One on One: Have the Ukrainians already won?

Published 7:15 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

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By D.G. Martin

Arguably, the Ukrainians have already won their country’s battle with Putin’s Russia – if we don’t make them give up that victory.

It is a complicated situation, of course. Russian troops are still holding on to Ukrainian territory in the eastern part of the country and are attempting to conquer more.

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But they are paying a high price.

According to Newsweek in a January 8 article by Ellie Cook, “Ukrainian forces have taken out more than nine battalions worth of Russian soldiers since the New Year, Kyiv said on Monday, in the latest indication of the human cost of the nearly two-year-old war.”

Cook continued, “Russia lost around 4,350 soldiers between January 1 and January 7, according to Ukraine’s Military Media Center, a platform run by the country’s Defense Ministry and military.”

Both Ukraine and Russia limit disclosures of causalities, but some estimates conclude that Russian troop losses could approach a half million and, by the most conservative estimate 80,000 Russians have been killed.

Thus, Russian losses in the last two years are already greater than the U.S. losses of 58,220 during the entire Vietnam War.

In Afghanistan, both Russia (1979-1989) and the U.S. (2001-2021) learned or should have learned the difficulties involved in trying to defeat a highly motivated enemy on its home territory.

It is a lesson Great Britain learned from George Washington in the American Revolution.

The Americans in the late 1770s and 1780s needed outside help from France to complete their victory.

Similarly, notwithstanding the advantages Ukraine has in defending its home territory, it needs help confronting Putin’s Russia and preserving its success in holding the Russians back for two years.

And the Ukrainians need help from the U.S. and European allies to stop the Russian invasion.

Why should the U.S. continue to help?

Writing in The New York Times in September, columnist Tom Friedman summed up an important reason. “What Putin is doing in Ukraine is not just reckless, not just a war of choice, not just an invasion in a class of its own for overreach, mendacity, immorality and incompetence, all wrapped in a farrago of lies. What he is doing is evil.”

Friedman continued, “Ukraine is a game-changing country for the West, for better or for worse depending on the war’s outcome. Its integration into the European Union and NATO someday would constitute a power shift that could rival the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification. Ukraine is a country with impressive human capital, agricultural resources and natural resources — ‘hands, brains and grains,’ as Western investors in Kyiv like to say. Its full-fledged integration into Europe’s democratic security and economic architecture would be felt in Moscow and Beijing.”

Nevertheless, some American politicians are asking hard questions about continuing American support for Ukraine in the form of military supplies and money.

But it’s Putin, with all the losses of Russia’s young men on the battlefield, who has the greater challenge of explaining why he continues the war.

Assuming the Ukraine leaders are willing to continue, what should we and they do now?

Holding off the Russians for two years is a victory in itself, but Ukraine should expect and prepare for the war to continue. Do not expect a quick victory.

Ukraine should prepare for a long war. It should make the Russians pay a high price for their efforts to capture more territory.

With the help of the U.S. and European supporters, Ukraine must sustain and improve air defenses.

It should attack the Russian air bases that launch the aircraft, drones, and missiles aimed at Ukrainian targets.

To retaliate for the damage done to Ukrainian civilian buildings, it should make similar attacks on Russian civilian targets.

To the Ukrainians:

Hold on.

You’ve already won.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.