Op-ed: What the West Must Do Now to Help Ukraine Win the War

By Mason Clark

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Ukraine’s heroic resistance against the first year of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine and Russian defeats continue to stun the world, but the outcome of the war remains in doubt. Ukraine achieved striking successes in 2022 through smart operational planning, the effective use of large-scale Western support, and the enduring will of the Ukrainian people. Ukraine has defeated Russia’s initial invasion, conducted several successful counteroffensives, and inflicted devastating losses on the Russian military. When Putin launched his full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, few predicted the magnitude of Ukraine’s successes one year on.

We cannot yet assume a Ukrainian victory, however, and do not know how this war will end. We cannot say that Putin has lost strategically (despite endemic Russian tactical incompetence and repeated operational failures) simply because he has not yet won. Ukraine has inflicted devastating battlefield defeats on Russian forces. The Russian military will struggle to replace its substantial losses for years to come. Ukraine is poised to conduct further counteroffensives in 2023 after the ongoing Russian offensive in Luhansk Oblast culminates. Western unity behind Ukraine remains high, and Putin has lost ground in the global information space. Nonetheless, the Russian military remains dangerous, Putin’s objectives have not changed, and even a partial Russian victory would be crippling for Ukraine.

Putin is unlikely to ever change his maximalist intent to secure control over Ukraine. Putin has long rejected Ukrainian sovereignty and the existence of an independent Ukrainian nation, repeatedly claiming that Russia “created” Ukraine, and only Russia can be the “single real guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty.” As ISW fellow Nataliya Bugayova argues, Putin has tried to gain control over Ukraine in increasingly extreme ways for two decades—first seeking to dominate Ukraine’s politics in the 2000s and early 2010s; through military intervention in 2014 and manipulating the Minsk II peace framework afterwards; and finally resorting to a full-scale and likely genocidal invasion in 2022. Putin has only abandoned each of these efforts to control Ukraine after being defeated and will not abandon his current invasion easily—but Ukraine can and must defeat him again.

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