Six Months of War in Ukraine


Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Angola’s election, raids on Bolsonaro supporters in Brazil, and Viktor Orban’s war against meteorology.

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Ukraine Celebrates Independence Amid War

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re following Angola’s election, raids on Bolsonaro supporters in Brazil, and Viktor Orban’s war against meteorology.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Ukraine Celebrates Independence Amid War

Six months after the first barrage of airstrikes that launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world has changed. Alliances, worldviews, and energy markets have been tested while Europe has experienced its largest refugee crisis since World War II. As Ukraine celebrates its continued independence after half a year of war, it is also bracing for further attacks as Russia seeks to retaliate for the assassination of Russian journalist Darya Dugina—a crime the Kremlin has, without credible evidence, blamed on Ukraine.

A united front? So far, the United States and Europe have largely stood together in the face of Russia’s invasion, enacting sweeping sanctions against Moscow and eagerly assisting Ukraine’s military. NATO is on the brink of expansion, as Sweden and Finland are poised to join the alliance, the latter’s accession set to expand the group’s border with Russia by more than 800 miles.

That united front faces its greatest test this winter, as gas supplies come under strain and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leverage over the continent grows. For now, Europeans are feeling the pain in their wallets, but questions surrounding the effectiveness of sanctions may multiply as the cold sets in.

Developing countries, which on the whole have tried not to pick a side in the war, are also feeling the strain as high food and energy prices collide with already challenging debt burdens.

The human toll. The official civilian death toll, gathered by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), counts 5,587 civilians killed since the war began in what the organization admits is likely a considerable undercount.

Ukraine’s government estimates that at least 140,000 homes, apartments, and other residential buildings have been destroyed in the war so far, leaving 3.5 million people homeless.

And although the massacre at Bucha grabbed global headlines, that amounts to only a sliver of the total number of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces, which Ukraine counts at a staggering 25,000. Prosecuting those crimes will be a challenge; Justin Ling laid out a possible course of action in Foreign Policy earlier this month.

Ukraine’s refugee exodus, which prompted many European governments to reverse their usual anti-immigration stances at the outset of the war, has seen some recent reversals. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR counted 10 million border crossings into the EU from Ukraine over the course of the war, but has also seen 4 million head in the other direction. That recent shift is unlikely to be permanent trend, as officials warn that the ongoing war and cold winter months could soon see more heading west to safety.

On the battlefield. As for the war itself, both sides can claim to be ascendant. While Russia’s proclaimed goals have shifted over the course of the war, its latest aim—articulated by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in July—to seize Ukraine’s southern regions as well as its eastern Donbass region has been steadily progressing.

But Ukraine has plenty of victories it can point to, from a stirring defense of Kyiv in the war’s early days to its recent brazen attacks deep behind enemy lines in Russian-annexed Crimea.

As Ukraine marks its independence today, celebration is not on the agenda. As FP’s Jack Detsch and Mary Yang report, the streets of Kyiv are likely to be quiet. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has banned any festivities and ordered government workers to stay home as the city prepares for the possibility of missile strikes hitting the capital for the first time in weeks.

What We’re Following Today

Angola votes. Angolans go to the polls today in presidential and parliamentary elections, which are set to challenge the MPLA party’s unbroken rule since the country gained independence in 1975. As FP’s Nosmot Gbadamosi writes in this week’s Africa Brief the vote is “likely to be the tightest race since Angola became a multiparty state in 1992.”

More weapons for Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to announce a further arms package for Ukraine totaling $3 billion as soon as today, according to reports. The new weapons add to the $10.6 billion in military assistance the United States has pledged since Russia’s invasion began.

Keep an Eye On

Najib in jail. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak began a 12-year prison sentence on Tuesday after a court rejected his final appeal in a case stemming from the 1MDB money-laundering scandal. Considering Najib’s deep political connections, the case was seen as a test of Malaysia’s commitment to the rule of law. Najib, whose father was the country’s second prime minister, is the first former Malaysian leader to see prison time.

Brazil’s raids. Brazilian police on Tuesday raided the premises of eight businessmen linked to President Jair Bolsonaro following a news report suggesting the men were open to backing a coup should Bolsonaro lose in October’s presidential election. The search warrants were issued by the Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes, the head of Brazil’s electoral authority, who also called for the businessmen’s bank accounts to be frozen and social media accounts blocked. Bolsonaro’s sons have denounced the raids as an abuse of power and an act of censorship.

Odds and Ends

Don’t rain on Orban’s parade. Two senior weather officials in the Hungarian meteorological service have been fired after an off-the-mark forecast prompted the postponement of a fireworks display.

Expected extreme rains last Saturday meant the traditional St. Stephen’s Day fireworks display on Budapest’s stretch of the Danube River was moved to this weekend instead. When the rain never came, Hungary’s pro-government media attacked the forecast as “gravely wrong,” and soon Kornelia Radics and Gyula Horvath, numbers one and two at the National Meteorological Service were gone.

The decision has sparked a standoff between the Hungarian government and the weather service, which has demanded the two officials be reinstated. The service has complained of coming under “political pressure” over its weather modeling and that those political figures “ignored the scientifically accepted uncertainty inherent in meteorological forecasts.”

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