One year ago Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an escalation in Putin’s years-long quest to rebuild the Russian empire. It has spawned a refugee crisis, destabilized Europe, and revived fears of a nuclear conflict. It has also prompted a shift in U.S. policy, as countries such as Finland and Sweden now seek NATO membership after decades of official neutrality. The war in Ukraine has sparked profound questions and high-stakes challenges, and RAND researchers are providing timely insights that could help guide responses on the ground, at the negotiation table, and in the information space.
The deep resolve of people across every region of Ukraine to defend their national independence has been a fundamental factor that has kept this war from becoming much wider and more costly. This resolve has a long history, stemming from the resounding popular support for Ukrainian independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed and from the suppression of that independence by Russian revolutionary armies and the murderous Holodomor (deliberate starvation) that followed just a few years later.
Ukraine’s success in resisting a Russian invasion has been built on the foundation of its people’s confidence that an independent Ukraine can fulfill their hopes for a prosperous future, and on reforms to establish accountable local governments. Ultimately, the international community should generously support an independent Ukraine that can maintain good-faith relations with all of its neighbors, including Russia and the people it shares a history with. Meanwhile, international diplomatic pressure on Russia to loosen its censorship of news from Ukraine would weaken the effectiveness of Kremlin propaganda against Ukraine and might save lives.