On February 24, Russia launched a broad-based invasion of Ukraine, aiming to depose the government in Kyiv and occupy at least two-thirds of the country. In the weeks that followed, Moscow suffered battlefield setbacks and a growing number of Ukrainian counterattacks in its occupied territories. Moreover, despite the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine Ukraine’s Western financial and military support, the government in Kyiv has grown stronger in its resolve to resist Russian aggression.
The Kremlin’s hubris rested on a profound misreading of the deep roots of Ukrainian national identity and the extent to which it has evolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even if an occupying regime in Kyiv were to win the war, it would struggle to find legitimacy among ordinary Ukrainians, particularly after revelations of widespread atrocities by Russian forces in occupied regions.
The Ukrainian public’s growing sense of nationhood and statehood is also evident in the results of recent elections. Although electoral behavior has been shaped by geographic divides, the popularity of President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Ukrainians across linguistic and regional lines are uniting behind a pro-Western government aimed at ending the conflict in Donbas. This has prompted Zelensky to take a harder line on Minsk II, while his government has begun chipping away at the pillars of Russian influence in Ukraine, closing pro-Russian TV networks and arresting oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk on treason charges. Moreover, the 10 NATO allies that have explicitly endorsed a Ukraine membership path will provide substantial financial and military support to defend against a Russian attack.