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Our View: A year of war and no end in sight

vigil for ukraine on the anniversary of the conflict with russia, in london
People attend a vigil for Ukraine held on the anniversary of the conflict with Russia, at Trafalgar Square in London

A year ago today, Russia sent 200,000 troops into Ukraine in the belief that they would take control of Kyiv within a week or two, overthrow the elected government and install a puppet regime. Such was the confidence of the Vladimir Putin regime that it labelled its invasion a “special military operation,” the aim of which was to “demilitarise and denazify” Ukraine. It also wanted to ensure Ukraine’s neutral status, an objective the invasion spectacularly failed to achieve, pushing Ukraine irrevocably into the Western sphere of influence instead.

Such was the failure of the “special military operation” President Putin had to scale down his plans, setting the “liberation of Donbas” as the main goal, although he has failed to achieve that. Russian troops were forced to retreat from Kharkiv and Kherson, even though last September Russia still annexed four Ukrainian provinces in the east without having full control of them. There is now a war of attrition along an 850km frontline, with neither side making any significant gains, and many analysts speculating that it could go on indefinitely.

Meanwhile deaths and human suffering continues to rise. The UN estimates that 7,199 civilians have lost their lives, although there are very differing claims. The mayor of Mariupol, the setting of a mercilessly vicious assault by the Russian military, which allegedly carried out mass executions, estimates that there alone 21,000 died. US military estimated that each side lost 100,000 soldiers. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Ukrainian towns and wanton destruction of infrastructure has forced 13 million people to leave their homes, many of them fleeing abroad. The less successful the Russian military is, the greater the destruction and suffering Ukraine’s civilian population is subjected to by Russia.

Unsatisfied with the scale of the destruction inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has, on more than one occasion, also referred to the nuclear threat. This could have been an attempt to deter the West providing military assistance to Ukraine, which has been provided regardless, but the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, viewed the references as a threat. Addressing the UN General Assembly, which was debating a resolution against the war on Wednesday, Guterres spoke about “implicit threats to use nuclear weapons,” adding that it was “high time to step back from the brink.”

Unfortunately, a year on, there is no indication of the war ending any time soon. Russia’s objective is to annex Donbas while Ukraine has set as its goal the liberation of all its territories occupied by Russia. More military assistance will be arriving from the West, which maintains a united front against Russia despite the energy crisis and rising prices exacerbated by the war. The position that Russia must be defeated appears to be gaining traction in Western capitals, and it is very difficult to disagree with, although a protracted war is not something anyone would want.

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