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Ukraine Situation Report | 2 December 2022

02 December 2022

Blackouts and freezing temperatures have become a dangerous reality for millions in Ukraine as the country heads into December, still facing daily barrages of Russian strikes targeting key infrastructure. Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure have impacted power and gas supplies in the lead up to winter and have subsequently prompted international leaders to question whether the attacks constitute a war crime, as many Ukrainian civilians now face the risk of dying in freezing conditions. Moscow has claimed its attacks are a justified response to alleged threats and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has even gone so far as to twist the Kremlin’s narrative into one portraying the attacks as being ultimately aimed at minimising civilian casualties.

“This infrastructure supports the combat capability of the Ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions”, said Lavrov in an online news conference this week. Seemingly directing his next comment at the West, Lavrov continued to claim that the waves of missile attacks which have struck Ukrainian energy infrastructure since October aim to “knock out energy facilities that allow you to keep pumping deadly weapons into Ukraine in order to kill the Russians”. The recent barrage has left millions cut off from electricity, heat, and water, while dozens of civilians have died amid the attacks. Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko has urged residents to stock up on food, water, and warm clothing in preparation for anticipated future blackouts as temperatures continue to fall. The West has backed Kyiv’s view that Moscow is using the attacks as leverage to lower Ukrainian morale and attempt to forcibly navigate Ukraine into peace talks on Russian terms. US President Joe Biden and French President Emanuel Macron have both pledged to hold Russia accountable for “widely documented atrocities and war crimes”.

The Kremlin has insisted it remains open to peace talks, but in recent weeks has accused Kyiv of pursuing unrealistic terms. Kyiv has returned the accusation, suggesting Russia similarly refuses to back down on unrealistic ‘non-negotiables’.  Moscow has pushed for Ukraine to recognise Crimea as part of Russia, along with other occupied Ukrainian territories captured by Russian forces amid the conflict. Another key demand is that Ukraine will not join NATO and must demilitarise and “de-Nazify”. The US has indicated a willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Kremlin on the condition that Russian President Vladimir Putin considers the option of ending his war in Ukraine. While Moscow claims to still be open to negotiation, its move to postpone a round of nuclear arms control talks with the US which were scheduled for this week arguably indicates otherwise.

Meanwhile in Kyiv, Ukrainian officials have taken steps to curb the activities of Russian-linked religious groups amid concerns that Moscow-affiliated religious actors could “weaken Ukraine from within” by spreading Russian propaganda. The restrictions come after investigations were launched into a Moscow-linked branch of the Orthodox Church last week, following a raid on a monastery. So far, some 350 buildings have been searched, and around 850 people of interest have undergone checks performed by the Ukrainian intelligence services. Kyiv has also ramped up security at its embassies abroad following a letter bomb incident at its embassy in Spain, which resulted in an employee being injured. Russia has condemned the attacks in Spain - which also targeted the US embassy and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez - seemingly denying any involvement.

As fighting in Ukraine continues along the frontline, territorial gains on either side have slowed considerably as winter arrives. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently described the situation on the front as “difficult”, before expressing concerns that Russia may launch a renewed effort in the south of the country.