Norway’s state-owned energy company Equinor announced on February 28 it would “start the process of exiting its Russian joint ventures.” Equinor has followed BP and Shell in announcing plans to withdraw from Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the first days of the invasion, Russian forces failed to capture any major cities. In fact, they are bypassing them while seeking to capture Ukraine’s two biggest cities, albeit each for a different reason. Russia is seeking to besiege the eastern city of Kharkiv because its forces cannot leave it behind while advancing on central Ukraine. The invading country is also trying to seize Kyiv to damage the morale of the Ukrainian army. According to the Pentagon, Russia has committed 75 percent of its amassed forces inside Ukraine. It is yet likely that Belarus will join Russian war efforts.
Oil giants Shell and BP are quitting joint projects with the biggest Russian energy companies, marking the most significant move yet by a Western company in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Gazprom and Rosneft are losing billions after the prices of their shares collapsed and the Russian financial market plummeted amid Western sanctions.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not moving as fast as Putin had assumed. It is not known whether the army was not sufficiently prepared or whether Russian top military brass did not want to tell the president they were unfit for the invasion. Perhaps the Russian offensive potential is not as impressive as many would think, also in Moscow. Invading a vast European country, inhabited by millions and priding itself with a high-morale army, is not the same as ruthless raids on civilians in Syria.
Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom said on February 27 that Russian gas exports via Ukraine to Europe continued normally, in line with requests from customers. Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator also said the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine ran safely. The war, which broke out on February 24, has not affected Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.
In the case of an invasion of Ukraine, Russia will be conducting its largest combined arms operation since the Battle of Berlin in 1945. As the first days of the war showed, the Russian army overestimated its capabilities while underestimating those of the enemy. This is not new for Russia. It was similar during the first war in Chechnya and also somewhat in Georgia.
The Russia-Ukraine war has in fact continued in Donbas since 2014. After the Kremlin officially recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in war-torn eastern Ukraine, it could have seemed that these two will turn into the military theater. Yet Putin decided otherwise. The military theatre in Donbas is fundamental for three reasons. Firstly, this is where Ukrainian forces have been for years now and are best prepared for defensive. Secondly, Russian forces could advance northwest, heading from Donbas towards Kharkiv to back soldiers that invade the city from the east. Thirdly, an assault group is advancing on Mariupol along the coast of the Sea of Azov to join troops moving forward from the Crimean peninsula.
Moscow did not achieve its goals on the first day of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces successfully slowed the Russian attack on land while the Russian air and rocket forces did not cripple Ukrainian command.
The Russian president could have stopped at recognizing the so-called people’s republics in occupied Donbas, saving his face and leaving the current crisis behind him. However, all indications are that the war with Ukraine was already planned last fall. Russia’s absurd demands to NATO and the US were only an excuse to strike Ukraine.
As shelling intensified in eastern Ukraine, Russia is accusing Ukraine of drafting an offensive plan and evacuating “civilians” from Donbas while it staging an “all-out mobilization” in what is known as “people’s republics,” a new chapter of the Russia-Ukraine war is just about to begin.
The trip that the German chancellor paid to Kyiv and Moscow failed to ease tensions in eastern Europe. In fact, Scholz made Zelensky a kind of disservice by agreeing with the Kremlin on the need to fulfill all commitments under the Minsk agreements and by claiming the Ukrainian president would be prepared for potential concessions. Vladimir Putin felt empowered to attack Ukraine and blame Kyiv for not having implemented what is known as the Minsk agreements.
Russia held its February 19 strategic nuclear drills to intimidate Western countries. Amid Russia’s planned invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is warning the United States against getting involved in the conflict. The drills served also a propaganda purpose in Russia to add up to the war atmosphere and convince people around the country about Moscow’s military might and an alleged threat posed by Western nations.
The European Union would be able to cope with disruption to gas imports from Russia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. The top EU official said infrastructure development, by adding new pipelines and interconnectors, and individual contingency plans in recent years meant Europe was better equipped to increase deliveries of liquefied natural gas. One example is Spain that boosted its LNG supplies in recent months, which could serve as a role model for the entire bloc.
Russia is now seeing an array of drills that serve as a tool to pressure Ukraine and the West. What should arouse a particular interest is a navy exercise in the Black Sea. Its scale and flotilla, as the latter includes amphibious assault ships that sailed from the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, suggests that Russia’s military showcase could play its role in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gazprom has nominated former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to join its board of directors. He already holds several posts related to the Russian energy sector: the former chancellor is chairman of Nord Stream. Schroeder, who was the head of the Social Democrat-led German government, is also a board member at Russia’s top oil producer Rosneft.
A flotilla of Black Fleet vessels alongside some warships of the Baltic Fleet and the Pacific Fleet started drills in the Black Sea. What may raise concern is that the last of them are large amphibious vessels while such a military operation could be one of Russia’s offensive options. Blocking a few seas is a serious obstacle to maritime trade with Ukraine.
In the shortest meeting in its history, OPEC+ decided to increase the collective production by 400,000 barrels per day (bpd). The ministers of the OPEC+ alliance, who met via video conference, agreed in just 16 minutes on the monthly production hike. The decision to keep the gradual output increase despite growing global demand made oil prices soar rapidly. The leaders of OPEC+, which are Saudi Arabia and Russia, will each have a quota of 10.331 million bpd in March.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin went to China to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics, he signed a pile of economic deals with China, also on energy. A gas supply deal was inked, among other contracts.
Russia and Belarus have begun joint military drills dubbed the Allied Resolve 2022, moving up 30,000 troops to the theater in the country’s south near the Ukrainian border. At the same time, Ukraine kickstarted its Blizzard 2022 military exercise in the northern part of the country that borders Belarus. On February 13, Russia will start maneuvers in the south, close to Ukrainian waters.
A flotilla of Russian amphibious ships of the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet passed to the Black Sea, which makes a navy operation against Ukraine quite likely. But it is just the beginning of Russia’s massive navy buildup––by deploying some of its vessels, the Russian navy seems to plan a deterrence strategy against NATO forces.