Ukraine War Year One : Lessons and Reflections

Ukraine War


The following is the text of a talk  by Nick Kochan, given on 24 February 2023 to the Henry Jackson Society, London, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Other speakers at the meeting were Bill Browder, the businessman and noted campaigner for Sergei Magnitsky and Marina Litvinenko, wife of the late Alexander Litvinenko,  the former Russian member of intelligence and victim of poisoning by Putin henchmen

One year on from the start of the Ujraine War, is an opportune time to take some lessons to take stock. A year sago, we were only able to express shock at the horror of a new war in Europe on oyr doorstep at the presence of an aggressor in Europe,. time has needed to pass to learn some lessons.

Putin threw down the gauntlet to the West: would they do what they did in Crimea, in Luhansk and Donetsk, in Georgia, in Syria? Would they close an eye, which they did when his force poisoned his oppo9nents on foreign turf, when his proxies shot down Malaysian Flight 17 over Ukraine killing 298 people?

They have not. Now the wool has fallen from  Western Eyes. Putin has been called out as murderous aggressor. Western leaders have shown a resolve that seemed unlikely a year ago.

The importance of partnership with the peop[le whose independence has been affronted is greater than ever. The heroic resistance of the Pople of Ukraine has not just been a revelation inits self but the very rock on which West’s moral and material role in Ukraine is premised.

A repeat of earlier Western vasillation and compromise could easily have been envisaged without the charisma and leadership of President Zel;enski and the passion of his people for the repulsion of Putin’s forces.

Daily the Ukrainian people demand more support and daily Western powers are put to the test about how far they will stretch, how deep will they dig. The result has been heartening. The lesson of the last year is that the aggressor has crossed a line, Western powers have been more responsive could have been expected in their provision of materiel.

A concerted front of resistance has remained strong, Western leaders have  shown a capacity to form a front, create a red line and stick to it. Vacillations of the past, fissures of a former time, at the level of leaders and people, are largely gone. You cannot put a tissue between the UK and EU on Ukraine policy.

The resilience of the global economy, whose collapse was foretold under the pressure of inflation partly created by the war and of course a Putin war aim has tested but not broken the western alliance. The people have not buckled under the pain of a cost of living pressure, dissident forces in Europe and the United states opposing western support for Ukraine have been kept at bay, though not perhaps quashed.

The unifying force of Ukraine has swept the private sector in its wake, implementing sanctions to its financial detriment. Sanctions mean red tape for business and lost profits but the damage to status of a failed or evasive sanctions programme is so much greater. This is my expertise, I write regularly on each new sanctions wave from the UK or US or Australia or wherever.

The sanctions tsunami did not hit at once and there is more to come. Sanctions is more than a messager and less than a weapon of mass destruction. It is a cumulative hit to morale, a reminder to the man in the Moscow street that something is abnormal. It is not about money but about morale

One shadow clouds this picture. A world fracturing between a Ukraine-supporting West which has unified around the battlecry of democracy and autonomy. And an East, China and India most obviously but very many more countries,  whose economies are developing, whose politics are more inchoate and whose commitment to national integrity so much weaker. Ukraine is not an issue for them and Western sanctions a minimal threat. Russia uses this to its benefit to break sanctions and rebuff the legion of international critics.

How does the West react to this global fracture? The last year has opened up the fracture, the  coming year will see if it can be held together or breaks wider. There is the most ominous lesson to which everyone politician, man in the street, must pay great heed. Ukraine has set off an tsunami whose destructive force is very far from done.


Back to Top