The moment Russian planes raced across the border and Ukrainian sirens went off, it seemed as if President Vladimir V. Putin really did intend to wage war on Ukraine. Kyiv was an outgunned country led by a comedian-turned-president whose decision to scrap a privileged economic agreement with the EU had triggered massive protests that he called “Euromaidan.” But Russia, which boasted a nuclear arsenal and had built its international image on the pretext of being a global superpower, was still a major military power. So when the invasion began on February 24, 2022, it was expected to be a matter of days before the Russian tricolor flew above the presidential palace in Kyiv and explosions rattled the capital city.
Western leaders condemned the invasion as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, and they promised swift and severe sanctions. They also reaffirmed the importance of Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Ukraine grew its ties with the alliance in the years leading up to the invasion and in 2020 became one of its six enhanced opportunity partners, a special status for nonmember allies whose aim is eventual NATO membership.
But hopes that ordinary Russians would reject Putin’s escalation of the conflict were quickly dashed, as public opinion polls consistently show support for his “special military operation.” Ukraine’s army has been pushing back — and winning — offensives against Russian forces in the north, the east and south. But there is no indication that the fighting will cease anytime soon. Instead, “this war is going to arrive at a grudging stalemate, and you will be glaring at each other for a generation,” says Chatham House’s Kampfner.