Is Ukraine Really Winning?

By: Evan Robinson

In recent weeks, you may have heard someone ask; is Ukraine really winning the war? This is a complicated question without a definitive answer. Indeed, Ukraine, in recent weeks, has taken back territory that Russia previously occupied, and President Zelensky made a monumental visit to such territory, signifying both a symbolic and quasi-victorious moment. Furthermore, some pundits have written in publications such as the Atlantic that “Russians are not fighting back,” and cities occupied by Russia since 2014 are on the brink of being re-captured by Ukraine. This is all good news as it proves that with western assistance, a strong will to fight, and the lack of full-out commitment by Russia’s rank and file, Ukrainian victory, despite their vast inferiority militarily, is possible. However, we should remain cautious when any pundit pre-emptively declares or predicts a Ukrainian victory. First, things can change. Although the recent weeks have been assuring for Ukraine, wars can change fast, and Putin’s announcement that reinforcements are being deployed could make it increasingly difficult for Ukraine. In addition, although the war seems to be losing support within Russia, it is still popular, which may give Putin the political capital he needs to continue the fight. Second, President Putin has appeared to double down. In a speech, Putin essentially declared he would do anything to win and that nothing was off the table. As experts have long feared, the use of nuclear weapons now appears to be a feasible option for Russia. Finally, we must ask: can Ukraine be “winning” after thousands of civilians have been murdered, their infrastructure has been depleted, and much of their educated, young, and female populations have been forced to flee the country? I believe these three phenomena make it difficult to declare, as Anne Applebaum does, to “prepare for Ukrainian victory.”

Although Putin is getting desperate, his call for 300,000 military reserves is concerning. It both signifies he is willing to do whatever it takes to win but also guarantees the further loss of life and continued defence Ukraine has to put up. In Putin’s speech, where he announced the mobilization of troops, he attacked the west, saying they were trying to destroy Russia and would use all the means necessary to protect themselves. He then added, in what set off alarms worldwide, “This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.” According to one scholar, this rhetoric can be interpreted as a last-ditch attempt to scare the west to back away from their support of Ukraine. Regardless of Putin’s intentions behind the speech, Ukraine should be worried as they would have no means to protect against such an act. Although many might think Putin would surely not use weapons of that scale, as we have previously written in this blog series, under judging Putin’s intentions has been a fatal flaw of the west for years.

 

It is essential to look at war through multiple lenses. The first lens must be a purely objective view. For example, if Russia does not gain control of sovereign Ukraine territory and fails to achieve their invasion goals, then tactically speaking, they have lost. However, this is a very narrow view of war. The other lens–––pragmatically speaking, tells us Russia has increased their misinformation capacity, they have killed innocent civilians, they have bombed hospitals, lost many of its men who disagreed with the war, and ruined its economic opportunity and global relevance––hurting regular people. Likewise, Ukraine has had millions flee or be killed, had its infrastructure decimated, and will need to spend the better part of the next decade re-defining itself after this war. Due to this, it is difficult to claim victory for either side, although Ukraine can always celebrate its potential liberation from Russian tyranny. Still, the challenges Ukraine will face due to the unjustified invasion will be substantial.

 

I encourage everyone to keep supporting Ukraine until the day the war can be officially declared over. Preemptive or predictive statements may help us gauge where the battle is, but as Putin’s speech in the last week highlights, the future is uncertain. It is not helpful that many in the media are making it seem like the war is winding down or Ukraine has won because it is not valid. We have no idea when the war will end and how it will end. Putin is an unpredictable force, and his previous willingness to inflict absolute brutality on Ukraine should not be overlooked.

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