While much of the world’s attention has rightly been monopolized by this week’s epochal events in Edinburgh and London, meanwhile in Ukraine the war not only is continuing but appears to be taking a particularly positive turn. What the NY Times called « a Lightning Ukrainian offensive in the country’s northeast » seems to have transformed what had increasingly appeared to be something of a stalemate, « a grinding war of attrition, » into something else. In the last several days, Ukrainian forces have regained several villages and liberated the strategically important eastern city of Izium, from which the Russians appear to have fled in a rapid retreat, leaving military equipment « scattered about. »
It is easy to root for the Ukrainians and easy to assume that the combination of extensive western aid and Ukrainian patriotism can combine successfully against an apparently less effective Russian military with no patriotic purpose other than gratifying the imperial impulses of its tyrant. On the other hand, few things are less predictable than the fortunes of war. That said, if this trend continues, it augurs well not only for Ukraine’s long-term success against the aggressor’s invasion but, very importantly, in maintaining western popular support and commitment to the cause.
This is important, if – as has widely been assumed – Putin is counting on western weakness when it comes to long-term commitment. This is certainly a serious danger, one which some skeptical cynics seem to be expecting, if not outright hoping for. Nothing demonstrates the difference between Elizabeth II’s « Greatest Generation » that remained steadfast even during the blitz and despite many military defeats and the defeatist impulse to placate Putin for fear of higher prices and being cold this winter.
At a very difficult juncture in the American Revolution, Thomas Paine famously wrote:
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
It was a similar sense of commitment and fortitude that caused the bombed and seemingly beaten British to keep fighting in World War II and the defeated and occupied peoples of Europe to keep hoping for eventual liberation – notwithstanding the cowardly scorn of the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Kennedy. The actual dangers to non-Ukrainians today are infinitesimally modest by comparison with what that earlier generation experienced. Still, the fortunes of war are unpredictable. So Putin may see grounds for hope – not so much on the battlefield as in the public-relations war where he may have reason to hope higher prices and colder homes will undermine western opposition to his tyranny. Time will tell, yet surely the best western defense against Putin’s belief in western weakness is a strong and successful Ukrainian offense. and that seems to be what is happening right now.