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Ukraine, one year on


When 200,000 pairs of Russian boots stepped over the Ukraine border last February, the attack was intended to subjugate the entire country in a three-day blitzkrieg. Ukraine defied expectations fending off the initial attack, despite having a much smaller military, economy, and population. That a European nuclear power could launch a major war of conquest against a neighbour was almost unthinkable. That a comparably tiny army could fend them off was almost unimaginable, and yet here we are. For how long can David stave off Goliath? Provided 28 countries continue to provide Ukraine with lethal, financial and humanitarian assistance, as long as it takes for Goliath to lose interest, it seems.

Last week, the world marked the first-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And what can be said amidst the tremendous loss of life over the last 12 months? As the worst state-on-state aggression in Europe since World War Two, this is a war with global, cascading effects on inflation, energy prices and food security and has everyone looking to other world powers with a sense of unease. If Russia can militarily annex a neighbouring nation, who else can?

The international community marked the anniversary with predictable condemnation of the invasion, renewed pledges of support and calls for peace.

At the United Nations General Assembly, secretary-general António Guterres condemned Russia’s invasion as ‘an affront to our collective conscience,’ fanning ‘regional instability and fuelling global tensions and divisions.’ Member nations overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine and stressing ‘the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine.’  

Australia announced a boost in spending on defence aid, providing drones and expanding sanctions against Russian individuals, including the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, a long-time ally of Putin.

United States President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, reassuring Ukrainian President Zelensky that the US is committed to supporting Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’, promising an additional $500m of military aid in addition to the $46 billion USD already given. US General Mark Milley, chairman of America’s joint chiefs of staff, claimed Russia has already ‘lost strategically, operationally and tactically, and they are paying an enormous price on the battlefield,’ while later claiming that neither Russia nor Ukraine was likely to achieve its military aims. Slouching on, it seems, towards a muddy impasse.

Putin, however, shared no such concerns. To mark the anniversary, the architect of Russia's faltering invasion delivered a two-hour address indicating he would not call an end to the war any time soon but rather promised to continue Russia’s offensive ‘step by step’. The Russian leader suspended participation in New Start, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and America, and claimed he is ready to resume nuclear weapons testing. 


'In the event of a peace settlement, Ukrainian sovereignty would inevitably be compromised, necessitating arduous concessions. Such compromises are sure to be viewed in Kyiv and Europe as acts of perfidy, while Putin would perceive them as a gratifying triumph.'


So what can we expect in the near-term? Likely more of the same. With the Spring thaw, Russian forces have regrouped for a Spring offensive with half a million new conscripts – mostly boys from rural parts of the country with vintage kit and a full two weeks of basic training behind them – who will be summarily sacrificed for Putin's war aims to mark the first anniversary of the invasion.

It’s hard to make sense of this waste of life, arbitrarily thrown after false and antiquated notions. Putin has previously indicated his special military operation is about ‘denazifying Ukraine’, a claim that has since been firmly debunked, but also about the reestablishment of the old Russian Empire where ‘true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.’ The war may last for however long it takes for those dreams of a Russian Empire encompassing Ukraine’s landmass to fade. Might be generations.

One year on, the human cost is catastrophic. Russia has lost more soldiers than all their conflicts since World War Two combined. Norway's defence chief Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen estimates that Russia had suffered 180,000 dead and wounded, while Ukraine had 100,000 killed or wounded in action along with 30,000 civilian deaths. Add to that tally of human suffering around 13 million Ukrainian civilians who have been driven from their homes.

And one year on, we’re no closer to a sense of how the war will conclude. There's been no shortage of speculation on the several potential scenarios lie ahead, including a Ukrainian triumph in which Russia concedes defeat and agrees to a ceasefire due to financial exhaustion. Conversely, a Ukrainian defeat may result if Western leaders opt to turn off the tap funding the defence. Alternatively, Russia could escalate the conflict dragging more countries into the conflict, or most likely, a more permanent stalemate could ensue.

Ukraine will be looking for whatever means it can to avoid a stalemate whereas Putin will likely wish to prolong it, no doubt welcoming any wearing down of Western resolve. Meanwhile, the war wages on with each side fixated on enhancing military power. According to the Pentagon, Russia has expended much of its military capabilities. And despite making yet another vague nuclear threat in suggesting that the entire Russian arsenal would be used to claim victory, Putin has up to this point been mindful of not crossing that line. Attacking Ukraine’s allies or using tactical nuclear weapons would mark a clear and dramatic escalation he has been careful to avoid. 

Replenishment was likely on the Kremlin agenda as Putin met with Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official last week. While China is already providing non-lethal assistance to support Putin’s war effort, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China is currently exploring possibilities of providing lethal support, indicating China’s claim to neutrality in this war is over. A quiet but significant escalation that should please no one.

China's existing support for the Russian invasion should frame the 12-point proposal for a cease-fire President Xi Jinping's government put forward last week. And while all 12 points are vague and contain no specific proposals, none suggest Russian forces must exit captured Ukrainian territory. ‘The basic tone and the fundamental message in the policy is quite pro-Russia,’ says Li Mingjiang, a professor of Chinese foreign policy and international security at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

With China looking to climb into the ring, the ‘just and lasting peace’ demanded by UN secretary-general Guterres seems only more tantalising and ephemeral. Especially since neither side so far has been willing to come to the negotiation table. In the event of a peace settlement, Ukrainian sovereignty would inevitably be compromised, necessitating arduous concessions. Such compromises are sure to be viewed in Kyiv and Europe as acts of perfidy, while Putin would perceive them as a gratifying triumph.

If Russia is perceived to have won a victory by holding onto the territory gained through annexation, it will be a loss for the international rules-based order and a likely path to additional wars of military expansion. In the bloodshed, we can only hope these last 12 months have been a cautionary tale for other autocrats with dreams of conquest.

In War and Peace, Tolstoy describes the intangible forces that can sway the course of battle concluding that ‘a battle is won by the side that is absolutely determined to win.’ One year on, the war fought by Ukraine remains one of survival, while Russia’s is one of conquest. Even in the unlikely event that Russian forces manage to grind down Ukraine’s defences, occupiers face a costly guerrilla war for the foreseeable future. If, as Tolstoy says, wars are won by determination, on the path to a lasting victory it might be Russia that faces the steeper climb.




David Halliday is editor of Eureka Street.

Main image: Mariia, a mother of a killed in Bakhmut Ukrainian soldier Vasyl Kurbyt, grieves at his grave at a cemetery, as Ukraine marks one year since Russia's large-scale invasion, on February 24, 2023 in Bucha, Ukraine. Bucha was turned into a battlefield during the first weeks of Russia's full-scale invasion last February, as Moscow attempted to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. That effort failed, but the war has ground on in the southern and eastern parts of the country. (Roman Pilipey/Getty Images)

Topic tags: David Halliday, Ukraine, Russia



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It is very dangerous speaking out against the current conventional wisdom in the West about the ongoing war in the Ukraine. I am eerily reminded of the political consensus in the West, including Australia, about 'weapons of mass destruction' prior to the invasion of Iraq. That consensus was incorrect and we were continually told that by the likes of Andrew Wilkie. I am no apologist for Russia, but I think many opinionati in the West are not fully apprised of what the historical situation is. When the USSR broke up there was a verbal undertaking that NATO would not expand further towards Russia. This undertaking was broken. Prior to his election, I believe Volodimir Zelinsky made an undertaking that, under his government, Ukraine would not join NATO. What Vladimir Putin and the Russian elite are worried about is a perceived US led NATO threat to the stability of Russia. There is already talk in some Washington circles and US think thanks about the possible breakup of Russia into ethnic states. We in the West remind me very much of the Edward Lear verse about The Lady of Riga who went for a ride on a tiger. The way it is currently proceeding I feel this war in the Ukraine will not end well for anyone.

Edward Fido | 03 March 2023  

I turn on the radio, watch a tv programme, read a newspaper article, all of which tell me that Putin invaded the Ukraine a year ago. This is a war simply explained: Russia wants to take over Ukraine. And yet, when I consult other media, like Consortium News and read other commentators, like Caitlin Johnstone, I learn that the conflict has a longer and more complex history. Why, I wonder, does no-one in Australian public life seem to know about this?

So, it was with relief this morning that I opened Pearls and Irritations and discovered an article by Jeffrey Sachs titled "The ninth anniversary of the Ukraine war". His opening paragraph is:

"The war began with the violent overthrow of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, a couple that was overtly and covertly backed by the United States government."

He goes on to outline the history, and ends with a plea for peace, based on truth. The suffering has been terrible, and without an end to war we are all in big trouble. And we need to know what has really been going on.

You can read the article here: https://johnmenadue.com/the-ninth-anniversary-of-the-ukraine-war/

Janet | 03 March 2023  
Show Responses

'The ninth anniversary of the Ukraine war.' 'The war began with the violent overthrow of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014....'

More like the twenty third anniversary, dating from when Putin first became president, determined to be president for life.

Being, once upon a time, a defeated foe of the US is neither here nor there. Both Germany and Japan took the 'if you can't lick it, join it' option, helped no doubt by the fact that their leaders weren't of the leader-for-life mentality, and are now doing very well, thank you very much for the American friendship.

If NATO can contain Turkey (actually run by a leader-for-life egotist), it can also accommodate Russia if the Putin cabal is truly interested in peace. Putin. All the obloquy should fall on him.

roy chen yee | 05 March 2023  

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