Ukraine can win this war
50 days on and Ukraine is still standing strong.
On 25 February, the day after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian warship Moskva opened fire on Snake Island, a strategically important rocky outcrop in the Black Sea. Facing imminent capture, Snake Island’s hopelessly outgunned Ukrainian defenders told the Moskva to ‘Go fuck yourself’.
At the time, this brief, hopelessly uneven battle seemed to capture in miniature outside observers’ grim expectations of the conflict. Ukrainians would certainly be brave and defiant. But, before the might of the Russian army, navy and airforce, their resistance was bound to be futile. This was a war that Russia was going to win, and it was probably going to do so easily and swiftly.
Fifty days on, such expectations have been completely upended. Russia’s attempt to depose Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, and effortlessly pull Ukraine back into its ‘sphere of influence’ in a quick three-day-campaign, barely got off the ground. And its subsequent slow-motion attempt to take eastern Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, also looks to have failed (at least for the time being). Now, as battered Russian forces are being re-routed to southern and south-eastern Ukraine for a concentrated assault on the Donbas and coastal regions, some shops, cafés and other businesses in Kyiv are reopening, and some 870,000 of the millions of Ukrainians who fled when the war broke out are reported to be returning home.
And the Moskva, which took Snake Island seven weeks ago, has just been ‘seriously damaged’. Russia claims ammunition inexplicably exploded on board; Ukraine claims it struck the Moskva with a couple of missiles. Either way, Russia’s potentially terminally damaged flagship is a further sign that this war is not following the pessimistic script penned by many Western observers in its opening days.
This is not to downplay the death and destruction that Russia has visited upon Ukraine. In the besieged coastal city of Mariupol alone, the mayor has estimated that some 21,000 civilians have been killed so far. And though the Ukrainian government keeps its military losses to itself, its armed forces must be feeling the strain by now.
But still, after 50 days of often brutal fighting, it is clear that Ukrainians are determined to win. They have demonstrated tremendous courage, of course. But they have also shown something even more potent – namely, a deep, society-wide commitment to the cause of national self-determination. That is what underpins Ukraine’s success, what sustains the morale of its army, what motivates myriad volunteers to sign up to fight. Not the prospect of EU membership, or anti-Russian sentiment, but this nation’s freedom.
And that is why it is right for us in the West to back Ukraine in this battle against a quasi-imperial aggressor. That is why it is right to give the Ukrainians what they need, including more weapons, to continue to fight, and potentially push Russia back out of Ukraine. Because it could help the Ukrainian resistance achieve its own self-chosen objective – to secure its nation’s freedom.
Not everyone agrees. There are many on both the left and right who, almost from the start, have effectively called for Ukraine to give in. To surrender this or that bit of territory, as if a nation was no more than a few lines drawn on a napkin. To give up on the possibility of determining its own future in the face of the superior might of Russia, because, well, that’s just the way things are. Although masquerading as realism, such a position smacks of defeatism. Especially now, after 50 days during which Ukrainians have shown that they don’t need to bow down before an invading army. Fifty days during which, through force of will and a fair bit of firepower, they have defied the very fate too many observers continue to ascribe to them.
spiked has consistently criticised the excitable pro-interventionist blather of some in the West. As Brendan O’Neill put it this week, ‘it transforms Ukraine from an undoubtedly bloody conflict that has global implications into a possible site of further external intervention and fighting’. And we remain opposed to Western actions that could escalate this conflict, and, perhaps more damaging still, take the initiative away from Ukraine itself, turning it into a Western war for uncertain Western ends.
But this war is not like the wars waged by the West in Syria, Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan. In those, Western powers were the ones violating national sovereignty, destabilising whole regions and arming proxy forces for nebulous ends. Ukraine is different. Russia is the violator of national sovereignty here, not NATO or some Western coalition of the willing. And helping Ukraine to liberate itself is very different to Western armies ‘liberating’ Iraqis or Libyans or Afghans from their own governments. We have to start to view the war in Ukraine on its own terms, not those of previous conflicts.
At the war’s beginning, spiked explained why Ukraine must win. Now there is every chance that it can win. Our support should be unwavering.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
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