I write from Lviv, in Western Ukraine.
By Anthony Borden
IWPR FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Kyiv is seized by terror as an extended column of forces, many miles long, crawls its way towards the capital. Russian forces have hit numerous civilian targets in Kharkiv, the strategically vital second city, with shells landing near the central metro station where thousands are taking cover.
A half-million Ukrainians have fled the country, jamming car and train routes, and enduring incredibly harsh and humiliating conditions. I took this journey myself from Lviv to Przemysl two days ago, and it was hellish, lasting 24 hours. As the violence spirals, the lines only grow, making exit effectively impossible – or in the bitter cold, life-threatening.
Yet in only five days, one senior Western intelligence official estimated that more than 5,000 Russian soldiers had been captured or killed – compared to 14,500 in a decade of war in Afghanistan. The morale of Russian forces is already a factor, and will only fall further as casualties rise. While the vast disparity in size of forces remains, the entire fit-and-able male population of Ukraine has been mobilized, and the country is receiving increasing military supplies. More – much more – is needed.
Meanwhile, Russia has become an international pariah, with near-unanimous condemnation at the UN. The president is now presumed a war criminal. Demonstrators are on the street worldwide, and even some Russian elite are breaking from Putin. The Russian economy is tanking, devastating people’s savings, while corporations and banks cut ties. The country has been dropped from the vital SWIFT payments system.
Russia has several military strategies – principally, a choice between street fighting or laying waste. Nuclear bluffing and WWIII are also in the mix. And Putin has a number of end-game scenarios: all the country, two-thirds of the country, cantonisation à la Bosnia, or the Donbass plus Crimea.
Ukrainians will disagree, and continue to believe in victory. If nothing else, the invasion will beget a long insurgency – “a partisan war from every door and every window,” as a retired Ukrainian general told me. “Russians will not be safe any place.”
No-one will win from Putin’s deranged war. As ever, civilians are the pawns in this fantasy power play, normal Russian citizens included. Ukrainian society is totally mobilised, utterly united and fiercely determined to combat the invaders and defend the European values they hold as their own. With this life-and-death motivation, it is only a matter of time, blood and tears until a deal is brokered to end this vicious tragedy. Let it be soon.
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