Discover more from Diane Francis
December 1, 2022
Putin’s strategic misconception was that he believed that Russia defeated Hitler. But Ukrainians played a more significant a role and suffered half the casualties sustained by all Soviet republics during the Second World War. The toughest battles took place in Ukraine where cities and villages were razed, and millions were enslaved then sent to work camps in Germany. Its population plummeted from 41.7 million in 1939 to 27.4 million by 1945. One in four Soviet soldiers were Ukrainian and 2.5 million were awarded commendations and medals at war’s end. But in 2010, Putin claimed that the war could have been won without Ukraine and stated that it “was won because of Russian industrial resources.” Such Stalinist revisionism convinced him to attack on February 24 and is why he will lose.
Once again, Russians claim they are great strategists at chess and war, but Ukrainians have outplayed them despite having fewer pieces and a late start. For example, Putin’s under-estimation of Ukraine convinced him to send only 150,000 troops to conquer the place – compared to the 600,000 Russians troops that invaded tiny Czechoslovakia in 1968 to quell its independence movement. After February 24, Ukrainians scrambled and prevented Russian tanks and convoys from capturing their capital city, and quickly formulated winning strategies on the fly. Ukraine’s priority was to control the “narrative” globally which captured American support and access to NATO’S arsenal of weapons. Then the population mobilized, evacuated women and children, and now have an army of one million, Europe’s largest and most innovative military.
In less than one year, Putin gained ground initially but has lost ever since, geopolitically as well as on the battlefield. His only remaining advantage is that he has “escalation dominance” over Ukraine -- in the form of a nuclear arsenal -- and is trying to bomb the country into submission. Russia has killed 16,700 civilians, driven 10 million out of the country, rendered another 10 million homeless, destroyed 100 per cent of their energy infrastructure, and dismantled 30 per cent of their economy. But Ukrainian resolve strengthens with each attack and a recent poll showed that more than 90 per cent of Ukrainians want to become part of the European Union even if it requires another two or three years of war.
Ukrainians are ingenious and are the most literate population in Europe. Its IT sector is second to none worldwide, and its army has impressed the West by adapting and enhancing weapons. Its people remain resilient despite energy shortages this winter, and their government installs thousands of make-shift “invincibility centers” that will provide food, water, medicines, shelter, arctic-weight sleeping bags, thermal clothing, blankets, heat, and charging facilities to millions. Ukrainians share accommodation with one another and with the six million relatives who already live in Europe or North America to ride out the war. This winter they will hunker down in cold apartments and dark cities, their schools will remain open, and their surgeons perform surgery by flashlight.
Factories there have also ground to a halt, but Ukraine’s government has convinced Western defense contractors to build pop-up missile and weapons plants in NATO countries to shorten delivery times and to tap skilled Ukrainian workers and technologists living there as refugees. American and British military contractors have geared up production throughout the winter while Russia’s armaments industry is virtually at a stand-still due to sanctions prohibiting the import of components and technology. Moscow can only import weapons from Iran and North Korea.
Ukraine’s other advantage is that Russian conscripts are poorly trained, demoralized, and dying in large numbers, an estimate of dead and wounded totals 100,000 so far. Support inside Russia ebbs, as coffins arrive from the front or as young men go missing. Already, one million have left to dodge its draft. By contrast, Ukrainian soldiers with three or more children mostly decline leave they are entitled to in order to continue fighting. Winter conditions will be difficult for both sides but Kyiv has received winter-proof clothing and equipment from NATO militaries. And Ukraine is protecting its skies and estimates are that 70 per cent of incoming drones or missiles are shot down before they hit targets.
“Russia has only enough missiles left to do three or four more major strikes,” said a Ukrainian parliamentarian but others maintain that’s wishful thinking. If true, however, this means that Putin’s “scorched earth” devastation is coming to an end. China now publicly calls for negotiations, Turkey has established an important backchannel for potential negotiations, and this week Israel publicly warned Iran against sending any missiles to Russia to replenish its stockpile. Its defense minister stated that, if Iran helps, Israel will supply high-precision ballistic missiles to Ukraine to use against Russia.
So what is the likelihood of a solution? Paradoxically, Ukraine’s defiance and Russia’s escalation are obstacles to talks, but also incentives. Russia is running out of ammo, but Ukraine is not. And Israel’s recent threat to Iran to desist from helping Russia is distinctly helpful, as is NATO’s abiding support for Ukraine. All of which means that the state of play is the following: Russia will escalate but Ukraine won’t submit; NATO and America will stay the course, and Ukraine will decide if negotiations are appropriate. Its terms remain constant: Russia must completely withdraw and pay reparations. Crimea is not an exception even though recent indications are that Putin wants to retain the peninsula as part of a face-saving exit strategy. Therefore, the war will continue until he’s gone and terms are met.
Ideally, Russia implode, as happened in 1991. Along the way, however, its people will face economic devastation, as serious as Ukrainians now face, and continue to be shunned and reviled globally. Russia’s savings will be confiscated to rebuild Ukraine, and the wider world will rejoice at the demise of the worst terrorist since Adolf Hitler, ironically brought down by the same heroic Ukrainian people who Putin denies helped win World War II.
Ukrainians believe they will win next year, possibly by the spring. Until then, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelensky said the country will endure and keep fighting despite cold and blackouts and missiles because “without victory there can be no peace”.