Any ending must be decisive – a long-term simmering conflict would be the same as a defeat for the Ukrainian people.
May 2, 2022
‘Victory won’t be easy, but Ukrainians increasingly believe they can achieve it.’
For more than two months, Vladimir Putin has been violently trying to erase the modern Ukrainian state from the map of Europe. This means Ukraine needs to win. In fact, victory is imperative if the continent wants to stand the chance of being able to live in peace and work collectively to meet global challenges
It is clear that Putin has failed to compel Kyiv to capitulate. Russia’s plans to annihilate Ukraine and annex more of its territory have cemented Ukraine’s will to fight and win this war. So we need to ask: what does victory actually look like?
For Ukraine’s government, it means first that the Russian army is defeated on the battlefields of Donbas and is pushed back to where it was stationed before 24 February 2022. Polling, meanwhile, indicates consensus among the people regarding the return of Crimea and Donbas to the control of Kyiv and opposition to a truce with Russia until it fully withdraws its troops.
What is needed is the creation of an effective diplomatic forum to negotiate further Russian withdrawal from the occupied parts of Donbas, a settlement over the future of Crimea, financial compensation for the damage it has inflicted, prosecution of individuals who have committed war crimes (Ukraine’s prosecutor general has already registered more than 8,000 suspected cases), the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine, and the creation of viable Nato-compatible armed forces that can defend the country in a coalition of willing nations.
What would defeat look like? Put simply, anything that results in a long-term simmering conflict that locks Ukraine in a grey zone of instability. An inconclusive outcome that still gives Russia an upper hand to conquer and annex more territory is unacceptable. The Kremlin is planning a new annexation of the Kherson region under the name of North Tavriya. Kyiv’s official recognition of Putin’s territorial gains at gunpoint would lead to Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s political demise and further endanger the Ukrainian state.
Victory won’t be easy, but Ukrainians increasingly believe they can achieve it. That confidence, which seemed like lunacy at the start of the war, has been vindicated by combat success and the total mobilisation of Ukrainian society. This has convinced key western allies that “Ukraine can win”. The UK’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, resolutely stated that “we will keep goingfurther and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine”.
Ukraine’s objectives coincide with those of its allies. More to the point, those goals are now backed by a newly approved Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act under which the US government will allocate $33bn, mostly for military support. A coalition of 40 countries has set up a permanent defence advisory group to coordinate this assistance.
Ukraine must defeat Russia in what, after all, should be considered a colonial war. The restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity and, ultimately, peace will mean the collapse of Putinism as a doctrine and an end to Russian claims to territorial dominance elsewhere in eastern Europe and Central Asia. Demonstrating that a “gathering of historic Russian lands” is doomed to failure is the only solid basis for sustainable peace and security in Europe.
Ukraine’s victory would also prevent future wars. Russia uses newly conquered territories to stage further conflicts. Annexed Crimea was indispensable for its military operation in Syria, and now for its assaults on Mariupol and Kherson. The breakaway entity of Transnistria in Moldova, propped up for decades by Russia, is a de-facto arms depot, with a military base that could be used to attack Odesa. Belarus is already being used to launch missiles on Kyiv.
Let’s not forget we’re also talking about the world’s food system. A Ukrainian victory would reduce the risk of a mass famine. The lifting of sanctions in response to a full Russian withdrawal from Ukraine would also lead to a more stable and predictable Russian economy. Ukraine and Russia are critical suppliers of food across much of the global south. In some countries, such as Somalia, Russia and Ukraine account for 100% of wheat imports. The UN projects that 8-20 million people will now be left hungry from the knock-on effects of soaring prices and broken supply chains for grain, cooking oil, fertiliser and fuel.
Settling this war in a sustainable way means millions of Ukrainians will be able to return home, lifting the burden of caring from countries that host them. More than 5 million people are scattered across European cities and the bill for supporting them is €17bn. Most are desperate to return home. And Ukraine needs these people for its future modernisation and economic growth.
The outcome of this war will either lead to a brighter future or bog down millions of people in struggle and misery – and not only in Ukraine. That is why we must give Ukraine’s victory a fighting chance.
- Orysia Lutsevych is head of Chatham House’s Ukraine Forum