Finally, both sides show that they do not want to take a step back from this war. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his recent Victory Day speech, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the war in Ukraine (although the Donbas was the focus). Last weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine will fight on until it regains its lost territory.
The Prussian soldier and strategist Carl von Clausewitz once wrote of war as a clash of willpower, in which “everyone strives by physical force to force the other to submit to his will”. This is indeed the case.
For all wars in general and the Russo-Ukrainian war in particular, when both sides show the will to continue (combined with the physical means to do so), the war continues. Russia and Ukraine, strong-willed and militarily capable, are showing no sign of a negotiated ceasefire or an end-of-war agreement at this point in the war.
It is one of the great tragedies of war that, in seeking quick surgical victories, nations often find themselves meddling in long, bitter, and destructive wars instead. Whether it’s Germany (twice) in the 20th century, Imperial Japan in 1941, or the United States in Iraq in 2003, the interactive nature of human conflict means that such pride is rewarded with more death and cruelty than previously thought.
That is now the case in Ukraine. Russia, in planning a short, beautiful war against its old ally, has instead drawn Ukraine and Europe into a long and protracted conflict.
Not only is it leading to more Ukrainian and Russian deaths than the Russian High Command expected, it is also changing the fundamental security architecture in Europe. This in turn has confirmed, at least in Putin’s mind, the vicious conspiracy theories he is peddling to his people about NATO threats against Russia.
And we must not forget that since 2014 the Ukrainians and Russians have been struggling for the Donbas. While most of the world may have had other interests, the Russians and Ukrainians have already committed themselves to a long battle over Ukraine’s future. The recent Russian invasion is just a continuation of that greater struggle.
So unfortunately we have to arm ourselves against what is likely to be a long war in Ukraine. The massive destruction of towns and cities, the deaths of thousands of soldiers and the needless slaughter of Ukrainian civilians, and wider economic hardship will continue for some time to come.
This requires strategic patience from NATO, Europe and the United States to continue their support of the courageous Ukrainians.
And all the more reason that any democracy, including Australia, should provide as much economic, humanitarian and military aid as possible to ensure Russia’s eventual defeat.
Horrifying as the prospect of a long war may be, a Russian victory that would encourage further aggression and military adventures in the future is much, much worse.