate has increased to 12.54 percent since the beginning of the operation. With the rise in inflation rates and the pressure of Western sanctions against Russia, the potential escalation of civil unrest is increasing in the country.

Russian militarization of space

Russian space agency director Dmitry Rogozin on 13 March stated that a hostile geopolitical situation could force Russia to make its ROSS, (Russian Orbital Space Station), planned for launch in 2025, military applicable. Adding specificity to his claims he further noted that if Russia were to live in a hostile world with a limited number of allies by 2025, it would make ROSS military applicable, further adding that only Russians cosmonauts would be allowed on the station, closing the door for international cooperation. The statement comes in light of Russia’s recent testing of its anti-satellite system (ASAT) in November 2021 indicating an increased Russian militarization of space.

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