Relic of a Bygone Era: Russia Invades Ukraine

by Matthew Volfson

News

March 31, 2022

In 1919, a war between the Soviet Union and Poland broke out, as well as a war between the Soviet Union and a short-lived Ukrainian independent state.1 It was the end of World War I, a time of suffering for the world and chaos in Eastern Europe, where a communist Hungarian revolution attempted to take root and Polish nationalists fought off the Germans in Poznan. The newly founded League of Nations was bumbling through it all. Meanwhile, the Americans, British, Japanese, and French were invading Russia, ostensibly backing the Russian imperialists in favor of their own interests. 

2022 is very different from that era. Europe is no longer in a state of chaos. Europeans have learned the consequences of starting two World Wars both in their hearts and minds. However, it does not seem that Putin has a heart and a mind as he seeks to repeat Soviet power plays from that era. In his speech rationalizing Russia’s recognition of the rebel-controlled areas of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, and the movement of his troops into Ukraine on a “peacekeeping mission,” he said that Ukraine was an artificial state created by Lenin in 1922, even though the history of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, far predates that of Moscow.

In spite of the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine and thousands of Ukrainian war casualties, the people of Ukraine have stood up to the challenge. President Volodymyr Zelensky is rallying his people and the nations of the world to condemn this invasion. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have responded to Zelensky’s call and sent an artillery barrage of sanctions to the open underbelly of the Russian economy.2

The people of Russia have paid a high price for the invasion that many of them did not even want. Russia drafts conscripts aged eighteen to twenty-seven into its army. If this reporter, for example, were in Russia right now, in one year, assuming the conflict lasts for that long, he could be conscripted into the Ukrainian invasion. It is true that Russian forces have captured Kherson, Melitopol, and some other Ukrainian cities.3 However, thousands of Russians are taking to the streets to protest the violence in Ukraine and have been detained for it.4

In addition, these Ukrainian cities have been captured by Russian troops who are low on morale, in the face of a protracted resistance prepared by the citizens against the Russian attack.5 Ukrainians have already begun protesting against Russian occupation. Russia has also not yet captured the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, the two largest in Ukraine, which they initially intended to do so in just a few days.6 There has been documented evidence of Russian conscripts refusing to fight.7 The Russian economy has taken a huge hit; the Moscow stock exchange has dropped so low that it has been forced to close. In addition, there has been reported panic-buying all over Russia, further evidence that the war has punctured Russia hard.

Because of Ukraine’s resolve, the Russians have made little to no progress in recent days. The war has evolved into a stalemate, a humiliation for supposedly the world’s second most powerful military; in comparison, Ukraine isn’t even on the rankings.8,9 This stalemate is mostly due to the fact that the operation was planned very suddenly; Russian soldiers were unaware that they were going to fight on foreign soil right up until the moment the war started. 

In addition to having miscalculated the capacity of his logistics, Putin has badly miscalculated the popular beliefs of Ukrainians and Ukrainian troops. He expected Ukrainians to greet Russian soldiers as liberators when, in fact, the opposite occurred. He expected that it would be the Ukrainian soldiers who would have low morale and decide to overthrow the government when, again, the opposite has happened. Ukrainian soldiers have risked their lives for their government. Morale is higher than ever in Ukraine, and 90% of Ukraine’s people stand behind their president, whom Putin has dismissed as a neo-Nazi, even though Zelensky is a Jew.10,11  

What is even more interesting about Russia’s stalemate status with Ukraine is that in January, analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a premier foreign policy center, predicted the whole situation from afar.12 They stated that, from the perspective of morale, Russia’s military establishment, including both soldiers and upper-level management, has been acting similar to the way they acted before the Soviet Union’s botched invasion of Afghanistan in 1989. 

The CSIS article assumes that Russia would struggle even without external aid to Ukraine, not to say that the aid is not important. Maps in the article state that the Russians would most likely roll over the Ukrainians and link with Transnistria, an unrecognized breakaway state on the western border of Ukraine. That currently has not happened, and Russia is struggling even more now that the West has in fact aided Ukraine, just as the US aided Afghan insurgents when the complacent Soviet command invaded the nation all those years ago.

This prediction exposes the Russian process as flawed from the start. Putin didn’t have to get bogged down in this war if he had listened to the experts who predicted Russia’s struggles. Putin’s brash behavior has led to such an invasion, and with this invasion, he has exposed those in the West who support him.13 And also, the PR campaign on Russia’s end has been an absolute disaster; the only thing people in the West have seen is pro-Ukraine post after pro-Ukraine post about this war.14

Because Putin didn’t listen to those who warned him the invasion would be rough and not worth the effort, those who were in his inner cabinet and those tacticians playing out the wargames, he paid the price, which includes the tanking of Russia’s economy, the wavering of support from what has been the superpower most friendly to Russia, China, and another humiliation of the Russian military. It does not seem that Putin has learned from 1989. What happens next is only a guess, but Putin has the end of his reign within the radius of possibility. The war has been a wave of embarrassment for the Russian nation, changing the country and even the world forever. 


1 Kazimierz Maciej Smogorzewski, “Russo-Polish War,” Encyclopædia Britannica,
https://www.britannica.com/event/Russo-Polish-War-1919-1920.

2 “U.S. Treasury Announces Unprecedented & Expansive Sanctions against Russia, Imposing Swift and Severe Economic Costs,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, February 24, 2022,
https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0608.

3 BBC Visual Journalism Team, “Ukraine War in Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion,” BBC News, March 25, 2022,
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682.

4 RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, “Thousands Detained at Anti-War Protests across Russia,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, March 7, 2022,
https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-1000-protesters-arrested-ukraine-invasion/31738786.html.

5 Jim Garamone, “Russian Forces Invading Ukraine Suffer Low Morale,” U.S. Department of Defense, March 23, 2022,
https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/2975508/russian-forces-invading-ukraine-suffer-low-morale/.

6 Naveed Jamali, David Brennan, and Tom O’Connor, “Exclusive: U.S. Expects Kyiv’s Fall in Days, Ukraine Source Warns of Encirclement,” Newsweek, February 25, 2022,
https://www.newsweek.com/us-expects-kyiv-fall-days-ukraine-source-warns-encirclement-1682326.

7 Niko Vorobyov, “Fearing Front-Line Deployment, Some Russians Resist Conscription,” Al Jazeera, March 18, 2022,
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/18/fearing-front-line-deployment-some-russians-resist-conscription.

8 Martin Armstrong and Felix Richter, “Infographic: The World’s Most Powerful Militaries,” Statista Infographics, January 14, 2022,
https://www.statista.com/chart/20418/most-powerful-militaries/.

9 Monique Beals, “War in Ukraine at Stalemate, Research Group Concludes,” The Hill, March 20, 2022,
https://thehill.com/policy/international/598960-war-in-ukraine-at-stalemate-research-group-concludes.

10 Robert Mackey, “Zelensky Posts Defiant Videos from the Streets of Kyiv as Putin’s Forces Close In,” The Intercept, February 26, 2022,
https://theintercept.com/2022/02/25/putin-floods-airwaves-lies-zelensky-punctures-social-media/.

11 Afiq Fitri and Kirstie Canene-Adams, “How President Zelensky’s Approval Ratings Have Surged,” New Statesman, March 1, 2022,
https://www.newstatesman.com/chart-of-the-day/2022/03/how-president-zelenskys-approval-ratings-have-surged.

12 Seth G. Jones, “Russia’s Possible Invasion of Ukraine,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 25, 2022,
https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-possible-invasion-ukraine.

13 Victor Jack, “Putin’s European Pals Have to Eat Their Words,” Politico, February 26, 2022,
https://www.politico.eu/article/vladimir-putin-european-pals-eat-their-words-marine-le-pen-eric-zemmour-matteo-salvini-milos-zeman-alex-salmond-gerhard-schroder-boris-johnson-jean-luc-melenchon-francois-fillon-viktor-orban/.

14 Ian Garner, “How Is the War Going for Putin on Social Media? Not Great,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2022,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/03/04/russian-social-media-ukraine-vk-propaganda/.

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