VFour months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, troops from both sides have locked horns in eastern Ukraine. Thanks to their gigantic superiority of troops and material, the attackers are gaining ground, but are only making slow progress against the stubborn resistance of the Ukrainians. The successes of Ukrainian counterattacks in the south of the country around Cherson are limited and often short-lived.
At the moment, neither the Russian regime nor the Ukrainian leadership have the necessary forces to quickly decide the battle militarily. For the Kremlin, taking Kyiv, which was obviously planned at the beginning of the war, is a long way off. At the same time, it is far from certain whether the Western arms deliveries promised so far will enable the Ukrainian military to liberate the areas occupied by Russia.
The situation looks like a stalemate, but in reality Russia has the advantage. It has the bigger army. Its economy has only been weakened by Western sanctions. The situation in Ukraine, on the other hand, is weakened by the occupation of large parts of the country, the destruction of war and the flight and expulsion of about a quarter of the population. Without Western help, Ukraine will succumb to this war of attrition.
Putin wants to wipe out Ukraine as a nation
The claim by opponents of arms sales that these would prolong the war is therefore not necessarily wrong. The mistake lies in the assumption that a speedy end to the war through a Ukrainian defeat, or even a freezing of a front line right through Ukraine, will bring peace, end human suffering and save the rest of Europe from escalating its own conflict with Moscow.
Statements by Vladimir Putin, Russian propaganda incitement and the practice of the Russian military in the occupied territories leave no doubt that the Kremlin’s goal is the annihilation of the Ukrainian nation. Their existence is perceived in the Kremlin as a mistake in history caused by hostile powers with malicious intent, which should be removed by force. The Ukrainians are to be made into Russians by force.
A Russian occupation of Ukraine or indirect Kremlin rule over the country would result in a regime of terror reminiscent of the dark ages of the 20th century. Many Ukrainians would not accept that without resistance. The occupiers’ difficulties in gaining control of southern Ukraine give an idea of what a simmering trouble spot a Russian-ruled Ukraine would become for a long time to come. The effects would be felt across Europe.
Freezing is not a solution
Even a standstill on the fronts would not lead to peace. If in the eight years since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine there had been shooting almost every day along a 400-kilometer-long contact line in the Donbass, this would now be the case over a distance of a good 2,500 kilometers. In this way, too, Putin would eventually achieve his goal of destroying Ukraine. Your free part would have no chance of reconstruction and economic development under these conditions. Who invests in a country where residential areas, transport routes, power plants and factories are always in danger of being shelled?
There is currently no prospect of a formal ceasefire anyway. The Kremlin does not want to negotiate, it is demanding Ukraine’s surrender. Putin’s spokesman has just confirmed that a peace plan can be discussed once Ukraine has met all of Russia’s demands. The Ukrainian leadership cannot accept that. The population is demanding a continuation of the resistance. The Ukrainian soldiers and their families, the people who fled the contested and occupied territories, have paid too high a price to give up the fight now. In the occupied territories – that’s what everything sounds like from there – very many are hoping for liberation.
Therefore, as long as the Ukrainians want to fight, the West should do what it can to shift the balance of power on the battlefield in their favor. Whether such efforts will lead to success is completely open. They are also associated with risks that are difficult to calculate. But the only thing that can be foreseen in this conflict is the tragedy that will result if there is no attempt to help Ukraine win. And the greatest risk for Europe would be if Putin won the war and then had the strength for further adventures. Because he also made that clear: his ambitions extend beyond Ukraine.
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