The Buildup to War in Ukraine

February 23 2022 was a holiday in Russia, the Defender of the Fatherland Day. It is a annual memorial day for all the people who, over the centuries, have fought for Russia in its wars.

As usual Russia’s president Vladimir Putin addressed veterans, Armed Forces personnel and the people of Russia:

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Comrade officers, veterans,Please accept my warmest greetings on this holiday, Defender of the Fatherland Day, which is celebrated all over the country not only by tradition but also by right.

It embodies the feelings of respect our citizens feel for their noble defenders, our pride in all those who served and serve in the Army and the Navy, recognition of their heroic merits to the Fatherland to assert our national interests, sovereignty and independence.

Patriotism and the unity of our nation, the exploits of its devoted sons and daughters have always been the foundation of the martial history of our thousand-year-old country, its glory and victories. We are proud of the many generations of its defenders: the guards of Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy, the warriors of Minin and Pozharsky and the heroes of Poltava and Borodino, Stalingrad and the unstoppable assault on Berlin, all those who brought glory to our Fatherland according to the great traditions of our ancestors.

We can see the difficult international situation and the threats posed by current challenges, such as the erosion of the arms control system and NATO’s military activities. And yet, Russia’s appeals to build a system of equal and indivisible security that would reliably defend all countries, remain unanswered.

Our country is always open to a direct and honest dialogue and ready to search for diplomatic solutions to the most complicated issues. But I want to repeat that Russia’s interests and the security of our people are an indisputable priority. …

Putin also laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

The only diplomacy involving Moscow that happened during the day was a call with the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

The leaders exchanged views on the situation with Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. Vladimir Putin stressed the objective necessity to take that decision based on the Ukrainian authorities’ aggression in Donbass and their categorical refusal to implement the Minsk Agreements. Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave his well-known views on the matter.The issues of working out long-term legally binding security guarantees for the Russian Federation were also discussed. In this context, Vladimir Putin expressed his disappointment with the US and NATO response which came down to an attempt to ignore Russia’s legitimate concerns and demands.

The presidents agreed to continue Russian-Turkish contacts in various formats.

CNN’s coverage on February 23 2022 was mostly related to new sanctions imposed on Russia as well as about various political voices warning of the imminent war.

Ukraine introduced a state of emergency.

In the evening some Ukrainian government web sites went down after a number of run-of-the-mill cyberattacks.

CNN also reported that the separatist regions in Donbas had asked the Kremlin for help repelling Ukraine forces:

The heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), two separatist regions in Ukraine, recently recognized by Russia as independent, have formally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help repelling the aggression of Ukrainian Armed Forces, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti on Wednesday.”The president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin received letters of appeal from the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic Leonid Pasechnik and the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin,” Peskov said, according to RIA.

According to Peskov, the appeal said: “Kyiv continues to build up its military presence on the line of contact, while receiving comprehensive support, including military support, from the United States and other Western states. The Kyiv regime is focused on resolving the conflict by force.”

“Given the foregoing, the heads of the two republics, in connection with the current situation, as well as in order to prevent civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe, on the basis of Articles 3 and 4 of the treaties on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between the Russian Federation and the republics, ask the president of Russia to assist in repelling aggression of the armed forces and formations of Ukraine,” Peskov added, according to RIA.

This was the last formal step for Russia to enter the war in Ukraine.

Soon Russia troops moved into the separate Donbas region:

Russian troops have moved into the eastern region of Ukraine that Russia has now recognized as “independent,” according the prime minister of NATO member Latvia and sources familiar with US intelligence.“According to the information at my disposal, Putin is moving additional forces and tanks into the occupied Donbas territories,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Wednesday. “By any definition that’s a crossing of a sovereign territory into a neighboring country.”

Pressed specifically on whether he was referring to the entry of additional Russian troops since Moscow recognized the two separatist regions earlier this week, Kariņš replied: “Yes, according to the information at my disposal, this is exactly what we’re seeing.”

At midnight Moscow time Russian troops moved towards Ukraine from several directions. On February 24, at 6:00 am Moscow time, Putin addressed Russia. The Russian airforce started operating in Ukraine, Russian troops moved in. The war was on.

Curiously the OSCE Special Observer Mission at the ceasefire line in southeast-Ukraine issued no report that covers whatever happened on the ground on Wednesday, February 23 2022.

Its Daily Report 42/2022 issued on 23 February 2022 covers what happened on Tuesday, February 22 2022. Its Daily Report 43/2022 issued on Tuesday, February 24 2022 covers only things that happened all over Ukraine on Thursday, February 24 2022.

The later report seems confused:

Based on information from the Monitoring Teams as of 19:30 23 February 2022. All times are in Eastern European Time.

  • Since the early hours of 24 February, at various locations across Ukraine, the SMM observed a severely deteriorated security situation.
  • The Mission heard multiple explosions, including multiple launch rocket system fire.
  • The SMM saw military aircraft overflying Kherson and Kyiv cities.
  • The Mission recorded a spike in shelling in government-controlled areas of Luhansk region.
  • In various locations across Ukraine, the SMM saw fewer people in the streets and long queues at shops, pharmacies, ATMs and petrol stations.

Donwload the full report

While the first line states that the observations for the report ended “as of 19:30 23 February 2022” all reporting in the intro as well as in the full report seems to be of observations and incidents that happened on February 24. There is no count of ceasefire violations and no map of incidents and impacts for the 23rd.

We thus do not have any record from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission on ceasefire violations, explosions and military movements along the ceasefire line in Donbas for Wednesday, February 23 2022.

I have found no explanation for this.

Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.


The Buildup to War in Ukraine

On the even of February 15 the Russian Foreign Ministry released information about a phone call between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. CGTN reported on February 16:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called on the U.S. to drop aggressive rhetoric in dialogue on security guarantees and demonstrate pragmatic approach to this topic, state-owned Tass news agency reports.Lavrov held a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which the Russian diplomat stressed the need to continue working together.

“On our part, it was stressed that it is necessary to continue joint work, as was agreed by Presidents [of Russia Vladimir] Putin and [of the United States Joe] Biden during their telephone call on February 12, in the context of the US and NATO proposals on security guarantees,” TASS quotes the Russian foreign ministry.

“Lavrov specially stressed the inadmissibility of aggressive rhetoric fanned by Washington and its closest allies and called for a pragmatic dialogue on the entire spectrum of issues raised by Russia, with a focus on the principle of indivisible security.”

Russia had previously sent demands for talks on several issues to the U.S. and NATO. The most important point for Russia had been the term ‘indivisible security’ in the sense that security for one side should not interfere with the security of the other side.

This term is included in several treaties with Russia. It claimed that the expansion of NATO was threatening its security and thereby breaching those treaties. While the U.S. denied this, it is obvious that all NATO expansion were increasing the potential danger for Russia. Russia and NATO were thus put into a classic security dilemma:

In international relations, the security dilemma (also referred to as the spiral model) is when the increase in one state’s security (such as increasing its military strength) leads other states to fear for their own security (because they do not know if the security-increasing state intends to use its growing military for offensive purposes). Consequently, security-increasing measures can lead to tensions, escalation or conflict with one or more other parties, producing an outcome which no party truly desires; a political instance of the prisoner’s dilemma.

The U.S. had responded to the Russian paper by conceding on some minor points that Russia had long demanded but not on any of the big questions of which the most important one was ‘indivisible security’.

On February 2 2022 I had described the process in detail:

[I]n mid December Russia started to counter the U.S. move. It published two draft treaties, one with the U.S. and one with NATO, that included stringent security demands:

  • No more NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders.
  • Retraction of the 2008 NATO invitation to Ukraine and Georgia.
  • Removal of foreign NATO forces from east Europe.
  • Legally binding guarantee that no strike systems which could target Moscow will be deployed in countries near to Russia.
  • No NATO or equivalent (UK, U.S., Pl.) ‘exercises’ near Russian borders.
  • NATO ships, planes to keep certain distances from Russian borders.
  • Regular military-to-military talks.
  • No U.S. nukes in Europe.

Russia requested written responses and threatened to take ‘military technical’ measures should the responses be negative. Russia also planned for and launched new military exercises.

The responses were received but, following a U.S. request, Russia refrained from publishing them. They were leaked to El Pais, published today and can be downloaded here (pdf).

The U.S. response to Russia’s draft treaties is professional. While it rejects Russia’s main demands, especially a neutral status for the Ukraine, it concedes on minor issues and offers additional talks on them. The NATO response is in contrast highly ideological and rejects all of Russia’s points while making new demands towards Russia which are designed to be rejected. (Future negotiations are now likely to exclude NATO.)

Russia has yet to officially respond to the received letters. During a news conference after talks with the Prime Minister of Hungary the Russian President remarked on the letters:

[W]hile ignoring our concerns, the United States and NATO are referring to the right of states to freely choose specific methods to ensure their security. But this is not only about providing someone with the right to freely choose methods to ensure their security. This is only one part of the well-known indivisible security formula. The second inalienable part implies that it is impossible to strengthen anyone’s security at the expense of other states’ security.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has send a letter to several NATO countries in which it requests their official opinions on several agreements they have signed which include clauses on the indivisibility of security:

The very essence of the agreements on indivisible security is that either there is security for all or there is no security for anyone.

How is the signing of those treaties and indivisible security for all compatible with the aggressive NATO expansion aimed at Russia? ‘Western’ foreign ministries will find it difficult to answer that question.

France 24 listed some of its relevant headlines of the day:

  • Ukraine crisis: Moscow announces end of Crimea drills, NATO unconvinced
  • Russia’s parliament asks Putin to recognise breakaway east Ukrainian regions
  • Ukraine crisis: Russian pullout meets Western allies scepticism
  • ‘Day of Unity’: Ukrainians raise flags to defy Russia invasion fear
  • NATO says Russia appears to be continuing military escalation in Ukraine
  • NATO chief says Russia appears to be continuing military build-up around Ukraine

The OSCE Special Observer Mission at the ceasefire line in southeast-Ukraine reported of February 16 that the number of ceasefire violations had suddenly jumped to above average. Artillery exchanges took place on many parts of the front.

In Donetsk region, the SMM recorded 189 ceasefire violations, including 128 explosions. In the previous reporting period, it recorded 24 ceasefire violations in the region.In Luhansk region, the Mission recorded 402 ceasefire violations, including 188 explosions. In the previous reporting period, it recorded 129 ceasefire violations in the region.

On February 16 the observers noticed several self propelled howitzer (2S1 Govzdika, 122 mm) in violation of withdrawal lines. Four were seen on the Ukrainian government side and two on the non-government side.

After three days that had been more or less quite the sudden jump in fighting was particularly noticeable.


The map shows explosions, the small black dots, on both sides of the ceasefire line.


Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.