Nine months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine, Moscow has suffered a costly military setback. Its proxies have lost territory to Ukrainian forces, and the flood of collaborators Moscow expected in the separatist regions hasn’t materialized. Ukraine’s leaders, including Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky, have prioritized deepening ties with the Euro-Atlantic West as a hedge against further Russian aggression.
Meanwhile, the war has wreaked havoc across Ukraine and beyond. Its violence has killed thousands, displaced millions, and caused severe economic damage. In the long term, it will likely erode Ukraine’s national cohesion and deepen divisions among its citizens. It will also hurt international security by severing vital supplies of oil and other commodities, affecting both developing and developed countries.
At the root of this conflict is Russia’s misreading of the state of Ukraine’s identity. As recently as the last years of the Soviet Union, most Ukrainians had a positive or at least ambivalent view of Russia, reflecting shared cultural, linguistic, and religious ties with Russia.
But the onset of war changed that. As a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion, most Ukrainians now see Russia as an enemy. This shift in sentiment is the reason why Putin’s war makes little strategic sense: reclaiming territory that has never been part of the Russian polity would require a massive denial of Ukraine’s national sovereignty, and it is unlikely to gain popular support at home. It would also mean imposing a system of occupied protectorates that many Ukrainians—indeed, the vast majority in the country’s eastern oblasts—aren’t prepared to accept.