The current fight and lasting implications of the war in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has entered its third month, and as the conflict unfolds, it is clear that there will be enduring repercussions. While we should start by recognizing that this unprovoked and unwarranted war of aggression is a humanitarian tragedy, there are lessons on several levels that should be acknowledged as we look to the future. 

To start, the diplomatic response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been nothing short of remarkable. The steady engagement and summit meetings of NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the G7, the European Union, and other ongoing multilateral and bilateral meetings are as vigorous as anything seen in decades. While the United Nations Security Council is hamstrung by the Russian veto, the U.N. General Assembly’s vote to condemn the Russian invasion was a watershed.  

Most of us take this level of engagement for granted, including responses by so-called Western democracies (including Japan and Australia). Outcomes such as NATO’s support for Ukraine and their fundamental right to self-defense under the United Nations Charter matter. Strong participation in allied meetings also carries significance, such as the April meeting of NATO foreign ministers that included all 30 NATO nations as well as Ukraine, Georgia, Finland, Sweden, the European Union and NATO’s Asia-Pacific partners — Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.   

Additionally, the pivotal importance of leadership on both sides of the conflict cannot be overstated — and the contrast is stark. We have seen this in President Volodymyr Zelensky and the rest of the leadership in Ukraine and in Western democracies, which stands in direct contrast to the small, insular, ill-informed, autocratic circle in the Kremlin, led by President Vladimir Putin — accurately described by The Economist as “ruthless, deceptive, and prone to risky miscalculations.” The U.S. has provided leadership through our secretaries of State and Defense and the administrator of USAID. Strong credit should also go to key figures such as the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders around the globe who have stood up and been counted. 

It is difficult to minimize the impact of millions of refugees from Ukraine migrating to other countries and thousands of internally displaced people inside of Ukraine. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and other countries deserve a great deal of credit for their outstanding support. USAID has also set a strong example with disaster assistance response teams on the ground in Ukraine and financial assistance, reflecting the obligation we all have to reduce the level of suffering inside of Ukraine and in Eastern Europe.   

In the meantime, Ukrainian armed forces continue to outperform and have already attained a strategic victory in causing Moscow to significantly reduce their goals in this war. They are effectively contesting Russian forces on the ground, in the air and at sea. While the casualties and damage to Ukraine are tragic and we all hope for a ceasefire as soon as possible, Ukrainian armed forces will continue to exceed expectations for the duration of the conflict. Their determination and tactical proficiency confound Russian forces, in spite of the numerical advantages presented by the latter.  

Ukraine is also absorbing and effectively utilizing arms from a wide array of supporting nations, including Canada, Slovakia, Sweden, Japan, Australia, Italy and elsewhere. It is a visible testimony of the global posture arrayed against the Kremlin’s invasion. To borrow from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the collective “arsenals of democracies” are making a difference, as the Ukrainian military is getting tools and putting them to effective use in the ongoing fight. All of this has been supported by the reinforcement of NATO’s Eastern flank by ground, air and naval forces from across the alliance, as they provide strong security guarantees. 

It is also apparent that the invasion of Ukraine represents a dramatic step back for Russia. The impact of diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, losses of military personnel and equipment, the exodus of talented young people and an internal crackdown on dissent will be longstanding. It will take some time before Putin and his circle will be able to fully rejoin the family of nations. Growing evidence of Russian atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine will also have an enduring impact on nations’ willingness to engage with Moscow, and it will take years to recover from this stain.

Another outcome of this isolation will be an increased reliance by Moscow on ties to Beijing. It will result in Russia becoming an increasingly junior partner — a shift in global dynamics that will be with us for years to come. Moreover, in the context of the ongoing struggle between democracies and authoritarian regimes, history is not on the side of the autocrats. The response of so many democratic nations — with economic sanctions, diplomatic support, military aid and humanitarian assistance — is remarkable. 

We should also fully acknowledge the example set by the Ukrainian government and people — as they visibly demonstrate how much they value and are willing to fight for their freedom. 

The collective support of Ukraine in all its dimensions will need to be steady and enduring. The ongoing struggle against Russian aggression is a marathon and not a sprint, and will require sustained military, humanitarian and diplomatic support — as well as no small measure of post-conflict reconstruction, on the order of another Marshall Plan.  

As outlined above, the West can manage this while maintaining united efforts, and at the same time, not neglect other troubled areas on the globe. This can be handled effectively with allies working together to ensure the future of a sovereign, free and independent Ukraine.

Vice Admiral (retired) Robert B. Murrett is a professor of practice at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and deputy director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law. 

Tags China-Russia partnership European Union Jens Stoltenberg NATO Politics of the United States Reactions to the 2021–2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis Russo-Ukrainian War United Nations Ursula von der Leyen USAID Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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