As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine looms, Western experts and analysts with whom Kyiv Post spoke in-depth, went beyond the usual clichés of “Moscow not winning the war, and Kyiv not losing it.”
Seven interlocutors said that Ukraine is winning, and victory is in sight as long as Kyiv keeps getting the most advanced weapons it needs to expel Kremlin forces.
The full-scale invasion, which began on Feb 24, 2022, is an extension of the initial kinetic phase that started nine years earlier after a pro-democratic, popular uprising in late 2013 and early 2014.
As of Feb. 22, this year, Russia occupies Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and most of the two easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as slithers of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The total occupied area is about 20 percent of 600,000 square kilometers of what is internationally recognized sovereign territory.
“Of course, Ukraine has over-performed, and Russia has under-performed,” said Peter Dickinson, chief editor of the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Media Alert blog. “Ukraine has fought bravely, skillfully and cleverly.”
The Kyiv-based Briton told Kyiv Post that the carnage Moscow is unleashing in Ukraine is in obvious terms a “genocidal war,” one year on.
Moscow’s objective is to “eradicate Ukrainian identity, which is asymmetric because Ukraine is defending itself…it’s a war against Ukrainian culture,” said Andrew Wilson, a historian at the University College London who has lectured and written books on Ukraine and Russia.
After nearly 365 days that has left no region of Ukraine unscathed, the renewed invasion “has descended into a war that [Russian novelist] Leo Tolstoy would have described,” he said.
Russia’s current battlefield tactics are very 20th century – 1940s to be exact – trying to conjure up USSR dictator Joseph Stalin’s use of World War II-era “waves of troops” as they launch frontal suicidal assaults on fortified Ukrainian positions.
It has been reported that WWII-era “punishment battalions” also stand in the rear ready to shoot down retreating combatants, Wilson said.
He added: “This is causing needless lives to die, and by prolonging the war you’re getting a longer war [of attrition].”
Ukraine's key to victory is 21st century – getting the latest-generation arms and materiel that it needs. This is why "the cathartic short-term war” that Ukraine needs has led to Russia weaponizing nuclear arms as a deterrent.
Such a threat from Russia could be a plausible explanation as to why Ukraine’s partners are not giving Kyiv what it requests to eject Russia from the lands it occupies.
In particular, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine is handicapped by its fear of “what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will do,” said James Sherr, senior fellow of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Center for Defense and Security in Estonia. Russia “wouldn’t be making these threats unless they felt that somebody believed them.”
Overall, “Ukraine is going to win the war” if the West continues to provide “what Ukraine wants” but “there is no clarity [of the West’s] strategic outcome” once the war eventually ends and this is causing the gains being made by both sides “to be incremental,” said retired U.S. General Ben Hodges and senior advisor to the Human Rights First nonprofit.
What has saved Ukraine so far is its flexibility and modernized military, which has been constantly training according to NATO standards and battle-hardened since 2014, said Phillip Karber, president of the Washington-based Potomac Foundation.
As for Russia’s numerous reasons for the unprovoked invasion, Hodges said it was “bullsh*t,” regarding Putin’s declared objectives to “de-Nazify and demilitarize” Kyiv, among other unfounded reasons that included investigating U.S. sponsored biological laboratories.
Instead, the war is “genocidal – they’re [Russia] going after cultural symbols, deporting children to Russia…it’s the same as [the forced human famine of] Stalin’s Holodomor in the 1930s,” Prof. Wilson said.
Through blood and guts, Ukraine has finally become “the darling of the West,” some 30 years after regaining independence, said Proessor Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University in New Jersey-Newark.
After a year, the Ukrainian state and nationhave become “much stronger,” he said with a populous that “is consolidated and united.”
For the Kremlin, the “war is a disaster…Russia has become a rogue nation… Putin’s authority is being drained,” Motyl said.
As the events continue to develop, “none of this bodes well for him [Putin], his regime and Russia,” he added.
The political science professor said that Ukraine would be economically “devastated” by the year’s end, but will become “much stronger and consolidated…and perhaps we’ll see the collapse of the Russian Federation, which is good news for Kyiv and bad news for Moscow,” Motyl said.
The multitude of restrictive measures imposed on Russia for its belligerence over the past two decades have failed to alter Russia’s war-mongering behavior, he said. Motyl described them as being “grossly overrated…each time it’s a thousand cuts that only penetrate the thickness of the scar tissue” and Russia rapidly learns how to react.
A report by the Washington-based Free Russia Foundation this month found that the sanctions imposed by more than 30 countries haven’t had their desired effect in terms of neutering Russia’s war mongering.
Predicting how events will transpire moving forward depends on how much weaponry, especially, the latest generation arms, Ukraine receives – and to what extent the Kremlin can mobilize additional troops to keep overwhelming Ukrainian forces.
Putin has, and continues to quietly mobilize, hundreds of thousands more personnel to throw into the front lines who are ill-trained, ill-equipped and poorly led.
“It all depends what the plan is,” said Mitchel Wallerstein, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and former high-level Pentagon official. “Ukraine has performed in an extraordinary fashion.”
He said the best outcome this year would be for Ukraine “to isolate the Crimean peninsula” by launching a counteroffensive in the south and cutting off [Russia’s] land corridor to Mariupol and other southern cities.
“But Russia will fight tooth and nail,” to prevent this, Wallerstein said.
Should Kyiv get longer-range projectiles and advanced arms, “Crimea would be a sitting Pearl Harbor,” said Harber, referring to a U.S. naval base in the Pacific Ocean on which Japan launched a surprise attack during World War II, wiping out an entire fleet in the process.
The worst-case scenario is for “Ukraine to get beat up by Russia in an ugly win to the point of exhaustion,” he continued.
The mid-range unfolding of events is an undesired “stalemate” involving a negotiated settlement unfavorable to Kyiv as in the 2014 and 2015 so-called Minsk I and Minsk II ceasefires that never took hold. They are seen today as a prelude to the next round of increased aggression, Karber emphasized.
“[As for] a miracle win for Ukraine, the U.S. has to show up with more weapons,” for that to happen, he said.
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