Photo Credit: The Presidential Office of Ukraine
By Lois Ramilo
On February 4th, 2022, Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor Ukraine through a “special military operation.” Now, almost a year later, little has changed geographically, minus the huge displacement of Ukrainians and the overall destruction. But a simple look back would showcase the details that came into play, from Ukraine’s surprising defense, Russia’s military ineptitude, and the unified response from the West when the conflict shows no signs of slowing. Here are some things we can take away from the first year of the Ukrainian conflict.
Ukraine’s Davidian Resistance
Going against one of the most formidable military powers in the world, Ukrainians– under the leadership of President Zelensky– have put up a surprisingly unexpected fight. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the conflict reached a stalemate when many expected Ukraine to crumble against Russia’s seemingly superior forces. The impact of Ukraine’s strong sense of unity and nationalism was underestimated as it motivated high rates of men to join the troops and garnered strong public support for stauncher resistance efforts. Statistics show that over 70% of Ukrainians favored fighting to win, with over 90% defining victory as reclaiming all territory taken by the Russians. This unified agreement of “all or nothing” consequently gave Zelensky’s government greater freedom to enact costlier measures and fully invest in its military capacities. It was this resilience combined with access to Western military resources that made Ukraine a formidable opponent and able to hold its ground to this day.
Russia’s Goliathian Mistakes
While Ukraine exceeded initial expectations, Russia seems to be falling short. Previously considered a strong military superpower that rivaled even the U.S. and China, Russia and President Vladimir Putin were expected to easily, if not eventually, take over Ukraine. Many military experts assumed the conflict would only last a couple of days before Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, fell into Russia’s hands. After Russia’s initial success, largely due to surprise, it began to stumble due to the lack of quality troops and the expiration of militaristic talent, resulting in the ultimate forfeiture of the formerly conquered territory.
For every bit of credit given to Ukraine’s impressive defense and consequent counter offensives, an equal amount of credit is owed to Putin’s heavy underestimate of his adversary’s capabilities. From miscommunication to botched coordinated attacks, Russian military blunders proved to be costly, with casualties in various assets and over 200,000 soldiers killed or wounded. The lack of coordinated air support along with sluggish advances ultimately set the stage for the major superpower to be caught off guard by Ukraine’s surprising Kherson and Kharkiv counterattacks last August and September. Constant failures and the high number of casualties have begun to sow seeds of discontent within Russia as its military becomes more desperate for men and artillery. Putin has also been heavily under fire and looks to pose a more relentless fight in an attempt to gain back all he has lost and save face, for it is not only Ukraine he and Russia must go up against, but also the unified West.
Biden and the West’s United Support and Assistance
Ukraine’s impressive stand did not come on its own but instead heavily relied on the support of the West, especially the United States. Well before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine had been aligning itself more with the West, by conducting military exercises with NATO and Zelensky making impressive appearances across Western institutions, like speeches at the European Union or at the U.S. Congress. Throughout the war, the West has been committed to supporting Ukrainian sovereignty through the increase in foreign aid, like artillery and even, most recently, tanks. The U.S. alone has provided over $50 billion, with no signs of it decreasing. The Biden administration has been successful in keeping the West largely on the same page, not just with its support for Ukraine but in the cohesive sanctions placed on Russia. Despite the loss of one of the world’s main energy providers, the West has been adapting. As life becomes normalized without a Russian presence in energy production, banks, or the world market, the leverage Russia has in forcing Western powers to halt Ukrainian assistance decreases. While Ukrainian assimilation into the West certainly has its limits, the U.S. and Europe’s united response is a hopeful sign of their commitment to protecting global democracy and independence.
Though 2022 certainly had a mix of successes and failures, the Ukrainian conflict remains an uphill battle for independence. In January, the Ukrainian government experienced a series of corruption scandals that led to the resignation of several high-ranking Ukrainian officials while Russia looks to regroup and seems to be planning a major move to regain lost territory. With the new Republican majority in Congress, discussions are being made to rethink the U.S.’s “blank check” support. So much remains to be seen of this year but, if one thing is for sure, this war is far from over.
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