Two years after the Russian invasion, some myths have been dispelled, but new ones have taken hold.




Two years ago, Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, premeditated, full-scale invasion of Ukraine based on several myths, including that Ukraine was not a “real” country and was militarily weak, and that the West was in disarray and would do little to stop him.

Ukrainians quickly destroyed some of these myths, along with much of Russia’s invading forces. Ukrainians preserved their capital, their leadership and regained much of the territory seized by Russian forces in the early days of 2022, albeit at terrible cost. And the West responded by imposing serious (if insufficient) economic sanctions on Russia and providing significant (if somewhat delayed) military assistance to Ukraine.

Other myths, however, linger to this day and new ones have popped up more recently, particularly in the debate in Congress over whether to continue U.S. aid to Ukraine. As Republicans who served in top national security positions, we’re particularly concerned when we hear some of these myths repeated by Republicans.

So here are four myths about Ukraine that you might have heard, and some of the reasons they are untrue.

Myth One: Ukraine Cannot Win

Let’s start with the big one, the myth that U.S. support will feed an endless war with no possibility of Ukrainian victory.

Ukraine has performed heroically and successfully. It has regained huge swaths of territory seized by Russia starting in February 2022. It should not surprise us that the remaining 18 percent or so is the hardest to regain. Had the West provided Ukraine the weapons the country’s leadership had requested early on — from missile defense systems and long-range missiles to fighter jets and tanks — this war might look a lot different.

The Ukrainian military has been creative under fire, coming up with ways to counterattack that have surprised the enemy. Russia’s vaunted Black Sea Fleet has essentially been forced out of Sevastopol as Ukraine claims it has disabled a third of Russia’s ships, enabling exports to resume through the Black Sea. Ukraine has also inflicted huge losses on Russia’s military, cutting its conventional capabilities in half, according to estimates from the U.K. chief of defense and the U.S. Director of Central Intelligence. According to Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Russia has lost 8,300 armored fighting vehicles in Ukraine; this includes 2,600 tanks, 5,100 armored

personnel carriers, and 600 self-propelled artillery units. That equipment takes time to replace. In addition, Ukraine has called Russia’s nuclear bluff by launching deep strikes against key infrastructure targets inside Russia without incurring any nuclear response.

Russian personnel losses are approaching 400,000 dead and wounded. It is a mistake to assume that there is no breaking point for those Russians sent to the front lines who are essentially cannon fodder. Already there are signs that Russia will have trouble with a new round of mobilization.

Much of this was achieved thanks to assistance from the West. U.S. support for Ukraine consists of less than 4 percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget and yet the return on investment for the Ukrainian people and for us has paid off handsomely. Without expending a single American soldier, we have reduced the military potential of Russia, an adversary which the National Defense Strategy of 2022 described as an “acute” threat to the United States.

Of course, it would be helpful if the Biden administration were more clear in defining the goal of a Ukrainian victory instead of the current nebulous “as long as it takes” objective. But we agree that the best strategy for the United States should be Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat — driving every Russian occupying soldier off Ukrainian territory, holding Russia accountable for the war crimes it has committed, and seizing Russian frozen assets to help cover the cost of the destruction Putin has caused.

If we learned nothing else from the initial full-scale invasion two years ago, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate the Ukrainians’ ability, bravery and determination to win, or overstate Russian military prowess and operational virtuosity. Despite a very difficult and painful two years, Ukrainians by large majorities believe they can achieve victory. At this point, the main factor determining whether Ukraine wins or loses is assistance from the West and, in particular, the United States. If “Ukraine is left alone,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted during the Munich Security Conference, “Russia will destroy us.”

Myth Two: It’s Time for a Cease-fire

The “endless war” myth feeds into another myth, which is that now is the time to reach a cease-fire or armistice.

Recent reports and Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin have suggested that Russia is interested in negotiations. These stories are belied by Russian actions on the ground, including the apparent execution of wounded Ukrainian POWs in Avdiivka and the continued bombardment and killings of Ukrainian civilians, atrocities denied by Russian officials.

Nobody wants this war to end sooner than Ukrainians do — they, after all, are the ones doing the fighting. But Ukrainians are rejecting territorial compromises and negotiations with Russia because they know that Putin has a long track record never abiding by agreements he signs. Nor do free Ukrainians want to consign millions of their fellow citizens in occupied areas to living under repressive Russian control. They and the world have seen, from Bucha to Mariupol, the war crimes and crimes against humanity, even genocide, that befall Ukrainians under Russian control.

A cease-fire would give Putin time to reconstitute his badly diminished forces so that he could threaten Ukraine, and possibly other countries, again. It would expose the United States as weak and unreliable, lacking the willpower and ability to sustain an assistance campaign that, remember, does not involve sending our troops into harm’s way. And it would embolden bad actors elsewhere in the world who would see, just as with the reckless withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, a United States in retreat and open season for the targets of their aggression.

As German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently wrote, “Russia’s brutal attempt to steal territory by force could serve as a blueprint for other authoritarian leaders around the globe. More countries would run the risk of falling prey to a nearby predator.” Recent assessments by Danish and Estonian intelligence believe Russia is gearing up to enable attacks on NATO members within the next five years. This is not a theoretical threat.

Myth Three: Ukraine Is Hopelessly Corrupt

Next, there’s the myth that Ukraine is a corrupt country led by neo-Nazis and therefore aiding Ukraine is throwing good money away.

In 2019, Ukrainians by a landslide elected the country’s first Jewish president, Zelenskyy, after previously having had a Jewish prime minister. Countries who elect Jews as their top leaders are most assuredly not “Nazis.” In fact, according to an Anti-Defamation League survey, Ukraine has experienced a significant drop in antisemitic attitudes in recent years.

Corruption has plagued Ukraine, like the rest of the former Soviet Union, for decades, but Zelenskyy was elected on an anti-corruption campaign. While there was dissatisfaction with his lack of progress on this front before February 2022, he and his government have cracked down significantly on allegations of corruption. Perhaps more importantly, tolerance for corruption among Ukrainians after the full-scale invasion has dropped significantly. The process of fighting corruption started 20 years ago but went through fits and starts. But Putin’s full-scale invasion changed that and spawned zero tolerance for such behavior.

Despite frequent complaints from members of Congress, there are actually more stringent monitoring mechanisms for U.S. aid for Ukraine than for almost anywhere else in the world. Oligarchs and government officials are being held accountable for corrupt behavior, reflecting significant progress. The former minister of defense, Oleksii Reznikov, was dismissed from his post, not because he personally engaged in corruption, but because he didn’t do enough to address it in his ministry. Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch who had backed Zelenskyy’s 2019 presidential campaign, has been arrested on corruption charges. When it comes to corruption, today’s Ukraine is not the same as the old Ukraine.

What’s more, unlike in Russia, Ukraine has a democratically elected president, accountable to the people. Ukraine holds free and fair elections and has experienced multiple democratic transfers of power. Among Ukraine’s greatest strengths are its vibrant civil society and media. And most Ukrainians support the country’s orientation toward the Euro-Atlantic community, including

heightened backing for joining NATO and the European Union. Much of that rise in support is attributable to Putin’s invasion.

Myth Four: Ukraine Is the Wrong Priority

This brings us to the final myth that hangs over the war: namely, that supporting Ukraine distracts us from where we should really be concentrating our efforts — China and, since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, the Middle East.

China unquestionably poses a major challenge to the United States and our allies in the Asia-Pacific, especially Taiwan. But it is Russia that has invaded a neighboring state — for the third time following the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the two invasions of Ukraine, in 2014 and 2022. China hasn’t (yet). Putin’s invasion has already created the greatest security crisis on the European continent since World War II. By contrast, the military threat China poses is still prospective.

A clear Russian defeat in Ukraine will make conflict with China less likely because it will discourage Chinese leader Xi Jinping from considering military action against Taiwan. The Taiwanese know this and for that reason are among Ukraine’s biggest supporters. The support we give to Ukraine does not by and large subtract from the kinds of military readiness we need in the Asia-Pacific.

The simultaneous drawdown of support for Ukraine and Israel after Oct. 7, however, has underscored the need to address the parlous state of the U.S. defense industrial base and its ability to mobilize production of key munitions now. In fact, the supplemental request would enable us to ramp up our military industrial base to reflect the kind of world we are in right now.

Moreover, the burden for helping Ukraine is shared by our European allies more than some of the rhetoric might lead you to believe. In dollar terms, Europe is providing more economic assistance to Ukraine than we are and just recently approved an additional $54 billion in aid. As a percentage of GDP, the United States ranks 15th globally in terms of security assistance provided to Ukraine.

But U.S. military assistance is indispensable and irreplaceable. We need Europe to help us with the China challenge. Beijing’s support for Russia — which includes financing its war effort and supplying key dual-use components for its defense industries — has drawn attention to the fact that the problems of European and Indo-Pacific security are linked.

The bottom line for lawmakers of both parties is that our Ukraine fatigue is dangerous not just for Ukraine but for ourselves. Ukrainians are bearing the burden of defending not just their freedom, but ours, against a mutual enemy whose murder of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny only proves how dangerous and despotic he is. Ukraine has never asked that we send our men and women to fight for them — but they need our weapons, desperately. They have earned our support by tackling corruption, defending their democracy, and proving their value as an ally.

The delay in Congress to approve funding for Ukraine is increasingly demoralizing to Ukrainians, as well as deadly. Ukraine is running low on weapons and ammunition and is having to ration its supplies. “The shortage is increasing day by day,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, reportedly wrote to a top EU official recently. “The enemy’s ability to outshoot the Armed Forces of Ukraine by more than 3:1 is only getting worse.” All this is shaking Ukrainians’ view that we are a reliable ally.

This problem can be addressed by passage of the additional assistance for Ukraine. Such a move would be a huge morale boost to Ukrainians — and a huge blow to the Russians, whose leaders and mouthpieces in the media — Russian and Western — have concluded that we will abandon Ukraine.

We must prove them wrong. Navalny gave his life to oppose Putin’s barbarity. Supporting Ukraine and defeating Russia is the least we can and should do.


Eric S. Edelman was undersecretary of defense for policy, 2005-2009 and is counselor at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

David J. Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova from 2005-2008.