Why Ukraine fights on
Western support may be on the wane, but Ukrainians are still determined to defend their homeland.
After Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Western elites spent much of 2022 talking up their support for Ukraine’s fight for freedom. In the past 12 months, however, they have shown just how shallow their commitment actually is.
Ukraine’s military has certainly faced serious challenges this year. The army has been unable to make decisive progress in its counter-offensive over the summer. It is now braced for a protracted period on the defensive. This has prompted Western commentators and politicians to adopt a far more defeatist attitude. They now increasingly suggest that Ukraine should bring the conflict to an end by making concessions to Russia. Some even propose how Ukrainian land should be carved up between Kyiv and Moscow.
It seems the Western political elites are now eager for the Ukrainian problem to simply go away – just as they were when the war first broke out. Back in February 2022, they urged Zelensky to flee, form a ‘government in exile’ and join the NGO circuit in Brussels, New York and Berlin. Thankfully, he refused.
Make no mistake, the challenges facing Ukraine are stark. Domestically, the political mood has soured this year, as people have become increasingly angry about wasteful spending and failures to properly supply the military. Many are also furious at the conscription police, some of whom have been accused of snatching men from the streets and taking bribes to provide exemptions to military service. But while Ukrainians are starting to object to how the authorities are handling the war effort, this should not be mistaken for weariness with the war. They still recognise how much is at stake here. They see no other way of defending their sovereignty.
Russia, for its part, has consolidated its position and embarked on an ambitious and single-minded programme of military rearmament. Its output of drones, shells and, to a lesser extent, tanks easily exceeds that of Ukraine and its Western allies. This disparity was brought home in the autumn when the Pentagon expressed its desire to increase monthly shell production from 30,000 to 100,000 by 2025. In comparison, Russia is planning to up its production to 200,000 per month in the next year or so.
Ukraine’s troops will continue to be outnumbered by Russian troops, too. So far, Ukrainians have held their own thanks to the quality of their training and their ingenuity. But as the war drags on, capable troops need to be replaced and rotated. And thanks to the West’s failure to bolster Ukraine’s air defence, Ukraine struggles to train recruits on Ukrainian soil. This has led it to rely on the help of Western armies, whose training regimes have been exposed as inadequate. Stories abound of NATO training sessions featuring instructors who have never used a drone or engaged an enemy without the backing of American airpower.
Perhaps the starkest illustration of Western incapacity is the EU’s stuttering attempt to procure and produce shells for Ukraine. The so-called ASAP initiative (short for the Act in Support of Ammunition Production) is miles behind schedule. Designed by committee and carefully wrought in EU legalese, the scheme has proven itself completely incapable of delivering on its targets. Of the one million shells promised, only 300,000 have been delivered, and almost all of them came from existing European stocks and from South Korea. In terms of domestic production, the EU has floundered.
Some Western politicians have started to blame Ukraine for all these problems. They single out its supposedly ‘maximalist’ war aims – that is, its desire to defend and retake the whole of Ukraine – or its failure to heed the West’s strategic advice. But this is unreasonable. Not least as the West has proven itself incapable of providing the support it promised with such fanfare last year.
Ukrainians know something their Western allies do not. They know the value of national freedom. And, above all, they know only too well what it costs to defend it.
Jacob Reynolds is a writer based in London and Brussels.
Picture by: Getty.
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