Morning Brief

Foreign Policy’s flagship daily newsletter with what’s coming up around the world today. Delivered weekdays.

Russia Intensifies Assault on Ukraine

Recent setbacks obscure the fact that Russia’s military still has plenty to throw at Ukraine.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A destroyed Ukrainian armored personnel carrier in Kharkiv.
A destroyed Ukrainian armored personnel carrier in Kharkiv.
A man looks at a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier that was destroyed as a result of fight not far from the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 28. SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The latest on the war in Ukraine—Russia’s missing air force, Turkey invokes Montreux Convention wartime provisions, the fights ahead, and the growing refugee crisis.

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


Russian Forces Bear Down on Kyiv

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The latest on the war in Ukraine—Russia’s missing air force, Turkey invokes Montreux Convention wartime provisions, the fights ahead, and the growing refugee crisis.

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


Russian Forces Bear Down on Kyiv

Russian forces are getting in position to encircle the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, U.S. officials warned on Monday, as the civilian death toll rises in the six-day-old war.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, came under intense missile fire on Monday, killing nine and injuring 37, according to the city’s mayor—attacks Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called a war crime.

The strategic city of Mariupol in Ukraine’s south has been surrounded by Russian troops. Should that city fall, Russia will have gained control over essentially all the Ukrainian territory on the Sea of Azov, from Crimea in the south to the Donbass region in the east.

And although Ukrainian forces have put up a fiercer fight than expected, the Russian military is far from bogged down, as a 40-mile-long military convoy snakes its way toward Kyiv.

Russia is also yet to deploy the vast majority of its air support, preferring to use artillery and ballistic missiles to inflict damage. In a RUSI commentary, Justin Bronk explores why Russia’s air assets have largely remained grounded so far. As Bronk observes, the air force could be waiting for a shift in strategy, which appears to have focused so far on limiting civilian casualties, to one that allows for the kinds of indiscriminate bombing tactics employed in the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs.

However, the entry of Russia’s air force won’t necessarily be a hammer blow. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Seth Jones and Philip Wasielewski wrote in a January preview of a possible invasion, Russia has limited experience of an air operation of the size Ukraine presents. It’s also the first time since World War II that its air force will need to consider a modern opponent, considering its relatively unopposed operations in Syria and Chechnya.

The war is only in its sixth day, and despite well-publicized setbacks, the tide could still turn in Russia’s favor even if it takes a while. The U.S. capture of Baghdad in 2003, considered one of the quickest advances in recent military history, still took three weeks—and even then, the U.S. military came up against a much more demoralized force than Russia faces today.

Military analysts warn that Russian frustration could lead to harsher tactics. “Russia’s political leadership is still not conceding their plan’s failure, trying to take Kyiv quickly,” CNA’s Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military, wrote on Twitter in a thread assessing Russia’s actions so far. “But we’re seeing them open up greater use of fires, strikes, and air power. Sadly, I expect the worst is yet ahead, and this war could get a lot more ugly.”

The talks. Any chance of a halt to hostilities is still out of the question for now, as Russia-Ukraine peace talks failed to reach a resolution after five hours of discussions on Monday. Russia’s lead representative said they had found “certain points where we forecast common ground” and said talks would continue in the coming days.

Russia may now demand that Ukraine forswear not just NATO but European Union membership after Zelensky launched a diplomatic Hail Mary and formally applied to join the bloc on Monday. But as prospective members Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey know too well, the road to EU membership is not a quick one.

The fight ahead. If peace talks fail, a grim battle is likely to ensue. John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at the U.S. Military Academy’s Modern War Institute, spoke to Foreign Policy about the challenges Russia and Ukraine will face if the fighting turns to an urban insurgency.

More from FP’s reporters:

•Robbie Gramer and Mary Yang on the U.S. closure of its embassy in Minsk as Belarus takes a more overt role in the Ukraine war.

•Amy Mackinnon on the unprecedented scale of economic sanctions the West has unleashed against Russia

•Colum Lynch on the expulsion of 12 officials from Russia’s mission to the United Nations after the Biden administration accused them of espionage.


What We’re Following

State of the Union. For many Western leaders, the war in Ukraine comes at an opportune time, allowing those presiding over sputtering economic recoveries, scandals, or elections the chance to recast themselves as wartime decision-makers.

U.S. President Joe Biden will grasp that chance tonight when he delivers his first State of the Union address to U.S. lawmakers. The speech has already seen a substantial rewrite since Russia’s invasion and will include a rebranding of his Build Back Better initiatives after they ran aground in Congress.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will deliver the Republican Party response following Biden’s address, and, in a signal of Biden’s domestic troubles, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib will also respond to the speech on behalf of the progressive wing under the umbrella of the Working Families Party.


Keep an Eye On

Turkey invokes Montreux. Turkey’s balancing act among NATO, Russia, and Ukraine continued on Monday after the government used the word “war” to describe the Russia-Ukraine conflict and then took the dramatic step of implementing its special powers under the 1936 Montreux Convention, warning all countries against sending their warships though the strategic Dardanelles Strait and the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar said Monday that the country would implement Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the treaty, which give Turkey sole discretion over which ships can enter the straits if the country is at war or considers itself threatened by war.

While Montreux’s wartime provisions don’t necessarily stop all Russian warships from transiting the strait, as long as they are returning to their registered naval bases, a more muscular Turkish assertion of its Montreux powers could. Although Montreux permits vessels belonging to belligerent states to return to their bases, Article 21 states that if Turkey is not at war but feels threatened by “imminent danger of war … Turkey may deny this right to vessels of war belonging to the State whose attitude has given rise to the application of the present Article.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the step had been taken to prevent the “Russia-Ukraine ‘crisis’ from further escalating.”

Turkey’s move comes as its Bayraktar drones help Ukraine destroy Russian military equipment and provide additional propaganda value with each ensuing video release. Writing in Middle East Eye, Ragip Soylu explores why the Turkish drone has so far evaded Russian air defenses.

Refugee movements. On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that almost half a million people had already fled Ukraine to Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in what the UNHCR called a “fast-growing refugee emergency.” The U.N. will today launch an appeal for donors to fund humanitarian work in Ukraine as well as to support those refugees.

The relative speed and ease with which Ukrainians have been able to enter EU countries has not been lost on critics, who have highlighted the hypocrisy of European nations that just recently had been shutting their doors to Afghan refugees. The African Union has led criticism of the treatment of Africans trying to flee Ukraine and called on nations to “show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs. Comments are closed automatically seven days after articles are published.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.