How Ukraine must change if it wants to win

How Ukraine must change if it wants to win

Anne Applebaum writes:

On December 29, Russia launched the largest missile attack against Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion. On January 2, another attack of the same magnitude hit schools, hospitals, and apartment blocks across Ukraine. Early yesterday morning—the day after Orthodox Christmas—the Russians hurled yet another missile barrage at Ukraine. Together, these attacks sent a message: Russian President Vladimir Putin is not interested in negotiations, cease-fires, or swapping land for peace. Although he cannot overwhelm Ukraine militarily, Putin now believes that he can keep up the pressure, destroy Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, wait for Ukraine’s allies to grow tired, goad the Ukrainian public into turning against the government, and then win by default.

Often, this new phase of fighting is described as a “war of attrition,” as if the only thing that will determine the outcome is the number of bullets. But although the number of bullets does matter, the war has an important narrative and psychological component too. Alongside the bombings, Kremlin officials are now telegraphing to everyone—to Western politicians and journalists, to Ukraine, to the Russian people—that they can absorb 300,000 casualties and massive equipment losses, that their country’s economy is thriving, that they are willing to devote half of the national budget to defense production indefinitely. At the same time, the Russians and their supporters in the United States and Europe describe Ukraine as corrupt, politically divided, and, above all, certain to lose. In Washington, some Republicans justify their (so far) successful attempt to block American aid to Ukraine by using this language. Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister who courts investment from Russia and China, does the same when blocking European aid.

Ukrainians know that negotiations with Russia are fruitless, and in any case not on offer. They also know that military loss still means the same thing that it meant when Russia invaded in February 2022: occupation, mass repression, concentration camps, and the end of an independent Ukraine. They also know that the Russians are much weaker than they claim. Their soldiers still stumble into traps; their commanders still seem to be improvising. The Russian public is tired of the war and of the falling living standards it has created. Nevertheless, to beat the Russians militarily and psychologically, to undermine the Russian propaganda repeated by Orbán and the MAGA right, to maintain their alliances and defend their territory until the Russians have had enough, they have to change. [Continue reading…]

Comments are closed.