It has been six months since Russia renewed its offensive against Ukraine. During that time, governments and strategists have been forced to let go of their prevailing post-Cold War assumptions about international relations – even in Europe, where peace was thought to be most embedded. Geopolitical competition has returned with a vengeance.
Unfortunately for Russia, its war of conquest has not gone to plan. Due to the tenacity of Ukrainian resistance, the bungling failure of Russia’s military leaders, and the weapons the UK and US supplied to Ukraine before the conflict, the Kremlin’s “special military operation” on February 24 failed to seize the Ukrainian government. For similar reasons, the Russians also failed in their attempt to encircle and capture Kyiv. Short of other options, the Russian military has now escalated to a full-scale invasion to the south and east of the country along a massive 1,975 kilometre front line.
Six months on, this offensive has left tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers dead. Atrocities not seen since the breakup of Yugoslavia or even the Second World War have been committed by Russian troops. Entire Ukrainian cities have been levelled by Russian artillery and air strikes. And Ukrainian nuclear power stations have come under threat.
But Russia’s military has reached its operational limits.
Thanks to its allies, the Ukrainian Army is now equipped with more lethal and longer range weaponry and they appear to be preparing for a counter-attack in the south. Irrespective of the bravery of the Ukrainian forces, it is not clear whether they will succeed.
Geopolitically, Europe has been convulsed by Russia’s war. Millions of Ukrainian women and children have fled to nearby Poland and the countries of Central Europe. Energy prices have skyrocketed to record levels, which has led them to transfer billions more euros to Russian coffers. Consequently, many European countries, Germany chief among them, have become acutely aware of their need to wean themselves of Russian oil and gas.
Indeed, Germany and France, once heralded as islands of order in an age of political populism, look particularly bruised. Their elites’ attempts to appease Russia with the Minsk agreements have ended in humiliation, just as Germany’s effort to integrate Russia into the European economic order has ended in outright failure.
Likewise, the UK and US, once alluded to as “unreliable” by Angela Merkel, have proven how indispensable they are in a real crisis. The latest data from the Kiel Institute shows that the UK has provided more military assistance to Ukraine than France, Germany and EU institutions combined. In almost all metrics, only the US has provided more. Poland, the Baltic states and the Nordic countries, particularly since Finland and Sweden opted to join NATO, have also grown in geopolitical prominence.
A Ukrainian victory is not preordained. If the Kremlin prolongs the conflict or “freezes” it – as it did in Georgia in 2008, and in Ukraine from 2014-2022 – it will significantly degrade Kyiv’s ability to recover. If Ukraine loses, nobody should be under any illusion: an emboldened Russia in control of large chunks of territory would be ready to initiate hostilities at any time.
Britain either helps to stop Russia in Ukraine or we face them elsewhere. Moving forward, the next prime minister should unleash the UK’s full military-industrial potential to provide Kyiv with what it needs to win. By ensuring Russia’s defeat, Britain would not only sap the Kremlin of its confidence and ability to fight, but would also reshape the geopolitics of Europe, further centring itself.