Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Ukraine's Grim Fate

By David G. Young

Miami Beach, FL, March 8, 2022 --  

Russia's war on Ukraine won't be over any time soon. The world must prepare itself for years of human tragedy.

Images of mangled Russian tanks outside Kiev and Kharkiv are a heartening symbol of resistance against a ruthless oppressor. The utter failure of Russian forces to quickly defeat Ukraine's military says as much about Russia's ineptitude as it does about Ukraine's determination. But those who cheer Russia's early failures should have no illusions that the tyrannical giant will be forced to quickly retreat.

Anyone wondering what the war will look like a few months from now need look no further than the city of Mauripol. Surrounded by Russian forces for over a week, hundreds of thousands of residents are hunkering down in freezing weather with no electricity, running water, cell phone service, and dwindling food supplies.1 Ukrainian forces inside the city refuse to surrender to the Russians, who are using constant shelling and siege tactics to starve out their enemy.

Mauripol's nightmare awaits other cities, too. Kharkiv is still fighting to prevent encirclement by Russian forces who control the north and east. In Kiev, the stalled Russian column on its northern outskirts will soon be joined by fresh forces approaching from the east, possibly giving them the momentum to encircle Kiev as well. And in Kherson, the first large Ukrainian city to fall to Russian forces, the city avoided a bloody siege only through a quick surrender. Time will tell if urban partisans re-ignite the killing there.

Yes, the world is right to cheer Ukrainian resistance. But it must recognize that humanitarian catastrophes are the cost, and that the war will likely to drag on for years. The Russian army has performed worse than expected and the Ukrainian forces better. But Russians still greatly outnumber the Ukrainians. Inept or not, their sheer bulk of the Russian military allows it to surround cities and starve them into submission.

Before the spring is out, many Ukrainian cities will have fallen to or been besieged by Russian forces. The Ukrainian government might remain in a bunker in Kiev or have been fractured and fled west. Many thousands of soldiers and civilians will be dead, and the war will show no signs of ending.

Hope for avoiding this grim reality relies on an intense pressure campaign on Moscow in hopes of forcing it to change course. The West is cutting off Russia from the global economic system and seizing the wealth of oligarchs. Ukrainian figures are killing Russian generals and sending soldiers home in body bags. But none of these acts will change the mind of President Vladimir Putin, who singlehandedly decided to invade Ukraine, and has practically eliminated internal dissent. Only a surprise coup, assassination or popular revolution can alter Ukraine's fate, and all of such events are exceedingly unlikely in the near-term.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has done a great job of harnessing his charisma and moral authority to rally the world to his cause. And while he deserves the world's support, Western leaders must say no to any requests (like a no-fly zone) that would drag NATO into the war. It's no surprise that Zelenskyy wants NATO to do get dragged into the fight. But acts that leads to nuclear Armageddon won't help anyone. Ukraine must fight on its own.

While the near-term looks horrific for Ukraine, it also looks pretty bad for Russia. If the larger and more competent Soviet army could not pacify Afghanistan, what chance to does the Russian army have against Ukraine? Ukraine's population is over three times larger than 1980's Afghanistan, and much better equipped to fight invaders. Don't forget that it took a full decade before the Russians gave up in Afghanistan, and by then hundreds of thousands on both sides were dead.

Putin has an iron grip on Russia today, but faced with a high death toll from an elective war against a peaceful neighbor, dissent will undoubtedly grow. Many Russians probably believe the nonsense they are told by state controlled TV today -- there is no war, only a special de-Naizification operation. But you cannot deny the truth forever, not the faced with videos coming over the internet from Ukraine and conscripts returning to mothers flag-draped coffins. Even Stalinist repression will be unable to halt dissent when nobody but the dictator believes in the war.

The world must get used to the fact that an ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is the new normal. Europe and America must adjust to an economic order cut off from Russia's petroleum and mineral wealth. The world must prepare for regular images of heart-breaking human tragedies on Ukrainian soil and these may go on for years. And the world must help the Ukrainians get through these dark times as much as they can without expanding the war -- by arming its soldiers, housing its refugees, and turning the Russian regime into the pariah that it has long deserved to be.

Related Web Columns:

Double Nightmare, January 25, 2022

Putin's Disaster, December 21, 2021

Ukraine's Long Path, October 21, 2017

Under Control? April 8, 2014

An Amicable Divorce, February 25, 2014


1. Human Rights Watch, Ukraine: Mariupol Residents Trapped by Russian Assault, March 7, 2022