On 24 February 2022 Russia launched military action in Ukraine, with forces crossing into the country from Belarus in the north, Russia in the east and Crimea in the south.

A Special Military Operation

President Putin said Russia, acting in self defence, was launching a special military operation in the Donbas and called on Ukrainian forces to lay down their weapons. Russia’s actions came days after President Putin officially recognised the self-declared independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), the regions of eastern Ukraine that have been under the control of Russian-backed separatist forces since 2014. He subsequently deployed forces to the region under the guise of peacekeeping operations. Russia had previously denied that it was planning to invade Ukraine and said its build-up of forces on Ukraine’s borders was in response to provocative actions by NATO. 

Russian forces have, however, been conducting a full-scale assault on the country. After failing to take Kyiv, Russian forces have focused on southern and eastern Ukraine. The port city of Mariupol came under Russian control after Ukrainian forces surrendered following several months of fighting. Russia’s main effort has subsequently been on taking control of the Donbas region. In the conduct of its military campaign Russian soldiers have been widely accused of war crimes, allegations that the Kremlin has also levelled at the Ukrainian government.

Ukrainian counteroffensive

In recent weeks Ukraine has been conducting a major counteroffensive. Ukrainian forces have liberated significant territory in the northeast and east of the country, including the towns of Izyum, Kupiansk and Lyman. In the south, Ukrainian forces have retaken key towns and villages in Kherson region, north of the Dnipro River. 

In response Russia declared a partial mobilisation of reserve forces and committed to defending the territorial integrity of Russia and the protection of people in the occupied regions in Ukraine. At the end of September, Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia called urgent referendums on joining Russia, even though the regions are not totally under Russian control. Indeed, on 9 November Russia announced its intention to withdraw from the city of Kherson, the only regional capital captured since February 2022. The wider Kherson region, to the south of the Dnipro River, remains in Russian hands.

Russian annexation 

According to the Kremlin the four occupied regions voted overwhelmingly in support of accession to the Russian Federation. In a speech on 30 September, President Putin announced Russia’s intention to annex those regions and recognise, and defend, them as part of the Russian Federation. Those treaties of accession were signed into Russian law in early October 2022.

International condemnation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its subsequent conduct has been met with international condemnation. The annexation of Ukrainian territory has been called illegitimate and a violation of international law.

An “unprecedented” package of sanctions has been imposed on Russia by the US, EU, UK and other allies and partners around the world. 

NATO has moved to shore up the defence of eastern Europe with the deployment of additional ships, fighter aircraft and troops to the region. Military assistance is also being provided to Ukraine by NATO allies, although NATO troops will not be deployed on the ground as Ukraine is a partner country of the Alliance and not party to NATO’s Article V mutual defence clause. NATO allies have also ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. As a direct consequence of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership.

Prospects for the conflict

Ukraine has vowed to continue its counteroffensive and reclaim its sovereign territory. Russia has said the annexed regions will be with Russia forever. Protracted conflict therefore appears the most likely outcome unless both sides can be persuaded to return to the negotiating table. Many fear that President Putin, on the military back foot and faced with limited options, could seek to escalate the conflict, potentially resorting to the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

 Since the end of February 2022, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that millions of refugees have fled Ukraine.

Recent Library papers

The most recent Library publications include:

Sanctions against Russia, 16 November 2022

In response to Russian military action in Ukraine, Western allies and other partners across the globe have imposed an unprecedented package of coordinated sanctions against Russia. 

Military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, 11 November 2022 

What weapons and other military support have been given to Ukraine by the UK, the US and other European countries? What military assistance is NATO and the EU providing? This paper focuses on the military assistance provided to Ukraine since the Russian invasion started on 24 February 2022.

UK forces in Estonia, 31 October 2022

The UK doubled the number of troops in Estonia in early 2022. Will this continue in 2023?

Ukraine crisis: A Parliamentary reading list (2014-present), 19 October 2022 

This reading list provides links to Parliamentary and selected other material on the crisis in Ukraine since Crimea was seized by pro-Russian forces in 2014.

The UN General Assembly condemns Russia: But what can it actually do?, 14 October 2022 

What powers does the UN have to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Implications of the Russian-backed referendums in Ukraine, 13 October 2022

At the end of September 2022 referendums on joining the Russian Federation were held in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Treaties of accession were subsequently signed by President Putin in early October. Many countries have called the referendums and consequent annexation a “sham” and a violation of international law.

Other relevant Library papers

Military action and its implications 

Ukraine crisis: A timeline (2014-present), 1 April 2022

This paper provides a timeline of the major events in the Ukraine-Russia crisis since Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Ukraine crisis: Recognition, military action and international law, 24 March 2022 

As Russia undertakes widespread military action against Ukraine, this briefing outlines some of the international legal issues involved.

Ukraine: Fears Russia could use chemical weapons, 18 March 2022 

This Insight examines the nature of chemical weapons, allegations of previous use by Russia and concerns among Western military chiefs that Russia could deploy them in Ukraine.

No-fly zones and Ukraine, 7 March 2022 

The UK and NATO have ruled out establishing a no-fly zone in Ukraine. What is their legal basis and when have they been used before?

Ukraine: Russia’s “red line”, 18 February 2022 (this paper will no longer be updated)

Russian military forces are building on the borders of Ukraine once again. What are Russia’s intentions and how is the West responding?

Nuclear weapons at a glance: Russia, 29 March 2022

This paper briefly examines Russia’s nuclear weapons policies, capabilities and programmes. It is one paper in a larger series on the nuclear weapon states.

Humanitarian situation 

Ukraine crisis: Aid and refugees, 13 July 2022

Describes the potential effect of the conflict in Ukraine and the possibility of a refugee crisis, alongside what aid the UK and others have pledged in 2022.

Refugee mental health and the response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, 7 July 2022

How does conflict affect the mental health of refugees, and how has the UK Government responded to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine?

Organising humanitarian aid and help for Ukraine, 11 March 2022 

Russia’s actions in Ukraine threaten a humanitarian crisis. The Government advises those in the UK seeking to help make cash donations to registered charities.

Ukraine: consular assistance for British nationals, 24 February 2022 

This page summarises consular assistance available to British nationals wishing to leave Ukraine and links to helplines.

The international response

Sanctions 

UK’s Overseas Territories and sanctions against Russia, 4 March 2022 

The UK has imposed sanctions against Russia. This paper describes how these sanctions apply in the UK’s Overseas Territories.

UK sanctions against Russia: Arms exports, 3 March 2022 

The UK has banned the export of all dual-use items to Russia in response to conflict in Ukraine.

Military assistance 

Military assistance to Ukraine (2014-2021), 25 February 2022 

What military assistance has the UK, the US, NATO and the EU given to Ukraine over the last several years? How did that increase since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders in 2021?

Europe

Work of the Council of Europe and the expulsion of Russia, 14 June 2022

This briefing paper provides an overview of the work of the Council of Europe and also covers the recent expulsion of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukraine’s application to join the EU, 29 March 2022 

How has the EU responded to Ukraine’s application and what would be the process for Ukraine to join the EU?

The EU response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 22 March 2022 

How has the EU responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? This paper provides an overview of the unprecedented set of actions taken by the EU. It also provides background on the EU-Ukraine relationship and how this might develop in the future.

NATO

NATO enlargement: Sweden and Finland, 15 July 2022 

NATO has invited Sweden and Finland to join the Alliance. This paper looks at the process for joining NATO and the expansion of the Alliance since its creation in 1949, and how Russia views NATO enlargement.

NATO: Reinforcing its eastern flank, 8 April 2022 

NATO has been increasing its military presence along its eastern borders in response to Russian action.

NATO’s response to Russian military action in Ukraine, 25 February 2022 

NATO has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It held a leaders’ virtual summit on 25 February.

European security: The outcome of talks with Russia, January 2022 

In mid-January 2022 the US, NATO, OSCE and Russia held a series of talks. Prompted by diplomatic efforts to defuse the Ukraine crisis, the focus of the talks became European security more broadly and Russia’s desire to see legally binding security guarantees with respect to its near abroad.

What is NATO?, January 2022 

This paper explains what NATO is, its structure and purpose, and how it has evolved since its formation in 1949.

Africa

Ukraine crisis and Africa, 6 April 2022

This paper discusses the responses to the conflict in Ukraine from across Africa and explores some of the ways the crisis in Ukraine has, and will continue to, affect the continent.

Energy supplies 

Imports of energy from Russia, 11 November 2022 

The UK imported no oil or gas from Russia in July 2022. The total value of UK fossil fuel imports from Russia has fallen since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. It was £4.2 billion in the year to July 2022.

EU energy security: Implications for the UK, 17 May 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the fragile state of the EU’s energy security. How has the EU responded and what does this mean for the UK?

Alternatives to Russian oil: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Venezuela?, 11 April 2022 

The US, UK and EU aim to reduce imports of Russian oil and gas. This paper describes the ability of other countries to increase supply and the challenges in achieving this.

Geopolitical implications of Nord Stream 2, 2 March 2022 

The already controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project has taken on greater significance amidst the current crisis in Ukraine. What is the future of the pipeline?

Implications for the UK

Rising cost of living in the UK, 20 October 2022 

This briefing gives an overview of rising prices, particularly food, energy and fuel prices. It outlines Government support and how inflation, interest rates and other policies which will affect household budgets.

Support for students from Ukraine in UK higher education, 13 October  2022 

Find out what support is available for higher education students who have arrived in the UK under the Ukraine Schemes.

Countering Russian influence in the UK, 1 April 2022 

Widespread sanctions have been imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. But there are calls for the Government to go further and bring forward long-awaited proposals on countering foreign influence in the UK.

Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, 23 March 2022 

A Bill to introduce a beneficial ownership register of Overseas Entities owning UK property, and to reform the UK Unexplained Wealth Order and Sanctions regimes.

Background to Spring Statement 2022, 17 March 2022

Due to the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, the coronavirus situation in the UK is greatly improved, compared with the previous two years. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creates a new crisis. In the UK there was concern about the effect that rising prices, and other factors, are having on household budgets. The Ukraine crisis may push energy and food prices higher still.

Ukraine: UK Immigration concessions, 11 March 2022 

The Government has announced some immigration concessions for some people affected by the crisis in Ukraine. Campaigners are calling for further measures to help a wider range of people in Ukraine.

How many Ukrainians live in the UK?, 7 March 2022 

We don’t know the exact number of Ukrainian people living in the UK, but what can we find from existing data?

Economic update: Ukraine crisis adds to inflationary pressures, 28 February 2022 

What is the potential impact on the UK economy from the conflict in Ukraine?

Relevant historical papers

Sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, March 2015 

Ukraine: Towards a frozen conflict, September 2014 

Ukraine, Crimea and Russia, March 2014 

2014 Ukraine crisis, February 2014


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