Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the way back from hell
by Alexander Ziperovich
It has been a year of fire, raining steel, smoke, bloodshed, and ruination, like nothing since Adolf Hitler’s stormtroopers blitzkrieged their way through Europe in 1940. Likewise, Vladimir Putin’s invading troops have cut a swathe of wanton destruction and murderous carnage, in a war of utterly unprovoked aggression, torturing and slaughtering unarmed civilians, kidnapping tens of thousands of young children, and flattening entire cities into dust, leaving nothing but the charred skeletons of buildings and human bodies where they stood.
And yet for all its unspeakable cruelty, the Russian military has gained pitifully little for its efforts. From the outset, the Russian army has been and remains plagued by dysfunction, disorganization, a dire lack of supplies and ammunition, sunken morale, and truly astonishing numbers of dead and wounded soldiers, estimated to be somewhere north of 200,000 men, to say nothing of Ukraine’s tens of thousands of maimed and dead.
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For that terrible price, Russia has bought itself a tenuous hold over about 20% of Ukraine, in the eastern Donbas region, and a so-called land bridge connecting Russia proper to Crimea, after Ukraine’s withering summertime counteroffensive retook much of what they initially conquered, including Kharkiv and Kherson, the two major cities sacked by Russia in the first days of the war.
Of course, the Kremlin has also secured the undying hatred of the Ukrainian people, their supposed Slavic brethren, alongside punishing geopolitical isolation, and economic sanctions. Millions of middle class Russians fled the country to avoid being drafted during Putin’s “partial mobilization,” leaving behind a severe brain drain that will hobble Russia far into the future.
To call what the Kremlin still coyly refers to as its “special military operation” a debacle rather understates things. It is a historic disaster, a global confrontation that risks starting a third world war, in what would be the nuclear death knell for humanity. Putin has fanned those flames, lacing his speeches with unsubtle threats to deploy his weapons of mass destruction, in a vain effort to keep the West from arming Ukraine to resist his predations.
Still, the Biden administration, along with their European allies, have begun to shake off their fears of provoking the Kremlin, and they’re arming Ukraine ever more forcefully, sending constantly improving military hardware. They’ve sent Patriot air defense batteries, and HIMARS long range missiles; they’ve promised M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and are reportedly considering sending F-16 fighter jets. They’re training Ukrainian troops in Oklahoma, and are continuing to share vital intelligence that’s enabling Ukraine to target and kill Russians on the battlefield.
And yet this war is nowhere near over.
As Russia feeds more and more of its young men into the meat grinder, sacrificing the lives of an entire generation on the altar of Putin’s insanity, he is building nothing better than a monument to the dead, to utterly wasted lives. However, Putin believes his dream of reviving a zombie proto-Soviet-Russian empire out of the ashes of history remains within his reach. He believes that he can simply wait out the Americans, until a Republican more amenable to him retakes office, and the European alliance fractures under the economic and political pressure.
On this first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the onset of the kind of global hostilities not seen since at least the Cold War, and probably earlier, the world finds itself at a critical and dangerous precipice. Both Ukraine and Russia are digging in for a protracted and progressively bloodier fight, with little serious discussion of negotiations, ceasefires, or settlements.
Rather, Ukraine’s Western backers have called on the Kremlin to pull its murderous troops out, and are increasingly comfortable delivering high tech American arms to the government in Kyiv. To mark the one year anniversary, President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, in a potent show of Washington’s mounting support for the Zelensky government.
Meanwhile, both sides are promising fresh offensives. Russia has reportedly already launched its own push to consolidate the Donbas, though if the last few weeks are any indication, that may be a heavy lift. The Russian military remains saddled with dire problems, and continues to suffer incredible numbers of casualties.
Moreover, factional infighting between Wagner mercenaries and the Ministry of Defense continues to worsen, as they duke it out in a bitter public feud over increasingly scarce military supplies. Yevgeny Prigozhin recently posted macabre photos of a mound of his dead men, as he tries to secure ammunition for his fighters, and undercut his enemies at the top of the Russian military.
It’s not exactly a picture of a healthy political nor military situation, and can only be expected to deteriorate as supplies further dry up, and more men perish in the vicious fighting. Of course, the advantage of Putin’s soulless calculus, and his utter disregard for human life, are such that he has no compunctions about sending his young men to die. Diminishing weapons and ammunition are another story entirely, which is why he’s carefully tending to his budding alliance with China.
According to recently released American intelligence, Beijing is seriously considering sending lethal aid to their beleaguered partners in the Kremlin, which has been forced to beg artillery shells off North Korea and missiles from Iran. Washington has warned China of severe repercussions if it follows through, amid rapidly rising tensions between both superpowers.
But if the anti-Putin protests in cities around the world today were any indication, Vladimir Putin’s war is damned unpopular, to put it mildly. Xi Jinping aspires to global leadership, not global pariahdom, like his partner in the Kremlin has achieved for himself. If China began sending weapons to Russia’s murderous forces, Beijing’s meticulously built prestige would melt away just as quickly, and completely. The economic toll would also be grievous for China, amid promised American sanctions and the withering away of trade with Europe.
Meanwhile, China released a 12-point peace plan today that was roundly dismissed as unserious and unworkable, in what amounted to a plan to lock in Russian gains. Of course, Moscow lauded the plan. But if Beijing truly wants the war to end, they might stop supporting the Kremlin politically and diplomatically, and apply pressure to their erstwhile ally to desist from their catastrophic war.
After a year of immense bloodletting, the war in Ukraine is a terrifying reality that shows no signs of abating, or slowing down. Rather, it continues, on and on, as lives are lost, towns are torched, and people are maimed.
The horror seems endless.
Putin’s invasion has rocked the global order, as he attempts to rewrite the global security architecture, and raise the Soviet Union’s lost power and prestige from the grave. His war of national annihilation has thus far failed, due to Ukraine’s fighting prowess and bravery, Russia’s incompetence, and the West’s political and military support.
But as we enter the second year of war, this conflict is every bit as perilous as it was at the beginning. All sides are absolutely entrenched, and after Russia’s countless atrocities, committed so flagrantly and constantly as to blur together, it’s difficult to imagine any Ukrainian government ever negotiating with Putin.
And yet eventually, negotiations must happen. It’s nearly impossible to imagine this war ending otherwise, as the specter of nuclear escalation hovers in the air like an unclean ghost, threatening humanity’s very survival.
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Alexander Ziperovich is a Political analyst and Opinion columnist. He writes about politics, justice, foreign affairs, and culture, dissecting the larger historical and social context behind important events.