Russia-Ukraine war: Ukraine can win this war

The Ukrainian attack on the Russian airbase in Crimea last week has dragged attention back to a war which many in the West, including this country, have largely lost sight of. Rising interest rates, high fuel and energy costs, and election campaigns have reasserted domestic issues as the primary concerns in the minds of most Western citizens.

Despite this collective inattention to the war, it continues, nonetheless. The Russians are pounding away at Ukrainian defensive positions in the Donbas, gaining ground by the metre while losing soldiers in their hundreds. Russian missiles, with variable accuracy, continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities, callously killing children and civilians.

A Ukrainian combat engineer trains civilians in weaponry and potential roles as guerrilla fighters near Kyiv. Victory for Ukraine, once thought impossible, is not out of reach.Credit:The New York Times

In the early days of the war, the Ukrainians were given little chance of defending their country against the larger, and supposedly more capable, Russian army. Vladimir Putin planned a short, lightning war against his southern neighbour but instead drew Ukraine and the West into a bloody, expensive and prolonged conflict. As months have passed, the initiative has slowly bled away from Russia as Ukraine corrodes its ability to conduct offensive operations.

What are the prospects for a Ukrainian victory? As I wrote in March, Ukraine can win. But such a victory relies on five foundational conditions.

Since the beginning of the war, Western political support has been a crucial element of Ukraine’s defence. While it may have remained short of “boots on the ground”, Western support underpins the flow of weapons into the nation and an international coalition overseeing a regime of economic sanctions on Russia. Ensuring the West has the strategic patience to support Ukraine to the end will be a preoccupation of the Ukrainian government and its diplomats. Elected officials in nations such as Australia must continue to convince their people of the need to combat Russian aggression.

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A second foundation for Ukraine to win is economic support. The Russian invasion has had an impact on Ukraine’s manufacturing, mining and agricultural industries. Ukrainian ports, through which most export revenue is generated, have been captured by the Russians. Ukraine requires economic assistance, such as that recently announced by the World Bank, to continue government services and to sustain the massive costs of the war. Economic assistance from the West must continue if Ukraine is to sustain its defence and eject the Russians from its territory.

The third foundation for a Ukrainian victory is military support. Modern wars, particularly those of the scale being fought in Ukraine, rapidly consume munitions, equipment and humans. It is important for Western nations to continue, and even increase, the flow of weapons to Ukraine. While the West will not provide soldiers, it has provided billions of dollars in weapons and munitions, including some of its most sophisticated precision weapons. NATO has started a training program for Ukrainian soldiers, but it will have to increase this in scale in coming months. The Empire Air Training Scheme from World War II provides a model. Australia should support this.

The fourth foundation is leadership. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s words in February, refusing a US offer to evacuate him – “I need ammunition, not a ride” – unified his people at a critical stage of the war. This leadership gained him global attention and influence, which has been essential for economic, humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence and military assistance. But it has also been clear that the military leadership of Ukraine has fought a clever and sophisticated military campaign against the Russians, while also supporting a global influence campaign. This must be sustained if Ukraine is to win this war.

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