Tens of thousands have died. Millions have been turned into refugees. Almost one-sixth of Ukraine’s territory remains under Russian occupation. 2022 was the year large-scale war returned to Europe, cradle of the two global conflicts of the 20th century. Ukraine has, remarkably, endured as a sovereign state, and a cataclysmic broader war has so far been avoided. The goal for 2023 must be to give Kyiv all the aid it needs to bring the conflict to an end — on its terms.
Vladimir Putin’s aggression has reshaped the world order. It has united wealthy democracies in solidarity with Kyiv. Many are reconsidering their security. Finland and Sweden have dropped neutrality to seek Nato’s shelter. Germany’s historic Zeitenwende reversed its defensive caution, pledging a €100bn military modernisation.
Japan, too, is overturning six decades of pacifism and boosting military spending — aimed at countering the threat from China. The Ukraine conflict has focused attention on Taiwan as a potential flashpoint for a superpower clash, though Xi Jinping may be given pause by Russia’s quagmire in Ukraine.
Albeit at tragic cost, Ukraine has already won moral and real victories. It chased Russian forces from the gates of Kyiv, and has driven them from the Kharkiv region and Kherson. Neither popular resolve nor the functioning of the state has been shattered by Moscow’s bombing. A conflict which has, in truth, run since 2014 has solidified Ukraine’s identity and sense of nationhood.
It is important for Kyiv to continue to command the high ground, pressing its soldiers to adhere to the rules of war and avoiding glorifying, like Moscow and its propagandists, violence and slaughter.
Putin’s ill-conceived assault has achieved the opposite of its goal. His supposedly mighty army has been humbled by his neighbour’s smaller, more determined and tactically savvy forces, helped by western knowhow and arms. His perceived real adversary, Nato, is not diminished but revitalised.
Ukraine’s battlefield successes do not mean its allies can ease up on support. There are signs Moscow plans a new offensive. Even if that does not materialise, a festering stalemate could play into Putin’s hands. For him, long-term destabilisation of Ukraine is a win.
Nor is this the time to entertain the idea of ceasefires or negotiation. With Russia still in control of much of the four regions it “annexed” in October, plus Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbas seized in 2014, the conditions are not right for Kyiv to come to the table.
Ukraine’s allies should instead do everything possible to ensure it can repel any renewed onslaught, and regain more territory. The aim is to put Kyiv in a position where it feels able to negotiate, with the strongest possible hand. That means budget support and accelerated financial help with repairing infrastructure.
It also means more sophisticated defensive weapons, such as the Patriot missile defence system now approved by Washington, and offensive arms. Ukraine needs longer-range missiles, helicopters and tanks. The US and others have balked at supplying such weapons for fear they could be used to hit targets inside Russia, potentially triggering a Nato-Russia conflict, or in an effort to retake Crimea that Putin has hinted might provoke a nuclear stand-off.
It is fair for Washington to agree privately with Kyiv on rules of engagement for weapons it provides. But the objective should be to push Russia back at least to pre-February 24 lines. Retaking southern regions would put Kyiv in striking range of Crimea, giving it a robust negotiating stance. Ukraine’s people were in 2022 an example to the world of fortitude and resilience. They deserve redoubled support in 2023.