The constant boom of artillery in the near distance is the defining feature of life in the Donbas today. As Russia presses its offensive to take the eastern part of Ukraine, the signs of conflict are everywhere: buildings smashed to ruins by cruise missiles, Ukrainian tanks and howitzers on the highway headed east. The Donbas region, encompassed by a front stretching hundreds of miles and currently the scene of the most extensive fighting in Europe since World War II, is in total war mode.
The Russian military machine, which has overwhelming superiority in artillery, is grinding forward slowly but surely, conquering an additional kilometer or two a day at immense cost to the defenders. Exhausted Ukrainian soldiers speak of weeks of fighting under relentless bombardment, heavily outgunned by an opposing force that has recovered from its initial blunders and is now fighting the sort of war it was designed for. Under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Moscow is pushing on eastern Ukraine a fate much like the one it imposed on another unruly former vassal at the start of Putin’s reign: Chechnya.
The Russian plan for Ukraine is grimly apparent from that earlier template. In a years-long conflict, which began more than two decades ago, Putin destroyed a sovereign state and subjugated its people, creating in its place a land of ruin, chaos, and fear. For that same plan to proceed in Ukraine, a country with a population 40 times the size of Chechnya’s, would be exponentially more ruinous. [Continue reading…]