Ukraine

Key Messages - Aid to Ukraine: Good practices and coordination issues (7 April 2022)

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THE WAR IN UKRAINE

The war in Ukraine has rapidly taken the form of a series of conflicts in urban contexts. Urban warfare has a long history, but unfortunately, we can see from this conflict just how topical it remains. Generally, a first phase involves imposing a siege and forcing the city to surrender by making living conditions impossible. The sieges of Constantinople, Troy, Stalingrad and so many others are being reproduced as food and water supplies to Ukrainian cities are cut (with the addition of electricity supplies in the modern world). Throughout history these sieges have generally led to massacres, with populations put to the sword, and women and children raped and enslaved. In Ukraine’s recent history, the same chain of events took place at the beginning of the Second World War, with the siege of Kiev by the Wehrmacht whose atrocities are still present in the popular imagination. For many Ukrainians, the idea of surrendering after a siege is impossible. As for the Russian camp, even though current International Humanitarian Law bans such practices targeting civilians, the Kremlin clearly does not care, as is evident from its previous actions in Chechnya and Syria.

If the Russians fail to force the Ukrainians to surrender by means of sieges, the alternative for the Russian army is an offensive with tanks and troops on the ground. From a military point of view, this would be more complicated.
In such a scenario, Ukrainian resistance snipers, home-made explosive devices and mines, as well as ambushes, suicide attacks and other ‘weapons of the weak’ would make the Russian troops’ progress slow and dangerous. In order to save troops, armies adopt a simple strategy of total destruction with the attendant terror that this brings.
Modern urban warfare therefore consists of intense bombing to avoid placing an army on the ground who would have to combat guerrilla forces one street - and one building - at a time. Cities are left in ruins and their terrified populations have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. The objective of this form of urban war is of course to encourage leaders to surrender so that their populations are not massacred. As such, there are two competing objectives: on the one hand, increasing the destruction, and therefore the terror, and on the other, resisting1 (when we are dealing with major shocks of this kind, it is no longer appropriate to speak of resilience).