December 1, 2022
Putin’s failure in Ukraine is rooted in his flawed belief in Russian military superiority and that Russia defeated Hitler. But the facts are that Ukrainian resilience and courage played a key role in degrading Germany as it moved east toward Moscow. Half of all casualties sustained by all Soviet Union republics during the Second World War were Ukrainian. The toughest battles took place in Ukraine where cities and villages were razed to the ground, Kyiv was held under siege for months, and millions were enslaved and then deported to work camps in Germany. Its population plummeted from 41.7 million in 1939 to 27.4 million by 1945. One in four soldiers in the Soviet forces was of Ukrainian origin, a disproportionate number of its generals were, and 2.5 million Ukrainians were awarded commendations and medals at war’s end. And yet, in 2010, Putin claimed that the Second World War could have been won without Ukraine [or America’s lend-lease aid] and stated that it “was won because of Russian industrial resources.” This historical revisionism convinced him to attack on February 24 and will result in Russia’s defeat.
Putin’s other myth has been that Russians are great strategists when it comes to chess and war. But Ukrainians have outplayed them despite having fewer pieces and a late start. For example, Putin’s underestimation of Ukraine convinced him to send only 150,000 troops to conquer the place – compared to the 600,000 Russian troops that were sent into tiny Czechoslovakia in 1968 to quell its independence movement. After February 24, the Ukrainians scrambled and were able to prevent Russian tanks and convoys from capturing their capital city. Ukraine then quickly formulated winning strategies on the fly. Its priority was to control the “narrative” globally which has captured European and American support and gained access to NATO’S arsenal of weapons. Its population was mobilized, women and children were evacuated, its army of technology and engineering professionals was harnessed, and now in less than one year Ukraine has built a well-trained and efficient armed force of one million, Europe’s largest and most innovative military.
Putin bombed and destroyed cities and villages as he quickly grabbed territory, but he now retreats. He has lost geopolitically as well as on the battlefield and Russia’s economy is collapsing. His only remaining advantage is that he has “escalation dominance” over Ukraine because Russia’s nuclear arsenal prevents NATO from direct involvement. In recent weeks, he’s shifted tactics and now attempts to bomb Ukraine into submission by killing civilians and destroying its energy infrastructure. Countries are now shipping systems to protect Ukraine’s airspace and major NATO members are now considering sending long-range missiles to Ukraine so that it can destroy the warships and sites inside Russia where attacks are coming from.
What’s unique is that Ukrainian resolve strengthens with each attack. A recent poll showed that more than 90 per cent of Ukrainians want to become part of the European Union even if it requires another two or three years of war. Despite bombardment, they remain fearless and uniquely ingenious. Ukrainian literacy rates are the highest in Europe, its engineering expertise is recognized, and the country’s IT sector is second to none. As a result, Ukraine’s army has
impressed the world with its inventiveness at utilizing drone technology and the ability to adapt, repair, and enhance new and old weapons. Days after massive recent attacks, destroyed infrastructure was being replaced, bypassed, or repaired, and the government began rolling out “invincibility centers” to provide food, water, medicines, shelter, arctic-weight sleeping bags, thermal clothing, blankets, heat, and charging facilities.
Factories have mostly ground to a halt, but Ukraine’s government has encouraged Western defense contractors to build pop-up weapons plants in neighboring NATO countries to protect them from Russian missiles, shorten delivery times, and tap skilled Ukrainian workers and technologists living there as refugees. American and British military contractors have geared up production for the winter. By contrast, Russia’s armaments industry is at a stand-still due to sanctions which prohibit the import of components and technology. Moscow now only imports weapons from Iran and North Korea.
Ukrainian soldiers are superior compared with Russian conscripts who are poorly trained, demoralized, and dying in large numbers, an estimated 100,000 so far. Morale remains high among Ukrainians but support for the war ebbs in Russia, as coffins arrive from the front and sanctions adversely affect everyone’s lives. One million Russians fled the country after the war started, whereas reports in Ukraine are that even Ukrainian soldiers with three children or more who are entitled to leave, remain to fight on.
“Russia has only enough missiles left to do three or four more major strikes,” said a Ukrainian parliamentarian recently but some maintain that is wishful thinking. If true, however, Putin’s “scorched earth” strategy will come to an end by spring. And Putin’s “allies” now publicly call for negotiations to end the fighting. China has done so, Turkey has established a backchannel for talks, and Israel for the first time stepped in to assistant Ukraine militarily. Its defense minister publicly warned Iran against sending any more missiles to Russia to replenish its stockpile and stated that, if Iran helps, Israel will supply high-precision ballistic missiles to Ukraine to use against Russia.
So how does this all end? Paradoxically, Ukraine’s defiance and Russia’s escalation dominance are obstacles to talks, but also incentives. Russia is running out of ammo, but Ukraine is not. And Israel’s recent threat to Iran to desist from helping Russia is distinctly helpful, as is NATO’s abiding support for Ukraine along with the possibility it may send Patriot missiles. This means the state of play is as follows: Russia will escalate but Ukraine won’t submit; NATO and America will stay the course and defer to Ukraine to decide if negotiations are appropriate. Kyiv’s terms are that Russia must completely withdraw and pay reparations. Crimea is not an exception even though some believe that letting Putin retain the Ukrainian peninsula is a face-saving exit strategy. But given the unprovoked carnage and stoicism of Ukrainians, that’s not an option that its people would tolerate. Therefore, this war will continue until terms are met, which means Putin must go.
As the war drags on, Russia will implode, as happened in 1991. Its people face economic hardship and will continue to be shunned and reviled globally until their government makes amends. Russia’s foreign exchange savings have been seized and will be confiscated by
Ukraine’s allies and used to rebuild Ukraine. And finally, Putin will be toppled or hobbled — ironically brought down by the same heroic Ukrainian nation that he thoroughly underestimated.
Ukrainians believe they will drive out Russia by 2023, possibly by the spring. Until then, or beyond, the country will endure and keeping fighting. They remain committed and cohesive because, as Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelensky said recently, “without victory there can be no peace”.