In the south of Kharkiv Oblast, troops of the 93rd separate mechanized brigade of The Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed Russian military vehicle. Photo: press office of The Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“Why are you so calm?” my older daughter wondered on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Mom’s been crying, getting no sleep, calling, reaching out to her relatives and friends. And you seem to be showing no emotions.”
Sure, I do worry about Ukraine and relatives and friends in there. But making my personal worries public would… how do I put it… would seems unethical.
At the same time, I won’t pretend, that if I were in Ukraine now, I wouldn’t be seized with fear and hatred, wouldn’t be throwing all kinds of insults at the invaders, including the most malign and racist ones, that I wouldn’t be demanding retaliation for the crimes the Russian troops have committed in Ukraine, that I wouldn’t be demanding revenge on all Russians (citizens or ethnic) without exception, appealing to collective responsibility, that I wouldn’t be urging to take no prisoners, and to not tiptoe around but to torture them if they were captured, that I wouldn’t be boiling over chicken-hearted West, it’s reluctance to enter this war of good against evil, that I wouldn’t be devising plans of destruction and split of Russia after our final victory, so that no trace of it would remain, I wouldn’t share fishy memes and nonsensical historical parallels and a host of other things. Surely, I would express all of these, despite much of it, along with any emotions during the battle, being largely harmful and even dangerous for Ukraine itself.
But those would be natural and understandable. This is a natural phenomenon of so-called tunnel vision: when a person is fully focused on achieving a specific goal, without noticing or considering all the different aspects of what he is doing and the very context of what is going on. Because at the moment of struggle, confrontation, competition, the focus is entirely on the present. Otherwise, you will lose. Although this does not negate the overall objective reality.
It is clear that the perception of reality for those under fire is different than for those watching this shelling in a news broadcast. But reality exists on its own, regardless of semantics. The killings by Russian invaders can be called a genocide, or a war crime, or simply insanity, but the fact is people have died in places and ways people shouldn’t be dying. This is a self-sufficient fact that requires no further explanation, like, allegedly, the classical Russian literature is to blame (as if their soldiery, and the Kadyrovites even more so, are binge-reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy), or that Russia is a land of slaves (who are somehow responsible for their choice), or whatever talks about the Horde.
By the way, those comparisons with the Horde are somewhat offensive. The Horde was a military democracy, no more, no less, with a foundation of an armed people; and if there was anything resembling a real Horde, it was the Zaporozhian Sich, which absorbed a lot, including terminology and organization, from the very steppe. The image of Horde, as a gloomy negative, comes from the 19th century, as a part of the Russian historical narrative that came up with the concept of the Mongol-Tatar yoke as a justification for autocracy.
But if we want something far-fetched out of the 19th century, I would recommend paying attention to Bismarck's verbalism "Blood and Iron" (ger. Blut und Eisen). Roughly, a nation arises from iron and blood, war and casualties. It’s not always a must, but both Russia (in many ways) and Ukraine (in part) still carry the atavisms of the 19th century, and they were not destined to avoid war and casualties.
Although there are options:
Come to terms with the aggressor and save lives. But lose independence.
Make or wait for a third party to enter the war, the third party able to throw back the aggressor. Not much to be said here of the subsequent sovereignty either.
Fight the war till the end, no matter what it would be, and finally come out of the bloody war a well-formed independent nation with huge potential.
Such is the dreadful balance between military and political goals achieved and many thousands or even millions of lives perished. I do not envy those having to strike the balance.
Nevertheless, cynic as it may sound, Ukraine is now in the position that holds the foundation of its potential breakthrough into the future it may find itself in among such European leaders as Germany or France. To do that, Ukraine will have to make it through.
It is quite certain, whatever the prerequisites for this war, that the West wages war with Russia using Ukrainian hands, not to enter the war itself. For the same reason the US was never directly at war with the USSR, and NATO with the Warsaw Pact countries. A looming nuclear war.
Since the invasion started, I got to reading a few too many opinions that the nuclear war is bullshit, no one would start it, and if it starts, everything would be okay and so on. These people clearly do not understand how the system of nuclear deterrence works. No one runs for president’s advice on what to do when the enemy have launched missiles against you. It’s a matter of minutes, there’s simply no time to make a conscious decision. That is why, automatic retaliation systems are activated. You may be surprised, but war games simulating nuclear exchanges have been held for decades and, as far as I know, out of hundreds and thousands of variants none had the conflict fading out by itself. Because the retaliation system has been designed for escalation only, and no one has offered a different option yet. So do not fantasize that someone in Washington is afraid of Putin. They seriously assess the possibility of even the accidental start of a nuclear conflict, when at least hundreds of missiles would be fired from both sides. There would be no way to stop it. Only to prevent.
Hence the cautious approaches to the supply of certain weaponry to Ukraine, protective or defensive. When the western leaders assess the risks and benefits, they are aware that 30 planes or 50 tanks would not make a big difference for Ukraine. 300 or 1,000 planes – yes! But where would you find pilots, mechanicians, airfields, operation bases, fuel, logistics, coordination and a lot more a modern war requires?
Fuel, another sore point. It is no coincidence that Russian missiles hit petroleum storages. Where does oil and gas come to Ukraine from? A month and a half ago, Ukraine was afraid that Nord Stream 2 would hurt its revenues from transportation to Europe. Unfortunately, everything turned out to be too much interconnected, because nobody wanted to build their economic policy upon Russian madness. Including Ukraine.
But there is a silver lining though. Strangely enough, Ukraine is lucky, if you will. Its international support is unprecedented. Its war dominates the newspaper pages and TV news; I see slogans, banners, flags and donations in support of Ukraine everywhere and every day. Europe and America are turning away from Russia, despite of quite serious consequences of such steps for their economy and domestic politics.
Not as much because of the enormous suffering of Ukrainian people, that, thank God, is not yet comparable with half a million dead in Yemen and even more in Ethiopia, but because Ukraine is a European country populated by white Christians. Remember how Poland was fending off refugees from the Middle East, and look how generously it welcomes the Ukrainians. It is also a fact, also a reality which is good for Ukraine.
Since everyone likes to draw analogies, we’ll use the chess analogy. Ukraine has won the debut. It has done everything it could and should have – waging defensive war, giving up its territories, but retaining the initiative, while creating its own narrative of the war at the same time, succeeding in outplaying Russia in propaganda. And it really makes a difference, given the importance of mass media and networks in today's world.
At the same time, we must be aware that Ukraine has not won the war, not even a single battle. Russian troops left the territories that had lost their meaning for them after the failed attempts to capture Kyiv. But as you know, this only means escalation of the war in the East and South East. And the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who initially had not have equipment and logistics sufficient for a full-scale offensive, can only wage a defensive war of attrition.
This might work very well. But it will require constant help from the West, many victims, including civilians, and a certain amount of luck. For the first time in my life, I'm not quite optimistic. Iron and blood.