February 21, 2023

A Year Into Russia’s Full-Scale Aggression Against Ukraine – Some Relevant Takeaways

AP Photo / Scanpix
AP Photo / Scanpix
US President Joe Biden (left) walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral during a visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 20, 2023.
US President Joe Biden (left) walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral during a visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, February 20, 2023.

As of now, Russia has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery pieces and other equipment on a large front in Ukraine, forcing a breakthrough in the Donbas region. The Kremlin knows that it has a limited window of opportunity, even if it is not yet fully prepared, before Ukraine starts to receive far more capable Western tanks and infantry combat vehicles, air- and missile defence systems, extended-range anti-ship missiles, and likely combat aircraft. 

It is a fight for survival for both Ukraine and the Putin’s regime. There will be no (meaningful) negotiations until one side retakes successfully the initiative. Russia has little chance to achieve more -in the coming weeks- than keeping the presently occupied territories, unless Ukraine’s spirit and defence collapse before the Western tanks etc. arrive, which is unlikely. Thereafter, it would be Russia’s turn to counter Ukraine’s liberation offensive.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine started about nine years ago, but the last year has clarified many important matters, in spite of the uncertain future, particularly related to the outcome of the war. First, Russia’s nature under the Putin’s regime is obviously aggressive, both domestically and internationally. That will not change, likely also after Putin leaves the political scene. NATO, and especially Russia’s neighbours have to reckon with this reality.

Secondly, Putin’s Russia is uncompromised and unreliable. It could have sought a way out in March or April 2022, perhaps even later, but it did not. Total inflexibility and diktat cannot be called negotiations or willingness to seek peace. Russia started this war and continues to conduct it in a barbarous fashion. It is therefore for Russia to stop it, not anyone else and at Ukraine’s expense. Furthermore, the Kremlin deceived everyone, including the Russian people, by declaring days before the invasion that it does not plan to attack anyone. Russia has broken all possible instruments of international all, and virtually all the promises that it has given.

Thirdly, Russia behaves like a gangster-state. Russia, including its armed forces, is deeply corrupt, also morally. In fact, the state is governed like a mafia-type organization. Its language and behavior correspond to this assessment. For example, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said –before the expiration of the deal on the grain export corridor- that Russia could no longer guarantee the safety of the grain ships. Against whom? Who else, besides Russia, would have been able and ready to attack and sink the grain ships? This is the language of mobsters.

Fourthly, Ukraine’s future is Europe’s future. By supporting Ukraine, we –NATO and EU allies- strengthen our own security. Moscow’s defeat must be materially at great cost for Russia, and morally deterring for decades to come. Victory in these terms cannot be achieved with minimal assistance to Ukraine that is rather sufficient for survival/resistance than for liberating the country and defeating Russia. Europe’s future security architecture is firmly based on NATO and the EU. Russia has no right of veto in European affairs. Future dialogue is possible only after Russia has clearly and sustainably changed for the better, even if that would take many years.

Fifthly, Russia’s economic separation from the West and the continuation/ strengthening of sanctions is the only reasonable and effective way to respond to Russia’s aggressiveness, and to attempt to limit its capability to wage war. Economic cooperation has a profound political background, whether we want it or not. The grand scheme of avoiding confrontation and conflict through trade and business clearly collapsed.

Last but not least, China and some other countries support Russia politically and economically. Countries like Iran and North Korea (and of course Belarus) also militarily. Many UN members prefer to remain “neutral”, although neutrality in such a black and white situation suggests sympathy for the Kremlin. The democratic West is engaged in a new cold war against the undemocratic world. China and Russia have been active for many years in a new scramble for Africa. Many African nations/governments show clear anti-Western and Russian-supportive moods, while they depend largely on Western aid. Why? And why does the West continue to support them if they behave as they do?

Views expressed in ICDS publications are those of the author(s).

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