- Schuyler Beltrami
One Year of War in Ukraine – What Have we Learned?
Friday, February 24th marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion against Ukraine. Despite most military expert’s pre-war predictions of a quick victory for the Russian Army, the war has dragged on with limited success for the Russians, while western financial and military aid for Ukraine has quickly ramped up over the past months. The war in Ukraine has offered lessons both on the battlefield and in the political arena, and we look at the most important lessons over the past one year of war in Europe in this article.
War is not Purely a Numbers Game
On paper, the war in Ukraine should have been a clear victory for Russia. Before the invasion began, Russia had approximately 900,000 military personnel and over 500,000 paramilitary personnel on which is could rely upon for its military strength. Together, these 1.4 million (para)military personnel members were around 7x the military strength of Ukraine. This is not even to speak of the massive arms advantage which Russia had coming into the conflict, compared with that of Ukraine. Russia had over 8,000 battle-ready tanks, nearly 100,000 vehicles, nearly 10,000 pieces of artillery (between self-propelled, towed and rocket artillery), as well as over 2,000 battle-ready aircraft. Ukraine, on the other hand, has around 1300 battle-ready tanks, 26,000 vehicles, around 1,600 pieces of artillery and only 187 aircraft (aircraft number is current to December 2022). Except for the intangible element of morale, Russia vastly dwarfed its western neighbor in pure military might. However, the war in Ukraine has proved once and for all, that war is not purely a numbers game. The oft-quoted Russian idea of “one day for Kharkiv, two for Kyiv and four for Lviv” represented nothing more than an unrealistic ideal situation for the Russian military. The Ukrainian military, which had been fighting an insurgency in the Donbas for eight years, was prepared in the ways of the Russian military’s fighting strategy and has used this to maintain a moderately favorable position in the war. Russia has so far been unable to capture the Donbas region, were repelled from capturing the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and lost huge swaths of land in eastern, northern and southern Ukraine during mass Ukrainian counteroffensives to recapture Kharkiv and Kherson. The Russian position was not improved by a mass mobilization effort which has seen over 200,000 more troops enter the war, thus reinforcing the idea yet again, that pure numbers are not always enough to dislodge a dedicated enemy force.
The West’s Resolve remains (nearly) Unbroken
The immense efforts of Ukrainian troops, generals, general staff, civilians and politicians aside, the fact that Ukraine is still in control of around 80% of their land more than one year into the war, is a testament to the nearly unshakable and unbreakable resolve of the West to supply Ukraine with money and arms to fend off the Russian invasion. Led by the United States, NATO and other countries have formed an anti-Russia coalition, aimed at arming Ukraine with enough modern weaponry to win the war, in whichever form a “victory” may take. According to the Kiel Institute, over $80 billion has been given to Ukraine in the form of economic, military or humanitarian aid since the war began. The United States alone has given nearly $30 billion of this amount. Help has, however, come from unexpected sources. Germany, which has long embraced a pacifist streak since the end of the Cold War, reversed its military strategy as a result of the war in Ukraine. Promising to reach the goal of 2% of its GDP going towards defense, Germany has recently allowed more than 100 Leopard tanks to be delivered to Ukraine, with the first deliveries of the hyper-modern tank type expected in March or April with more deliveries expected throughout the rest of 2023. Western tanks have long been an item at the top of the wish list of Kyiv and with the announcement from the United States that they would deliver Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the Germans announced the aforementioned delivery of Leopard tanks and there is further hope that the French will deliver their Leclerc tank models to Ukraine. With earlier deliveries of long-range ammunition including American HIMARS and French Caesars, as well as the American-made Javelin anti-tank system, Ukrainian resistance has been kept afloat by immense aid from nearly all NATO members, as well as western allies in Japan and Australia. Despite some cracks in Western solidarity for Ukraine, most notably from states such as Hungary, the opportunity to cripple the Russian army, without sending a single NATO troop into Ukraine, has been too rich of an opportunity for the West to deny and most NATO states have jumped at the opportunity to stabilize Eastern Europe.
Ukraine is now the Emotional Heart of Europe
Despite pressure from some groups outside the mainstream in both the United States and Western Europe to cut off funding for Ukraine, either as a way to enforce peace or as an anti-NATO sentiment, the political establishment in the West has carried on their support for Ukraine. Although the strategic benefits of crippling Russia are important, perhaps more important for continued support to Ukraine is the emotional story around the war. Europe has carried the scars of World War II with it for over 80 years, with the memories of that brutal conflict still ingrained in the minds of the youngest and oldest members of European society. Images of Ukrainian families displaced by falling bombs, destroyed homes, and ruined countryside landscapes has brought back the bleakest images of the 1940s. The emotional pain felt by many in Ukraine has lent itself to become a rallying cry for Europe and the West to assist the war-ravaged nation, which has rebranded itself from Russian stooge in the pre-Maiden era to heartbeat of democracy for the world. While the situation on the battlefield remains tense for Ukraine, the strong bond felt between Europeans (especially in Central and Eastern Europe, who have been victimized by Russian aggression in the past) and Ukrainians remains, perhaps, Ukraine’s best way of winning the war against Russia; even if this will take years to accomplish.