Michael Weiss and James Rushton report:
A year ago today, Ukraine was under attack from three directions in what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told his French counterpart, who was still not yet convinced that the invasion had begun, was a state of “total war.”
Kyiv, we were confidently told by officials and analysts alike, had at most three days before it fell to Vladimir Putin’s invading army, airborne, special forces and naval troops and Russian tanks, accompanied perhaps by a triumphant Putin himself, moving unimpeded down Khreschatyk, the main thoroughfare of the Ukrainian capital.
“You have only a few hours left” was the assessment of Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner, to Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk immediately after the first Russian tanks began rolling across Ukraine’s northern border. In the run-up to the war, the German government had gone to extreme lengths to placate Moscow, even requiring British transport aircraft delivering NLAW antitank rockets to fly a circuitous route in order to avoid overflying German airspace.
Much has changed in a year.
The United States has upgraded its defensive weaponry provisions from antitank missiles to one of its most sophisticated and sensitive pieces of equipment, the PAC-3 Patriot air defense system — arguably the most definitive statement of confidence in long-term Ukrainian survival than any political statement. Washington is now also sending M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and Germany is sending its own Leopard-2s or allowing a dozen or so European nations to reexport them.
After months of terrorizing cruise missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure, meant to freeze and darken Ukrainians into submission, the streets of Kyiv are now quieter than ever. Ukraine’s state energy company Ukrenergo recorded no outages or energy shortages for the week of Feb. 17.
The only Russian tanks visible to passersby are charred skeins of metal on display in front of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral, a living exhibit of successful Ukrainian resistance and humiliating Russian defeat. Instead of Putin, U.S. President Biden made it to Kyiv on Monday, saying at a joint news conference with Zelensky: “This is the largest land war in Europe in three-quarters of a century, and you’re succeeding against all and every expectation except your own.”
Yahoo News was in Kyiv in January 2022, in the weeks preceding Russia’s invasion. The general mood was tense and perplexed but not quite panicked. Almost all in government, military and intelligence roles queried about the likelihood or inevitability of war were skeptical Putin would go through with it because they were confident it would be a catastrophe — for him. Putin “will choke on Ukraine,” said Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s former deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.
As of this writing, Russia has lost nearly half of its entire stock of tanks, either destroyed or captured on the battlefield. Close to 200,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured, according to the latest U.S. and European estimates. Putin’s original invasion force was around 160,000. More than half the territory Russia conquered in the early days of the war — 2,000 square miles — Ukraine has now retaken.
Ukrainian gains have also come at a steep price.
Western officials estimate that Ukraine has suffered up to 100,000 killed, wounded, or missing in action. After a pitched and symbolically rallying last stand in May, Ukraine lost the port city of Mariupol, a major industrial center on the coast of the Sea of Azov. This seizure of Mariupol and the fall of surrounding territory enabled Russia to gain a valuable “land bridge” to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which it illegally annexed in 2014.
So far, the war has been devastating to Ukraine’s economy and infrastructure. The Kyiv School of Economics estimates the current damage to be close to $140 billion, a figure bound to increase as the fighting continues. The human costs of the war are even higher.
A common refrain among Ukrainians is that the best of their society is being sacrificed as a matter of sheer survival. Artists, writers, ballet dancers, engineers and businesspeople from across the country have already been sent into battle and lost.
Russia, meanwhile, has mainly mobilized its provincial poor and disenfranchised minorities. Some Russian press estimates claim that as many as 700,000, the majority of whom are comparatively wealthy elites, have evaded conscription by fleeing Russia. Moscow has even resorted to emptying its prisons to make up for its military personnel shortages. [Continue reading…]