Why Putin’s Russia must not be allowed to win the war in Ukraine

24 Feb 2024

It has been two years to the day since the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Russia, yet events in Gaza have relegated this vital conflict in Eastern Europe down the global political and media agenda.

In 2022 the world watched on as Russia built up its forces along the Ukrainian border both in Russia and Belarus, and then – naively – looked on with disbelief as the Kremlin’s lies about a training exercise were exposed by its troops marching towards the Ukrainian capital.

It is increasingly clear to see that Putin’s Russia is a rogue country that needs to be opposed. They are authoritarian and fascist. They do not follow the international rules of law and warfare. They are a modern imperialistic empire that is trying to dominate regional sovereign countries and subjugate them.

At the outbreak of the war, I listened to my friends in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, talk of hearing the artillery and missile strikes on Odessa. They watched as hordes of refugees streamed over the borders of Ukraine to Moldova, Romania, Poland, and other countries. I helped my Moldovan friends organise blankets, food, clothing, and homes to stay in for the dispossessed and things looked bleak.

Tanks and troops rolled south from Belarus towards Kyiv, west from Russia into and beyond Sumy and Kharkiv and attacked Mariupol, and north from Crimea towards Kherson and Mykolaiv.

However, the war has evolved significantly since the start. The initial view taken by many commentators was that this was going to be a short war, a war that Russia was going to win very easily. The Ukrainian defenders showed the Russian invaders – and the rest of the world – that they were not going to be rolled over in the way that happened in 2014 when Russia invaded and seized control of another part of its territory, Crimea.

Modern weapons systems, like the Javelin anti-tank missile and next generation attack drones, from NATO countries helped stem the attacks coming from Belarus and Russia. The stout Ukrainian defenders went on in the first year to push the attackers out of Kyiv, while also defending Odessa and Mykolaiv.

In a stunning autumn counteroffensive during the first year, the Ukrainian armed forces retook Kharkiv in the northeast of the country and then managed to push the Russians out of Kherson to the south and back across the Dnipro River.

That first winter was difficult for the people of free Ukraine. They had lost a lot of territory despite the counterattack and then Russia undertook a sustained aerial assault against the power system and cities of Ukraine.

Russia attempted to bomb Ukraine back into the dark ages, but the defences of Ukraine, aided and upgraded by its allies, held firm. The international community beyond NATO came together to supply modern weapons and training to the Ukrainian people, bolstering their armed forces.

During this time, the Russians were throwing thousands of men at the defences of the strategically unimportant town of Bakhmut. Wave after wave of its own sons thrown into the meat grinder until it finally captured the now destroyed ruins of the town.

As Ukraine was building up its army and learning about its new weapons, Russia was busy building defences designed to protect the stolen land it had captured in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts. The war slid into a trench conflict highly reminiscent of the First World War. For all the progress we may have made over the last century, men in Europe still ended up digging trenches and shooting across no man’s land.

A strip of muddy land and destroyed trees fought over time and time again, covered in the blood of attackers and defenders alike. One group fighting for freedom and the very soul of their country and the other trying to make territorial gains in the hope of rebirthing the Soviet Union and to allow Vladimir Putin to claim he is ‘making Russia great again’.

The second year of war, which Russia is still euphemistically calling a ‘Special Military Operation’, started with hope that Ukraine could continue the advances that they had started the previous autumn and push Russia out of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, clearing a path to the sea of Azov and splitting the Russian forces in half. Unfortunately, the military supplies pledged from Ukraine’s allies took longer to arrive and integrate than hoped for, and by then the Russian defences were too well established to breakdown quickly. Despite this, the Ukrainian army did manage to move forward in several places on the southern front through a series of small battles towards the vital town of Tokmak.

The Ukrainian forces have managed to open a beachhead on the left bank of the Dnipro River after the terrible flooding caused by the illegal destruction of the dam by the occupying Russian forces. Opening this new front caused the Russian army to commit resources away from the other fronts in the conflict.

Avdiivka, a town that is a commuter suburb of the captured city of Donetsk, is the latest Ukrainian enclave to come under sustained attack by Russian forces and, like Bakhmut, they are throwing men at it as if they have no value.

The disregard that Russia has for the lives of its own soldiers shows the world the price that it puts on human life. The Ukrainians have a good defensive position within the town and the Russians are trying to encircle it and cut off supplies. Things are now looking very perilous for the defenders.

Since the start of the war, Russia has suffered an enormous number of losses with significantly over 300,000 injured or killed troops, over 2,200 tanks captured or destroyed, along with 4,400 infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers, as well as having dozens of drones and missiles shot down. Despite essentially having no naval forces, Ukraine has managed to sink or damage several Russian warships, landing craft, and patrol boats. They have caused major damage to one of the Russian submarines and rendered Russia’s only warm water port of Sevastopol unusable to the Russian Navy. Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu stated the country's military actions in Crimea in 2014 were justified by the danger of "takeover of Russian military infrastructure” and this has been negated.

Iran is a major supplier of attack drones for Russia, while another Moscow ally, North Korea, has given 1 million artillery shells. To combat this, Ukraine’s backers need to increase the amount of consumable military supplies the provide, like missiles, shells, and bullets. Ukraine needs more anti-aircraft defences, more tanks, more infantry fighting vehicles, and more training as well as medical assistance.

Most of all, two years on from the invasion Ukraine needs to know that it is not standing alone against this fierce aggressor.

From the start of the conflict, Russia’s armed forces have been committing war crimes. We have witnessed the massacre of innocent civilians in the town of Bucha, just outside Kyiv, in the first few weeks of the invasion, and massive attacks on civilian infrastructure. Add to this, the estimated 200,000 child abductions and 414 civilian deaths in Izium.

The catalogue of destruction, both human and environmental, continues. There have been extensive reports of rape and torture, including Russian troops carving swastikas into the foreheads of captured soldiers. Russia also destroyed the major dam at Nova Kakhovka, flooding swaths of prime farmland, towns, villages, and a nearby city as well as, allegedly, boobytrapped a nuclear power plant.

No one can doubt that Russia is in breach of multiple international laws and is an ongoing danger to its neighbours and other countries. If Russia wins the war in Ukraine, either by forcing Kyiv to accept its current territorial gains in a 'land for peace' settlement or worse, to capitulate more completely, Putin will become emboldened and Moscow’s neo-imperialist ambitions will be difficult to contain, with Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia perhaps the next targets.

The impact for NATO and the West would be wider still: China will have a military template for its Taiwan dispute, whilst other rogue and authoritarian states, such as Iran and North Korea, will be encouraged to become even more hostile to Western interests. And that, perhaps, is one of the key things we in the West should be reflecting on deeply on the second anniversary of Ukraine’s invasion.

Too many people view the Ukrainian War as a remote conflict that has little material bearing on our lives. Yet if the West, its freedoms and its democratic values stand for anything in 2024, and if we care about global stability, the international rule of law and the West remaining as a global force for good, then we must ensure Ukraine repels Russia completely from its borders. There is too much at stake for anything else.

Arran Angus is a local Liberal Democrat Campaigner for Grove Green

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