The invasion of Ukraine by the armed forces of Russia at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders marks the first time since 1945 that Russia has engaged in a conventional war with a near-peer nation.
Ukraine isn’t restive Warsaw Pact nations, it isn’t Afghanistan, it isn’t Chechnya, it isn’t Georgia, and it isn’t Crimea.
The conflict launched by Putin is on a far grander scale than the invasion of Crimea in 2014, launched as Ukraine’s last pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, was driven from office in a popular uprising.
Putin, by choosing to reach beyond the ethnic-Russian majority separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas Basin, has decided to end the independent, Western-looking Ukrainian government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and install a pro-Putin quisling.
And while the fog of war, some deliberate mis-and disinformation operations by the combatants, and the far-from-perfect filter of Western media leaves much unknown at this time, what is known is that Zelenskyy is still in power a day after the Russian offensive. Further, the Ukrainian military appears to be taking a toll on the Russians invading from three sides: south across the Pripyat Marshes from Russian satellite Belarus; west from Russia, including Donbas; and north from the Black Sea in the region of Odessa and Transnistria, a Russian client breakaway state in Moldavia.
Modern conventional war is extremely difficult to do well. Imagine being a conductor of an orchestra, all while the audience was lobbing soccer balls at you and your musicians as you perform J.S. Bach’s Chaconne in D — that’s modern warfare. Putin is attempting a highly complicated operation over large distances in the face of a determined foe. Further, he’s doing so with an army largely composed of conscripts serving for only one year.
Since Putin has decided to oust the Ukrainian government, this means that every day Zelenskyy remains in office is another day that adds to Ukrainian national confidence to resist — and another day that Putin looks to have miscalculated.
And as the war drags on, there are five things that may happen beyond the war in Ukraine.
First, Putin might expand the conflict even further—perhaps to the Baltic states.
Second, Finland and Sweden may seek to join NATO. We should let them.
Third, China may come to Russia’s aid in some form or view the conflict as an opportunity to attack Taiwan.
Fourth, volunteer units from Poland, the Baltic nations, and beyond, may seek to join the effort against Russia.
And lastly, if the Zelenskyy government survives and maintains the support of its people, Putin’s 22-year-reign will be in jeopardy.