OPINION - Undefeated: Ukraine, one year on

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

The thing to understand about Vladimir Putin is that he does not believe Ukraine is a real country. Despite having its own language, rich history, internationally recognised borders and democratically elected president, the Kremlin views it as a mere adjunct of Russia.

As such, where we condemn an illegal, immoral and barbaric war of aggression, Putin sees something quite different. That he is wrong does not make understanding his motivation any less valuable.

The war has been little short of disastrous for Russia. Moscow had hoped, indeed assumed that its armed forces, reformed and modernised over the last 15 years, would sweep across Ukraine, seize its capital, depose Volodymyr Zelensky and replace him with a pro-Putin, puppet regime. Things did not go to plan.

Ukrainians, facing a war of national survival, fought back. The West coalesced, then stayed united and led by the United States with its $30bn of military assistance, has given Kyiv the arms it needs to fight on. To use the phrase of the moment, Putin aimed to Finlandise Nato – he will end up Nato-ising Finland.

Meanwhile, his idea of a greater Russia, more powerful than ever on the world stage, has been obliterated. Russia will emerge from its war of choice weaker, more isolated and further dependent on China than before.

But the costs borne by ordinary Ukrainians have been astronomical. The UN Human Rights Office says that at least 8,000 civilians have been confirmed killed with 13,300 injured since 24 February last year. The true number is expected to be far higher. 100,000 Ukrainian troops are dead or injured.

And these figures mask the full extent of the human suffering. 18 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, 14 million have been displaced from their homes. There are the families split up, the children kidnapped and taken to Russia, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and what President Joe Biden condemned as crimes against humanity. These will all need to be reckoned with.

It is dangerous to view every moment in history as Munich and 1938. But imagine for one moment the alternative – a world in which a revisionist regional power such as Russia could invade a sovereign neighbour based on an historical fiction and the international community shrugs its shoulders. That is not a safer world for anyone.

We should remain constantly vigilant about the risks of nuclear escalation. Russia’s nuclear posture is broader than that of the US. In annexing parts of eastern Ukraine and claiming them to be part of Russia, Nato has decisions to make about how it manages any future Ukrainian territorial gains in the Donbas.

I would also be interested in hearing more on whether the US supports Kyiv’s desire to retake Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. A reminder that while US, Nato, European, British and Ukrainian interests are closely aligned, they are not always identical.

Ultimately, wars end through negotiation. The US public position is that any peace agreement will happen at a time of Kyiv’s choosing. It seems unlikely that Zelensky could, as of now, accept a line drawn while Russia remains in the Donbas. Which means that the war is likely to drag on into a third year.

Elsewhere in the paper, members of the transport union TSSA involved in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions have cancelled strike action after voting to accept a two-year pay rise worth 9%.

In the comment pages, Emily Sheffield warns that Rishi Sunak needs to summon his Jedi skills or face electoral oblivion. Lily Megson, policy director of My Pension Expert, says the gender pension gap is about more than the size of savings.

While I contend that no one normal cares about the powers of the football regulator or whether the alternative vote would have improved politics. What we want to know is: will it help *our* team?

And finally, how Sundays became the new Friday: Millie Milliken reveals where to drink on the unlikeliest night out of the week. I assume none of these people plan on joining the Standard’s 8am conference meeting on Monday.

Have a lovely weekend.

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