War in Ukraine: Lessons of 2022 and Outlook for 2023

Alexey Eltchaninoff is in Poland now.

In the middle of the night of February 24, 2022, explosions at the Hostomel airfield near Kyiv marked the outbreak of a new war in Europe, which would soon exceed in scale and atrocity any since WWII. You can call it “Russian aggression,” or just “Putin’s war.”

Those in Moscow who had planned the invasion were misinformed about Ukraine’s true military capacity and selfless resolve. The evil planners expected the smaller country to be overwhelmed and succumb in days or weeks to what they considered the ‘world’s second strongest army’.

However, almost a year after that horrible night, which overturned millions of lives, Putin’s victory has not happened at all and almost certainly never will. Such triumph as originally expected is all but unimaginable today. Even though Putin’s generals have ordered multiple missile attacks against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure—too many of them unfortunately successful—the initial goals of the invasion are far from achieved.

Clearly, Ukraine will neither give in to the Kremlin’s demands nor agree to freeze the conflict. That would inevitably mean another round of war as soon as Putin’s militarized state heals its wounds and refills its resources. Ukraine will continue fighting against all odds, knowing that all developed nations will keep supporting her as long as necessary. A favorable pro-Russian sentiment that was still perceptible among a portion of Ukrainians at the beginning of this year—despite the preceding eight years of a proxy conflict in Donbass—has understandably disappeared and will not come back. Does anyone in Moscow believe they could impose their will on a country that has suffered so much from the war that they started?

Putin’s strategists conceived another scenario to weaken the West, particularly Europe, by cutting gas supplies from the rich Western Siberian fields while creating a refugee crisis in the eastern part of the European Union. Again, this destructive goal appears unattainable: European nations have filled their gas storages almost to the brim, partly owing to the warm autumn. Even if the winter is cold, people in these countries will not freeze in the dark, no matter what Russian TV channels say. The flow of Ukrainian refugees is perceptible yet manageable; those highly motivated and hard-working people are not flooding European cities or afflicting them adversely.

Ukraine’s resolve to fight remains unrelenting, while the Western countries continue to support her sovereignty and her pro-Western historic choice. It also looks implausible that Putin will press the nuclear button. Probably, the leaders of the most influential Western nations, as well as India and China, have let him understand that this reckless step, no matter its magnitude, is the ultimate red line that, if crossed, would bring irreversible and devastating consequences for the perpetrator.

Why does then the war continue? Perhaps Putin’s regime sends its people to death for one basic reason—to let its kingpin keep face. Raised in a poor neighborhood of Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, Putin has often cited the ‘laws of the street’ as his guiding principles; he has always sought popularity and support among ‘common’ people who also share those principles, according to which you either win or you lose.

There is no third option. Losing or admitting defeat is not an option for him—at least until the propagandists produce a credible explanation that the defeat is in fact a ‘victory’.

We cannot predict how or when the war will end, but it is unlikely to outlast Putin’s regime. Rather, the regime may find a way to freeze the conflict again, as it did with the war in Donbass time and again. In the latter case, the Kremlin will persecute its opponents even harder, diverting public attention from its own losses and deepening economic hardships to ‘internal foes’.

The year 2022 has taught us again that history is totally unpredictable and does not repeat itself in detail. Perhaps we’ll wake up one morning and learn that the war has suddenly ended in some unexpected manner. Now, however, our predictions are but blind guesses and wishes. But anyway, isn’t peace the best wish we all could make for the coming year 2023?

Peace Magazine 2023-01-01

Peace Magazine 2023-01-01, page 34. Some rights reserved.

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