The Irish Times view on two years of war in Ukraine: Putin’s objective is doomed to fail

This brutal and attritional war shows little sign of coming to an end this year

On this day two years ago, Russia launched its massive military assault on Ukraine, marking the start of the largest war in Europe since 1945. Conservative estimates now put the death toll on both sides of the conflict at more than 200,000, including many thousands of civilians. Millions of refugees have fled to other countries or been internally displaced. While predictions of the course of the conflict have often proved inaccurate, this brutal and attritional war shows little sign of coming to an end this year.

Ironically, there has been no greater enabler of the emergence of a Ukrainian national consciousness than Vladimir Putin. The atrocities perpetrated by Russian forces in Irpin, Bucha and elsewhere, along with the misery inflicted by indiscriminate bomb and missile attacks across the country, have left the people of Ukraine obdurately opposed to any concession of territory or sovereignty. No Ukrainian public figure who deviates from that position can hope to survive politically.

It is clear also that Putin believes he is winning. Faltering support from Washington for Kyiv appears to bear out his calculation that the West is too fragmented and weak to sustain a long-term commitment to Ukraine’s war effort. Russia’s armaments production continues to grow, and sanctions against its economy have proved ineffectual. With Ukraine struggling to mobilise more troops to reinforce its depleted and exhausted front line, Russia’s bet that ruthless totalitarian violence can overpower democratic resistance has obvious historical resonances for all Europeans.

The failure of last year’s Ukrainian counteroffensive was a turning point in the progress of the war but it remains unclear whether it represented a decisive tilt in Russia’s favour or a confirmation that major territorial gains are now unlikely for either side. Russia has shown its willingness to sacrifice thousands of lives in pursuit of small gains; Ukraine, with limited resources, has indicated it will pursue a more technology-driven strategy. This has already borne some fruit in the Black Sea, where Russia’s naval movements have been constrained by drone and missile strikes.


Away from the fog of war, certain realities have become much clearer in the past two years. Whatever happens on the battlefield, Putin’s objective of ending Ukraine’s independence and forcing it back under Moscow’s control is ultimately doomed to fail. And the political dispensation which held in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union is now definitively over. In its place, the countries of the European Union will be forced, some of them reluctantly, to confront the realities and responsibilities of the new multi-polar geopolitical order. The first test of that is their continued unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereign democracy against Russia’s authoritarian militarism. Nothing less should be acceptable.