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Q&A: Answering reader questions on sanctions, no-fly zones and scenarios for the war ending

In a series of articles, our team are helping answer reader questions on the invasion of Ukraine.

IN THIS CONTINUING series of articles, we’re addressing questions sent in by readers about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Our first piece, published last weekend, looked at a wide range of issues – including: 

  • Why the invasion was ordered by Putin, and what his strategy might be
  • The fallout from the refugee crisis and how people can help 
  • The risks of the conflict escalating, and nuclear concerns

In this edition we’ll be answering reader questions on how Russian media is reporting the invasion, scenarios for how the war might end and why a no-fly zone over Ukraine is currently considered to be off the cards.

We’ve sought responses from experts where necessary and journalists from across The Journal‘s team have contributed to answers. 

  • If you would like to submit a question to our team please send it to: answers@thejournal.ie 

russia-putin-womens-day Vladimir Putin in a still from a video released earlier this week. AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

How could this war end?

Obviously, nobody knows. 

There have been some diplomatic meetings in an attempt to reach a resolution.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met in Turkey on Thursday in the first top-level talks since the invasion began. 

But these failed to find a breakthrough. Kuleba said “no progress” had been achieved on even a 24-hour ceasefire, expressing frustration that “it seems that there are other decision-makers for this matter in Russia”.

Israel is also seeking to broker a solution through direct talks with Putin, and French President Emmanuel Macron is also frequently phoning the Russian President.

Western countries have been imposing increasingly tough sanctions against Russia, aiming to hurt Putin and lead him to stop the invasion. 

Many of the sanctions target Russia’s financial institutions and members of the country’s elite. 

Putin said these sanctions would destabilise the global energy and food markets, but that Moscow will find a way to “adapt”. 

A number of Russian and Belarusian banks have been cut from the global Swift messaging system. 

Russian oligarchs have been blacklisted in the EU and other parts of the west.

The US has banned Russian oil and gas imports. The EU, which is more dependent on Russian energy, has so far rejected taking this action but Germany has suspended the approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which would have increased the volume of gas transferred from Russia to Germany.

emmanuel-macron-talks-to-vladimir-putin-paris Macron speaking to Putin in a video conference in 2020. Lafargue Raphael / ABACA Lafargue Raphael / ABACA / ABACA

Macron has spoken to Putin a number of times since the invasion. He warned earlier this week that it was unlikely Russia and Ukraine would be able to find a way to end this war in the days and weeks ahead. 

There are a lot of theories and possibilities out there that different experts and analysts believe may lead to the war ending. 

Although Putin has a tight inner circle, there is still a possibility he could be brought down by either popular backlash or even a coup. 

“His personal security is very good and it will be very good until the moment it isn’t,” Eliot A Cohen from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank told AFP. 

That’s happened numerous times in Soviet and Russian history. 

In terms of next steps in the war, Putin’s frequent talk about the dissolved Soviet Union has left an unanswered question about whether he plans to invade other former USSR countries.

As we know, this would be a risky move as many of these countries are part of Nato. We explored this in closer detail in the first reader Q&A. 

Another outcome some experts have said could be push Putin to withdraw is to get China on the side of the west.

One western diplomat told AFP that “Beijing is becoming more and more uncomfortable with what’s going on” and hasn’t come to the aid of the Russian economy to mitigate the impact of sanctions.

Last month, ahead of the invasion, President Xi Jinping held a meeting with Putin where the pair agreed to a “no limits” partnership, but China has tried to remain cautiously diplomatic since the invasion began. 

For further reading, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent has set out a number of possibilities for the war’s ending – that it might escalate quickly, or develop into a protracted war or that a diplomatic solution may be reached. 

CNBC in the US, in an analysis piece, said a “miracle” scenario could emerge which would bolster Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and grind Moscow’s advance to a halt, with experts saying this is the “rosiest” outcome. 

So there is no one obvious path out of this war as things currently stand.  

Is the invasion going as Putin expected? 

The Russian President said last week that the military attack in Ukraine is going “according to plan”. In fact, that’s been a constant mantra from officials from Moscow – repeated most recently by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Ukrainian forces have resisted Russia’s invasion in parts of the country that have been targeted, including Kyiv. However, Russian forces have been encircling the capital city in recent days. 

Kharkiv, Mariupol and other cities have come under fierce shelling over the past couple of weeks. 

US intelligence sources had initially feared a so-called ‘lightning attack’ would see Kyiv fall within days but the Pentagon soon realised that Russia’s army was behind schedule in its battle plan, due to logistical problems and Ukraine’s fierce resistance.

Security analyst Tom Clonan wrote in The Journal last week that it would appear the Russians are seeking to cut Ukraine in two – north to south, along the Dnieper River.

He said Russia’s original strategic objective of securing the Donbass region as a ‘buffer zone’ against Nato’s encroachment on Russia’s borders appears to have been superseded by a grand design to restore historical borders.

You can read more of his analysis on the war here.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed that it “is likely to get worse before it gets better” but that Putin “is destined to lose”. 

Blinken also told the BBC last week that Ukraine can “over time, absolutely” win the war. 

Historian Yuval Noah Harari wrote in The Guardian in the early days of the invasion that it seems “increasingly likely that Vladimir Putin is heading towards a historic defeat”. 

barricades-are-set-up-in-central-city-kyiv Barricades set up in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine. Raphael Lafargue Raphael Lafargue

How many people have died? How many Russian soldiers have been deployed? 

A US official estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the invasion. Ukraine said the figure is more than 12,000.

On 2 March, the most recent official figures from Russia claimed 498 soldiers had been killed. As always in what’s known as the ‘fog of war’, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle of those figures. 

Moscow has claimed that more than 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed in the war. Ukraine’s government disputes these figures, the Washington Post has reported. 

The UN said on Thursday it had recorded at least 549 civilian deaths, 41 of whom were children. 957 people have been injured.

But other estimates are higher – the mayor of Mariupol said 1,207 civilians had been killed in the city alone. Three people died and 17 were also injured in a missile strike on a maternity and children’s hospital in the city. 

Russia invaded Ukraine with almost 200,000 troops at the border and a Pentagon official said this week that almost all of these forces have now entered Ukraine. 

The Pentagon also estimated earlier this week that about 95% of the Russian combat power in Ukraine is intact – this includes weapons, vehicles and troops.

Alongside all of this, more than 2.3 million people have so far fled Ukraine. The country’s overall population is around 44 million. Around half of Kyiv’s population has also left the city. 

Will a no-fly zone be brought in above Ukraine?  

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has been critical of Nato for refusing to impose a no-fly zone over his country.

The purpose would be to prevent Russian military aircraft from entering the airspace over Ukraine, whether it was for surveillance or to launch an attack from the air. 

“All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity,” he said recently, referring to Nato’s stance.

“The alliance has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages by refusing to create a no-fly zone.”

The prospect of any international coalition imposing a no-fly zone has been continuously ruled out.

Security and defence analyst Declan Power said the consequences of implementing a no-fly zone could be explosive and would be in conflict with the traditional international response to this kind of invasion, where the priority should be to de-escalate.

He said an air conflict between Nato and the Russian air force would be “a serious digging match”, as Russia has an experienced air force with strong technology, though it is not as advanced as the Nato side. 

“If the Russians weren’t able to handle it there’s potential for escalation. Neither of them have been directly against each other in combat – for good reason.”

If Russia invaded or attacked a Nato country, this would be seen as an assault on all of Nato which includes the US and much of Europe. 

Chief of the British Defence Staff Admiral Tony Radakin said a no-fly zone “would not help”. 

“If we were to police a no-fly zone, it means that we probably have to take out Russian defence systems and we would have Nato aircraft in the air alongside Russian aircraft, and then the potential of shooting them down and then that leads to an escalation,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme last week. 

So it doesn’t look like a no-fly zone will be brought in over Ukraine any time soon. 

Why did the US reject Poland’s offer of Soviet-era fighter jets? 

Earlier this week, Poland offered Soviet-era jets to the United States, and onto Ukraine free of charge via a US air base in Ramstein, Germany.

The offer came amid repeated pleas from Ukrainian politicians, citizens and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to shut off the country’s skies from Russian planes and bombs.

But soon after the offer was announced in an official statement by the Polish government, the US had said the offer was a surprise.

A spokesperson for the White House said that this offer had been made without prior consultation with the US – which is unusual for how governments tend to operate.

The US then rejected the offer for the MiG-29 fighter jets.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there was no substantive rationale for the jets flying from a US-Nato base “into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine”, adding that it “raises serious concerns for the entire Nato alliance”.

russia-invading-ukraine-us-air-force-fighters-for-nato-support US Air Force F-35 Lightning II pilot. Sra John R. Wright / U.S Air Sra John R. Wright / U.S Air / U.S Air

“If those aircraft arrive from Poland or from the US air base,” security specialist Dr Tom Clonan told The Journal, “it’s an act of war by Nato on Russia.”

When stinger missiles arrive in Ukraine, they’re disassembled and put together and weaponised by the Ukraine military.
But if airlines take off from the US airbase or a Polish airbase, complete and weaponised, it’s far more provocative and will be an actual act of war on the Russians.

How are regular Russian citizens being impacted by the war? 

Day-to-day life in Russia has been impacted in a number of ways.

Sanctions have been imposed by western countries against Russia, targeting the country’s financial system and oligarchs close to the Kremlin.

The value of the ruble has dropped dramatically since the invasion.

Russian people queued in their hordes to withdraw cash from ATMs amid fears of a breakdown in electronic banking. The Kremlin has banned Russian people from transferring foreign currency abroad.

Disney, Warner Bros and Paramount paused cinema releases of new films in Russia. 

It was announced on Tuesday that McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Starbucks and other well-known companies will close their operations in Russia following public pressure. 

Apple Pay and Google Pay have also stopped operating in Russia which, in the early days of the invasion, leading to lengthy queues at metro turnstiles in Moscow as people looked for cash. 

“In principle you still have normal everyday life, as you can expect in a big city [Moscow], but there are signs of a change,” Sergey Utkin from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said.

He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland recently: “You have big international companies leaving Russia. You have much less freedom of travel because air flights are get cancelled and Russian airlines will experience great difficulties with all the international networks they use, even just to function properly, even domestically like for booking and all the stuff that they need.

We will have growing troubles, of course. The rate of the rouble is dropping significantly and this is what people cannot completely ignore, even if they still prefer not to protest against the actions of the government.

A recent poll said 58% of Russians support the Ukraine invasion and 23% oppose it. Thousands of people across the country have taken part in anti-war protests. 

Utkin said that some Russian people are “not really” talking about the war and that it’s “more comfortable” for people to cite Russian official excuses for the attack.

“They still feel like well, probably this mess will end in a month or two which is, I’m afraid, not the case,” he said. 

How are Russian news outlets framing the situation? 

social-networks DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

There has been a crackdown on independent media and foreign news providers in Russia under a new law criminalising intentionally spreading “fake” news about the war.

Many international news organisations have since removed or temporarily suspended their operations in Russia. The BBC and others are continuing their Russian reporting from outside the country. 

This has removed alternative sources of information about the war for people in Russia, leaving it in the hands of Russian media like RT and TASS.

TASS is a state-owned organisation and Russia’s leading news agency. RT (Russia Today) is a TV network controlled by the Russian state. 

The EU has banned the broadcast of many of these outlets since the invasion. They have also been banned by some social media companies. 

Unsurprisingly, these publications and broadcasters report a very favourable view of Russia’s involvement, portraying the invasion in Putin’s words of a ‘military operation’ to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine. 

The Kremlin has also blocked a host of social media websites including Facebook and Twitter.

The Novaya Gazeta – a Russian newspaper known for critical coverage of Russian affairs – now refers to the war as “what cannot be named” and what the Russian Federation “forbid calling by one’s name under the threat of criminal prosecution of journalists and the closure of the media”, according to translations of the news site.

How many Russian people have been arrested over attending anti-war protests?

Almost 13,000 people have been arrested in Russia for protesting against the invasion of Ukraine, according to the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Public actions aimed at discrediting Russian Armed Forces are illegal in Russia.

People detained for the first time in relation to this are fined a maximum of 50,000 rubles (€392). 

If someone has at least one prior administrative conviction for the same charge within the space of one year, they can face up to three years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch

This is not the first time protesters have been detained in Russia - Putin approved legislation last year to increase fines for offences committed during street protests after thousands were detained at rallies in support of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020. He has claimed that Putin was to blame for the poisoning, a claim Putin has repeatedly rejected. Navalny is serving a prison sentence for fraud charges. That sentence has been decried as absurd by his legal team.

Reporting by Orla Dwyer. Additional reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha and Michelle Hennessy. Edited by Daragh Brophy. 

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