The battle lines in Ukraine’s war against Russia are clear enough. But the deeper story is less obvious — and more alarming.
Ahead of Putin’s invasion, the general view was that the Russian military could easily win a conventional war against Ukraine. On paper, Russia spends more than 10 times as much on defense, has three or four times the number of artillery pieces, and roughly double the number of fixed-wing aircraft. The country’s armed forces are trained to operate on open terrain, and it has a clear numerical advantage over its Ukrainian counterparts.
But Ukrainian forces have been bogged down in towns and smaller cities, where street-to-street combat favors defenders with better knowledge of the city’s geography to conceal and ambush attackers. As a result, retaking such cities as Bucha and Irpin has proved more difficult than many had expected.
As the fighting has dragged on, Russia has also gravitated toward tactics that, by design, hurt civilians. In particular, it has attempted to “lay siege” to many Ukrainian cities by cutting off supply and escape routes while bombarding them with artillery. Such a strategy is designed to wear down the determination of defenders, and it appears to be working.
At the same time, Ukraine’s Western allies have been willing to take aggressive steps to punish Moscow and aid Kyiv’s war effort. And in a striking display of European unity not seen since the Cold War, EU and NATO members have unanimously passed and enforced sanctions against Russia (a major trading partner). The only exception is Hungary, which is deeply hostile to the US-led world order and has been backed by China’s propaganda machine.