Ukraine and the End of Magical Thinking

In early November, Ukraine’s top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi admitted that the war with Russia was at a stalemate. In December, Republicans in the US House of Representatives torpedoed the Biden administration’s request for billions in new military assistance to Ukraine. At the European Union, Hungary vetoed desperately needed monetary assistance. President Biden’s mantra that the allies would support Ukraine “as long as it takes” became a pledge to support the country “as long as we can.” From Europe, a stalwart Ukraine supporter, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis reported that “apparently as long as it takes means as long as we can agree.” Clearly, the time of magical thinking is over.

Ukraine’s startling early success in repelling the Russian attempt to take Kiev produced widespread euphoria. Russia’s military was exposed as incompetent and bumbling. The US mobilized its allies to provide arms and support and impose harsh sanctions on Putin. NATO was galvanized and expanded. Putin would be handed a defeat without NATO troop involvement. As the noxious Lindsay Graham put it, “Russians are dying” as Ukrainians fight “to the last person,” so aid to Ukraine is “the best money we’ve ever spent.” Sanctions would isolate and bankrupt Russia. China, Iran, North Korea and other adversaries would learn that aggression doesn’t pay. Putin might even be deposed and hauled before the International Criminal Court. In little more than a year, the US alone rushed $75 billion in largely military aid to Ukraine, a sum nearly as great as the entire annual Russian military budget.

That was then. Now as another harsh winter descends, the much-ballyhooed Ukrainian “offensive” has failed. With China, India and much of the Global South stepping in, Russia’s economy has rebounded from the sanctions. Putin has geared up for a long war. Ukraine, the second-largest country in Europe, is locked in a war of attrition with a country that is bigger, with more people, more troops, more artillery, and control of the air. The Pentagon, we’re told, has plans to increase production of 155 million artillery shells from 30,000 per month to 90,000 or 100,000 in 2025. Russia is headed toward generating 2 million a year.

Russia, according to a US intelligence estimate, lost a stunning 87 percent of its active-duty military in the first months of the war. But Ukraine’s losses have been nearly as great and not as sustainable. It is running out of men, guns, and ammunition. Its economy is battered. Over 20 percent of its people have been displaced, including 6.3 million refugees. It is estimated that it will take 757 years to rid the country of the mines now strewn across the countryside. The price tag for rebuilding is estimated to be north of $400 billion.

Read the full piece in The Nation.