On 24 March, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Vereshchuk stated that the first full-fledged exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia occurred. She also announced that over 3,000 people were evacuated through seven humanitarian corridors on 24 March. No significant military movements have been observed on the frontline in the past 24 hours.
In the north, Russian troops have not made progress in and around Kyiv in the last days; however, fighting is ongoing. The Russian Defence Ministry claimed to have destroyed a large fuel depot supplying Ukrainian military units in Kyiv. Russian troops are likely attempting to encircle Kyiv, in the direction of Brovary and Boryspil, the outskirts of Kyiv. In addition, an evacuation train in Kyiv Oblast was attacked by Russian troops, no casualties were reported. Shelling continue in Chernihiv and 200 civilians are reported to be killed in and around Chernihiv according to Ukrainian authorities.
In eastern Ukraine on 24 March, six civilians queuing for humanitarian aid in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, were killed by Russian troops, and several more people were injured. Hostilities are still ongoing in Sumy region.
In the south, Ukrainian air defense system shot down a missile near Odesa city. In the Mykolaiv Oblast shelling continues and Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian plane and intercepted a cruise missile. Clashes continue in and around Mariupol. Russian forces have attacked Mariupol with 500 kilogram bombs forcing residents to evacuate on foot because the roads are too damaged to drive on.
During the Cold War Sweden was viewed as a neutral buffer between NATO and the Soviet Union, having a de-escalating role in European geopolitics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union; however, Sweden has shifted more towards the West – by joining the European Union and having a more active role in NATO, albeit not a member. Sweden’s role as a neutral buffer was regarded as obsolete as the Soviet Union no longer existed and Russia was not perceived as a superpower.
Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Swedish Government has reiterated the importance of Swedish neutrality, and that Swedish membership in NATO would decrease security in Europe even further. Most people are doubtful of the validity of this argument and concerned by Sweden’s compliance with Russian demands for neutrality. On 23 March, it was announced that a second delivery of Swedish weapons to Ukraine will be made. Together with the EU, Sweden has also imposed significant sanctions against Russia and more are expected.
In its battle against Russian disinformation, the Swedish Government announced that it will give an additional 10 million SEK to the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency. At the same time, 20,000 refugees have arrived from Ukraine to Sweden and it is expected that roughly 280,000 more will come to Sweden in the coming months.
In the NATO summit on 24 March, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the organisation’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence forces are active and will help Ukraine against CBRN threats from Russia. Stoltenberg added that NATO agreed to move 40,000 troops to its eastern flank with four new groups of NATO soldiers sent to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended the G7 summit via video link and said that Ukraine needs ‘just a fraction’ of the NATO allies’ resources. A senior US official also added that the US and its allies will support Ukraine with anti-ship missiles.
Additionally, on 24 March, the US imposed new sanctions targeting Russian Defence companies, 328 members of the State Duma and the chief of Russia’s largest majority-state owned bank, Sberbank. The US Treasury Department issued an advisory warning that gold-related transactions involving Russia may be subject to sanctions by US authorities. Joe Biden stated during the NATO summit that Russia should be removed from the G-20 intergovernmental forum and that Ukraine should be given an observer status.
The UK has also expanded their list of sanctions. Freezing the assets and imposing travel bans on 59 Russian entities and individuals.
The Prime Minister of Poland confirmed that the Russian Embassy’s bank accounts had been blocked by the Polish Government. Also, a French Government’s spokesperson stated that assets belonging to Russian oligarchs worth 800 million Euro had been frozen by the French Government.
German energy companies that depend on Russian gas supplies have stated the requirement of an early warning system in case of Russia’s decision to cut energy supplies to Germany. Vice chancellor and Economic Affairs Minister Robert Habeck said that a warning system is not needed because current gas supplies were guaranteed but also affirmed that the situation should be monitored.
On 23 March, Vladimir Putin stated that Europe has to pay in Rubles for Russian gas as a counter move against Western sanctions. The EC President Ursula von der Leyen stated that Putin’s new measure to demand payment in Rubles was an ‘attempt to circumvent EU sanctions’. Von der Leyen’s statement was backed by several EU leaders.
Developments in Russia
After the first month of war and sanctions, the cost of living in Russia has increased by more that 14 percent, and inflation is expected to rise as the value of the Ruble declines. Ukrainian official claimed that Russia is recruiting reserve officials, conscripts, and mercenaries. The UK’s Defence Ministry also claimed that to compensate its significant losses, Russia is likely to mobilise its reservists and conscripts as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries.