“I am an expert and Ukraine is doomed.”
The internet is forever, and 2022 has littered the web with predictions now badly past their expiration date that Moscow’s overwhelming military would crush Ukraine in days and that Kyiv would be foolish to resist.
Typical was a Jan. 21 piece in Foreign Policy, a highly respected magazine often considered the printed voice Washington D.C. conventional wisdom, with blaring headline “The West’s Weapons Won’t Make Any Difference to Ukraine.” On Feb. 22 the German Handelsblatt reported: “The Ukrainian army is much stronger than in 2014 – but against Russia it has hardly a chance.” On Feb. 24 German General Hans-Lothar Domröse told ZDF Television that Russia’s force advantage was overwhelming: “Ukraine has no chance of winning.”
On the ground, Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv on the fly with a smash-and-grab coup de main attack. The assault stalled in traffic jams and muddy roads, and then was picked apart piece by piece in road and forest ambushes by Ukrainian anti-tank gunners. Domröse and other NATO experts had rated them unable to operate high-tech NATO kit effectively, but as it turned out, Ukrainian infantrymen defending Kyiv found British NLAW and American Javelin missiles easy to use and excellent for burning Russian tanks.
In the air, Russian bomber and missile strikes hit dummy Ukrainian aircraft as the actual Ukrainian air force shifted to alternate bases. Russian airborne assaults on two Kyiv airfields were cut to pieces by Ukrainian infantrymen firing NATO-standard hand-held missiles and hammering landing Russian paratroopers with artillery. In one of the worst single Russian military disasters to date, at Vasylkiv air base, a Ukrainian trooper firing a US-made Stinger missile shot down a cargo plane loaded with more than 300 elite Russian parachute infantry, along with their equipment.
As the Russian blitzkrieg ground to a halt against fierce Ukrainian resistance, a small army of high-profile international observers, elected officials, and weighty publications weighed in to explain that, although Russia hadn’t won in a few days like the Kremlin had promised, Ukrainian resistance was futile because Russia was still going to win. Ukraine should do the right thing and surrender, many argued.
On March 7 British columnist Jonathan Steele wrote in Counterpunch magazine “Ukraine’s Grim Choice: Why Surrender May be the Honorable Option.” On March 17 U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga) told Salon magazine “They (Ukraine) cannot possibly win.”
“Ukraine is not Afghanistan in the 1980s and even if it were, this war isn’t going to last 10 years – more like 10 weeks,” wrote widely read columnist Niall Ferguson in a March 22 opinion piece published by the Bloomberg news agency. On April 7, the very Congress-friendly magazine The Hill published an independent opinion: “The war is not yet over, but Ukraine has already lost.”
In early April the Russian army cut its losses and abandoned Ukraine’s north, allowing Kyiv’s forces to liberate four regions and at least three million Ukrainian citizens from Russian occupation. In doing so, the Ukrainians exposed evidence of mass murders: hundreds of Ukrainian civilians at the hands of occupying Russian troops.
Images, graves, corpses, eyewitness accounts, and other evidence of civilians being executed in the pleasant commuter communities of Bucha, Hostomel and Borodyanka put paid to the Kremlin’s narrative of a friendly Moscow takeover of neighboring Slavic territory and galvanized mainstream Western support for Ukraine. But outspoken opinion was still out there, even as proof of Russian war crimes and atrocities mounted, that Ukraine’s only smart move was to surrender to the Russian army immediately.
American political philosopher and longtime government critic Noah Chomsky in an April 17 Current Affairs magazine interview told Ukraine’s leaders they “must pay attention to the reality of the world.” On May 24 no less than Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War-era U.S. Secretary of State, and by some accounts the dean of American foreign policy thinkers, argued Ukraine must cede territory – and the Ukrainian citizens living there – into the hands of the Kremlin so the fighting might stop.
In May, as Western artillery began arriving in quantity and Russian attempts to ford the strategically critical Siversky Donets River broke up, time after time, under vicious concentrations of 155mm NATO-standard artillery shells, James Rickards, editor of Strategic Intelligence, was arguing in a late May blog "Ukraine is losing the war...Russia is making steady progress."
Seemingly ignoring a flood of reports of disastrous Russian river assaults and images of burnt out tanks and the corpses of Russian soldiers littering at least six river fords, Erich Vlad, a military expert and retired Bundeswehr Brigadier General, on May 21 told Deutschlandfunk television the Ukrainian army is basically incompetent: “The Ukrainian military lacks the multiple capacities needed to recover captured (by Russia) territory,” the former German tank officer said.
Simultaneously Ukraine-based media, Kyiv Post among them, were widely reporting that the Ukrainian army had engineered a small tactical revolution by combining NATO cannon, volunteer-supplied drones, crowd-funded information sharing, and Elon Musk’s Starlink communications system to make Ukrainian cannon crews capable of hitting a Russian tank or infantry squad two or three minutes after it was spotted, and sometimes faster.
Over the summer the Russian army shifted objectives and kicked off a campaign to conquer Ukraine’s Donbas region. The assault ground to a halt against heavily dug-in Ukrainian defenders, and by August the Kremlin’s campaign to “liberate” the Donbas had deteriorated into inconclusive and bloody infantry fighting over bits and pieces of ruined villages. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a longtime Kremlin friend, on July 29 tacitly conceded Russian progress was stalled, but argued that NATO’s strategy of supporting Ukraine with arms, money and supplies was nonetheless unworkable. “This war cannot be won in this form,” he said.
But by fall most professional opinion-givers had gone silent, leaving the field open for others to voice views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
English musician Roger Waters, co-founder of the world-renowned rock group Pink Floyd and an outspoken critic of British and U.S. foreign policy, weighed in on Sept. 9 with a somewhat peculiar open letter to Ukraine’s First Lady, calling on her to influence President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender territory to Russia so the fighting could stop.
Pink Floyd is much loved among Ukrainian music enthusiasts, but Waters’s bid to end the war was widely panned. A Kyiv Post reporter in Kharkiv sector in October told a squad of Ukrainian territorial infantry about Waters’ note. They hadn’t heard about it. Their comment on the entertainer and his opinions were unprintable.
With the war in its 11th month, some have had time to re-calibrate their views. German political scientist Richard David Precht in March said: “Naturally Ukraine has the right to defend itself, but also a responsibility to be intelligent, and to understand when it should surrender.” Ukrainian capitulation would save lives, he argued. In June, Precht signed a public letter arguing Ukraine could not prevail against Russia and should make concessions to get a ceasefire. But in November Precht told the German newswire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur that Ukraine’s defenders, it seemed, fought much harder, and the Russians more poorly, than he had expected.
“In this respect, I naturally made the wrong assumption that it’s not worth defending yourself if the war is lost in a week or two. You can see how wrong you can be,” Precht said.