Russian-Ukrainian war: causes and potential outcomes

The Russia-Ukraine war has been going on for 400 years, the last nine of them (since the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbas in 2014) and over 500 days of brutal Russian invasion and all-out war (from 24 February 2022 to June 2023), which has claimed the lives and injured tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including over 500 children…

Immediately after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Russia’s political elite set out to restore Russia’s influence in post-Soviet countries. Initially, this influence was directed against Ukraine, whose secession from the USSR led to its collapse. 

The reasons that prompted Russian politicians to revive the USSR are pretty complex: from the imperial mentality of Russians, which is aimed not at building their state but at enslaving neighbouring nations, to the desire to retain control over the production capacities of the former USSR and guaranteed markets. Thus, Russia has traditionally viewed its relations with Ukraine in the context of its global geopolitical interests. 

But it did not begin in 1991; it continues as a habit of the Russian Empire’s enslavement of neighbouring countries and peoples. This “tradition” and the aspirations of Ukrainians for freedom and independence are over 400 years old. 400 years of aggression by one people and the struggle of another for the lives of their children on their land.

From Kievan Rus and the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, from the glorious Ukrainian Cossacks and their national liberation movement to the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and the first Ukrainian Revolution for Independence in 1917, which led to the proclamation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (on 22 January 1918, by the text of the IV Universal). 

Even then, Ukraine had all the components of a state: an emblem, territory, army, monetary system, and diplomatic relations with other countries. During the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, Ukrainians managed to restore the state, which changed its name and form several times: 

The Ukrainian People’s Republic (1917-1918), the Ukrainian State (Hetmanate, 1918), the Ukrainian People’s Republic again (the Directory period, 1918-1921), and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (1918-1919). The struggle for independence continued during the Second World War and even after it ended. Ukrainian dissidents waged their battle abroad and in the USSR, being imprisoned in Soviet prisons.

This struggle finally led to the proclamation of Ukraine’s independence immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991. On this day, 31 years ago, the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Act of Independence of Ukraine, the date of the restoration of the independent state of Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian referendum confirmed the legitimacy of these steps of the Verkhovna Rada. Independence is not an “accident”, as Russian propaganda claims, but the result of the efforts of many generations. The “perestroika” initiated by Gorbachev intensified the processes that had previously been held back by repression. The peaceful but challenging development of their own country began.  

Moscow’s first aggressive steps began in the 2000s. FSB Colonel Igor Girkin (one of the main characters who commanded the seizure of the Ukrainian Donbas) testified that the Russian authorities started attempts to establish economic control over Ukraine to “buy it with a vengeance”. According to his report, Putin ordered Russian oligarchs and officials to buy up a major part of all Ukrainian industry and businesses. 

Already in 2003, the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine over control of the Azov Sea turned into the Tuzla Island conflict. This conflict was resolved and did not enter a hot phase of the extraordinary diplomatic efforts of Ukrainian diplomats. However, in 2004, Russia began to support separatism in Donbas actively. 

In the same year, an event called the First Congress was held, where separatists openly discussed the creation of an independent republic in eastern Ukraine. The republic was to cover all Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine. The congress was attended by high-ranking officials from Russia (Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov) and several pro-Russian oligarchic politicians from Ukraine. 

Similar events took place in 2008 and 2012, each time with the participation and leadership of high-ranking Russian politicians. For example, in 2008, Yuri Luzhkov announced that the issue of the state affiliation of the city of Sevastopol (Crimea, Ukraine) “remained unresolved, and Russia will resolve this issue in favour of its state law”.

The information war against Ukraine has been and is being waged by all possible means, and not only Ukrainians are indirect victims. For example, Vladimir Putin’s well-known statement to US President George W. Bush:

“You do realise, George, that Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is Eastern Europe, and part of it, and a significant part, was given to it by us!” (From the conversation between Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, Bucharest, 2-4 April 2008).

The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2014 marked Russia’s desire to increase its influence on Ukraine, which, with the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan in Kyiv, initiated a geopolitical turn to the West. 

Traditionally, Russia began to exert this influence in the form of a hybrid (in fact, undeclared) war bordering on state terrorism. Thus, the information and propaganda war that Russia has intensified since the beginning of its armed aggression is aimed at providing information to the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, weakening the central government’s control, and creating security and economic problems.

The war waged by Russian troops is aimed at the extermination of the Ukrainian people, the destruction of infrastructure and the destruction of Ukrainian statehood as such. Since 2014, the Russian-Ukrainian war has been developing under conditions of systematic denial by the Russian Federation of its involvement in the armed conflict, which has significantly complicated a clear, unquestionable legal definition of the nature of the armed conflict and led to the lack of precise assessments of the conflict by the international community. 

Initially, Russian officials insisted on the exclusively internal nature of the war and called the conflict a “civil war”, but since 2022, they have been calling it a “special military operation”, avoiding the term “war of aggression”. 

From 24 February 2022, many American and European experts expected the Russian army to advance rapidly during the first week of the war, seize large areas and key cities in eastern, northern and southern Ukraine, and predicted the fall or at least complete encirclement of Kyiv in the short term. 

According to Western experts, the Ukrainian army had weak air defences, while Russian troops had a critical advantage in electronic warfare and all types of conventional weapons. According to American forecasts on the eve of the war, Kyiv was given a maximum of 4 days, and the Ukrainian Armed Forces were predicted to lose 15,000 troops, while the Russians were expected to lose 5,000.

However, the Russian army’s significant advantage in tanks was significantly offset within a week of fighting by the hand-held anti-tank defence used by Ukrainian soldiers. In addition, instead of the announced state-of-the-art weapons, Russia used mostly outdated Soviet-era equipment. Soviet T-72 tanks dominated among the tanks, while the newest Armata tank was never used. The Russian command’s hopes for a rapid advance of airborne troops to Kyiv were dashed by a counterattack that destroyed the runway at the Gostomel airfield.

The key setback with the Russian invasion is that Russian intelligence services misjudged the mood in Ukrainian society. Analysts at the British institute RISU believe that the Russian command relied on qualitative data from sociological surveys conducted by the FSB in Ukraine but misinterpreted the data. 

In particular, the low level of trust of Ukrainians in political parties and authorities was perceived by the Russian leadership as evidence of the indifference of the majority of the population to the replacement of Ukrainian political elites with pro-Russian ones. In addition, according to British researchers, analysts did not consider the impact of cruise and ballistic missile attacks on significant cities: the population usually reacts exceptionally negatively to such explosions, even if only military targets are hit. All these blunders led the Russian leadership to underestimate the readiness of Ukrainian society to resist.

According to Australian strategist Peter Singer, Ukraine was proactive in fighting back Russian propaganda, anticipating fakes and provocations in the media. Numerous heroic stories about the successful confrontation of small troops with a large invading army, as well as demonstrations of damaged enemy equipment, made most Ukrainians believe in victory over the aggressor. 

Former US Commander in Europe Lieutenant General Ben Hodges and Professor Julian Lindley-French argued in an analytical article of 14 March 2022 that the war should culminate by the end of March, as the Russians failed to win a quick victory, they do not have the resources for a long offensive, and therefore the war will become a positional war of attrition, as the Ukrainian military will not have the strength to drive the Russians out of the country. 

However, on 22 March, the US Department of Defence predicted that the Ukrainian Armed Forces could recapture the territories occupied by Russia. Since June 2023, the Ukrainian army has been conducting a successful counter-offensive. In the first weeks, it has liberated about 100 square kilometres of its territory. Ukrainian society continues to fight and win the Russian-Ukrainian war.

To summarise, Ukraine is currently experiencing the third round of struggle for its freedom and independence in 100 years. Each of these rounds was triggered by a crisis in the world order, as well as by the crisis of the Russian Empire – the Soviet Union in its various incarnations.

The First World War provoked the Ukrainian Revolution and the liberation movement of 1917-1921. As a result of internal unpreparedness and a split in the elite, Ukraine lost the war for independence, which cost it millions of lives. However, resistance forced the Communists to recognise the existence of the Ukrainian nation and create a fictitiously sovereign state, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The outcome of World War II was the unification of most Ukrainian ethnic lands into a single state and the expansion of Ukraine’s sovereign powers – in particular, it became a co-founder of the United Nations. The strategy chosen by the Soviet Union to combat the insurgency by integrating the western Ukrainian lands into the USSR allowed the communist regime to suppress resistance but also ensured the re-spread of independence ideas throughout Ukraine and prepared for the future declaration of independence.

The independence of Ukraine fighting for its freedom in the family of European nations in the twenty-first century. We’re witnessing fierce fighting, and Ukraine will certainly win!

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