Putin needs to recognize his effort failed. The increase of manpower, weapons and funds to the Russian action in Ukraine is immoral and unstrategic. Instead of aiding its international position, Russia has solidified its status as a declining power.
China has replaced Russia as the most significant threat to the United States. Russia is a shell of a country. Its economy has been declining, clinging to a Cold War-era nuclear arsenal. Reports of new modernized weapons (like Status-6) come only from the Kremlin.
But Russia’s decline has become personal for Putin. To save his country and himself, he invaded Ukraine. It was a last-ditch effort to regain domestic public support and international credibility.
After a year of fighting, there is a moral imperative for Putin to end his war. The Russian population is fleeing the nation rather than fighting for the cause. Millions around the world are suffering from malnutrition and food insecurity. Others are paying unprecedented premiums for energy. The civilian population in Ukraine is facing horrendous war crimes. History will not look at the war favorably. There is no winner.
However, most argumentative analyses of Ukraine need a more substantial background. First, Putin chose Ukraine — as opposed to other former Soviet states like Belarus or Estonia — because of its symbolic power.
In the ninth century, Russia and Ukraine were a part of the first Slavic state, Kyivan Rus. The two states’ histories are continuously intertwined. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began expanding in Europe, including Ukraine. As a result, the Ukrainian language and religion were banned and replaced by Russian Orthodoxy.
When the Soviet Union emerged, Ukraine resisted falling behind the Iron Curtain until 1917. Then, after a famine — perhaps orchestrated by Lenin — and civil war, the USSR provided much-needed aid to Eastern Ukraine. However, European countries like Poland and Austria-Hungary supported Western Ukraine, starting a long divide between the two regions.
After the collapse of the USSR, Russia maintained political control over Ukraine. Many of the USSR population inhabited Ukraine, making it a high-priority country. In 2004, the Orange Revolution pushed Ukraine away from Russian power. In 2008, there were talks of Ukraine joining NATO: A pro-Western sentiment was growing. Although it was vastly popular, the Russian-backed candidates continued to amass power. In 2014, the president cut ties with the European Union, which stirred up discontent among Western Ukrainians. In the process, Ukraine became the symbol of the fight between Russia and the West.
History also shows that Putin had some basis for thinking he would have support. Several provinces held local elections in Eastern Ukraine that indicated they would like to return to Russia. Liberating the provinces in Eastern Ukraine was why Russia attempted to annex Crimea in 2014. Russia largely failed. The annexation ended in a peace deal. After that, the tension in the Baltics would escalate. The US and Russia continued to build troops in the region and prepare for conflict.
When Russia invaded a year ago, they hoped its “special military operation” would be easy. Instead, troops moved towards Kyiv but were forced to retreat. Western countries heavily sanctioned Moscow. After a month of fighting, 400 or so Ukrainians have died while suspicions of Russian war crimes gain credibility. After the initial difficulties in Kyiv, Russia switched its focus towards Donbas — one of the pro-Russian provinces which attempted to leave Ukraine in 2014. As the war continues, Russia continues targeting Ukrainian civilians. The Ukrainian forces, on the other hand, are surprising world audiences. Ukrainian missiles sank a Russian fleet in April, a symbol of Ukraine emerging as a legitimate military power.
Russia was continuously embarrassed in the war. Finally, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO in the early summer. Russia continuously blamed the enlargement and empowerment of NATO as a reason for invasion: The West was aggressing on their sphere of influence and Russia needed to protect itself. However, their invasion only expanded NATO instead of aiding Russian goals to deter the alliance. The World Bank sent Ukraine $1.49 billion in additional financing to help support public sector workers. The EU also pledged to cut off 90% of oil imports from Russia. But, as Ukraine gathered support, Russia continued to target civilians and launched a missile strike on a crowded mall.
The Russian military was not living up to Putin’s expectations. He was forced to call for reservists — or civilians — to fight. Men of military age began fleeing Russia to avoid the draft. To try and rally support, Russia claims that Eastern Ukraine will become part of Russia because of the pro-Russian community there — if they will be successful in this has yet to be determined.
Zelensky made his first foreign visit, addressed Congress and asked for help protecting his nation’s democracy in December. Before Christmas, Putin announced Russia is willing to negotiate an end to the conflict. However, since then, it seems this has not been the case.
The start of 2023 saw Russian success for the first time in months. Donbas was still Russia’s focus.
Now, the future of the conflict is unknown. Rumors of a spring offensive continue to spread. Last month, Russia appointed a new and aggressive commander, Valery Gerasimov. The nation’s nuclear strategy involves the highly controversial doctrine “escalate to de-escalate,” meaning they would use nuclear weapons if they thought it would end the war.
What is known, however, is that Russian aggression has spiked the cost of food and energy, also creating inflation and economic uncertainty. Following the effects of COVID, the consequences of war have been devastating across the globe. And Putin has not prevailed in the way he intended. Concession is the only way to both help suffering populations and allow Russia to regain any of its power. Any further aggression by Russia only allows the international community and the US to respond directly. If Russia couldn’t handle the Ukrainian military, American ICBMs and F-35s might pose an existential threat to the state.
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